I read it so you didn’t have to.
I will begin by saying this is mostly aimed at children or young adults, as it is labeled as a “junior novel”, so it’s not part of the regular line of novels in the Star Wars series.
Back when I was a child, there was no such thing as “young adult” literature. We had Jules Verne, Karl May, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Rudyard Kipling, Mark Twain – to name a few authors whose books I’ve been through in my youth. In modern times, we have a special category of books (the aforementioned) which are written with the target audience in mind. I am not sure this is a good approach, since until now I have not been able to find any YA title that I really enjoyed. You might be tempted to say I am no longer a young adult, and that’s the reason why I feel like I do, however I still love all the authors above, and while I read those, I also “parkoured” through Stephen King, Frank Herbert, even Herman Hesse, and many others, at an age as low as 12 (for Herbert), 14 (for King) and 16 (for Hesse) – if I recall correctly. The closest thing to a YA novel that I enjoyed was probably Harry Potter, but I would hardly call that YA.
My point is I believe dumbing down books in order for children/teens to read them is completely wrong, we’d rather be better encouraging children to read books as complex as they are able to, because that’s the only way they’ll grow and be better, and read even better books afterwards. I have read all kinds of Star Wars novels as a kid, but back then there was no YA stuff, so a book of this kind would have never reached my hands. I wonder now what I would have done had I read this back then. Probably nothing too different, since I’m not throwing the book away (I consider that a sacrilege regardless of its quality), it’s just that had I read the eBook instead, I would have probably never bought the physical one.
“A Test of Courage”, by Justina Ireland, is not a bad book per se, I would even argue that it’s very well structured, perhaps even too mathematical for a work of fiction, even a science fiction one (there is an entire 100-page section dedicated exclusively to character development, nothing happens in those pages besides characters getting to know each other and reacting to the situation they found themselves in – I find this to be a strange way of doing it, as characters should develop as action unfolds, and not separately). However, it adds up very little to the Star Wars lore, and while it starts from an intriguing premise, it deflates less than halfway through and when it starts to become interesting again, it actually ends.
“The High Republic” lineup debuted with “Light of The Jedi” and most importantly it introduced a very dangerous villain collective called The Nihil. These guys were next to impossible to defeat and it took an entire group of Jedi (let’s say this without spoilers) to deal with them in a specific scenario, and not without casualties.
In this Junior Novel, we have four children/teenagers (two Jedi, of which one padawan and one freshly promoted Jedi Knight, and two regular children) and a protocol droid (who, granted, was also a bodyguard in disguise) who manage to overpower two Nihil. It simply disregards everything Charles Soule has set up about the Nihil in the first book. One, children would never be able to overpower Nihil, and two, The Nihil would have never sent only two people in a mission. So there are a few matters of internal logic that don’t add up, and even though in my review for Light of The Jedi I pointed out that even there the author used some tricks to help him with diverting the plot in the desired direction, tricks that were slightly out of pattern compared to what he previously established in his own book, at least those were not completely contradicting the existent lore. For me, “Test of Courage” is more like a “Test of Contradiction”, as this book seems to rather be in antithesis with much of what we know about The High Republic until now.
One other thing that bothered me where some names in this book. While the two Jedi younglings had names that I believe fit them, as well as their place in what is the immense Star Wars universe, the Padawan being Imri and the Jedi Knight being Vernestra (great name for a Jedi Knight!), I found it odd that Vernestra was oftened shortened as Vern. I found it so un-Jedi like to have her called like that, I don’t actually remember if I’ve ever encountered a Jedi in either books, movies or games who had their name shortened to a diminutive when called by another one of their Jedi peers. Correct me if I am wrong, I am actually curious here if anybody has other ideas. I understand Avon (the other girl) calling her Vern, but I don’t understand other Jedi doing so. Even Vernestra herself, as a character, hated being called Vern, so there you have it.
And that’s not all, the other two children were named Avon (the girl) and Honesty (the boy). A girl named Avon I can
get behind understand, although again, it’s very un-StarWars-like: Avon is a beauty product brand and I cannot associate it with anything else, I expected Master Samsung and Darth Apple to step into the action at any moment. As for a boy named Honesty… Honestly, it sounds a little too much like a female name. Throughout the entire book I’ve actually imagined Honesty as a girl repeatedly (by accident, whenever he spoke or thought of something) because the name yells FEMALE in my head. It’s Michael Burnham all over again, but the other way around. I don’t understand this modern day fascination with cross-gender names (females with male names or males with female names), it confuses the hell out of the reader, especially when the work is as short as „A Test of Courage” was. You don’t have enough time to learn to associate the character with the name, because it’s not as easy when the name is out of pattern. And honestly… Who names their boy Honesty??? Maybe it works better in movies, because you actually see the characters and it is easier to associate, but I strongly advise against it in books. And in real life.
Still on the subject of names, and speaking of Jedi Masters (not named Samsung, I promise), Imri was a Padawan to Master Douglas. It’s probably the most un-Jedi name I’ve ever read/heard/saw in Star Wars ever. I mean, Star Wars is the Universe of Strange Names, has a lots of various characters who have a plethora of names, but a Jedi Master named Douglas is as basic as it gets. It’s too generic to feel Star Wars like.
Imagine the below paragraph.
Don’t let this distract you from the the fact that Jedi Master Bundy scored four touchdowns in a single game while playing for the Coruscant High School Padawans in the championship game versus Korriban High School Siths, including the game-winning touchdown in the final seconds against his old nemesis, Darth Bubba “Spare Crystal” Dixon.
See what I did there? That’s how it felt for me to read about a Jedi Master named Douglas (no offense to people named so, it is a great name and I love it, but in real life, not in Star Wars). Anyways, I kept imagining Kirk Douglas with a lightsaber whenever Master Douglas had appeared or was mentioned, so that’s another point drawn from the „bad names” pool. Although Spartacus with lightsabers sound very cool. “I am
your father Spartacus!”
I can go on and say that at some point, one of the male characters saw something „magenta hued”, of which I’m pretty sure no males in the history of males ever saw something magenta, they either saw pink or red, but I digress. Also, I believe the rights to the color magenta are exclusively owned by Deutsche Telekom / T-Mobile, so you are not allowed to use this color in anything without getting approval from them (and I am assuming paying a fee if you get approval). I wonder if Disney or Justina Ireland were allowed this by Deutsche Telekom, or even if mentioning the color in a book is considered using it (it might not, but I just like to point things out). It seems like Justina Ireland is a big fan of this color, as she mentions it multiple times in the book, at some point she refers to one of the Nihil as a “human woman with magenta hair”. I don’t know what to say, but unless it was dyed (which most likely it was, but again, I love pointing this out, because there was no such implication of her having her hair dyed), human women don’t tend to have magenta hair… Not to mention that in the illustrations coming with the book, she had orange hair, not magenta. Disney needs to work with their authors when commissioning art/illustrations, so that they align the information about their characters correctly.
Drawing the line, this is definitely not mandatory reading unless you’re a hardcore Star Wars fan, and it’s only worth getting if you want to buy everything physical and have it in your collection. The small hardcover is kind of cute and also contains a chapter from the upcoming Star Wars: The High Republic – Race to Crashpoint Tower, which is also a Junior Novel, but judging from the first chapter it looks more dynamic. Granted, it doesn’t seem as well structured in narration, but it feels more like an adventure and less like a pre-planned list of actions that checks some marks at each step. At least at the beginning. But I will write about it when the time comes.