Star Wars: The High Republic – Out of the Shadows by Justina Ireland
The High Republic takes the Star Wars universe to an even longer time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Some 200 years prior to the Phantom Menace and the beginning of the Skywalker Saga. With the Jedi in their prime, they find themselves up against the mysterious Nihil, a gang of pirates and marauders dedicated to wreaking havoc across the galaxy and stopping the Republic’s expansion into the galactic frontier.
The second young adult book in the series, Out of the Shadows acts as a continuation of several plot lines established across the line so far. Jedi Vernestra Rwoh and Imri Cantaros from Justina Ireland’s own A Test of Courage, alongside fellow Jedi Reath Silas and Cohmac Vitus from Into the Dark, go up against the dangerous Nihil, with some new faces joining them too. With ships being mysteriously torn from hyperspace and attacked by Nihil, cargo hauler Sylvestri Yarrow finds herself on a simple bureaucratic mission to Coruscant that quickly sends her spiraling into a web of political intrigue between the Jedi, Republic, and the Graf family, once renowned hyperspace prospectors.
It’s worth noting that this book is set after the second flagship title of the High Republic, The Rising Storm, and does contain some mild plot spoilers for it. I have not read it, so I can’t be entirely sure of the extent of those spoilers, but there are some seemingly important moments that are revisited and play a key part in Vernestra Rwoh’s motivations.
The biggest strength of this book lies in its protagonists. Ireland has no issue bringing Vernestra and Imri from their previous all-ages book into the wider universe and Cohmac and Reath feel lifted straight from Claudia Gray’s Into the Dark. All the new additions to the cast have unique voices that bring something new to both the book, and the wider High Republic Universe. Despite Reath being one of our point of view characters and given a big cover focus, the chapter count is significantly shifted in Vernestra and new protagonist Sylverstri Yarrow’s favour. Which is not necessarily a complaint, as those two are certainly the ones with the most interesting stories to tell. When the book has the characters together and talking it’s at its absolute best.
The real problem lies in the Nihil’s point of view character, a familiar face whose identity I will not spoil. The look into the Nihil in this book is short, perhaps only 4 or 5 short chapters throughout the story, but there seems to be a clear lack of purpose to them. While the Marchion Ro chapters of Light of the Jedi gradually built the threat of the Nihil into something terrifying, here they merely remind us that they’re still there with the occasional check-in. This also causes another issue, by letting the reader into what the Nihil are up to we don’t get to discover alongside our protagonists, which causes large chunks of the book to feel pointless as the characters slowly make their way towards discoveries we’ve known from early on. This all leaves the book without a clear and compelling antagonist, as the Nihil presence looms over the book but rarely comes close enough to feeling like an actual threat.
This leads me to another big problem I had with the book; the mysteries that drive the plot. Whilst the hyperspace mysteries are straightforward and predictable, even being given definitive answers by the Nihil chapters so early on, the political drama that our characters find themselves drawn into is often unfocused and boring, with no clear purpose other than to create confusion. We also get teases to some mysterious Force powers and their connections to hyperspace, a plot the book drops and picks up at random despite being the most compelling part of the story. The pace at which these mysteries develop is also glacial, with the book spending most of its time building up to a big event before shifting pace rapidly into a rushed and unsatisfying climax.
Although the book isn’t action-heavy, Ireland excels at the few scenes that are there. The fights are clear and exciting, using the tools of the Jedi in ways I find only books can in order to really showcase how impressive lightsabers and the Force can be. There’s still dramatic weight to the action though, with the Jedi feeling in real danger when they’re overwhelmed. It avoids making them feel like unstoppable gods while still providing that essential cool factor.
One of my personal favourite parts of the High Republic thus far has been its worldbuilding, and this is another area where Out of the Shadows is a success. The book features a wide variety of species from across the Star Wars universe, including many familiar species from both the original films and some of the more recent additions. There are also a couple of new species introduced that were fascinating and unique, including the volka, a race of strange electric cats that I’d love to see more of (or have as a pet). We discover more of the history of the Galaxy here too through the Grafs and San Tekkas, something I’m always happy to learn more about. There are even a few familiar names thrown in that I was very excited to see.
As far as its importance to the larger plot of the High Republic, I was surprised to see Out of the Shadows pick up some major plotlines from Light of the Jedi. This book has some big ramifications for the various factions of the High Republic and is an essential chapter in its larger story. It also sets up some very interesting future plots and introduces a couple of new Force abilities that were very interesting, and I could see being important down the line.
Out of the Shadows had a difficult task ahead of it, taking in characters and plots from across the High Republic. And while it stumbles at times and drags in the middle, it is for the most part genuinely enjoyable. The action scenes, while few, are exciting, and pull you right into the action. The characters are likable and the central romance of the book is compelling. And it leaves me genuinely excited for what’s next in the High Republic, from Justina Ireland, and the other writers.
Early review copy provided by Disney-Lucasfilm Press. Out of the Shadows releases 07/27/2021 in all good bookstores and digital storefronts.