Review: The Eye of Darkness is a sprawling yet intimate story of Jedi grief and guilt

The Eye of Darkness by George Mann. Image Credit:
The Eye of Darkness by George Mann. Image Credit: /

Kicking off the next phase of The High Republic storytelling, Star Wars: The Eye of Darkness, excels in its balance of sprawling action with intimate, quiet grief.

Author George Mann had a huge task to achieve – reintroduce characters and stories from Phase 1 and set up key threads to weave together The High Republic’s grand finale. Mann exceeded expectations with his novel, bringing his signature touch of horror style to a story about how the Golden Age Jedi deal with being brought to their knees.

The Eye of Darkness deftly weaves back together the story threads from Phase 1 even as its main characters are scattered throughout the galaxy, most unable to communicate with each other. The book is set one year after the end of Phase 1, The Fallen Star by Claudia Gray, and the horrific destruction of Starlight Beacon.

The novel chiefly follows Jedi – Elzar Mann, Avar Kriss, Porter Engle, and Bell Zettifar and Burryaga – but also gives POV chapters to galactic journalist Rhil Dairo (The Rising Storm) and the traitorous Senator Ghirra Starros. Though he graces the cover, Eye of the Nihil Marchion Ro doesn’t get nearly enough page time as hope, but a few key chapters offer crucial insight into his psyche and some juicy nods to Phase 2 storytelling.

There are also a couple of newcomers – General Viess (see Marvel’s The Blade) and Melis Shryke – offering more perspectives on how the Nihil react to one another and Marchion Ro’s machinations.

The Eye of Darkness by George Mann. Image Credit:
The Eye of Darkness by George Mann. Image Credit: /

The Eye of Darkness follows these Jedi before, during, and after the lead-up to the one-year anniversary of Starlight’s fall. For the Republic, is a day of mourning and frustration as it and the Jedi struggle to fight back against the Nihil and Marchion Ro’s Stormwalled Outer Rim. For the Nihil, it’s a day to gloat and revel in the chaos they’ve sown.

Despite little time with Marchion Ro, much of the chapters follow how the good guys and bad guys react to him and his actions. By keeping him still a bit mysterious but shown through the eyes of those closest to him, the Evereni becomes an even more terrifying and mercurial villain.

Throughout the novel, there are passages from both Jedi and Nihil that attempt to explain what Marchion Ro wants and what the purpose of being a Nihil is. They talk of his hatred for the Jedi and the Nihil’s, ahem, nihilism, and glorification of anarchy and violence.

Mann’s writing has this knack for making the reader really feel the emotions of the characters they’re reading about. The fear elicited by Marchion Ro shines beyond the page, creating a solid level of unease at his unpredictability, which is felt by both the characters and the reader.

Similarly, the whiplash of hope and despair felt by the Jedi protagonists is keenly felt throughout the book’s 416 pages. Though felt in different ways for different reasons, our main Jedi in this book cycle through traumatic flashbacks and waves of intense anger, grief, and guilt.

Perhaps the most tortured Jedi soul is Elzar Mann, who really goes through it over and over again in The Eye of Darkness. While he grieves his friend Stellan Gios and desperately tries to find a way through the Stormwall, Avar Kriss tries to correct her many mistakes through small, secret missions against the Nihil in the Occlusion Zone.

The book’s multi-POV approach is reminiscent of The High Republic’s first novel, Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule. But the common critiques of that novel and the other adult High Republic books don’t apply to The Eye of Darkness.

The High Republic’s adult books often don’t have as much deep character exploration because of their multi-POV structure. The incredible main characters of Phases 1 and 2 have to share space, and readers bounce back and forth between the Jedi, Republic leaders, and the villainous Nihil.

But in The Eye of Darkness, the multi-POV works perfectly to catch up with the Jedi scattered inside and outside of the Nihil’s Occlusion Zone. It also spends crucial time exploring the immense grief and guilt felt by the Jedi and Chancellor Lina Soh.

The Eye of Darkness is The Empire Strikes Back of The High Republic. Both inside and outside the Occlusion Zone, the Jedi and the Republic are firmly on the defensive side, still reeling from the devastation. But even small victories and revelations about the nature of the Stormwall (along with even more Phase 2 nods) feel like something to get the good guys back in the game.

As the first book in the next phase of High Republic storytelling, which is slated to be its grand finale, The Eye of Darkness does an excellent job reintroducing characters and key plot points and firmly establishing where it all takes place on the timeline. The pacing is also *chef’s kiss*, effortlessly bouncing between characters, planets, whole chunks of the galaxy, and light and dark emotions.

Speaking of, there are a few deliciously dark and horror-tinged moments in The Eye of Darkness, particularly with Baron Boolan, Marchion Ro’s Nameless-obsessed twisted scientist. His name will sound familiar to you if you read Path of Vengeance.

With all of the Phase 2 connections, the inevitable question of whether or not you have to read those prequel books has been popping up since The Eye of Darkness review copies went out. My short answer is no, you can read and enjoy The Eye of Darkness without reading Phase 2.

But the novel may change your mind about skipping a High Republic phase full of Force cultists and the origins of the Nameless.

Overall, The Eye of Darkness is a fresh but familiar story with all the trappings that make a good High Republic book. It makes you feel like we never left these characters but still surges ahead with a thrilling new phase of epic stories and raw, relatable characters.

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The High Republic: The Eye of Darkness is available now from Random House Worlds.