By George Bate
We are on the verge of exploring an entire new era in the Star Wars mythology with The High Republic, something that we have been looking forward to since the publishing initiative’s reveal last year. One of the first major entries in this new era is Star Wars The High Republic: A Test of Courage, a new middle-grade novel written by Justina Ireland. Ireland’s previous Star Wars works include the middle-grade novels Lando’s Luck and Spark of the Resistance. And, similar to those works, Ireland delivers an exciting, fast paced novel geared toward younger readers with plenty for older readers to feast on too.
A Test of Courage dives into this brand new era of Star Wars canon, set approximately 200 years before The Phantom Menace. Featuring a new ensemble array of characters, A Test of Courage primarily follows Vernestra Rwoh, a Jedi Knight journeying on a luxury starship heading for a space station in the Outer Rim regions. Vernestra is accompanied by Jedi apprentice Imri Cantaros, a senator’s daughter named Avon Starros who Vernestra is tasked with supervising, Avon’s protocol droid, and an ambassador’s son named Honesty Weft (yes, Ireland creates some truly great Star Wars character names in her novel). Their plans go awry, however, as their ship becomes under attack by insidious pirates known as the Nihil and the team flees on an escape shuttle to a forest moon.
Amidst recent projects like The Rise of Skywalker, The Clone Wars, and The Mandalorian, it can be overwhelming to suddenly shift gears to an entirely different time period before the Skywalker saga, but A Test of Courage navigates this task well for the most part. The novel doesn’t become bogged down in exposition about this new era, instead primarily focusing on the narrative at hand with sprinkles of important canon information throughout, in true Star Wars fashion. This may be a little disappointing to Star Wars fans seeking a deeper exploration into this new era with A Test of Courage. Most of the world building is rather surface level, although what we get is interesting. In particular, the Great Disaster is mentioned several times and also appears in several of the other debut High Republic books. Not much is known about this event, but it involved the destruction of a massive spaceship traveling through hyperspace, which caused hyperspace lanes to become dangerous to travel in and the entire landscape of the galaxy to undergo radical changes. It’s cool to learn more about this event with seemingly ancillary tidbits scattered throughout. That being said, one probably needs to read other High Republic books in conjunction with A Test of Courage to really begin living in this new era. Little references to other facets of Star Wars, including Batuu and Pasaana, add depth to the novel and make it feel integrated into broader Star Wars canon, but the novel doesn’t quite delve into the High Republic era as we would have liked.
As opposed to world building, Ireland’s novel really excels in character dynamics. Ireland has a nuanced way of writing dialogue that feels so genuine and appropriate for the novel’s target audience. Adolescents speak like adolescents, kids speak like kids, and adults speak like adults. Each character feels distinct from the next and different people are bound to have their favorites. I was particularly drawn to Imri and the journey she goes on, whereas another editor at Star Wars Holocron was unexpectedly drawn to Avon. The stakes are high, but the tone never becomes too abrasive or overwhelming for our cast of characters. Little character interactions throughout the novel harken back to dynamics we’ve seen before, including Obi-Wan and Anakin, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, and even Kit Fisto and Nahdar Vebb. In this sense, A Test of Courage certainly feels like an episode of The Clone Wars at times, both in its tone, plot, and character interactions.
Justina Ireland’s A Test of Courage is a fantastic new novel that complements other High Republic projects like Light of the Jedi and Into the Dark in interesting ways. The novel doesn’t quite delve into the uniqueness and world building of the High Republic era as we would have liked, but this is offset by brilliantly written young characters, who readers will quickly empathize with.
Image courtesy of Disney-Lucasfilm Press