Review – Love, Betrayal, and A New Threat Revealed in Out of the Shadows by Justina Ireland
The attack on the Republic Fair left the Jedi and the Republic stunned. Months later, the Nihil are still wreaking havoc across the galaxy and in Justina Ireland’s Out of the Shadows we learn they search for new ways to gain an advantage. The story centers around Syvestri Yarrow, a former Byne Guild, going through rough patch in her life. When an attack on her ship brings her to Coruscant, she finds herself trapped in the middle of feuding aristocratic families, investigative Jedi, a former lover, and a connection to her past she can’t ignore.
As usual, I’ll do my best to avoid diving into major spoilers. For those who want a taste without the details, I adored Out of the Shadows. Author Justina Ireland (Spark of the Resistance, A Test of Courage) not only gets the opportunity to expand on her own characters, Jedi Vernestra Rwoh and her Padawan Imri Cantaros, she brings some wonderful new faces into The High Republic. This story picks up months after the attack on Valo during the Republic Fair, and as large as you’d think those events would loom over everything, Ireland tells a story which stands entirely on its own. Though the events and characters aren’t diminished by the larger events taking place in the galaxy, by the end of the book there are forbidding signs the struggles against the Nihil are nowhere near finished and the escalation on both sides is ramping up. Going forward, I’ll be dipping into some spoilers. You’ve been warned.
Though Out of the Shadows is a shining example of how well an ensemble cast works, Sylvestri Yarrow is the lens Ireland frequently unfolds events through. I don’t blame her, Syl is a great character and a perspective perfect for viewing this complicated galaxy through. Still struggling with the grief of losing her mother, Syl is looking out at a galaxy where everyone seems to be winning except her. Ireland introduces a Syl who is angry with the vast gulf between the haves and the have-nots in a galaxy far, far away. She’s not out to change the system, just trying to survive in a galaxy which throws every obstacle in front of her goals.
We learn Sylvi was not only raised by her mother while traveling across the galaxy, she had several teachers her mom left her with for periods of time. For long periods, she’d be solely focused on a specific discipline, whether it be combat or science. This upbringing formed a Sylvestri Yarrow who is resourceful and capable, making her a great new ally against the Nihil. Just because they have a shared enemy, Syl doesn’t trust the Jedi and is skeptical of their outreach. Syl lives in a galaxy where she watches the marginalized populations of the galaxy slip through the cracks of the Republic and Jedi outreach. For as great as the Republic wants to paint itself and the Jedi, Syl knows good and bad come in a variety of shades and doesn’t trust anyone who makes a clear declaration for either side. She also acknowledges the Nihil recruit through desperation, preying upon those who have nowhere to go except into their ranks for survival.
Syl is also dealing with a broken heart. Another character Ireland introduces is Jordanna Sparkburn, a member of the San Tekka family and marshal for their planet, Tikkae, protecting their vassals (The more I learn about the San Tekkas the more curious I get) and someone who Syl had a passionate romance with. Both women lived lives bound to serving their family name and share a bond in that frustration to reclaim their agency. They are reunited after believing they’d never see each other again. Watching these two rediscover their feelings and come to grips with their own demons is some of Ireland’s best writing. A love story set against the backdrop of evil rising in the galaxy far, far away is the best Star Wars.
Jordanna is also skeptical of the Jedi. The planet she guards is attacked relentlessly by the Nihil and her calls to Jedi outposts often go unanswered. It’s only when Jedi Master Cohmac Vitus and Jedi Vernestra Rwoh, along with their Padawans Reath Silas and Imri Cantaros, answer a distress call that she is able to express what’s been happening. The Jedi have been recalled to Coruscant from Starlight Beacon. Answering this distress call, they see the urgency of Jordanna’s need for help against the Nihil and urge her to travel with them to Coruscant. While on Tikkae, Jedi Vernestra Rwoh realizes a powerful vision she’s been seeing occurred just before their arrival.
Vernestra Rwoh is the other perspective Ireland tends to showcase alongside Sylvi. Though much of their stories take place separately, the convergence of these two characters is another strength for Out of the Shadows. Vernestra is dealing with a lot. Survivors guilt follows her from the events of Valo and her increasing number of Force-visions are beginning to overwhelm her. Unsure if she should seek counsel from her former master, Stellan Gios, Vernestra carries these things alone while trying to be a good master for her Padawan, Imri. Though she has a lot on her mind, Vernestra never hesitates to plunge into danger when necessary. She’s one of my favorite Jedi because of the bravery and compassion she demonstrates at every chance.
We learn Vernestra’s ability to find planets through the Force has also grown. In A Test of Courage, Vernestra was able to ferry a ship of surviving children to a habitable planet using her abilities and it woke something in her. This hyperspace navigational Force-ability has been popping up a lot across the Star Wars canon. Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn: Ascendancy novels feature Skywalkers and pathfinders pilot ships through hyperspace in the Unknown Regions. We know Mari San Tekka uses the Force to create special paths for the Nihil and now Vernestra is honing her own abilities. But she’s keeping it to herself for now. This ability also allows her to commune with other voices through the Force who are searching the hyperspace realm for paths. It would be a huge spoiler if I elaborated upon these conversations, so I’ll just tell you to pay close attention when they happen.
It’s safe to say we should expect big things when it comes to Vernestra Rwoh. Not only is she a great character, she’s been in every High Republic novel. We have a long way to go before the end of the High Republic and these younger Jedi and Padawans are getting big exposure in these stories. Especially Vernestra and by the end of this novel she’s already grown so much from the character we met in Ireland’s previous novel. She also carries a secret with her which will likely lead her and her apprentice to a distant part of the galaxy. Being very careful of spoilers here but I’m confident at least one of those titles recently announced for the next phase will be focus solely on Vernestra’s next adventure.
