SWNN Review – The High Republic: Into the Dark by Claudia Gray
Into the Dark by Claudia Gray, the third novel set in the High Republic era of Star Wars, is great. Somewhere between thriller and adventure, Claudia Gray continues to demonstrate her ability to tell layered, compelling stories set in the galaxy far, far away. Into the Dark takes place concurrently with the previous two novels, Light of the Jedi and A Test of Courage, but in a completely different part of the galaxy. As the hyperspace cataclysm spreads across the galaxy, a freighter carrying three Jedi and a padawan to the frontier is forced to find safe harbor aboard an abandoned, ancient space station with its own dark connections to the Force.
Claudia Gray’s Star Wars debut, Lost Stars, set the gold standard for YA novels in the galaxy far, far away. Love, politics, rebellions, and Force lore are all found in Gray’s contributions to Star Wars. Into the Dark is as familiar to Gray fans like myself while offering new meta commentary and elements to the Jedi lore in a new era. Readers will likely get a sense of liberation in Gray’s exploration of the contradictions of Jedi dogma towards the fluid Force.
The Force is something Gray has never hesitated diving into, especially its relationship with the Jedi. Into the Dark provides a template for Gray to establish new tenets of the Jedi and their relationship to the Force. The four-hundred year gap between the High Republic and the prequels is one Gray uses to her advantage. Gray doesn’t hold back contrasting the difference between these Jedi and the ones of the prequels. The meta-commentary from Gray is worth the cover price alone but first and foremost, Into the Dark is a damn good story.
I’ll do my best to keep this review relatively light on spoilers. If you’re nervous to keep reading, I don’t blame you. Claudia Gray is an incredible storyteller and Into the Dark is another excellent contribution to the Star Wars library.
Into the Dark offers another great ensemble of characters, all of whom are given equal amounts of time and plenty of their own issues to resolve. The story often comes back to the perspective of padawan Reath Silas. At the beginning of the story, Reath continues to struggle crossing a large, entirely kyber arch in the Jedi Temple on Coruscant. Part of his struggles crossing the arch relate to the disappointment weighing on him about a new assignment. Weeks earlier, his master Jora Malli informed him they would be leaving Coruscant to take up residence in the temple at Starlight Beacon. The assignment is highly sought after but Reath is cool to the prospect of exploring the galaxy’s frontier. His goal is to become a scholar and work in the Jedi Archives. Jora encourages him to keep an open mind.
Gray’s writing establishes a much more parental sensibility between master and apprentice, especially in the few moments shared between Jora and Reath. The arch symbolism also foreshadows the transformation Reath will undergo, as the story begins with him struggling to cross the arch and will end with him understanding why no Jedi can cross it alone. Each character of Into the Dark struggles with a sense of isolation when the story opens. A range of trauma and grief stoke a loneliness sensed in each of them. At the beginning of the story, most of the characters already feel an underlying conflict between emotional isolation and the unity they are expected to embrace with Starlight Beacon.
Reath Silas will make his way to Starlight Beacon to join his master and is accompanied by other members of the Order. Master Cohmac Vitus, a Jedi folklorist, hopes to learn more about the cultures and stories of the less traveled Outer Rim. Dez Rydan, once a padawan of Jora Malli, is hitching a ride to rejoin the Jedi after a long assignment away. Dez and Reath have a bond from their shared connection to Jora. She even jokes how their ambition is similar, even if they wanted to end up in different roles as Jedi.
Orla Jareni has a place in the Jedi Order as a “wayseeker”. These are Jedi who are still hold the title but have left the Order temporarily to find their place in the galaxy. Notice Orla’s white blades, similar to Ahsoka’s after her departure from the Order. Between the three novels, it’s pretty well established the code and rules of the Jedi Order are much looser than those of the prequel era. Eventually, we’ll learn why everything became so rigid. None of the other Jedi perceive anything odd about Orla’s choice, which is refreshing there isn’t a monastic superiority or righteousness.
