osing a loved one takes a devastating toll on the mind.
After such a personal tragedy, you may seek solace in work, old friends, or anything else that can offer comfort. But if you’re Sylvestri Yarrow, you find yourself thrust into the middle of a mysterious plot between hyperspace prospectors, the Nihil, and the Jedi.
Oh, and your ex-girlfriend? With the adorable lightning cat? She’s there too.
Out of the Shadows by Justina Ireland continues the High Republic’s domination of Star Wars literature by presenting a story unlike anything the era has provided thus far. By assembling a cast of wonderfully relatable characters working through a myriad of issues surrounding love, purpose, and the Force itself, Ireland ensures that the High Republic’s relentless momentum continues through the end of its second wave.
In a similar vein to its Young Adult predecessor, Claudia Gray’s Into the Dark, Out of the Shadows starts a bit slowly. Readers are introduced to the essential cast members including Sylvestri Yarrow, a pilot in desperate need of a score, Vernestra Rwoh, a sublimely talented Jedi Knight who is attempting to navigate the perils of mastery, and Reath Silas who would rather be in the library, thank you very much.
Ireland takes her time organizing these pieces on the story’s narrative board, and through a number of political machinations that may admittedly take a couple of rereads to understand fully, the majority of the players find themselves on Coruscant and in the service of the comically wealthy Graf family.
The Grafs have a long standing rivalry with the San Tekkas over the hyperspace prospecting business, and over the centuries, that pursuit has made them exceedingly rich and remarkably curious in developing new technologies. On the surface, the Grafs simply want to use a desolate sector of space for their future experiments, but it wouldn’t be a Star Wars book without a little more intrigue, would it?
And that’s where the majority of Shadows’s conflict lies: relationships and intrigue. Although there are a number of action set pieces that elicit the trademark joy High Republic battles have come to present, the book saves a majority of the thrilling heroics for its last quarter. Once those final chapters pick up momentum, the book can be nearly impossible to put down, but the slower build of this book compared to earlier High Republic entries may be jarring for some readers.
At its core, however, this book’s plot excels as a vehicle for some of the most personal character evolution we’ve seen yet in this era. Ireland doesn’t shy away from the devastating effects of grief, the elation of young love, and the complications of balancing duty with desire. As a result, each main character is gifted their own fully developed journey by book’s end, and although every aspect of the novel’s plot may not stick with you upon completion, the ramifications of Out of the Shadow will undoubtedly affect many projects yet to come.
Introducing a brand new, non-Force sensitive character to star in Out of the Shadows was an undeniable risk. Despite the relatively young age of the initiative, the High Republic has already supplied some of the most exciting characters that Star Wars has seen in years, and even though Out of the Shadows features a lot of them, the main protagonist is someone that we’ve never seen before.
Luckily, Sylvestri Yarrow is more than up to the challenge.
Syl’s presence as an outsider looking into the structures of the Jedi and the Graf/San Tekka conflict acts as a wonderfully unique point of view for the audience. Readers learn the ever expanding lore right alongside the protagonist, and Ireland’s use of Yarrow as this type of vessel is incredibly effective.
Aside from the expansive mythology Syl witnesses throughout Shadows, she also serves as a conduit for two of the most interesting relationships in the entire book. One of those relationships will not be discussed in detail within this review because of story spoilers, but the other is Syl’s relationship with Jordanna Sparkburn.
This electric pairing is not only a consistently engaging literary tug of war, but also an incredibly important milestone in Star Wars books. Syl is the main protagonist who is an LGBTQ+ woman of color who is actively engaged in a relationship with another woman. That’s huge. With the way Star Wars books are going lately, this will not be a big deal someday, but for now, the fact that the biggest publishing initiative in Star Wars history proudly features a gay relationship front and center with a woman of color is phenomenal and a beautifully meaningful step in the right direction.
As for the context of Syl and Jordanna’s romantic banter and journey as an “ex” couple, Ireland provides some of the sweetest dialogue we’ve seen since Lost Stars. Despite the trials that drove Syl and Jordanna apart, Ireland’s electrifying descriptors intensify the undeniable sparks between them, and the quiet scenes between them are some of the brightest highlights in Shadows.
Aside from Syl’s wonderful debut, the novel’s other unquestionable star has to be Vernestra “Don’t Call Me Vern” Rwoh. Ever since her appearance in Ireland’s previous work, A Test of Courage, Vernestra has rocketed to the top of fan favorite lists (especially amongst our Discord community). After readers experience her further adventures in Shadows, we can’t see that changing any time soon.
From her introduction, Vernestra has excelled in every challenge she has faced, and her reputation has been just as stellar in the Jedi Order as it has been among the Star Wars fanbase. However, Out of the Shadows allows us to delve into the vulnerable corners of Rwoh’s life by exposing her concerns about training a Padawan and deciphering mysterious hyperspace visions that she fears may turn her into a mere tool for those she has dedicated her life to serve.
These microcosms of doubt in someone so strong and capable are quintessentially Star Wars in their nature. Allowing such an impactful character to experience that journey of doubt not only aids the complexity of the story but also the emotional trials of the reader.
If Vernestra Rwoh has doubts, then why can’t I?
To fully list the remaining cast of characters would necessitate a much longer review, but we would be remiss if we failed to highlight the contributions of additional standouts like Reath Silas, Master Cohmac Vitus, and the wondrously flamboyant Xylan Graf.
Reath and Cohmac’s dynamics, which began in Into the Dark, level up appropriately within the pages of Shadows, and those who may have had difficulty keying in to the bookish pair during their adventures on Amaxine Station should have an easier time within the halls of Coruscant. While Reath doesn’t quite attain the heights of intrigue and development as Vernestra and Syl, he undoubtedly remains a key part of both this book and the continued initiative, and we look forward to his continual inclusion in future projects.
