Audiobook Review: Star Wars: Into the Dark by Claudia Gray
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Media Tie-In
Series: Star Wars Canon, Star Wars: The High Republic
Publisher: Listening Library (February 2, 2021)
Length: 11 hrs and 11 mins
Narrator: Dan Bittner
Into the Dark was my fifth Star Wars book by Claudia Gray, but it’s probably the first one I didn’t love. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed it well enough, but I was also lukewarm about a lot of it. Unfortunately, I just don’t do as well with large casts when it comes to media tie-ins with their multitude of subplots and character perspectives.
Our story takes place in the era known as the High Republic, a setting created for a new series of written work launched in early 2021 to expand the Star Wars universe. Thus far there have only been a handful of books published, and Into the Dark is the first YA novel. Although it is intended to be a standalone, this story is also set around the Emergences space disaster featured in other The High Republic books. We are introduced to a padawan named Reath Silas, whose master had volunteered their services at the new Galactic Republic base established in the Outer Rim called Starlight Beacon. Along for the ride are also Jedi Knights Dez Rydan and Orla Jareni, as well as Jedi Master Colmac Vitus. Each of them have their own reasons to go, but all are committed to supporting the cause of their order and the Republic.
But when their transport is forced out of hyperspace by the Emergences, the Jedi must find a way to help bring the crew to safety. They end up at what appears to be an abandoned space station with a mysterious garden zealously protected by an army of droids, and that’s just one of many strange things they encounter. As more starts to go wrong, our characters discover the disturbing origins of the station, which is a remnant of an ancient race of aliens who have left certain safeguards in place to control an aggressive carnivorous plant species that would be a danger to the galaxy if set loose. And despite their best intentions, the Jedi may have inadvertently disrupted the careful balance of the station, putting everything at risk.
While Claudia Gray is still by far my favorite of the new Star Wars canon authors, I thought Into the Dark was probably her weakest. She usually writes great characters, but the attention here was simply spread too thin among too many perspectives, and even though Reath may be the closest thing to a protagonist, I also felt he was the dullest. The main gist of his character appears to be his reluctance to leave the comforts of Coruscant for the wild frontier of the Outer Rim, and he basically spends the entire book trying to broaden his horizons but still doesn’t quite manage it. Compared to Gray’s other novels where her protagonists typically grow a lot by story’s end, Reath’s journey didn’t seem to have much of an impact. It’s like his biggest challenge is still around the corner given the losses he experiences at the end of the book, and everything that occurred up to that point was just the leadup.
Also keep in mind that during this time, the Jedi were still all about eschewing attachments and forming any kind of emotional connection to anyone or anything, so one can’t help but think this might have also limited what Gray could have done with the characters. I therefore actually find it quite interesting and appropriate that this topic was touched upon in Master Colmac’s story arc. He was definitely one of the more compelling POVs, and I especially enjoyed his internal struggle and questioning of the Jedi’s ways (though I wasn’t so keen on the flashbacks to his early life which I felt were more distraction than explanation). Other characters I enjoyed included the pilot team of Affie and the spice-addled Leox who presented opportunities for cultural exchange and information sharing so that readers too can learn about the differences between the peoples of the core worlds and the Outer Rim.
In terms of the story, the plot involving the Amaxine and the Drengir might have come across as a bit convoluted, but what really excited me was when things started linking up to the bigger series arc concerning the Nihil. These are the main villains of The High Republic, after all, and naturally I was intrigued to read more.
That said, in many ways Into the Dark suffered some of the same issues I had with Light of the Jedi, and I believe the main reason has to do with the fact that this era’s timeline and its characters are still so new. We’re essentially starting fresh, and it’s inevitable that readers are going to need some time to get to learn the ropes. I think this is where I am now, but as time goes on, I’m sure it will become easier to feel more invested and connected to all the names, events, and places. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to getting more of The High Republic lore, and this is a series I will continue to stick with as long as I’m enjoying myself.