Book Review: ‘A Test of Courage’ by Justina Ireland

January 12, 2021 at 7:09 am | Posted in Books, Disney Lucasfilm Publishing, Reviews, Star Wars, Star Wars Books | Leave a comment
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A Test of Courage by Justina Ireland is a brand new middle grade novel in The High Republic series from Disney-Lucasfilm Press. It was released in January 2021. 

Middle grade is a difficult genre to write in Star Wars. Star Wars books are known for epic battles, difficult philosophical questions, and references galore. Middle grade books just don’t do that. Mostly because they are aimed at a much younger audience (the publisher’s suggested age range is 8-12), but also because they are naturally shorter. Middle grade books are more the length of an adult novella, and while they have tremendous value to literature, they just are more difficult for me to get into. A Test of Courage is no different.

First, I’ll discuss some positives. Justina Ireland did a great job of making tie-ins to The High Republic as a whole. Events such as the “Great Disaster” are mentioned (although it has a different name here), and Starlight Beacon makes an appearance, as well as some surprise characters from Light of the Jedi. It is obvious that this book is part of a conscious effort to make all of these books tie together as part of a greater whole, not just filler content like some of the “Journey to” books were for the sequel series. 

Another great thing about this book is it’s themes. The characters in this book deal with loss, anger, and revenge. Sometimes middle Grade books shy away from dealing with death and sadness and difficulty, but this book meets it head on. Certain protagonists are prepared to murder other characters in revenge for something they did, which is some heavy stuff for kids to read. And yet Justina Ireland does a good job of making it age appropriate and makes sure that there are plenty of lessons for the younger readers. It may be heavy, but kids can handle this stuff.

The final positive I’ll mention here is the “sequel potential”. Most middle grade books practically end where they begin, with either the only development being minor or simply character growth. Here, major things have happened to certain characters and the epilogue creates huge potential for future books. In fact, I’d dare to say that Justina Ireland’s forthcoming YA book, Out of the Shadows, will be a linear sequel to this book. And I’m actually intrigued and will definitely read it.

Now onto some negatives. One negative about this book is it’s villains. The Nihil are creepy, scary, and powerful…and in the prologue, we get exactly that. However, the villains are very underutilized in this book, barely having any page time. I understand that middle grade books tend to focus more on the good characters, but I think Ireland could have added maybe 30 or so pages throughout the book from the Nihil perspective, giving the reader more information on their group and on the main two villains in this book. As I said earlier, amazing potential, but they didn’t live up to it.

My other negative of this book is the dynamics. Vernestra Rwoh seems competent and capable, whereas Padawan Imri seems out of his element and dangerous. Avon Starros seems brilliant and funny, whereas Honesty Weft seems basic and untalented (with a few exceptions). I do not believe that it was Justina Ireland’s intent to put down the male characters, in fact, I think that the male characters end up in a much better place by the end of the book. However, the way it’s portrayed, I think that many readers will feel turned off by the dynamic and will not want to read future projects by Ireland, particularly if they include these characters. I hope that in Out of the Shadows these characters truly do grow and become more balanced.

Overall, this was a fun read but not necessary. It has some great connections, making it worth it for The High Republic enthusiasts, although it certainly isn’t for everyone. It has some themes that are great for kids, but might make adults annoyed. I certainly liked it better than Irelands’ previous book, Spark of Resistance, and she’s shown that she can grow in her writing, which should be the goal of every writer. So I give A Test of Courage 3 out of 5 metal bikinis.

Reviewed by Jonathan Koan for Roqoo Depot.

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