The second novel* in The High Republic series, The Rising Storm picks up pretty much straight after the first book, as we follow the preparations for The Republic Fair on Valo, in the Outer Rim. Another of Chancellor Lina Soh’s “Great Works”, the Fair is intended to showcase the very best of the Republic, acting as something of an expo I guess, with the added benefit of bringing the Togruta species into the Republic fold.
The early part of the novel has a lot of shuffling-of-pieces, as we see the Nihil leadership move forward and posture among themselves, Marchion Ro in particular taking further steps for a grand plan to attack the Republic. We also see the Cyclor Shipyards, and the research vessel Innovator is going through various tests prior to the Fair when a rogue tempest of the Nihil attack, to be fought off by the Jedi.
For the most part of the book, we then get an extended view of preparations for the Fair, including the arrival of the Togruta monarch and so on. Everything is rather wonderful, and we get to really delve into some of the returning characters from the first book, such as Elzar Mann and Stellan Gios, before suddenly the Nihil attack! It is quite dramatic as well, and the manner of the attack, with an orbital element and reaver-like ground assault (including smoke clouds and sonic disruptions) feels like an utterly ferocious strike at the Republic and the Jedi.
While the Nihil are eventually repelled, they still claim a victory and rogue elements decide to press the advantage by planning another attack, but fall prey to a disinformation campaign and are routed. The Jedi learn that the Nihil are basing themselves on Grizal, and mount their own attack, at which point the Nihil organisation seems to be tearing itself apart. In order to escape, Marchion Ro releases a beast known as “the Leveler” which can turn people into husks, and flees on his ship.
I really enjoyed this book – perhaps not as much as I enjoyed the first one, for sure, but nevertheless it felt like a really great second act. So many trilogies seem to go a bit dead in the middle, but I think here we’ve broadened out just enough to allow more character to appear from the established cast, while maintaining the momentum in the Republic vs Nihil war. Actually, the whole war is an interesting one, because it often seems like nothing more than marauders and pirates testing the fringes, and not a really large-scale military threat. That’s why the attack on the Fair worked, because it wasn’t a case of the Nihil going up against a Republic fleet or somesuch. The scale is different to, say, the Clone Wars, and I really like it.
The Jedi are developed a lot in this book, and I like how different they feel to their counterparts in the Prequels. They don’t quite seem to be the cloistered monks, but rather the type of official mediators and security services of the Republic, and have a much more public face. You definitely get the impression that the Jedi are off-limits when the time of the Prequels comes about. It’ll be interesting to see how, if at all, that change comes about. There are perhaps glimpses here, as Elzar Mann uses Dark Side power to stop the Nihil attack at one point – maybe they decide to retreat to avoid any kind of fall?
Some of the criticisms of this book that I’ve seen online (mainly on the SW book club Facebook group) come leveled at the fact that nothing seems to happen in the book, that it is boring, etc. I think, on the contrary, so much happens that it’s difficult to provide a satisfying synopsis of it without going on for days! We get a lot of minutiae when it comes to the Fair, which I think works quite well because after a number of chapters where the action moves around a bit, we’re almost lulled into a sense of security before BOOM – the Nihil attack and all hell breaks loose! The subsequent attack takes place over several chapters, though purportedly only takes place over the course of maybe an afternoon. So much is going on, that it’s difficult to cover it all quickly, but the pacing is really quite good and no single aspect of the attack feels like it has been short-changed. I was then surprised that the end was still a long way off, because a lot more action then follows!
Bell Zettifar has his reunion with Loden Greatstorm, who has been testing his bonds in the Nihil prison, and manages to escape, only for their reunion to be short-lived as he falls victim to the Leveler. That was a genuinely emotional moment for me, and I felt almost like I’d been punched. That’s some good storytelling, right there – it really got me!
We’re getting what now appears to be the Disney trope of adding in more gay characters to the books, with a fairly significant plot thread involving the Chancellor’s son, and a more throwaway element involving the former Jedi padawan Ty Yorrick and the daughter of her client, who ends up as a bit of a catalyst for the final confrontation on Grizal. As far as Kitrep Soh’s awkward relationship with Jom Lariin goes, I thought it seemed a bit rushed at first, but turned out to be very satisfying and worked really well within the wider story without feeling shoehorned in. It’s great to have these kinds of plot threads, where two guys can be attracted to each other and have an arc which forms a strong part of the actual story, rather than it being a case of LOOK EVERYBODY, THIS GUY’S GAY! as it often felt in the Aftermath books. Ty Yorrick is a much more complicated character, who didn’t really get much airtime to properly see develop. Maybe she’ll form a large part of the third novel, coming out in January? There’s a suggestion of something there, which feels much more how we’re used to seeing this kind of stuff in years gone by. We’re definitely getting there, which is the main thing!
Of all the new canon books that I’ve read so far, I think this is up there with the small clutch of novels that I think would benefit from a second reading. Indeed, I think I would enjoy a second reading, though I think I’d probably do so as part of a general High Republic re-read. Very good development, but I definitely want to go wider with this time frame, and see more of the galaxy.
The third book, The Fallen Star, is written by Claudia Gray, who I’ve definitely had some ups and downs with! Let’s hope we get something along the lines of Bloodline, and less Lost Stars! It’s coming out in January, and I hope to pick it up pretty much as soon as possible and get reading.
* I know there are a bunch of other YA novels etc, but this is the second in what I’m thinking of as the main storyline, based on purely the adult novels. Not “adult” in that sense, though…