The High Republic phase two began not long ago, and I recently was able to catch up on the book that kicked off the new wave, Path of Deceit, written by Tessa Gratton and Justina Ireland. While it might initially seem unusual for a young adult novel to kick off the new wave, it is quickly apparent that this one’s setting up the rest of the era.
Phase two takes us 150 years prior to phase one, which itself was set 200 years before The Phantom Menace. That makes this book the earliest book in the canon timeline so far, which is pretty cool (even though we’ve heard plenty of allusions to what happened before it). But while it jumps backward, it also looks forward, providing tons of connections for those familiar with the stories of phase one.
*** Spoilers are ahead for Path of Deceit ***
It’s a slower story, steadily building throughout. Like so many High Republic stories, it takes its time introducing us to these new characters, and just when we’ve come to know them and love them, everything falls apart. This story isn’t centered around any major battles or anything like that, but it’s heavily focused on the main characters and their two factions. There are, of course, Jedi. We’re introduced to lovable Pantoran padawan Kevmo Zink and his calm Soikan Master, Zallah Macri. We’re used to the way the Jedi view the Force, but they aren’t the only Force users in the galaxy. This book introduces us to the Path of the Open Hand, a cultish group of Force-followers who don’t use the Force, believing that it should be free and that by reaching out to use it or channel it, a person actually abuses and imprisons the Force. So it’s safe to say that the Path don’t think too fondly of the Jedi, seeing them as those who do great harm to the Force.
The Path is led by the mysterious Mother, a Force prophetess of sorts, who holds her cards pretty close to the vest. But there are others, members of the Path, who are working on building their ship, the Gaze Electric, to leave Dalna and travel the galaxy. Included among them are Marda Ro and her sister, Yana, and that last name will immediately ring a bell for High Republic readers – Marchion Ro, the main antagonist of the High Republic phase one, is seemingly a descendant of Marda, and he will still use the Gaze Electric as his flagship. The Path and the Jedi meet on Dalna, with Marda and Kevmo developing an uneasy alliance that turns into romantic attraction. Yet the conflict between them over their view of the Force is an important theme, with both teenagers being confronted with challenges to their long-held beliefs. It’s a young adult book that explores young people having to think about their beliefs for the first time, no longer just taking it for granted because others told them. It helps both of them expand their horizons, even if they don’t necessarily budge on their own beliefs. In fact, it helps to explain why Marchion and his family dislike the Jedi, as by the end of the book Marda is determined to take down the Jedi Order.
But the Jedi investigation into the Path eventually leads them to a frightening end: both Zallah and Kevmo are killed, turned to stone by a strange young creature held by the Mother, known as the Leveler. Again, readers of phase one will be well-acquainted with this terror, something able to strike fear into the heart of Jedi. And that’s how this book ends: with another Jedi, Azlin Rell, investigating their disappearance and stumbling upon their dusty remains. He doesn’t know what happened, and the book ends by saying that Rell was afraid. In this way, it provides a fitting connection to phase one while telling a new story, set long before. It’s a story that connects well and begins to unfold some backstory, while also telling an enjoyable story in its own right.
It wasn’t my favorite story of the High Republic era, and I still think readers should begin with phase one and Light of the Jedi if they’re looking to get engaged in this era, but Path of Deceit continues the long-standing High Republic tradition of excellent new characters and terrific development of them, and that’s something this book does with flying colors. These new Jedi are great, but it’s really the focus on the Path and its followers (some of whom are committed and some of whom, well, are not) that stands out. And I’m guessing it’s a focus that will set the stage for stories to follow.