Orla and Master Cohmac have their own bond, as well. We learn Orla likely chose the path of a wayseeker due to a tragedy she and Cohmac experienced in their younger days. Gray inserts flashback interludes into chapters at moments when those memories are triggered for Orla and Cohmac. At a younger age, Orla and Cohmac were part of a diplomatic mission gone terribly wrong. Two royal figures of divided planets are kidnapped by a Hutt-proxy looking to cause long term instability to the Outer Rim. Orla and Cohmac are the only ones able to attempt a rescue after their masters are killed. The resolution ties into a huge surprise at the end of the book, so I won’t go into specific details. It’s greatly affected them both during the years leading up to Into the Dark and often rocks their confidence.
The Jedi charter a vessel, actually called the Vessel, piloted by members of a shipping consortium called the Byne Guild. The crew consists of a seasoned, spice-toking pilot named Leox Gyasi; a rock-like navigator named Geode; and a young co-pilot named Affie Hollow. Affie is the daughter of the Byne Guild’s leader, Scover, but she’s determined to make a name for herself. She’s also curious about the Jedi and the Republic, as the Vessel doesn’t make its way to Coruscant often. The Vessel departs Coruscant for its journey to Starlight Beacon in the Outer Rim. Affie is young and inexperienced but not at all naive. Her perspective is refreshing, especially as she learns the Byne Guild may be involved in more criminal activity than she was aware. The relationship between she and Leox is great, as she’s made him something of a reluctant mentor–a role he warms up to by the end of the story.
Not long after their departure, the Legacy Run disaster occurs, knocking the Vessel out of hyperspace into the darkness between stars. Like the rest of the galaxy, none of them are aware of why hyperspace seems to have collapsed. As they start putting the pieces together, finding safe harbor for survival becomes more and more pressing. It doesn’t take them long to realize they are very near a volatile star, capable of sending out deadly flares any moment. Also, they aren’t alone, as a few other ships were torn from hyperspace in the same location. After searching the vicinity, they find a large and uncatalogued space station near them. Even if they can’t board it, the massive structure will protect them if they hide their ships on its dark side, so the Vessel and the other ships head for it.
If you read your Star Wars comics, like me, Gray’s meticulous description of this station will sound familiar right away. Before diving into the events of Into the Dark, this is the same station Ben Solo and Snoke had their fateful conversation in Charles Soule’s The Rise of Kylo Ren. As the story of Into the Dark unfolds, we learn why it’s a perfect hideout for Snoke. That comic is not required reading for Into the Dark but I thought it would be interesting to point out and show the setting, as most of the story takes place aboard this arboretum/space station. It doesn’t take the Jedi long to feel the presence of the dark side once they are aboard. And the dark history of the station reveals itself and a new villain as the story moves along.
When the Jedi and Vessel crew discover the station has a breathable atmosphere, they go aboard. The other ships dropped from hyperspace join them and there are a few culture clashes, but the Jedi seem much more concerned with an elusive dark side energy they can’t decipher. We learn the Jedi have encountered botanical manifestations of the dark side and suspect the arboretum to harbor. Cohmac dispels the suspicion, noting those are distinct convergences. The Jedi focus on a group of idol statues in the center of the arboretum, which they suppose keeps the dark side presence contained within.
They discover this station was built by an ancient race of warriors called the Amaxines. If that name sounds familiar, it’s not the first time it’s been invoked. A terrorist proxy group working for the First Order stole the name in Gray’s Bloodline but they had no real relation to the true Amaxine. The Amaxine were a race of warriors, constantly looking for battle, disappearing into the darkness of space as the Republic rose and stabilized the galaxy. With no wars to fight, the Amaxine converged at this station and searched the darkness of space for new enemies. Cohmacs experience as a folklorist comes in handy but they still don’t understand what happened to the Amaxine and why the dark side is so strong.
