With Justina Ireland’s Out of the Shadows young adult novel, we’re now six books and two ongoing comic series into The High Republic era of Star Wars. With that, fans know what to expect from the stories set hundreds of years before the Skywalker saga: action and space politics, complex characters with relatable emotions and motivations, Jedi self-doubt, mercurial villains and people navigating their place in the galaxy.
Out of the Shadows delivers on all those fronts, even when it takes a while to get to the action or forgoes fleshing out the story’s climax in favor of spending more time in its characters’ heads.
Like the other High Republic offerings, Out of the Shadows tells its story from the points of view of several key characters — Jedi and average Republic citizens alike. Ireland’s middle-grade novel A Test of Courage introduced us to the Mirialan Jedi Knight Vernestra Rwoh and her padawan Imri Cantaros, and Out of the Shadows continues their adventures alongside Jedi Master Cohmac Vitus and his padawan Reath Silas (both from Into the Dark). Out of the Shadows also introduces us to scrappy hauler Sylvestri “Syl” Yarrow, her ex-girlfriend Jordanna Sparkburn and the immensely wealthy hyperspace prospecting heir Xylan Graf.
Vernestra, Syl and Reath chiefly narrate the story. We also see the return of Nan (Into the Dark), a young Nihil pirate who’s bent on impressing and proving her worth to the Eye of the Nihil, Marchion Ro.
The novel’s mission shows Vernestra, Imri, Reath, Cohmac, Syl, Jordanna and Xylan teaming up to investigate reported strange activity in the Berenge Sector of the galaxy. Vernestra and Imri have been stationed on the Starlight Beacon ever since the brutal Nihil attacks seen in The Rising Storm. The two meet Syl when they’re called back to Coruscant, where Syl has just landed to report her ship stolen by Nihil after being thrown from hyperspace, which is anything but a normal occurrence.
Though it’s nice to have Reath and Cohmac back, and their knowledge of the galaxy’s history is a welcome one, it’s hard to pin down the point of their return other than Reath’s previous connection to Nan the Nihil. The return of the name San Tekka is also a welcome one, especially as the book finally gives us more details about the significance of the San Tekka-Graf competition, the science and mysticism of hyperspace and how the Nihil fit into it all.
Out of the Shadows truly shines in its character development, especially that of Syl, who’s filled with grief, anger and cynicism following the death of the mother at the hands of the Nihil and an emotional breakup with Jordanna. Ireland explores Syl’s intense feelings with empathy and authenticity that make us hope for more Syl-centered stories in the future.
Likewise, Ireland explores a relatable journey of self-discovery with Vernestra, one of the youngest Jedi Knights and with a padawan at just 17 years old. Her astounding achievements established high expectations for her role as a teacher and beyond, but none as high as the expectations she puts on herself. The most intriguing and loveable Jedi in all of Star Wars are the ones with self-doubt and conflicting emotions, and we see a lot of Vernestra dealing with these feelings throughout the book.
Where Out of the Shadows stumbles is in its pacing. The beginning and end of the book are serious page-turners, but the story seems to slow way down in the middle. Nearly all Star Wars stories have at least one big action sequence, but more than two-thirds of the novel passes by before the group even leaves for the Berenge Sector.
There’s a good bit of politicking about hyperspace and the Nihil between the Republic government, the wealthy Graf family and the Jedi — who are still questioning the Order’s role in all of this. After intriguing beginning hooks, Out of the Shadows seems to dive into nearly endless conversations between various members of the group along with cameos by Jedi Master Stellan Gios and Senator Ghirra Starros — yes, an ancestor of smuggler Stana Starros.
These briefings are relevant to the overall story and help flesh out the key players in the upcoming action, but it takes a bit too long to get to the book’s climax amid about 100 pages of over-explaining.
Still, Out of the Shadows is an excellent addition to The High Republic repertoire. Being a young adult offering, it still doesn’t shy away from delving into brutality and darkness. There’s also plenty of hilarious and awkward moments amongst this group of mostly teenagers, especially when it comes to attraction, relationships and heartbreak. The book is full of accomplished Jedi — who are supposedly “chaste” — but it’s always a delight to read about the Force-users’ appreciation for the physical attractiveness of others.
The book ends on a cliffhanger, of course, but it’s one that raises the stakes in the fight against the Nihil and introduces a new “villain” to keep an eye on. Out of the Shadows both satisfies with great character development and leaves you wanting more with a suspenseful ending. With many more High Republic stories planned, fans won’t have to worry about waiting too long.
Star Wars: The High Republic: Out of the Shadows is available in stores on July 27.