There’s a moment not long into A Test of Courage, a Star Wars novel by Justina Ireland, when a disaster strikes. It unsettles the characters, forcing them into survival mode. It also establishes for us readers a placement for the action. A small uninhabited and scarcely explored moon in the middle of nowhere.
In other words, the last place anyone would want to be stranded. For our four main characters, however, it’s an opportunity to shine. To use skills trained but untested. To enhance a perseverance over adversity that all survivors must forge.
It’s a Star Wars story you shouldn’t miss.
Test of Courage — Coming of Age
Our main protagonists come from varied backgrounds, but one thing they each share is youthful inexperience. All of them are underage and out of their elements. Even the two Jedi, Vernestra Rwoh and Imri Cantaros, are new to the Outer Rim. While Vernestra is already a Jedi Knight, she’s far from seasoned, being only 16 years old.
But when these characters are left to their own devices, even the youngest come of age. Such is the necessity, for the moon they’re forced to call home isn’t a paradise. While it looks habitable and gives off a comforting vibe, the jungle around them isn’t all that it appears. In fact, it harbors a secret and dangers that quickly threaten the group.
But even more unsettling is the darkness at the edge of their senses. The shadows that are quickly seen and disregarded but hold great import. Not to mention the memories of their recent past. The tragedy that so rudely altered their immediate and permanent futures. For as these kids discover, sometimes the greatest monsters aren’t without but within. And what was at first reconciled can return to rear an ugly and powerful head.
Figuring It All Out
One of the four, the youngest among them, is quite smart. She’s a genius when it comes to technology. She’s also difficult to deal with when she’s on the prowl for answers. Yet, it’s this insatiable quest for clarity that soon consumes the whole group. Because for each of them, questions linger.
Why was their ship targeted? Who was behind the attack? How can they get in touch with civilization? And how much longer will they have to survive on their own?
As if those questions weren’t enough, each of the four has a separate grief to overcome. Whether it’s the loss of a master, a parent, or a way of life, to a person they are deeply affected. So much so that their grief easily turns into brooding. And for some, dark action. Especially when the shadows reveal other survivors. Survivors who should have never been aboard the ship.
A More Focused Tale
This book isn’t meant to be action packed. There aren’t revolving story arcs and cliffhanger moments. In fact, most of the real heroics are done within the first 50 pages. After that, the tale is fairly straightforward. Yet, the deeper implications are great. Not only because of what the disaster means on a system and galactic scale but also in how it affects our protagonists.
Being tested can be a good thing. It’s a coming of age that all sentient beings must face. It separates a child from adulthood. But being tested can also be a bad thing. It can take what was once promising and twist it for all time. In the case of a Jedi, that moment of cataclysm is the start of a direction. Light Side. Dark Side. For a character so young, it can be a tenuous difference.
Which is why when one of the Jedi begins to doubt, the danger is amped up. Not only for the individual at question but for the group as a whole. After all, it’s bad enough fighting shadows. But to fight an ally as well? Yet, those are the stakes when courage is tested. And when one aims to do the right thing, there can be no doubt, no matter who the combatant is.
A Test of Courage Reviewed
While the scope of this story is more limited compared to other Star Wars novels, the scale of the decisions made is not. This book doesn’t need to be action packed to deliver a blow. It weaves a great yarn by being true to the characters and the choices before them.
While the challenges could have been amped up some more, they’re consistent with a younger reading audience. For some, that may be a deal breaker. Yet, for those interested in big ideas hidden within a simpler story, this book is perfect. Not to mention a nice respite from the bustle of other High Republic novels.