Affie Hollow is doing some investigating of her own aboard the station. When she discovers the coordinates of the station are in the Byne Guild database, Affie wants to know what her mother has been using the station for. It doesn’t take her long to discover the Byne Guild has extensively used this station as a waypoint and it’s also revealed they are trafficking indentured workers around the galaxy. “Indentured” is technically legal in a lot of the galaxy but it’s outlawed in the Republic. Not quite slavery, rather traders preying on the poor and indebted, casting them into a never ending whirlpool of debt and forcing them into a life of servitude to pay it off. Though it’s legal, Affie finds it abhorrent her mother and the Byne Guild profit from such practices. Affie’s perceptions of her mother and her own goals are shattered upon learning this.
Reath and Dez meet a young girl named Nan. She’s come aboard the station from one of the ships kicked out of hyperspace and is very curious about the Jedi and the Republic. Reath is happy to find another person close to his age, so they talk quite a bit. As they explore the lower rings of the station, Dez finds a strange chamber. When he enters and doesn’t return, Reath theorizes it’s connected to the coaxium stores of the station and assumes Dez has been vaporized as the station cycled through power. All of the Jedi mourn his loss.
Reath also gets troubling news from Coruscant…his master Jora Malli is dead. Killed by the Nihil at the battle in Kur Nebula (Light of the Jedi). The news rocks Reath and also triggers Cohmacs memory of his masters death. Claudia Gray uses this moment in a very appropriate and meta way to address the Jedi’s suppression of emotion.
From Into the Dark:
Cohmac shook his head. “I have come to realize that it was not my mistakes that scarred me then. I dwelled upon them because the Order would not allow me to grieve. My sorrow had no other outlet. And this, they tell us, is the proper Jedi way.
It feels like the stark difference in Jedi dogma is VERY intentional. I’ve mentioned this in other reviews my guess is something terrible will happen to the Jedi in this era, causing the Order to contract to a more rigid and secretive practice. Cohmacs resentment of their emotional restrictions felt like Gray planting seeds for some sort of future splinter which may occur in the Order. We know from Dooku: Jedi Lost that Keeve Trennis leaves the Order in a tragic manner and she likely won’t be alone.
After a quick examination of the idols, the Jedi and Orla learn they were placed on the station not only to keep the dark side contained but to keep it dormant, as well. By removing the idols, the dark power is free. Immediately, she asks to return the idols. The Jedi are more concerned with the current crisis as the galaxy reels from the Legacy Run disaster and the emergence of the Nihil. Though they refuse her request to return them, she reunites with Cohmac and they decide to disobey the orders because of semantics. Since the Jedi didn’t forbid them to go, they figure they’ll get a slap on the wrist.
Reath is determined to return to Amaxine station, as well. After hearing the descriptions of the Nihil, the padawan remembers Nans garbs and the distinct design of her ship, crudely put together from components of other ships. Because he believed Nan to be just a curious person, living in the Outer Rim, he answered all of her questions about the Jedi and the Republic, giving her valuable information the Nihil may be able to use. Reath doesn’t want to go back for revenge, he wants to arrest her and get more information about the Nihil. Dealing with the grief of Jora’s death, Reath is in limbo as the Jedi have given him time to meditate on his future. He begins to plot his path back to Amaxine station.
Affie Hollow also feels conflicted about their departure and she needs more answers about the Byne Guilds use of the station. Reath, Orla, and Cohmac are drawn back to the Vessel, with a common goal, and they make their way back to Amaxine station.
Any doubt about Nan being part of the Nihil is dispelled when the Vessel drops out of hyperspace and a Nihil battleship looms over the station. Thanks to Leox and Geode, they are able to sneak aboard the station undetected. Orla and Cohmac, carrying the idols, begin making their way back to the arboretum section while Reath and Affie stay in the lower rings. As Reath searches for Affie, he stumbles into a chamber similar to the one Dez disappeared in, with the door slamming shut behind him. Suddenly, the chamber detaches from the station and enters hyperspace, transporting Reath to an unknown planet covered in thick vegetation.
