In arguably her best Star Wars novel yet, author E.K. Johnston expands the life of Qi’ra and charts her journey from orphaned scrumrat to the top echelons of the Crimson Dawn crime syndicate in Crimson Climb.
The young adult novel is set right after the prologue of Solo: A Star Wars Story, when Han Solo is forced to leave Qi’ra behind on Corellia during a botched escape attempt. Qi’ra is dragged back to the dark and damp underbelly of the White Worms sewer layer to answer and be punished for trying to escape her life of starvation and violence under Lady Proxima.
Set over the course of about a year and a half, Crimson Climb shows Qi’ra mentally and physically beaten down before being sold to a ruthless gangster and then handpicked by a representative of Crimson Dawn to prove herself to the crime syndicate’s leader, Dryden Vos.
Qi’ra was never presented as timid or a damsel in distress, but Crimson Climb shows how she turned a loveless childhood of neglect into a life as a cold and calculating crime leader — enough to draw Vos’ admiration and the attention of the true leader of the Shadow Collective, Maul.
Along with showing what happened to Qi’ra after the Solo prologue, Crimson Climb delves deeper into her character and how her traumatic experiences sharpened her into the cool and collected living weapon with whom Han Solo reunites in the film.
Crimson Climb may be a young adult novel, but it’s definitely one of the most mature and graphic ones in Star Wars. Johnston doesn’t shy away from detailing the violent life of a space gangster, including a poignant scene where Qi’ra is instructed to kill a Quarren, and then Vos uses the species’ ink to tattoo the Crimson Dawn symbol on Qi’ra.
There are many more moments like this throughout the novel, where Qi’ra is forced to be violent or coldly manipulative to prove her cunning and loyalty. As the readers, during these moments we also see Qi’ra’s thought process and motivations to continue this life of violent crime.
In the end, Qi’a accepts that she may not have chosen this life, but she damn sure is going to make her circumstances work in her favor and, eventually, in a way she can control.
Overall, Crimson Climb feels like a tantalizing beginning to what could be more Qi’ra-focused books. The novel’s last mission is a harrowing one — Qi’ra is sent to a mysterious planet to retrieve an ancient Jedi/Sith artifact for Maul.
Much of her crew die in horrific ways along the way, but the end shows just how much — and how many people — Qi’ra is willing to sacrifice to survive.
Maul never appears nor is he mentioned by name, but the book ends on a cliffhanger of Qi’ra’s future — much like Solo did.
While War of the Bounty Hunters, Crimson Reign, and Hidden Empire show Qi’ra’s machinations as the head of Crimson Dawn during the events of the original trilogy, Crimson Climb’s and Solo’s cliffhangers leave plenty of room for more.
As someone who isn’t the biggest fan of the Star Wars criminal underworld, I would still gladly take several more Qi’ra books.
With Crimson Climb, Johnston excels at recreating and expanding upon the characters made famous by Emilia Clarke and Paul Bettany in Solo. She also made complicated missions easy to follow, and imbued a steady sense of paranoia about the punishment that awaited Qi’ra and other characters when they messed up.
For lovers of Solo, Rae Carson’s Most Wanted, and some of the recent runs of Marvel comics, Crimson Climb is the perfect new read. It builds upon established characters and lore and adds even more delectable context to make it feel like a fresh new Star Wars story.
Crimson Climb will have you cheering #MakeSolo2Happen — or, maybe, Qi’ra: A Star Wars Story.
Crimson Climb by E.K. Johnston releases on Oct. 10 from Disney Books.