Star Wars: The High Republic – A Test of Courage by Justina Ireland (Star Wars: Lando’s Luck, Star Wars: Spark of the Resistance) is the second book overall in Lucasfilm Publishing’s new high-profile multi-platform initiative, sequentially taking place soon after the catastrophic events of Charles Soule’s Star Wars: The High Republic – Light of the Jedi. It’s also the first middle-grade (targeted at children ages 8-12) novel in The High Republic series, so its stakes aren’t quite as high as the “Great Disaster” introduced by Soule in his launch title for this project, set hundreds of years before the more familiar Skywalker Saga.

But that doesn’t mean nothing bad happens. In fact, A Test of Courage opens with its own disaster, just on a somewhat smaller and far more personal scale, directly affecting the handful of main characters we’re introduced to at the top of the book. There’s Vernestra “Vern” Rwoh– a very young and recently knighted Jedi, Imri– a slightly younger Padawan learner, Avon Starros– the genius daughter of a senator, and Honesty Weft– the restless son of a diplomat on his way to the dedication ceremony for the Republic’s Starlight Beacon– an Outer Rim space station that at least conceptually reminds me of Star Trek’s Deep Space Nine, but… y’know, in Star Wars instead.

That our protagonists are all teenagers or below in age makes sense, considering the intended audience for this novel, and it’s interesting to get inside the heads of Jedi (or would-be Jedi) during this newly explored time period in galactic history. I’m also happy to see some non-Force users represented among the main cast here, as I enjoy seeing their perspective on events that feel to some extent out of their control or influence in the grand scheme of things. Avon in particular is an intriguing character because of her fascination with the Jedi and their tools– she desperately wants to get her hands on a Kyber crystal to figure out how it works– not to mention her familial connection to already-established Star Wars characters later on down the generations.

Like I said earlier, a scarring tragedy befalls this group of unlikely companions when the safety of the luxury ship they’re traveling on is suddenly compromised and causes them to set out on their own, seeking shelter on a remote moon fraught with peril. Stranded without a way to contact the other Jedi or the Republic, they must find a way to survive and face whatever dangers await them out there in the jungle. It’s something of a “bottle episode” of The High Republic, in that these four kids (and one persnickety nanny droid) are forced to spend time together due to unforeseen and unplanned circumstances and have their individual personalities bounce off one another as they attempt to escape their predicament and solve the mystery of just exactly how they got into this mess to begin with.

I reviewed Justina Ireland’s Spark of the Resistance previously, and I’m continually impressed with how she’s able to simplify the language and complexities of Star Wars mythology for the demographic of her books. There’s nothing overly convoluted happening here, which makes it good transitional reading material for younglings who are ready to graduate from more kid-friendly stuff and start absorbing the grander, more soul-searching lessons Star Wars has always been so wonderful at conveying. It’s a rather straightforward story of survival and perseverance, but there are also hints of the darkness and the dangers that lurk around every corner of the galaxy. I wouldn’t call this a world-building book as far as The High Republic is concerned, but we do get little hints here and there of what’s going on in the larger story, and we also learn a bit more about the menacing pirate/terrorist/marauder group called the Nihil– announced early on as the main antagonists for this undertaking.

My only real complaint about Star Wars: The High Republic – A Test of Courage is that it comes to an end just as it feels like it’s starting to pick up steam. There’s not a tremendous amount of conflict in this tale of four youngsters trying to make it back where they belong, but once things start to get markedly more interesting on a dramatic level, the conclusion is mere pages away. In the resolution and epilogue we’re given a setup as to what the future holds for these characters and a hint for where the series goes from here, but as a stand-alone adventure, this narrative left me wanting more. I suppose that’s the point of it being part of an epic yarn being told across a variety of media, but at the same time I’d love it if each individual entry in The High Republic felt satisfying on its own.

Star Wars: The High Republic – A Test of Courage will become available on Tuesday, January 5 wherever books are sold, and is available for pre-order right now.