Updated: Feb 26
This morning I woke up a little early and read Justina Ireland's A Test of Courage, and I totally loved it!
Spoiler-Free Review: A Test of Courage is a great addition to the collection of High Republic content. It's full of a brand new fun cast of characters who all are written with a lot of depth and heart. Each character is very unique in personality and skillset, and they're all interesting. It's a great Star Wars adventure that's very true to the core of what Star Wars is while also being fun and compelling to read. Like I said in my review of Light of the Jedi, the High Republic era provides such a new and optimistic view of the galaxy far, far away that's really refreshing, and makes each book really fun.
Read on for my more in-depth, spoiler-laden thoughts on A Test of Courage!
A brief plot summary: an ambassador ship carrying a handful of Jedi, the daughter of a senator, and some representatives from a planet called Dalna, among others, is on its way to the Starlight Beacon, a bright, beautiful space station when it's sabotaged and destroyed by two members of the Nihil. The only survivors of the explosion are the youngest onboard, the teenagers (well, two are almost teenagers, plus a droid), two of them Jedi. They escape in a damaged maintenance shuttle and fly to a nearby jungle world, unaware until too late that it's pretty inhospitable- the water is highly toxic and burns skin that it comes in contact with. They all hide in a cave, trying to figure out how to get in contact with people that can help when they find the Nihil that destroyed the ship, and they're here to finish the job. Thankfully, they're able to overpower the Nihil and use their ship to contact the Jedi, who help bring them back.
It's a lot more complicated than that, but we'll get through it as I go through each of our main characters and their arcs.
Vernestra Rwoh was my favorite character in the book. She's a Mirialan sixteen year old who is the youngest of the Jedi Knights in a long time, because her master thought she was ready as a padawan at age fifteen to take the trials, which she surprised everyone by passing on the first try. What's also pretty fun about Vernestra is how she has a purple lightsaber (like Mace Windu does) that is also able to become a light-whip. Vernestra is an excellent Jedi despite her age- she's able to be a good leader in the group, as both the only Jedi Knight and the oldest when they're all trying to figure out what to do next. She not only takes charge, but takes care to check on the younger members of the group, to make sure that they're handling everything they're going through okay. She's smart, forgiving compassionate, and willing to recognize her own mistakes and flaws- like how she underestimates Avon, recognizes that she did that, and from them on takes her more seriously and listens to her more.
Avon Starros- yes, you read that right, Starros, like Sana- is the twelve year old daughter of a senator (Ghirra Starros) who is obsessed with science. Avon was really fun, and competed very closely with Vernestra for the favorite character spot for me. Reading the parts of the book from her perspective were always interesting, and she always thought through everything with a logical process, even things that people wouldn't really consider logical. She also puts a lot of value on the power of technology- she's really good with it, which saves our main characters more than once. She also values autonomy- she's not one to follow orders, whether from her mother or from Vernestra, and specially altered her droid, J-6, to be able to make her own decisions. She kind of reminded me of Keven Tarr from Light of the Jedi, and I'd definitely love a story where those two team up for some kind of adventure that puts their combined logic and reasoning to the test. While Avon is a bit awkward at times when trying to be empathetic, she does comfort her new friends, and a particularly touching scene in the book is when she and Honesty have a sweet conversation about their pasts.
Honesty Weft is the twelve year old son of one of the Dalnan representatives. His father doesn't survive the explosion, and Honesty struggles with that through the whole book, especially since one of his last conversations with his father was an argument they got into since Honesty didn't want to go on the trip in the first place. Honesty also is pretty wary of the other main characters at first, mostly because they all come from a much different background compared to his simple one on Dalna. Though Honesty is lead down a darker path by Imri, he's able to learn his mistakes, and promises to honor his father's legacy, and asks Avon to help him get an audience with the senate to warn them about the Nihil- which was a big step, since he earlier didn't want anything to do with the politics of the Republic. It was really great to see Honesty grow and open up throughout the book.
Imri Cantaros by far had the most interesting arc in the book for me. Imri is a fourteen year old Jedi padawan, and his master, Master Douglas, was killed in the attack on their ship. This really shakes Imri. He already had insecurities, because he struggled to learn many of the important things that Jedi learn, and often needed patience and repeat lessons. He felt that Master Douglas was the only one who believed in him, so he felt very lost without him, and feared that his future as a Jedi was now gone. Unfortunately, through the chaos of the adventure that our characters find themselves on, Imri leans more and more into those emotions that lead Jedi to the dark side of the Force. He also grows very resentful of Vernestra, because while she's the "child prodigy" of the Order, he feels that he's a screw-up, and she's everything that he wants to be but isn't. So when Vernestra comes up with a plan to stealthily overpower the Nihil and take them back to the Republic for justice, Imri becomes extremely angry. He enlists the help of Honesty, who lost his father. Both of them try to kill the Nihil to get revenge for their fallen Master and father, but the Nihil capture them and hold them hostage, so the girls have to come save the day. Even when they tie up the Nihil, Imri still wants to kill them, but Vernestra won't let him. She and Imri actually have a lightsaber fight, which Vernestra is able to win. However, she doesn't judge Imri. She lets him let out his anger until he breaks down. It's a really heartbreaking moment, and even through the end of the book you can tell how ashamed and inadequate Imri still feels- but at the end, Vernestra offers to take him on as his padawan, which he accepts. Reading through Imri's arc was really compelling, because we really saw through his perspective as he gave into the dark side- you could tell how desperate and torn he was, which just made it so much sadder, and much more relieving when he finally came back to the light.
Overall, I'd highly recommend A Test of Courage. It's a really fun book with great characters that I hope we'll see again (and it seems we will for at least some of them in the upcoming book also by Justina Ireland, Out of the Shadows).