Review: Inquisitor: Rise of the Red Blade

Title: Inquisitor: Rise of the Red Blade

Author: Delilah S. Dawson

Release Date: July 18, 2023


Leading with the tagline, "When the Jedi Order falls, an Inquisitor Rises," this adult novel follows Jedi Iskat Akaris as she struggles to find out exactly where she fits within the Force. Though she has dedicated herself to becoming the best Jedi that she can, Iskat feels thwarted at every turn. As she struggles with finding her peace and controlling the unbridled power that the Force provides her, she also finds herself adrift, without a Master and thrust into a galaxy at war. Iskat knows that she is a weapon that the Jedi can use, but becomes frustrated at the decisions of the Jedi Order that only seem to hold her back from doing what she feels the Force wills. We watch Iskat's descent into an Inquisitor in what feels like an inevitable, and at times quite familiar, path to the Dark Side in search of power and freedom.

Overall Opinions

While this book was not necessarily at the top of my list of Star Wars books that I wanted and was looking forward to, I discovered soon after picking it up that it would really become something special. Providing us a look that we don't often get, of a crumbling Jedi Order through the eyes of someone who the Order has failed in profound ways, this story feels deeply personal. While told in third person, the book is totally bound up with Iskat's perceptions and experiences, and Dawson weaves Iskat's tale in such a way that one can become swept away with the view of the Jedi Order being intensely unfair and broken, even though we have seen many other examples of a Prequel Era Order still having a hope for redemption. In sum total, this is a book about feeling other and looking for a way to feel accepted, even as you feel that you never will.

Part One: The Perfect Jedi

The book is broken into three parts and an epilogue. The first part focuses on Iskat's time as a Padawan learner and on into her time as a Jedi Knight in the Clone Wars. In particular, we see all of the ways in which Iskat believes that the Jedi Order is failing to provide her what she needs even as she strives to do everything by the book. In particular, the relationship depicted between Iskat and her Master, Sember Vey, feels distant, with Sember appearing to have essentially given up her dreams in order to train Iskat. Iskat cannot help but feel like a burden and that there is something intrinsically wrong with her, as she feels drawn to the Sith artifact, feels no connection with her Master through the Force, and truly only feels whole and herself when she is in combat. Even after the start of the Clone Wars and her elevation to Jedi Knight, Iskat still perceives other Jedi as viewing her as other and monstrous, even going so far as to remove her from combat indefinitely as a result of a mission gone wrong. Interestingly, we get to see how little information the Jedi seem to have to go on during their Senate-supplied missions, and we feel Iskat's frustration at all of the cloak and dagger that seem to follow her no matter what she tries within the Jedi Order.

As stated before, one of the most interesting things that Dawson does in this book is to place us squarely into the head of Iskat, requiring us to truly tease out which observations are genuine and which are Iskat's own, perhaps skewed, perspective. Is Iskat truly as innocent as she sees herself? Is she really viewed in the way that she thinks she is? Given the scope of the novel, it's virtually impossible to tell.

Part Two: Finding Iskat

The second part of the book centers on Iskat's decision to rebel against the Jedi Order by seeking to find her own way through the Force. Guided by a mysterious lightsaber found in her Master's chambers, Iskat dives into research and training with a renewed vigor, keeping some of her intentions secret and finally beginning to feel as though she is coming into her own. This is also the part of the novel when Iskat seems to begin to fall under the sway of some more nefarious characters who begin to seed in her the ideas that will eventually lead to her adoption into the Inquisitorius. Interestingly, this does seem to be the only time when Iskat feels like she might be happy, but because there is still information that is withheld from her, she cannot feel as though she has found her place.

What is so compelling here is that the insidious nature of Palpatine and his agents feels so different here than it felt in the corruption of Anakin, perhaps because what Iskat wants is so different than what Anakin wants. While Anakin is driven by a desire for love and connection, Iskat only wants the freedom to be herself and feel accepted for that self. That freedom comes in the form not only of being able to reach more deeply into the Force, but also to explore her background and who she is meant to be.

Part Three: The Inquisitorius

What makes film-era Star Wars novels so interesting is that they often have to fit into rigidly defined timelines and events, so they often effectively spoil some aspects of their own stories. In this case, we already know not only that Iskat becomes an Inquisitor, but also how her journey as an Inquisitor ends, as seen in Charles Soule's 2017 Darth Vader comic run. Beyond even that, one of the major twists of the book is also obvious to any readers of the comic run (or anyone who happened to see the promotional posters). That said, the plot of this novel is not where the mastery comes into play. The mastery here comes from the way that Dawson develops such a complex main character that you are willing to follow even to a tragic end.

One thing that is incredibly compelling in this novel is the eventual resolution of Iskat's search for her cultural identity. Dawson writes primitive Star Wars cultures in such beautiful ways, and I think that that, and incredibly compelling, complex female main characters are where she truly shines. One thing that I do wish is that we would have had an opportunity to spend more time with Iskat's people, if they can truly be called that.

Epilogue: The Point of Contention

The book finishes with a fairly faithful adaptation of the Soule Darth Vader comic scenes featuring Iskat. This choice, of all of the choices of the novel, is one that feels the most questionable to me. While well-written, the epilogue felt as though it was a part of a different story. I would have been more than happy had it just been left out entirely.

The Long and Short of It

On the whole, I loved this book. I think Star Wars needs more intelligent, nuanced stories like this, and Delilah S. Dawson consistently delivers these types of stories. I love the Clone Wars as a time for storytelling, and would love to see more, similar stories of those who have unique perspectives on the fall of the Jedi order.


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