The High Republic is back for the third and final phase of its publishing initiative! Phase III also named “Trials of the Jedi” kicks off a year after the events of Phase I and the turbulent destruction of Starlight Beacon at the hands of the dastardly Marchion Ro and his Nihil crew. The Eye of Darkness by George Mann marks the first of the adult books in this final phase, and boy is it a dark, galaxy-changing adventure!
The Eye of Darkness follows a whole host of characters one year on from the events of The Fallen Star by Claudia Gray and everything that book brought with it. The Nihil, reveling in their victory have erected “The Stormwall” an impenetrable barrier that affects any non-Nihil hyperdrives and communications, engulfing a large area of the outer rim now known as the Occlusion Zone. The Jedi trapped on both sides of the Stormwall must face their fears and regain their lost hope over the past year as they aim to breach the wall to help save their friends and defeat the Nihil.
Despite The Eye of Darkness feeling ever so slightly trapped against the machinations of other phases of the High Republic and the prior knowledge that comes with it, Mann does a surprisingly great job of getting you up to speed with things that have happened in previous books. This works wonders for those who maybe want to read this first or haven’t had the time to catch up with the plethora of other books available even if you may be a little confused at first.
[Note: While I am reviewing this novel independently and honestly, it should be noted that Random House Worlds has provided it to me to review. My review contains no spoilers, outside of some first act foundations, as going into this book as blind as possible really does help!]
A return to Jedi of the High Republic in The Eye of Darkness
There are plenty of characters new and old in The Eye of Darkness, but Mann makes sure that the Jedi still get to shine the brightest in this book. After reeling from their losses one year prior, the Jedi are found dealing with the new Occlusion Zone as well as trying to piece together the mystery of the Nameless that threatens their very existence and connection to the Force.
Elzar Mann, Bell Zettifar and Burryaga (yes, he’s alive!) are the main Jedi we find ourselves with on the Republic side of the Stormwall. Mann enriches all of these characters deeply by getting down into their psyche and how they truly feel about everything going on. Each Jedi strives to find hope even in the deepest of dark moments and you can truly feel this push through in the book marking one of the great themes of Star Wars as a franchise.
A lot of this book feels like we are truly getting more into how we find the Jedi in the prequel era, with the Republic and the Jedi feeling ever more entwined. We find Elzar and Chancellor Lina Soh spending a lot of time together in the Senate dealing with the political side of the galaxy. As well as Jedi on the front lines with Bell and Burry patrolling the edge of the Stormwall hoping to deal swiftly with any Nihil who come through to pillage and plunder.
On the flipside (literally) the few Jedi we find behind the Stormwall envelop everything we know and love about the Jedi of the High Republic era. Avar Kriss and Porter Engle are both working in secret to breach the Stormwall and escape the Occlusion Zone, as well as help as many of the innocent people trapped inside it as possible. Avar gains a new friend in her fight against the tyranny of the Nihil whom I won’t spoil, but I can guarantee will be a fan favorite as more and more people read the book!
Whilst Porter Engle spends a lot of time thinking about his past and facing it in more ways than one. Other characters can be found behind the Stormwall too who aim to disrupt Marchion Ro and his ruling over the Occlusion Zone. One such is Rhil Dairo, a minor character from the first phase but she gets a chance to shine in this book. She unwillingly acts as Marchion’s propaganda reader but that doesn’t stop her working to undermine him in some spectacular ways.
Mann excels at bringing together and reimagining these minor characters both new and old, making each one feel just as important as the Jedi themselves, there are quite a lot of characters in this book which makes for quite a lot of chapters, 67 to be exact, and it can be a while before you hear from some of them which, while frustrating, just helps build the tension during acts two and three of the book, as you itch to know what happens next.
The Nihil and other villains of the story
Marchion Ro and the Nihil are just such fun villains, Phase II brought us some amazingly different ones with The Mother and the Path of the Open Hand and their ideology. But the Nihil have always been great, sewing chaos for the sake of chaos and none more so than in The Eye of Darkness.
Marchion Ro takes a bit of a back seat in this book, returning to his quieter and much more spiteful self. His presence is still definitely felt throughout the entire book, with Marchion himself getting his own time to shine in some of the most jaw-dropping moments I have ever read in a Star Wars book. The Nihil are slightly different in this book, ditching their Tempest Runner ways for a more refined leadership in the hopes of legitimacy. They’re led by disgraced former senator Ghirra Starros, one of three of Marchions’ new “Ministers” who all aim to take the Nihil in different directions.
If there has to be a main character on the side of the villains it would be Ghirra aka the Minister of Information, yet again Mann does an excellent job at delving into her thoughts about where she is amongst the Nihil whilst still feeling a mixture of emotions for her lover Marchion Ro. (surprisingly not the weirdest Star Wars romance there has been) Ghirra strives for a legitimately run Nihil against the wishes of Marchion’s unruly way of thinking and leadership. A lot happens with her in the book and she becomes one of the most nuanced by the end, leaving you wondering what her future may entail. She proves herself in many ways and I think you will be rooting for her despite her villainous tendencies.
The other Ministers in the novel are more of your typical evil villains, even more so than with the aptly named ‘Baron Boolan’ (a name which may peak the interest of some well-read High Republic readers). The Baron, aka the Minister of Advancement, deals with the Nameless, terrifying creatures that feed on the force and are a legitimate, horrifying threat to the Jedi. Not much more can be said about him as I feel he will be more of a villain in future projects. The final minister, the Minister of Protection is General Viess the feared mercenary-for-hire from Phase II who now has a home amongst the Nihil. She already has history with a certain Jedi in this book and Mann makes sure you are up to date with the history. She is of course a prime example of a deadly adversary and proves herself as just that throughout.
For light and life in the High Republic
Pretty much all the characters in this book go through a lot, there are plenty of personal stakes that are tested as well as galaxy-changing events that affect the characters in different ways. The book acts like a gut punch with you feeling the lost hope among the characters and the galaxy as a whole. There is no right answer for any character on how to deal with either the Republic or the Nihil, this leads to frustrations from the characters and on occasion the reader as you want something to go right.
George Mann amazingly builds up the tension in this book, hardly relieving you of any of it as the book goes on. The book is compelling in its politics, something that the High Republic does best. Spending time with the new state of the galaxy allows readers to truly understand what the characters are going through and why they are so desperate to end the Nihil’s reign over the outer rim, with this desperation leading to greater and greater risks being taken in the name of justice.
Final thoughts on Star Wars: The Eye of Darkness by George Mann
The Eye of Darkness acts as an excellently crafted galaxy-changing adventure, absolutely filled to the brim with tension, fear, headache, and hope. Unfortunately for some, the book may prove too full as quite a few of the storylines are caught up in the wider world of storytelling and don’t have as much of a satisfactory payoff. With over 6 months to go until the next book “Temptation of the Force”, readers will have quite a wait.
However, this does not stop the rest of the book from being astonishing. George Mann delivers something that beautifully entwines what came before in Phases I and II whilst ushering us into Phase III. The book lives up to its title, and it is an absolute must-read for any Star Wars fan.
My Rating: 9/10
Star Wars: The Eye of Darkness by George Mann is available today in hardback and audiobook. Are you planning to check out this book? Let us know what you think of it on social media @mycosmiccircus or in The Comic Circus Discord.