Early on in The Eye of Darkness, the latest High Republic novel from George Mann and the introductory book for phase three, the good guys are challenged. They’re called out in the most gruesome way possible. During a live showcase of Marchion Ro’s twisted power, a Nameless feeds on a Jedi — a member of the High Council no less. It’s a gut-wrenching reminder of the perilous stakes now that Starlight Beacon has fallen. A visceral reminder that the Nihil are no longer a minor nuisance or a small-time group of marauders. Instead, they’re a power to take seriously.

It’s an eye-catching opening and one that promises a great deal of friction to come. Especially with Marchion being featured so menacingly on the novel’s cover. Unfortunately, while the book does move the needle, giving us some new scenarios and plenty of drama, the underlying promise isn’t delivered. Marchion is barely seen — to say nothing of having scenes from his perspective — and the later violence feels disjointed and at times impersonal.

The Stormwall

The biggest new feature in the book is the Stormwall. This barrier is mindful of the Iron Curtain that fell across Eastern Europe during the Cold War. It’s a barrier that can’t be crossed or breached in any way. To do so risks immediate destruction of a ship or relocation to a Nihil kill zone, where a ship can be destroyed or boarded at will. The Stormwall allows for the Nihil to establish a space of their own, which they call the Occlusion Zone. Anyone who was caught within that space the moment the wall went up was trapped. While those outside were left to ponder what could possibly be happening within. This is the case because not only is the Stormwall a physical barrier, it’s able to prevent communications of all kinds. Effectively, nothing gets through unless the Nihil want it to.

While this is an intriguing plot device — not to mention a neat thematic — the Stormwall isn’t employed as effectively as it could be. Certainly there’s confusion and heartbreak surrounding it. Not to mention heroic attempts to circumvent it, but as the action in the book begins a full year after it goes up there’s little panic or terror in its description or use. Rather than immediate and raw feelings of people being severed from the larger community, we readers are instead presented with weariness and frustration. Of the aftereffects. Certainly there’s nothing wrong with that — after all, any emotion, if put to good use, can be a potent tool. It’s just that the novel stumbles over itself by overexplaining those emotions. It doesn’t properly counterbalance them with actual efforts to figure out how the wall came about, how it functions, or how it can be dismantled. Without that offset, whole sections of the book slow down and become oppressively repetitive. Various character chapters begin to blend together because they’re feeling the same things and expressing them in similar fashions. In short, there isn’t enough separation and distinction.

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It’s an unfortunate overlap because the division inherent in something like the Stormwall could have created dicey and compromising situations for the Republic. Not to mention the Jedi. Perhaps even led some of them to turn to the Dark Side. With feelings of anger and plenty of moments of desperation on display, it wouldn’t have been a far stretch to see at least one Jedi succumb. But, alas, no, the divergence never runs that deep. None of our heroes are ever tested in that way. Instead, all the bad guy antics rest solely with the Nihil.

Avar and Porter

Porter Engle in Eye of Darkness

In one corner of the galaxy is Avar Kriss, the Hero of Hetzal, and Porter Engle, the Blade of Bardotta. When the book begins, they’re both in a similar situation. Cut off and having to survive in isolation, they’re actively searching for a way out. Which is why their chapters are some of the best, providing snippets of views into what life is like — not only for themselves but for others. Porter’s scenes in particular are well done, especially when they take advantage of his age and memories. Being old enough to recall events from phase two, Porter is an invaluable bridge. Albeit an incomplete one. On many occasions there are hints of older knowledge but those moments never come to the forefront. Much like previous scenes from previous novels featuring Yoda, the main threads to unraveling the mystery of the Nihil are left untouched. Nonetheless, Porter’s past isn’t a complete waste. His work with Wayfinders comes in handy. Most notably at getting a message out of the Occlusion Zone.