The two Padawans, Imri Cantaros and Reath Silas, fit well into the story. Padawans sometimes function as narrative devices for exposition but Ireland doesn’t fall into that trap. Imri, who we saw touch the dark side in A Test of Courage, struggles with his emerging power of an empathic nature. Not only is Imri extremely sensitive to feeling emotions of others through the Force, he’s capable of manipulating them. Vernestra and others urge caution, warning that ability stands upon a very slippery moral slope. Reath is still hopeful the galaxy will find peace but not in a naive sense. He’s grown since Into the Dark and been exposed to the galaxy instead of staying cooped up in the Jedi Archives.
Xylan Graf is the character who brings everyone together. Fortunate son of the powerful Graf family (bitter rival of the San Tekkas), Xylan embodies all the privilege and decadence Syl despises. Yet, he makes her an offer she can’t refuse, preying on her desperation. Syl is down to her last credits and takes a contract with Xylan, though the terms keep changing as more of his plans are revealed. Xylan is determined to prove a rumored weapon capable of knocking ships out of hyperspace is being developed. A brilliant scientific mind of the Republic believes this and Xylan is determined to discredit him.
Being a wealthy Graf gets him the ear of Senator Ghirra Starros, who dispatches Vernestra and Cohmac to accompany Xylan and Syl. This also brings Jordanna into the mix, as she hopes to keep an eye on what the Graf family is up to. The mutual disdain between the Grafs and San Tekkas takes its form in the great exchanges between these two. As crowded as this ensemble sounds, Ireland does a great job managing each character in the crowd. Master Cohmac fans may be disappointed, as his character gets the least amount of attention but that didn’t bother mean. There’s so much to cover with Syl and Vernestra alone, someone had to be sacrificed.
They make their way to the Berenge system, considered by the San Tekkas to be a haunted part of space. For them, it’s the place where they lost Mari San Tekka.
So where are the Nihil in Out of the Shadows? Well, they’re certainly around but not nearly as much a part of the story as they’ve been in the past. The member of the Nihil most featured is Nan, the teenager who befriended Reath in Claudia Gray’s Into the Dark. Nan isn’t as interested in being a Nihil as she is to please Marchion Ro. She looks up to the Eye who has trusted her with guarding Mari San Tekka. Ro is focused on developing another weapon we don’t learn more about, so he’s leaving San Tekka with Lourna Dee and those working to build the hyperspace disruptor.
Nan quickly gets into trouble when it’s revealed who she’s working for…Chancey Yarrow. Yup, that’s Syl’s mother, believed to be dead. There’s a big backstory here and the less you know going in the better, but Chancey is the most likely candidate for villain of the story. She realizes Nan’s resourcefulness and survivor psyche, so she keeps her on a close watch. By the end of the book, it feels more like a test, than anything. There’s no doubt Nan is a survivor and will be showing up in future High Republic books, especially since she’s at odds with the Nihil and Marchion Ro by the end and finds herself with a strange new ally.
When Syl discovers her mother lied to her and faked her own death she’s more angry than devastated. Where Syl overcomes the biggest obstacle is she doesn’t become cynical and join her mother. Syl stands by her values, knowing the Nihil prey on the weak and not wanting anything to do with it, even if her own mother tries to get her to join in. The upbringing and education Chancey fostered for Syl aimed at turning into a weapon she could use. Syl defies it and does what she believes is right.
Syl, Jordanna, and the Jedi ultimately find their way to Gravity’s Heart, the name Chancey’s bestowed upon her hyperspace weapon. While some of them were taken there as prisoners, the rest are coming to rescue them. It’s an exciting climax to the different threads of each character. The final confrontation is especially profound for Vernestra, as she comes face-to-face with the visions she’s been having. The result is going to change the conflict between the Jedi and the Nihil forever. All of our heroes make it out okay and Chancey escapes with Nan. Our characters find their own way to resolutions.
While the characters live and have seemingly happy endings, there is an ominous tone in the final pages. The Jedi discover powerful families have been supporting the Nihil in an attempt to play both sides to cover themselves. For the first time, the Jedi realize this is quickly becoming a war and they must decide if the Order can walk the line between keepers of the peace and soldiers. Judging by the titles revealed recently for the next wave of books, we’re in for a rough ride next year.
Justina Ireland’s writing is always a pleasure to read. I’ve already imagined what the new characters in these books will think of existing ones if their paths cross. Give me a Ty Yorrick, Syl, and Jordanna novel please! Out of the Shadows is a great story which adds to the High Republic while standing on its own. While the novel has it’s heavy moments there were so many times I laughed out loud. This story is a lot of fun to read, especially when Syl is in the driver’s seat. The smile Justina Ireland likely had writing many of these chapters is apparent in the depth of these wonderful characters.
The only small critique I’d make is the story sometimes jumps around when it doesn’t need to. Sometimes this pulled me out of scenes I felt were cutoff for the sake of cadence. Overall though, I imagine readers will have little to complain about. Out of the Shadows continues to keep the high bar of adventure, danger, fun, and love we’ve come to expect from The High Repbulic. Looking forward to many of these from Justina Ireland!
The High Republic: Out of the Shadows is available now where books are sold. Special thanks to Disney Lucasfilm Press for the ARC used in this review.