“Stars,” he breathed. He threw out his hands and Vernestra felt like she was being pushed into her seat. That was when she felt the disturbance in the force.
It was like a blade slicing through her, a sharp edge made of fear and panic. But it wasn’t coming from her companions; it was coming from every other living thing on the ship. There were several large crashes and then alarms began to blare just as the roof of the dining room ripped away to reveal the stars beyond.– Star Wars: A Test of Courage
There was a time when I would have told you that my creative writing was sophisticated and nuanced… a deep world where powerful exposition… blah. We know the truth. I write Young Adult fiction. I might even write Middle Grade level stories.
I never really thought about it, but in my mind I still hesitated to pick up the new Star Wars: A Test of Courage novel because I assumed Middle Grade was too low down the totem pole for my own interest.
I am glad that I chose to read it after all.
This novel, unlike Charles Soule’s Light of the Jedi, focuses on a much smaller scale. Instead of a grand story focusing on complex enemies and hyperspace disasters, the focus is one a handful of young passengers that are thrown into their own version of chaos.
I understand this is supposed to be Middle Grade, but I admit I was surprised with how candidly the subject matter quickly delved into the heavy emotions that come with the loss of those we care deeply about.
The novel is short, as I suspect most Middle Grade stories are, but its length is utilized with maximum efficiency. We focus mostly on two Jedi characters, Vernestra and Imri, but we are also given Honesty, son of an ambassador, Avon, the daughter of a senator and a creative inventor, and J-6, a bodyguard droid repurposed as a nanny droid.
Since Justina is able to focus on a handful of characters, only a few major settings, and a much simpler narrative, the story has time to take hold. I felt like I got to spend more time with this adventure than I did with the heavy load of characters from Soule’s full novel.
The pacing of this story is both faster, and slower, as well. A lot happens in only ~159 pages, but the story also doesn’t move at breakneck speed.
We also get to spend some time learning about the force and how it is viewed during the High Republic days. It appears falling to the dark side is still quite a thing, but it is not viewed with an irredeemable disgust that the Jedi have shown in the past. One of my favorite ideas presented in this story specifically establishes that one dark day isn’t enough to stop the light within. It takes a concentrated desire and pursuit of the darkness to fall away from the light of the force.
I like that a lot.
This book also gives us our first taste of the rollover from one book to the next, as Vernestra is mentioned only briefly in Soule’s book, and names are dropped within the enemy forces that make you say, “Aha!” if you’ve already read the previous entry in the series.
For my own personal tastes, I actually favored A Test of Courage over The Light of the Jedi, not because I thought one was a better story than the other, but because the pacing and the simplicity of the plot kept me engaged. I reached for my e-reader more often for this story than I did Soule’s work. I suspect that was partly because I really wanted to absorb Light of the Jedi, so I was less keen to pick it up and read it unless I knew I had the time to really read it.
Both adventures so far have been a thrilling journey in the new High Republic era.
So, what’s my take on this adventure? Young Adult, Middle Grade, or just Novel, I can happily give this one five death stars!!!
Five out of Five Death Stars.
The size of the novel, the quick pacing, and the likable and relatable characters really won me over with this one. I learned more about the force and how the Jedi view the darkness, and Vernestra quickly climbed in the ranks of characters I want to learn more about.
Here’s hoping Justina has some more stories in the pipeline for us!!!