Star Wars: The High Republic – Escape From Valo | Book Review

The High Republic kicks off 2024 with a new middle-grade book that’s packed with loads of great characters, lessons, and excitement.

Star Wars: The High Republic – Escape From Valo
Written By: Daniel José Older and Alyssa Wong
Illustrations: Petur Antonsson
Published By: Disney Books
Release Date: January 30, 2024
Purchase [Affiliate]: https://amzn.to/3vSkhAn

George Mann’s impressive The Eye of Darkness helped start off the third Phase of The High Republic near the end of last year. 2024 continues the saga with a slightly more light-hearted adventure, thanks to Escape From Valo. Like most of the middle-grade books in the publishing initiative, the story keeps the focus relatively tight on a smaller group of characters, largely in a single location. So it won’t be as galaxy-spanning as some of the others, but it’s no less engaging for it. Let’s break it down a little.

Moving Forward

Roughly a year following the fall of Starlight Beacon and the Nihil’s establishment of the Occlusion Zone, Escape From Valo puts the focus on Jedi Padawan, Ram Jomaram. Having survived the Nihil attack on Corellia (as depicted in Midnight Horizon), Ram returned to the planet Valo (essentially his “home planet” as much as any Jedi has one) in order to help the people now living under Nihil occupation.

Over the past year, he’s built up a persona—almost like a superhero—as the Scarlet Skull. Striking out at the Nihil occupiers in various ways, he works by himself as a thorn in their side all the while trying to make contact with anyone else stuck on that side of the Stormwall.

His latest act of rebellion sees him cross paths with a trio of Jedi younglings who’d managed to survive all this time. Suddenly Ram finds himself in charge even as he struggles to survive himself and help the others on Valo. When a young “pirate” arrives in search of the highly advanced scientific starship, the Innovator, which was sunk during the attack at the Republic Fair (from The Rising Storm), the motley band of young Jedi see an opportunity.

The supplies still aboard the downed vessel could prove crucial to the Republic’s efforts in the war against the Nihil…but they aren’t the only ones looking for it. The villainous, and high-ranking, Niv Drendow arrives on Valo with his own plans for the supplies on board…one which could make the threat of the Nameless creatures even more pressing.

Escape From Valo is a chunky book, and easily the biggest of the middle-grade novels so far. As such, I’m obviously leaving out a whole bunch of stuff in order to avoid spoilers. This forms the basics of the story, however, which keeps its focus on this group of younglings pretty much all within the planet of Valo.

The narrower focus means it doesn’t give readers a look at the bigger events of the Phase going on, but that doesn’t detract from it’s awesomeness. In fact, due to how things ended in Phase I, getting to see what individual pockets of characters have been up to, paints a better picture of what’s going on overall, while setting helping to set the stage for bigger events down the road.

It very much feels like those earlier books in the initial Phase of The High Republic., where it’s more about introducing characters and lining things up. Even though the threat of the Nihil and danger is significantly kicked up a notch, so much has changed in the status quo that we need these more contained stories to get everyone up to speed.

Along those same lines, I enjoyed how Escape From Valo works to bring Ram’s story in a full circle (so to speak). The first time we met Ram was in a middle-grade book, Race to Crashpoint Tower, which ALSO took place on Valo. Even though Ram’s story is far from over, it’s neat to see just how much he’s changed/grown since that initial encounter.

Style and Heart

Despite it’s size, Escape From Valo breezes by at a blistering pace. It’s a fun story that manages to touch on some darker themes, however, which keeps pulling you along chapter after chapter. Much of this is due to how authors Daniel José Older and Alyssa Wong write.

Their styles gel together impressively well, as they both like to focus on characters and making strong connections through them. Escape From Valo is no different, and it’s insane how authentic and real every single character feels. Everyone has their own quirks, mannerisms, and skills and the way they’re introduced to the readers is natural and smooth. Each of them manage to be instantly endearing. It’s genuinely hard to not like all them right off the bat; maybe even a little protective. The result is a deeper level of empathy for these characters’ highs and lows throughout the story.

And let me tell you, just because it’s a middle-grade novel, doesn’t mean it’s all sunshine and roses. In fact, Escape From Valo manages to touch on some serious themes about loss, grief, and the struggles of growing up. They’re handled deftly, in a way that’s easy to understand for all ages, but still hit incredibly hard.

It’s kind of funny in a way, as the story is mostly as a fun new adventure sprinkled with bits of kiddos having to deal with severe war trauma. It’s not an easy balance to maintain, but Older and Wong make it look easy and deliver an engaging story with characters you can’t wait to see return.

As for kicking off the middle-grade Phase 3 books, Escape From Valo sets an impressive bar and shouldn’t be skipped.

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Jordan Maison
Jordan Maison
Lover of all things nerdy, Jordan's passion for books began at an early age and simply never stopped.