Joining Porter on the inside looking out, Avar spends many of her early chapters trying to rebuild her confidence and own self-worth. Unable to stop the destruction of Starlight Beacon, she’s a character who starts the novel nearly beaten. While she’s survived in the interim, it hasn’t been easy. No longer able to hear the music of the Force as she once could, she feels cut off in more than one way. Especially considering her other losses — Stellan Gios when Starlight fell and Elzar Mann when he sequestered himself after his near Dark Side turn. Avar is alone, depressed, and full of shame. Yet, she’s a fighter, and throughout the book she proves that. At first, it’s in the simplest ways. Then in ways more daring and impactful. Until finally in a way that could turn the tide in the fight against the Nihil.

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Elzar and Lina

Elzar Mann in Eye of Darkness

Elzar and Supreme Chancellor Lina Soh are also characters who feel lonely and blame-worthy. Located on the other side of the wall, they have access to Jedi and officials to talk things through, but it doesn’t help them. Primarily because the people closest to them — the confidants they would normally turn to — are the ones trapped inside the Occlusion Zone. Like Avar, Lina’s son, Kitrep, is behind enemy lines. But unlike the Jedi, we never hear more about him. He and his boyfriend were last known to be sightseeing, and that’s it. No word. Just a bunch of foreboding. Which is summarily what the chancellor is feeling. That the end is coming. That there isn’t any more  hope. While she continues to lead and continues to say the right things, scene after scene shows her resolve weakening and her ability to hold the Republic together waning.

In a similar fashion, Elzar begins to lose it. Believing he’s a failure after mistakenly killing Chancey Yarrow, he teeters on the edge of sanity. No longer buffeted by Avar and Stellan, he grasps for any hope. He pushes the scientists and politicians to act, to put everything they have at the wall, but it’s never enough. When plan after plan fails, he blames himself even more. Yet, his friendship with the chancellor and his ability to sense his own weaknesses saves him. It allows him to identify a fellow sufferer and to do the natural thing. To reach out. Talk. Commune. And in so doing his path takes a more encouraging turn. To the point that he begins to pull the chancellor along, encouraging her to keep the faith despite all the bad news. While both these characters have uplifting tales, theirs are the chapters that blend the most, overloading the reader with arcs that run too parallel to one another.

Eye of Darkness

Marchion Ro in Eye of Darkness

With such a pointed title and cover art, one might be forgiven for believing the novel would be mostly about Marchion. Or, in the very least, would provide more insight into his plans or origins. But no. Not here. While we do get scenes from within the Occlusion Zone, many of them feature lesser characters — Nihil lieutenants, sympathizers, or sycophants. When Marchion does feature, he’s a background character along for the ride. Present to be seen and nothing more. Likewise, we don’t get any more information about the Nameless or how they can be countered. Which isn’t too surprising since this information will likely develop over the course of this final phase. Still, it would have been nice to see Marda Ro’s name more than once or to find out what Yoda and Creighton Sun were going to discuss at the end of the last phase.

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In the first novels of the previous two phases, the direction of that phase was overtly on display. In Light of the Jedi, there was the Great Disaster. In Path of Deceit, there was Marda and the Path of the Open Hand. In this novel, there isn’t an overriding theme or character (with the possible exception of the Stormwall). That’s a problem. And one that’s hopefully remedied as the phase progresses, because the Nihil are a great enemy. Their rise has been meteoric and terrifying. They deserve an explanation and origin story that’s clear and well defined (and better explained than the Mother’s backstory from phase two). And that process has to happen soon. This can’t be left to the last few books.

The Eye of Darkness does make a statement. The Nihil are pushing the Republic and Jedi to a breaking point. That can’t be denied. It’s just that the Nihil’s tactics and methods should make sense and have a counter that’s explainable. So far the Stormwall is the work of magic. And the Nameless are straight out of mythology. No one seems to understand them. And no one has any answers. At least, none that are being presented before us readers. That can’t last. While this novel does have good moments, while it is well-written and decently paced, its overall effect is diminished by what isn’t there. By the things that were promised and not delivered. 

THE GOOD
Good pacing
Easy to read
Amplifies the emotion
THE BAD
Too much from the good guys perspective
No statement moment or action piece
Too few answers to important questions
6.5
Fair

Review Summary

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