Review: Hope Struggles to Linger in ‘The High Republic: Midnight Horizon’ by Daniel José Older

Yet again, The High Republic era adds incredible depth to the entirety of the Star Wars universe. After the existential dread I felt sifting through the pages of The Fallen Star and the heart wrenching finale the novel offered up, two questions remained for me entering into this next adventure: How will Midnight Horizon provide a sense of closure to phase 1 and will it provide a beacon of hope to cling to as the light of the Jedi goes dark? I can confidently say Daniel José Older offers up a slow burn mystery thriller doing exactly that. This book gives a delightful display of growth from its main characters at a perfect pace. A coming-of-age novel in many regards it truly felt like what the essence of Star Wars writing should be. A beautiful aspect of the High Republic era is its desire for inclusivity. The intentions of Older to be a leader for inclusivity in this galaxy shines through within the romantic interests of several prominent characters. Without a doubt this book will have you gripped from the murder that sets the stage, up to its fiery conclusion.

 

For those weary of spoilers, you have no need to fear just yet.

 

Fans of padawan’s Reath Silas and Ram Jomaram won’t want to put this one down. The coming-of-age aspect of the book is most closely connected with these two. I must admit they haven’t been my favorite characters to visit in this era, but Midnight Horizon completely changed my perspective and I leave the book absolutely invested in their futures. Reath and Ram are joined by Masters Cohmac Vitus and Kantam Sy on what initially seems like an inconsequential mission to the industrial core world of Corellia.

 

While these Jedi head to Core, others continue on to complete their current mission of bringing a Nihil leader named Krix to justice. The prominent members of this group are Master Kantam’s padawan Lula Talisola and Zeem, who is force sensitive, but not a Jedi. While I wish the romantic aspect of their relationship was explored a bit more, it held all of the teenage angst you can expect while also seeing these two explore what love is.

 

Corellia introduces us to a brazen young security specialist Alys “Crash” Ongwa. Her best friend Prybolt’s disappearance is her initial motivation to see this mystery solved, but we see this grow into a greater sense of duty for all of Corellia. Her dynamic with Reath and Ram added a nice new flavor to this story I wasn’t expecting to find. You can’t help but smile at the interactions between these three characters.

 

The mystery vibes and twists and turns the novel takes before the final clash for their lives was handled to near perfection. In a slow burn like this pacing can quickly become an issue, but Older knew the story he wanted to tell inside and out and gave each character enough time to grow, and I felt as if I grew along with them. There is a looming question in this book answered in epic fashion in the closing chapters and the imagery used by Older in describing the final scenes thrust you right into the fray on Corellia. Sit back and enjoy a fantastic conclusion to phase I of this bold new era of Star Wars.

 

 

Spoilers ahead….

 

The prologue sets the stage for the mystery vibes Midnight Horizon offers up when we have a short yet thrilling experience with Grindalid male, Prybolt. Prybolt is a member of a security task force led by previously mentioned Crash. Prybolt is killed by the blood thirsty Nihil while on duty looking after one of the influential members of Corellian Society. While Crash is reluctant to expect Nihil involvement in a world this deep into the galactic core, she does suspect Prybolt’s death was not simply due to the occupational dangers her and the team signed up to take. There is a greater sense of urgency in solving this mystery for her own sake as well. The Grindalids hold her personally responsible for the death of one of their own unless she can come up with evidence to who the murderer is. Suspecting a deeper scheme taking place with the possibility of Nihil involvement she reaches out to the republic and ultimately the Jedi at Starlight for help.

 

Of the Jedi we interact with in Midnight Horizon we spend the most time with Padawan’s Ram Jomaram and Reath Silas. This unlikely duo forms such an unbreakable bond throughout the book, Ram actually realizes that “Reath is his best friend”. Our first interactions with them see both trying to figure out what their future holds and what is the “correct path” for them to take. Feelings of inadequacy and uncertainty have been enhanced by the ongoing war with the Nihil. The padawans help each other discover their way as Ram finds his own “balance” and Reath discovers his “path”.

 

Master Vitus is still wrestling with the darkness he encountered on the Amaxine station from Into The Dark and the toll the war against theNihil has taken on him has been greater than he has let on to even his own padawan. His conversations with Kantam and hearing about their past help him come to grips with what he needs to do.

 

As those four prepare to depart for Corellia it leaves Zeem and padawan Lula to complete the mission of capturing the Nihil leader Krix they have been pursuing for some time. These two have grown immensely close during this pursuit. Zeem has essentially become family to the rest of the Jedi and something much more to Lula even if the two of them can’t figure out how to express it.

