If this year’s Light of the Jedi was the New Hope equivalent of the new High Republic era of Star Wars books, then The Rising Storm is certainly The Empire Strikes Back. For every element of triumph, hope and prosperity in the first novel, Cavan Scott’s latest dive into a galaxy far, far away is brooding, gritty, and utterly engulfing. It’s yet another confident foray into an unexplored part of the saga, and keeps the High Republic time period as engrossing and promising as it’s ever been.

Set a few months after the Hetzal Disaster in Light of the Jedi, The Rising Storm picks up as Supreme Chancellor Lina Soh attempts to restore faith in the High Republic. To do this, she organises a Grand Fair on the planet Valo, to bring together citizens from across the disparate galaxy, and demonstrate that true success comes from unity, not from isolation and division. She’s unsurprisingly joined on Valo by a range of Jedi we first met in the previous book, from the headstrong and troubled Elzar Mann, to the wide-eyed Padawan Bell Zettifar. Of course, nothing goes as smoothly as you’d hope, as the terrorist group, the Nihil, rain terror down on the Republic’s citizens. Similar to Empire, the book focuses itself around this short period of time before, during, and after the attack – and it really hammers down on the gravity of the situation.

You’ll be surprised to learn that Avar Kriss, arguably the protagonist of Light of the Jedi, isn’t actually seen in this book. She’s mentioned in passing by her Jedi affiliates, but Scott takes the bold decision to not rest on the laurels of Charles Soule’s first novel. Once again, it’s more of an ensemble rather than an out-and-out protagonist, but Mann and Zettifar get the best development here. If you weren’t sold on Nihil leader Marchion Ro in the previous book, The Rising Storm sees him delve further into treachery and backstabbing. Some of the novel’s finest sequences portray the in-fighting within the Nihil; the distrust, plotting and meddling, and it’s a thrilling contrast to the order of the Jedi.

Of course, though, rules as stringent as the Jedi’s are undeniably hard to follow. Despite portraying the Jedi at the apex of their powers and influence, The Rising Storm makes no effort to hide the problems with their ethos of detachment and emotional distance. You’ll read about Jedi actions in this book that you really won’t expect – even some on the raunchy side – and it really highlights how effective this line of releases is in expanding our conception of the Jedi, and how the thoughts and inner demons that Anakin Skywalker faced really weren’t that rare.

But a story centred around an action sequence is nothing if we aren’t invested in the characters taking part. Scott combats this by expertly weaving action alongside character development, really anchoring each Jedi’s motivations, struggles and beliefs with the particular role they play during the attack on Valo. If a character is struggling to connect to the Force, then that’s what they’ll need most to save people during the disaster – it’s as cleverly-plotted and meticulous as that. There’s even some more of the classic call-backs to fan-favourite characters who were alive during the High Republic era – and equally clever reasons given as to why they can’t join in on the battles.

Overall, though, it’s just delightful to be back in such untouched territory within Star Wars. Light of the Jedi helped us meet and orient with these new characters and the exciting time period, but The Rising Storm really starts digging into exactly who they are, and the challenges they face. The only downside is that the next phase of High Republic novels doesn’t yet have a release date – as you’ll be so gripped with The Rising Storm that you’ll instantly want to dive back into such an exciting period in the Star Wars saga.

★★★★

Star Wars: The Rising Storm is out now from Del Rey Books.