Into the Dark
(Star Wars — The High Republic)
By Claudia Gray
Del Rey Books — February 2021
ISBN: 9781368057288 — Hardcover — 425 pp.
Set concurrently to events in the High Republic novel Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule, Claudia Gray’s new YA novel Into the Dark expands readers’ introduction to details of this Star Wars period, but works equally well as a stand alone adventure. Those who’ve already read some of Gray’s canon Star Wars novels know her reputation for penning some great ones, whether marketed for the general adult (e.g. Master & Apprentice) or young adult (e.g. Leia: Princess of Alderaan). For any new Star Wars readers, you could start out with anything by her, including this exciting new release.
With the opening of the Republic’s Starlight Beacon station in the ‘wilds’ of the Outer Rim, Jedi long-based in the Temple on the Republic capital of Coruscant feel the Force guiding them to new opportunities and needs at that galactic edge. When Jedi Padawan Reath Silas learns that his master, Jora Malli, is one of those who will be leaving the comfort and calm of the Temple for the chaos and unknown of the Outer Rim for a posting at the station, he meets the development with worry and disappointment. A historian and bookworm, Reath has gravitated toward more academic Jedi pursuits, spending time in the library where others maximize lightsaber training and seek more extroverted action. But, Master Jora reminds her apprentice that Jedi must seek balance in all things, and push themselves through the difficulties of doing things they feel naturally disinclined toward or fear. That is, of course, except the Dark Side of the Force.
Reluctantly, Reath agrees, and promises to push himself toward being a better Jedi; be better attuned to the Force like those Masters he looks up to. Three of these Jedi join Reath on an Outer Rim based transport hired to take them to the Starlight Beacon dedication, where Jora already has arrived. Dez Rydan was Jora’s first Padawan, and the Knight is now already a legend to Reath, representing the dashing skills at adventure that elude him. Orla Jareni has just declared herself a Wayseeker, given official leave to operate outside of the Jedi Council’s purview to discover her place in the Force. Third is Cohmac Vitus, a respected Jedi with scholarly specializations into folklore that match Reath’s interests.
The transport taking the Jedi is a cargo ship blandly named the Vessel, run by the Byne Guild, an organization based in the outer reaches where Starlight Beacon is located. The motley crew consists of an eccentric trio: captain Leox Gyasi, an affable low-key guy who is protective of his crew; co-pilot Affie Hollow, a teenager whose parents died while in Guild employ, and who was then taken in by the leader of the Byne Guild; navigator Geode, who is a Vinitian appearing to be nothing more than a featureless, immobile, mute, rock.
Soon after departing Coruscant via hyperspace, the “Great Disaster” that features in Light of the Jedi occurs. The occupants of the Vessel suddenly find themselves surrounded in hyperspace by dangerous debris that looks frighteningly similar to the Byne Guild flagship the Legacy Run. This supposedly impossible hyperspace encounter is worsened by the fact that hyperspace itself seems tumultuous and wrong. Expert maneuvers by Affie and Geode allow the Vessel to leave hyperspace. The crew and their Jedi passengers find themselves in the middle of empty space, at a location that was in the Vessel’s computer for inexplicable reasons given its lack of planets or features. All they find is an abandoned station, whose architecture reminds Cohmac and Reath of a long-vanished people. Left stranded and unable to reenter hyperspace until the mysterious disaster can be dealt with and travel is again ‘assured’ safe, the Legacy occupants join the crews of other ships stranded in this location to board the station and investigate.
There they find a jungle of plants, cared for and protected by an army of droids. Stopping other crews from plundering the station and infighting, the Jedi try to keep the peace and manage the unexpected situation. However, they also sense something off, something of the Dark Side. Dark visions of violence seem to warn them of a danger there, and this seems tied to a group of small idols they discover, items they speculate may somehow have been imbued with power of the Sith, or worse.
It took me awhile to get into Into the Dark, and for awhile I wondered if this would be the first Star Wars novel by Claudia Gray that I would find middling. Mostly this is because it takes time to get elements of the plot going, and even once stranded upon the strange garden station, the true trajectory of things makes it somewhat hard to find footing and become invested. Within that first third of the novel, everything involves Gray’s establishment of the characters, and building the themes of the novel. I guess I didn’t quite take to the characters at first, particularly Reath. Earnest and well-intentioned, his fresh naïveté make him so unlike other Jedi I’ve encountered/read, even if a Padawan. As he grew, and I kept reading, I began to appreciate this much more.
By the middle of the book I was firmly hooked, and the revelations of its close tie together the themes of the novel so well, while also tying the plot into the grander picture of The High Republic and its Nihil adversaries introduced in Light of the Jedi. The characters all grew on me, particularly the crew of the Vessel. We got a rock with Geode, but the absurdity of the character and the symbolic physical nature of Geode’s steadfastness and resilience just puts a smile of joy and chuckles on the reader’s face. Affie bears similarity to Reath in her ethics, but unlike him has the experiences of a hard life, and far less trust. They are able to learn from one another. Leox serves as a guardian for Affie, but really more of a mentor, guiding her to independence, but also realizing that he in turn can learn a lot from her and begin to follow her inherent leadership. He also seems like a Star Wars version of “The Dude” from the Coen Brothers The Big Lebowski. Complete with “medicinal” Spice.
The relationship between Leox and Affie is very much one of Master and Apprentice, a ‘secular’ parallel to the Jedi relationship that Jora and Reath have. And the health of those mentorships contrasts with the more exploitative one that Affie has with the leader of the Byne Guild. (Or another I shouldn’t say more on.) Gray has already written a novel titled Master and Apprentice about Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. But this novel could equally be titled the same, for it continues and expands those themes in fascinating ways then both within the Jedi Order and outside perspectives of the Vessel crew and also (as we eventually learn) the Nihil.
Reath may be Padawan to Jora, but he equally looks to the examples and strengths of the other Jedi he travels with. And he begins to also see their weaknesses and where they themselves struggle with dedicating themselves to the Force or the Jedi ways just as much as Reath does. As a Wayseeker, Orla very obviously exists as a questioning, uncertain soul, despite being an adult. But she also has shared a past traumatic mission with Cohmac, and these events continue to weigh on them – particularly Cohmac. (Aside: The reader learns more about this backstory through a series of passages spread through the novel that are given in flashback. They connect to the present plot, but overall I found this organization of this backstory to be intrusive, and the only part of Into the Dark that I never ended up appreciating.) Dez also expresses doubts and challenges that he still faces. Through them all Reath learns beyond his idealistic foundation that he began upon, and the uncertainty of reality both eases his feelings of guilt over his own struggles and gives him a sense of shared experience to fight for helping not just non-Jedi others, but also his fellow adherents.
Several times the various Jedi wonder how good it is that the Order completely eschews the Dark Side while striving to keep balance in all other things. Does this make the dangers of the Dark Side even worse? Does it leave them more vulnerable? Yet, the dangers of it now also seem all too clear and real as they discover more on the station, and are met with catastrophe and painful loss.
Into the Dark really delves into Good/Bad and Master/Apprentice dichotomies so well, and on so many levels. On the one hand the novel is an entertaining Star Wars adventure with a teen character coming-of-age that sets it in that YA fold. But underneath that is so much more complexity, not just of plot, but of these basic themes that make the Star Wars universe so effective and endearing.