 

Starlight Beacon has become a home and safe haven to this band and as they leave, they have no idea that for many it’s going to be for the last time.

 

The High Republic Starlight beacon

 

Expecting the Jedi Masters to take control of the situation upon arrival on Corellia I was in for my first of many surprises. As the masters venture off to tend to some business with a political leader of Coronet City, the Padawan’s go on a little excursion of their own. Our now favorite security specialist Crash, comes face to face with these eclectic teenagers. This was where I reached full investment levels. The dynamic between these three engaged captured the essence of the Reath and Ram dynamic and better let me discover who Crash really is. Reath and Ram fudge the rules just a bit by going on this excursion, but the promise of adventure and for Ram, the prospect of visiting the famed Corellian shipyards proved too enticing to stay in their quarters.

 

Agreeing to disguise themselves as Scarlet Skulls: a thought to be extinct group of youth assassins, the Padawan’s are able to blend in as a part of Crash’s security crew at this high end gathering between some of the Corellian elite. Crash decided at this moment she couldn’t take any of these dignitaries slighting the loss of her best friend Prybolt, and decked one of them directly in the face. This no doubt causes your classic bar brawl.

 

The Jedi masters promptly arrive onto the scene and find great amusement at the state they found the Padawan’s in. Thankfully, the amusing nature of their disguises coupled with the valuable information the Padawan’s had gathered, neutralized any would be punishment.

 

Although intel gathering, rather than engaging in a brawl was the intended mission for the evening, the crew did figure out what their next move needed to be. Somehow, they needed to undermine their rival security organization and gain control of security measures for the giant party being thrown downtown the next day. This party would be attended by everyone of importance on Corellia. In order to do this, they would need a client of theirs to be the main entertainment attraction. Currently, the main attraction was a client of their rival. To secure their place as the main security detail for the event they would need to eliminate the current entertainment and provide a new star for the people to clamor for.

 

 

Meanwhile, the chase by Lula and Zeem to take down the treacherous Krix was successful. Throughout the prep for the mission and ultimately the mission itself it was clear Lula and Zeem both were struggling to communicate to the other what they are so obviously feeling. Capturing Krix, while elating, also brings about big questions for the two of them. Where does Zeem go from here? What does Lula’s future as a Jedi look like while having this attachment? All of these questions come to a head even sooner as Zeem prepares to rendezvous with the team on Corellia while Lula continues on to Starlight beacon. In the interrogation of Krix, Zeem learned the Nihil were definitely in the system and she was determined to assist those on the core planet while also escaping some of the difficult conversations to come. As the two depart, Zeem promises Lula she will come back safe and sound, but in her heart decides she may stay away forever.

 

Something I particularly love about Star Wars is when they interlace flashbacks as an integral part of storytelling. I enjoyed it in the Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy, and it was deployed here in an equally enjoyable fashion through the stories of Kantam Sy. They told the tale of their time away from the Jedi Order. Their master was none other than Yoda himself and he was the one who actually encouraged them to leave.

 

The unique way this was done is rather intriguing. In telling the story of Kantam’s departure from the order in their pursuit of “their path” and dealing with feelings of attachment and love it gave a way to grow both Kantam and Cohmac, whom they were telling the stories too.

 

While Yoda was a part of the flashbacks, he was also a looming presence over the entire novel. The grand master had been missing for a long a time now and everyone’s become increasingly worried. Ram and Reath exchange a few conversions sharing thoughts about how they cope with not knowing if he was ok or where he was. Even the masters express their discomfort at Yoda’s missing presence and the toll it is taking on the order.

 

 

When Zeem arrives on the scene at Corellia she quickly is astonished to learn of the grand part she gets to play in the scheme to come. Remember when I said Crash’s team needed a new star to emerge for the party’s entertainment? Well, Ram happened to offer up none other than Zeem herself and due to some clever camera work and knowing how to work the gossip holos, every single holonet channel was beaming with the bright new star that was uncovered overnight. While the seeds were being planted on that end, the ploy to eliminate the current main attraction was underway. In a scene that felt straight out of something I might see on Spy Kids, we quickly learn that espionage might not be Reath’s strong suit. Although in a hilarious fashion you simply have to read, they get the job done, albeit not without a bumbling performance on Reath’s part.

