ew beginnings are hard.
Introducing an audience to a wealth of new characters, locations, myths, and lore is a massive undertaking for any creator, but that’s just what the five story architects of the High Republic did back in 2021. With Phase I of this highly ambitious initiative set centuries before The Phantom Menace (check out our High Republic Guide for more information about the Phase/Wave structure of The High Republic), some of the best writers in Star Wars revolutionized the Star Wars publishing landscape by creating some of the most memorable characters and tragic events the saga had ever seen.
And now, they’re going to do it all again.
Much to our surprise, when Phase I of The High Republic ended earlier this year, the announcement arrived that Phase II of the wildly popular publishing initiative would be going even further back into the past. Rather than a direct continuation of the stories of Avar Kriss, Keeve Trennis, and Marchion Ro, Phase II would be taking readers back 150 years to discover an era of exploration and discovery…with some new faces to guide us on our journey.
Path of Deceit, the first book of Phase II, is a Young Adult novel that brings fan favorite Justina Ireland back to the fold alongside a new member of the High Republic team, Tessa Gratton. Not only does Deceit mark the first High Republic book to feature co-authors, it also marks the first time that a Young Adult novel will begin a Wave of High Republic content.
Since its inception, The High Republic has been a beacon for fans of all types of literature, and as its authors have bounced between mediums, so have key characters and story elements. Rather than strictly assigning which types of books can be read by which groups of people, The High Republic story is for all, and that has never been more evident than with the choice for Path of Deceit to lead the way into this brand new segment of the narrative.
While Path of Deceit may provide a story smaller in scale and scope for those that are seeking a more expansive beginning to Phase II, its emphasis on character relationships, the expansion of The High Republic mythos, and a final act that stands toe to toe with any story that came before provides a hearty welcome back to the era that redefined the world of Star Wars books.
Path of Deceit opens on the planet Dalna. First explored in Justina Ireland’s Mission to Disaster from Phase I, Dalna provides the mainstage for the entirety of the novel, and this setting immediately sets the tone for the start of this new phase. Rather than the bustling, high energy of the main worlds that composed Phase I, Dalna is a small, isolated planet that houses no major conflict and, perhaps most importantly, no official Jedi.
It does, however, contain The Path of the Open Hand. The life of this community permeates the entire novel, and as we follow characters both inside and outside of the group’s influence, we learn about the Path’s infrastructure, social hierarchy, and view of the Force itself.
Led by the enigmatic Mother and the almost equally mysterious Herald, the Path of the Open has one continuous purpose that permeates every action like the beating of a drum: the Force will be free. This belief is held strongest by none other than one of the Path’s younger believers, Marda Ro.
Yes. That Ro.
One of two Evereni members of The Path of the Open Hand, alongside her cousin Yana, Marda spends the book wishing for a way to serve the Mother and her people as best she can. She longs to join her cousin on extraplanetary missions to liberate Force artifacts from worlds that would abuse them, but for some reason, she fails to obtain the Mother’s permission to do so and instead focuses her efforts on looking after the Littles of the commune and proselytizing in town.
This proselytizing one day brings her path in line with Padawan Kevmo Zink, a Jedi Padawan visiting Dalna on separate mission, and the connection between the two is instantaneous. For two folks that view the Force almost entirely differently, their magnetism toward one another is undeniable, and questions of attachment, loyalty, and fundamental understandings of the nature of the Force begin to percolate.
Path of Deceit situates the budding romance between these two alongside discoveries of the true nature of The Path of the Open Hand. While the finale of the book jumps off the page with fascinating intrigue and vicious revelations, the path to get there isn’t quite as enticing as readers may be used to given some previous High Republic stories. Certain scenes, while integral to the development of story beats down the line, don’t grab the reader’s attention as tightly as some may prefer, but after knowing the final consequences of the story, it’s possible that a reread could present an entirely different experience.
While we never want to directly compare different books by different authors, it’s hard not to read Path of Deceit in the shadow of Light of the Jedi since both books are positioned as jumping on points for new readers. And while Light of the Jedi creates a much more sprawling narrative and cast of characters within its pages, Path of Deceit’s ending moments crank up the need to discover what’s next in a way that’s just as visceral as anything The High Republic has seen thus far.
The High Republic has introduced some of the Star Wars community’s favorite characters in recent memory. From characters that spanned multiple books and comics to those who had mere chapters to their story, the High Republic roster has been absolutely stacked since day one.
Path of Deceit adds quite a few notable names to the High Republic lineup, and none shine brighter in this book than Marda and Yana Ro. Aside from the intrigue provided by their namesake, Marda and Yana act as two sides to the same coin as they discover their own destinies within the Open Hand, and the result is a fascinating simultaneous character study of the pair.
Marda’s conviction rarely wavers throughout the book as she continuously tries to prove herself to everyone around her. She wants to be strong enough for the Littles, worthy enough for The Mother, and brave enough for herself to ask for the things she truly wants, but every turn in her journey provides a new obstacle. The most obvious of which is Kevmo, another standout in his own right, as he attempts to illuminate Marda to his own view of the Force which he believes to be slightly less dogmatic, but the line between his logic and her burgeoning feelings for the young Padawan is blurry at best.