Xylan Graf, on the other hand, presents a fascinating agent of chaos throughout the book, and, much like Syl’s point of view, aids in helping readers understand the Graf/San Tekka conflict. The amount of wealth, confidence, and dare we say swagger Xylan exudes says more about the power of the hyperspace prospecting families than any single adventure could, and his questionable morality keeps the reader continuously unbalanced and hoping he returns to the page as quickly as possible.
Young Adult Star Wars novels are often brimming with fantastic characters, and Out of the Shadows is no exception. While the machinations of the overall plot occasionally slip through the cracks, the simultaneously tender and thrilling moments of character expansion we receive in return more than make up the difference.
With each consecutive review of The High Republic, the concept of originality gets more difficult to describe. By the most literal definition, each consecutive novel borrows something from those that came before, so is it even possible for the level of originality to remain constant?
Rather than endlessly compare the pure number of new concepts in each book, we’ll be focusing on the new bits of lore each novel adds to the Star Wars universe at large. Out of the Shadows makes a huge splash in this regard with its expansion of the Graf and San Tekka family conflict.
Back at the start of the whole initiative, Light of the Jedi introduced us to the San Tekka family and the idea of hyperspace prospecting along with the lucrative lifestyle the practice could provide. Hyperspace was further explained as a much more mysterious enterprise than we had once imagined, and the intricacies were transferred to stories about the Nihil’s control of the Paths.
Enter Out of the Shadows. What began as a way for the San Tekkas to build an empire of sorts has now been further illuminated as a generational conflict between two families vying for the control of possibly the most powerful force in the galaxy: hyperspace itself. Ireland’s conscious expansion of the familial conflict adds an entirely new layer of excitement to the idea of hyperspace travel, and the establishment of the Graf/San Tekka quarrel could provide numerous additional squabbles and territorial skirmishes for years to come.
But political acquisitions are not the only new addition to the hyperspace mythos. Shadows also introduces the idea of hyperspace-specific visions as experienced by Vernestra Rwoh. The idea elicits memories of the Chiss Second Sight from Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy, but the implementation here is far more intricate. Force visions have always been slightly less than trustworthy in the history of Star Wars, so adding a brand new element to them opens up a number of new story possibilities- especially for Vernestra’s future in the initiative.
Before Out of the Shadows, Justina Ireland made her mark in the Star Wars universe with lauded middle grade novels A Test of Courage, Spark of the Resistance, and Lando’s Luck. However, her work outside of the galaxy far, far away has covered numerous genres and age ranges, so it should be no surprise that she absolutely crushes the writing in her longest Star Wars novel yet.
As previously mentioned, this book is chock-full of characters both familiar and original, and perhaps Ireland’s greatest triumph in Shadows is keeping every single voice unique while maintaining such an intricate plot line. Occasionally, some secondary and tertiary characters in Star Wars books can blur together in favor of progressing through the larger story, but Ireland never falters in her dedication to ensure every speaker their proper respect and identity.
Writing relationships can often prove difficult in the midst of grand space spectacle. While some of that said spectacle gets a bit confusing to track throughout the novel, the relationship interludes throughout shone brilliantly. Romantic entanglements, burgeoning friendships, and professional partnerships are all given scenes to breathe and discover, and those interpersonal connections are handled with a deft hand that makes them the highlights of the book.
And finally, the rapid momentum of the final 100-150 pages cannot be undersold. Ireland’s ability to craft a finale worthy of a late night reading binge is on full display as the machinations of the larger narrative all come to a head. The resulting action is among the best The High Republic has yet to offer.
After the pure adrenalized insanity of the Republic Fair on Valo, it can be tough to access that same slice of unbridled entertainment again. While not every Star Wars story should strive to be the same in regards to lavish battle sequences and breakneck pacing, subtle political maneuvering and hallway conversations are a stark contrast to flying dragons and battle-axe-swingin’ Twi’leks.
All to say, Out of the Shadows is a slightly different flavor of entertainment than we’ve experienced over the last month.
While the climactic sequences of the book are filled with massive action set pieces, potential scenes of betrayal, and tension on a level worthy of multiple jaw dropping gasps, the majority of the novel presents its excitement in a different fashion. As readers, we don’t need every book to leave us emotionally rattled at the end of every chapter, and one could argue that the Star Wars universe is at its best when filled with as many different types of stories as possible.
That's what Out of the Shadows represents. Something different. Something softer. But something important, nonetheless.
So before going into this book expecting the breakneck speed of previous releases, take a moment to clear your mind and focus on the story. Are there speeder chases? Yes. Are there explosions? Yes. But is there so much more that requires a more gentle touch? Absolutely.
By combining characters of old with brash new protagonists, Justina Ireland crafts a tale of evolving relationships, an ever-expanding galaxy, and more than a few secrets and betrayals to continue The High Republic in admirable fashion.
Not only does Out of the Shadows provide a slight respite from the heartbreaking events of The Rising Storm, it also paints a picture of a tragic galaxy at war. Despite the larger conflict at play, there are always those left behind by heroes like the Jedi, and their stories must never be forgotten in search of the greater good.
Because the galaxy is bigger than the armed conflict between factions of legend. There are families controlling hyperspace, there are teenagers shouldering responsibilities they should never have to bear, and there are lovers looking to find their way back to each other’s arms even when an entire galaxy is trying to keep them apart.
And as long as all of these stories are being told, well...we really are all the Republic.