Meet the Drengir. This isn’t technically their first appearance (Dark Legends by George Mann) but this is certainly their coming out party. They are a plant like species, able to rapidly regenerate their limbs. They’ve faced the Amaxine, the Sith, and now…the Jedi. They seem to function as a collective consciousness when speaking to other aliens. Although this is their big moment, one of my only wishes for Into the Dark would’ve been to learn a bit more about them. There’s plenty of time, though.
Reath spots another pod on the planet and we learn Dez is still alive. While he’s been the guest of the Drengir they’ve tortured Dez and pushed him toward insanity with their toxins. They use his altered state and send him after Reath. As mentioned in A Test of Courage, this may be the platinum era of the Jedi and maybe that’s because they rarely use their lightsabers. Reath is reluctant but ignites his blade to defend himself while trying to figure out a way to reach Dez’s mind. When the Drengir see the blade a pretty huge revelation comes to light.
They recognize lightsabers, remarking the blades they’ve seen before were red. We learn the Sith faced them and were actually the ones who placed the idols on Amaxine station to keep the Drengir contained. This was after a long war with the Amaxine, who we discover didn’t actually disappear into the darkness, but built the station to serve as a waypoint for a campaign against the Drengir. Eventually, the Drengir were able to board one of the pods and it returned them to the station, overrunning the Amaxine. The Drengir on the planet have been waiting for their comrades to return. At some point the Sith must have discovered the station and were overwhelmed by the Drengir, so they likely placed the idols to keep them dormant until they could figure out a way to use their powers. Remember, Snoke made this station his home, so the Drengir are likely well known in Sith Lore.
Reath is able to bring Dez back by focusing on the bond they share through their former and deceased master. Reath and Dez are able to use one of the pods and return to Amaxine station, where the Nihil have discovered the Jedi. The battle for Amaxine station begins. I’ll avoid specifics for the sake of not spoiling the entire book, but it’s Jedi versus Nihil versus Drengir versus an unlikely adversary who surprises everyone. Reath also confronts Nan, who ends up being the lone survivor of the conflict and escapes back to the Nihil. With the Nihil defeated, the Jedi make their way back to Coruscant.
By the end of the book, each of our characters have found their own resolution. Affie knows what she has to do to make things right for the criminal activity of her mother and the Byne Guild, while ensuring her own future. The other Jedi make their way to Starlight Beacon, attending the ceremony we’ve seen in the previous books. While the galaxy is forever changed, another new enemy has appeared and the future is uncertain, the characters in this book are more well-equipped to head back out into the stars of the galaxy far, far away and face them.
There are a lot of connections to the other Star Wars novels from Claudia Gray. Using the Amaxines, who were invoked in Bloodline, and bringing them full-circle here to explain how Snoke became aware of them without specifically saying it is one example of the subtle brilliance in her words. Claudia Gray succeeds in so many ways with Into the Dark, putting her stamp on this period of the High Republic and giving us characters we’ll no doubt see grow as the literature moves along.
I’m optimistic this will not be her last contribution to the High Republic and I hope not. The biggest strengths of Into the Dark are her meta-examinations of the Jedi and the Force. Gray isn’t afraid to question and call out what’s been laid down in Star Wars lore before. We need more of that. Into the Dark gives me a lot of hope Star Wars will continue to evolve and not rest on the familiar. From the new Thrawn Ascendency trilogy to this High Republic project, this last year feels like the stories will continue to shift to wilder, stranger parts of the galaxy. We’re ready for it, Star Wars. Just please make sure Claudia Gray is along for the journey and continues to help expand the galaxy with her wonderful mind and beautiful words.
The High Republic: Into the Dark is available wherever books are sold. Special thanks to Lucasfilm Disney Press for the advanced review copy used for this article.