Time to get bad with Delilah S. Dawson and Star Wars Inquisitor: Rise of the Red Blade…
We don’t often get stories that are focused on the darker side of Star Wars, but Dawson has now given us two – 2017’s Phasma (well worth a read) and, now, Rise of the Red Blade which centres its story on Iskat Akaris – a fallen Jedi lured to the Inquisitorious with the promise of finally being able to tap into her power, a power once suppressed and restrained by the Jedi Council. Throughout her Star Wars entries, Dawson has consistently delivered well-written characters, wonderfully descriptive locations, and rewarding stories, and Rise of the Red Blade is no exception, even if it stumbles a little along the way.
It’s worth noting that this isn’t Iskat’s first foray into the canon, she first appeared in Charles Soule’s 2017 Darth Vader comic book series, specifically issues nineteen and twenty. However, not much was really revealed about the unnamed red-skinned baddie in those stories, thus it fell to Dawson to deliver backstory, depth, and, well, character to the latest Inquisitor to join the ranks.
Now, this review will remain spoiler-free, but you can hear my spoiler thoughts on the Book Club – Inquisitor: Rise of the Red Blade episode. That said, beginning in 22 BBY and ending in 14 BBY, the story is really delivered in two pieces – Iskat with the Jedi Order as a Padawan and Knight, and Iskat with the Inquisitors post-Order 66. When she is with the Order, Iskat feels held back. She was Padawan to a master that didn’t particularly bond with her (or show any true desire to), her strong abilities with a lightsaber were extinguished in favour of babysitting younglings, and her Force ability/temperament led to a tragedy in her early day’s training with the Jedi. The story doesn’t feel necessarily like any other similar story we have heard in Star Wars (i.e. Anakin Skywalker) which was a welcome surprise and Dawson really takes the time to examine and explore Iskat as a character, thus meaning later ‘reveals’ (the cover art and title would say otherwise) carry further weight. We see Iskat’s relationships with fellow Jedi – including esteemed council members Yoda, Mace Windu, and Adi Gallia amongst others – and how she reacts to the ongoing Clone Wars and the tragedy and opportunity it may bring. Being in the thick of prime-Clone Wars territory will never be a bad thing given the strife, struggles, politics, and corruption that was taking place at that time in the galaxy, and Dawson writes these moments so well. As seems to be the case in canon (animation, novels, comics…) Mace Windu again is written to be a bit of a jerk – he just scowls, doesn’t really trust anyone, and acts aloof…it’s easy to see why he was at the forefront of the Jedi downfall during the twilight of the Republic.
The overall failures of the Jedi are highlighted extremely well, in fact, and whilst most are on board with the Council’s teachings and ideas, the rumblings of discontent within the Order are present, but not dramatically OTT or widespread. However, as we KNOW Iskat becomes an Inquisitor, for me, the story did take just a little too long in getting to that aspect. It all does fall into place later, but it felt slow after the first third, and some of its momentum was lost. This slower pace will work for some, but not all, though the expanded time given to develop Iskat ensures her reasons for switching allegiances are clearly defined and explained.
This is where we get to the post-Order 66 material and where the story ramps up in pace following its lull. Dawson provides more detail on the Inquisotorius than we’ve had before, including their ranks, their training, and even their living habits. It all combines to provide a more rounded view of a group that has been gaining more and more traction in recent years thanks to Obi-Wan Kenobi and the Star Wars: Jedi series of video games.
Iskat experiences a spiritual awakening once leaving the Order, and she can seemingly do and be who she wants. Being held back or admonished for doing the right thing – but maybe in the wrong way – by the Jedi Council does not apply anymore and the Inquisitorious seems to be more in line with her visions. It also allows for the story to stray into darker territories, Dawson doesn’t hold back when it comes to characters slaying other characters, or just death in general. Whilst I’m not, and would not, advocate for VIOLENCE AND R-RATINGS in the franchise, I do believe stakes are needed and the morally grey side of Star Wars should be acknowledged when required – not everyone is squeaky clean or morally balanced even if they are or were a servant of the Light. As such, it was refreshing to read a character acting on their impulses and strengths without ever feeling too gratuitous or unnecessary. Additionally, Dawson is very adept at writing villains, her Phasma novels doing wonders for the character that the films just decided not to…
The wonderful way Dawson brought Iskat’s story to life verbatim from the comics also was fantastic to read. Taking the story written by Soule six years prior, Dawson adds more meat to the bone of those panels to deliver a genuinely satisfying conclusion that resonates further due to the strong development in previous chapters.
Rise of the Red Blade is littered with delicious name drops, character appearances, and canon connections throughout which satisfied me and will please fellow lorehounds as well. I enjoyed the book a lot, especially when the momentum and FORCE was with it. As mentioned, there was a lull partway through which the story took a little while to overcome, but once it did, the story went full throttle with the last days of the Republic, Order 66, and the Inquisitorious. Following Phasma and 2019’s Galaxy’s Edge: Black Spire, Dawson has again delivered another well-written, strong, and exciting entry into the ever-growing tapestry that is Star Wars.
(Note: I still want Delilah S. Dawson to pen a novel about Rey post-The Rise of Skywalker describing her dealing with everything she experienced since being discovered on Jakku in The Force Awakens…)
**** 4.0/5It isn’t quite perfect, but it’s extremely strong and has some delightfully dark moments peppered throughout.
Thanks to the team at Del Rey UK and Penguin Random House for the advance copy of Inquisitor: Rise of the Red Blade – it’s massively appreciated as usual!