Servants of the Empire: Rebel in the Ranks is the second installment in the young reader tie-in series to Star Wars Rebels. The first book, Edge of the Galaxy, introduced us to Zare Leonis, his sister Dhara, and soon-to-be girlfriend Merei Spanjak in the year before Zare entered the Imperial Academy on Lothal. Rebel in the Ranks picks up the story with Zare as a new Imperial cadet and follows him as he tries to learn the truth about what happened to his sister. Along the way he meets another cadet who has no love for the Empire.
Just like Edge of the Galaxy, Rebel in the Ranks has a much bigger feel than “just” a young reader book. Jason Fry has an excellent ability to tone down a story for a younger audience while not dumbing down the characterization or plot. I feel the same way when I watch Rebels, which is clearly targeted to younger viewers but appeals to fans of all ages. One of my favorite parts of the Servants of the Empire series is the worldbuilding. I feel like I know Lothal so much better after reading the first two books, much more than I would have by just watching Rebels.
Part of this novel runs concurrent with the Rebels episode Breaking Ranks, in which Ezra infiltrates the Academy to steal a decoder. Turns out Zare needs the same decoder so Merei can uncover information about Dhara. I found the scenes from the episode to be my least favorite, although it was nice to see them from Zare’s point of view. And I enjoyed getting a larger view of the Academy system, and an explanation for how Ezra was able to enter the Academy mid-year. (I pumped my fist at the mention of the Carida Academy. Yay, Legends!)
After reading this book, I understand why Fry has said he loves writing Merei so much. She reminds me a lot of Yana Hashoone, a character from Fry’s other series, The Jupiter Pirates–a capable young lady who isn’t afraid to risk her neck to get stuff done. I loved all her scenes and would like to see her break off into her own plot, aside from helping Zare. And Zare is such an endearing character. His plight to find his sister is very relateable, and he’s a good guy without coming off as a Gary Stu. Also, what Zare does as the end of the book, during his talk with the Inquisitor, makes me want to pull him into a bear hug and call him both stupid and impossibly brave.
My only complaint about this series is that there’s too long into between books. I can’t wait to see what happens next! Definitely GO pick up a copy of Rebel in the Ranks–you won’t regret it!