Yana, on the other hand, represents nearly everything that Marda hopes to have. The younger cousin is trusted as one of the Mother’s Children and carries the responsibility of executing missions for the Path. She also maintains a level of personal stability with her longterm girlfriend, Kor. Their relationship is an emotional highlight of the book and is one of quite a few wonderful examples of LGBTQ themes spread throughout the story. However, just as we follow Marda’s desire to obtain the Mother’s favor, we see Yana realize that perhaps this ultimate goal is not what she wants for the rest of her life.
The two girls alternate chapters throughout the book in a somewhat unofficial capacity, and although the climax of their respective journeys reads with incredible veracity and depth, some of their other respective scenes lose their luster as multiple characters of seemingly little consequence muddy the progress of their stories. This expansion of the cast is not necessarily confusing, but the occasional detour does hurt the pacing amidst the desire for more character evolution.
That being said, some of the characters that appear to be inconsequential in earlier parts of the story unexpectedly pack some solid emotional punches near the book’s end, and similar to the ideas regarding the impact of the plot, you can’t help but wonder how much a reread of Deceit would be enhanced by knowing the fates and motivations ahead of time.
It’s pretty special to see a familiar mythology being crafted before your eyes. Even though we have witnessed the evolution of Star Wars over the last 45 years, watching each piece of the High Republic fall into place is undeniably special.
Path of Deceit breaks new ground in the era by introducing not only new characters and planets but also religious organizations, social constructs, and more. It’s no secret that Jedha will be expanded thoroughly during this phase, and although the main sequences for that expansion may lie in the upcoming audio drama, The Battle of Jedha, we get a small glimpse into what a glorious, active world it was before the days of the Empire.
Nonetheless, the main stars of the book are the planet Dalna, The Path of the Open Hand, and a few artifacts and creatures that would definitely cross into spoiler territory if we revealed them here. While the entire reading of Phase I is not completely necessary to understand the impact that they have throughout this book, fans of the High Republic timeline up until this point are rewarded time and time again with the additions to the lore that Ireland and Gratton spread heavily throughout the book.
In a time when we are still waiting on our first High Republic reference books, all of the lore is contained within the pages of the stories themselves, and if you’re looking to expand your mental lexicon with knowledge about the Convocation, the Rod of Seasons, and more, Path of Deceit has you more than covered.
Although we know quite a bit about each creator in the High Republic thanks to the fantastic Star Wars publicity team as well as the openness from the writers themselves, we still don’t quite know all the ins and outs of the creative process. Path of Deceit is the first co-written novel of the initiative, and as opposed to the clear delineation between writer and artist that we see in our favorite comics, it’s a bit unclear where Justina Ireland and Tessa Gratton drew the line in terms of creating this book.
While the chapters in Deceit aren’t delineated by writer, there is a slightly intangible difference between Ireland and Gratton’s writing styles, and even though you can’t quite tell which chapters feature which voice, the variance can be a bit distracting. With a book that is introducing so many new story elements while simultaneously continuing the flow from the previous phase, these sudden changes in author tone can create some obstacles to being fully immersed.
Nonetheless, there is a wealth of beautiful writing in this book by both women. Of particular note are the one-on-one scenes containing soothingly intimate dialogue between Marda and Kevmo, Yana and Kor, and finally Marda and Yana. These scenes traverse the entire emotional spectrum from adorable meet-cute to intense grief and betrayal, and the dialogue throughout rings truthful and cuts deeply precisely when it needs to.
Outside of the dialogue, there are a few phrases used to describe Dalna that teeter on the edge of overuse. Granted, the singular location somewhat limits the amount of ways you can mentally paint the landscape, but in the same vein of the authorial tones, these repetitions can hinder the immersion from time to time.
All that being said, the final act of this book takes things to an entirely new level, and any minor gripes vanish in the face of the twists and turns of the story. Ireland and Gratton are at their best when the stakes are at their highest, and by ending the book at the height of their power, the writing must absolutely be considered a success.
Path of Deceit is a new beginning that absolutely nails its ending. Much like Daniel José Older’s Midnight Horizon before it, the book’s final chapters sing with intrigue and action, and on a purely entertainment level, the revelations unquestionably deliver and will instantaneously make readers pre-order the next installment in the series.
These entertainment values are so high at the end, because all of the groundwork that was laid throughout the earlier chapters finally comes to fruition, and it’s almost like Ireland and Gratton have set traps along the way that are all triggered at the same exact moment. Not only are the action sequences written with all the trademark flare the High Republic usually brings, but the depth of the emotional fallout is vast.
Ending the book on such a high note is a fantastic strategy for the future of the initiative, but the earlier parts of the story may lack excitement and intrigue for some readers. While the payoffs are definitely worth it in the end, the trail to get to them isn’t filled with the most engaging and entertaining chapters we’ve seen thus far.
Similarly to the evolution of the plot and characters, the entertainment value of Path of Deceit may increase significantly upon a reread once the grand finale is revealed, but the first time through provides a slightly slower experience than we may be used to.
Path of Deceit welcomes readers back to The High Republic in style. While the story begins slightly slower than previous initiative entries, the final beats of Deceit cement it as essential reading for any fan of the era and further solidify the importance of Young Adult fiction in the world of Star Wars.
Path of Deceit is available now wherever books are sold, as well as on Audible where it is narrated by Erin Yvette.