Star Wars: The High Republic: Convergence, the first adult novel of the second phase of the High Republic initiative, is a compelling start but never quite hits the highs of its most successful predecessors.
After a year and a half of stories set a full two hundred years before the events of The Phantom Menace, Phase Two takes a further chronological leap to a century and a half earlier still in the Galaxy Far, Far Away. In this era, the Republic and the Jedi Order are only beginning to make their presence known in the galaxy’s Outer Rim, a process that brings them into contact with the warring worlds of Eiram and E’ronoh. Keen to show off the benefits of Republic governance, the Chancellor (Or rather, one of them – the unusual political arrangement is one of the novel’s more intriguing sub-plots) seeks to mediate a peace treaty between these ancient foes. Meanwhile, Jedi Knight Gella Nattai takes center stage in promoting a fragile marital alliance between ruling houses that could end their age-old conflict.
High Republic: Convergence is the first High Republic novel entirely written by an author outside the High Republic’s initial circle of storytellers, a group who set a high bar for the initiative in its successful opening waves. From the moment the novel begins on an instantly tense deep space standoff, however, newcomer Zoraida Córdova proves immediately up to the challenge. High Republic: Convergence fits seamlessly into the galaxy of the High Republic, perfectly capturing the mix of possibility, bold optimism, and nagging unease that has proved such an effective formula to date. The time leap has the further advantage of making the novel wholly accessible; while the warring worlds have been mentioned in prior books, the characters and circumstances of the novel present an equally fresh puzzle for old and new readers alike. After the tight interconnectedness of earlier entries in the saga, it is something of a relief that High Republic: Convergence may be the first High Republic novel that could be read entirely in a vacuum, telling a wholly self-contained story that only hints at the larger world that will undoubtedly be explored by other media as this second phase unfolds.
One reason for the novel’s success is its ability to maintain a tight focus on its core cast; above all, the Jedi Nattai, the entertaining (if deliberately irritating) playboy Axel Greylark, and the young royals Xiri A’lbaran and Phan-Tu Xann, whose warring homeworlds provide the story with its main setting. Córdova is especially successful in ensuring that not only is each of her four protagonists intriguing in their own right, but any combination of the two produces its own distinctive dynamic which is always compelling to read. The contrast between the diligent Nattai and the dilettante Greylark is clearly an authorial favorite and provides one of the major thematic strands of the novel, but even less-developed relationships like that of the princeling Greylark and the actual prince Xann are no less entertaining in the page space they receive.
Unfortunately, perhaps the most important of these relationships also underlines the book’s most notable shortcoming. The emotional and thematic core of High Republic: Convergence comes in the star-crossed could-be romance between A’lbaran and Xann, whose betrothal is presented as the only way to end their people’s ‘forever war’. But the novel is never convincingly able to thread the tension between the animosity of the characters’ cultures and the personal rapport between them as individuals. Both are so engaging and sympathetic that it simply never feels plausible that they have been raised to loathe one another, let alone to despise their potential partner’s entire culture. The ultimate problem here may be that the protagonists are too likable and too quick to overcome what are supposedly generations of entrenched hatred.
This extends even to their families, the space Montagues and Capulets of our narrative, who put up a few protests early on before wholly assenting to the necessity of this supposedly transgressive union. As a reader, I couldn’t help but wish that Córdova allowed both of her romantic leads and their supporting cast to be less likable, to be more reluctant to abandon their ancestral grudges, and to struggle more with inherited prejudices. The ability of all parties to so rapidly prioritize the greater good robs the book’s main plot of much of its potential tension, and dramatically lowers the stakes of its resolution – a real shame given the effectiveness of its premise and the success of the character work outside this.
On the whole, High Republic: Convergence is a worthy successor to the first phase of the High Republic. It introduces readers to a new era boldly and memorably, providing a fun adventure with likable leads that can easily be read as a standalone. It is let down mainly by a reluctance to fully commit to its own premise and risk alienating some readers by embracing the tension which it wants to place at its emotional core. Yet even if it never soars quite as high as it could, High Republic: Convergence is a novel in which both experienced fans of The High Republic and casual Star Wars readers alike can find plenty to enjoy.