 

Existential dread. Uncertain doom. As the elaborate party begins and they learn of the Nihil’s involvement the Jedi each have their own taste of these feelings. The masters have a much clearer vision of the danger Starlight is in and the Padawan’s each feel this great disturbance in the force. Cohmac fears for his dear friend and fellow Jedi Orla Jareni and Kantam feels the same for their Padawan, Lula, as they are both back on Starlight where, if you read The Fallen Star, you know disaster has struck.

 

As the party begins, Crash learns members of the Corellian elite have been working directly with the Nihil and it was at this moment the Nihil made their move. Across all holos the striking image of Starlight Beacon falling was displayed and the Nihil’s true strength was known. The Nihil on Corellia then begin their assault on the planet. Corellia is known as a planet of great industry. Its shipyards are home to a fleet of the finest vessels in all of the galaxy. Our heroes on the surface discover the Nihil plan to commandeer this fleet and stage as republic reinforcement to Starlight Beacon when in actuality they will eliminate that very help. The damage the Nihil could cause both physically and symbolically in not only destroying Starlight, but wreaking havoc with the Republic’s finest ships was something that could not be allowed to happen.

 

The imagery conjured up by José Older as he describes the onslaught of the hundreds upon hundreds of Nihil on the Jedi, Crash and her team and the few Corellian defenders leaves you absolutely breathless. While weaving a tapestry of destruction he also delivers critical development for each of our favorite characters.

 

Star Wars High Republic The Nihil

 

For Ram, as she is piloting a starfighter seeking to eliminate any Nihil ships who might escape, finds the balance she has been looking for. Ram is a builder, a creator and a tinkerer. In one of her talks with Reath she is able to use a metaphor unique to her personality as a builder to find this balance. She not only saves the lives of countless individuals, but she also saves Reath’s life.

 

For Reath, much of this novel is about his journey in finding his path. For him and Ram it truly is a coming-of-age novel. Throughout the battle he finds the truth he has been searching for. He wasn’t lost because he couldn’t find his path. He just needed to be content with knowing there is never a clear path to follow, and nuance will exist everywhere. He must trust in the force to be his guide.

 

As nearly all hope was lost, and Master Kantam was clinging to what little strength they had left, they came to finally understand the lesson of letting go that Master Yoda had begun teaching them all those years ago. It was at this precise moment of course; the grand entrance of all grand entrances was made.

 

Yoda himself emerges from the smoke and saves the day through a series of vast displays of power in the force and overwhelming strength and courage. After miraculously saving the day, the team had the chance to settle in and wrestle with the knowledge Starlight had fallen.

 

 

In the aftermath of the battle, there is a touching moment. Reath Silas is finally knighted. Yoda, Kantam and his own Master Cohmac deem him worthy of the rank of Jedi Knight. As someone who has followed every step of Reath’s journey thus far it was a beautiful example of how you can grow with a character as a reader. To Reath’s surprise however, his master immediately bestows his lightsaber to him and Cohmac announces he must leave the order as he is no longer a Jedi.

 

To conclude, Yoda has many secrets to share from his time missing. He hints at how they must look to the secrets of the distant past in order to come up with the answers of today and he has called all remaining Jedi back to the Coruscant temple. This made sense as the writers of the High Republic team announced Phase II would take us 150 years into the past.

 

Overall, this was my second favorite High Republic novel so far and I’ve poured my heart into every single one of them. Daniel José Older does a masterful job at depicting three love stories without relying solely on tragic endings to build the characters involved. The growth we see from Ram and Reath was more of what I had hoped to see from characters in The Fallen Star. The pacing throughout was set at a perfect tempo. The slow burn pays off in grand fashion with a final act delivering in every possible way. I wish I could share every minute detail from the last 100 pages, but you simply must grab a copy for yourself.

 

Thank you to Disney Lucasfilm Press for the ARC used in this review!

 

Rating: 9/10

 

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Finding ways to nonchalantly incorporate Star Wars quotes into his daily meetings at work, Tyler lives and breathes Star Wars. His morning tradition is sending the latest number in the countdown for different Star Wars projects and loves engaging in uplifting Star Wars dialogue. If you are passionate about  Star Wars you can follow him on Twitter at TyBrad5.

Tyler Bradshaw

Finding ways to nonchalantly incorporate Star Wars quotes into his daily meetings at work, Tyler lives and breathes Star Wars. His morning tradition is sending the latest number in the countdown for different Star Wars projects and loves engaging in uplifting Star Wars dialogue. If you are passionate about  Star Wars you can follow him on Twitter at TyBrad5.

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