The High Republic is back at long last, and pulls no punches. If you’ve missed being put through the emotional ringer like I have, then the time is now. With Phase 2, we’ve jumped 150 years back in time to essentially answer the questions of how we got to where we’re at by the end of Phase 1, with the Nihil causing widespread destruction and claiming the lives of Jedi by way of their Nameless. The very first book in the new Phase really takes those questions seriously and hits the ground running. This is Path of Deceit by Justina Ireland and Tessa Gratton.
Path of Deceit takes readers to Dalna, a world mentioned many times in Phase 1 – and even visited on one occasion – which is home to the Path of the Open Hand. The Path is an organization (or, let’s be honest here, a cult) of Force adherents who on paper believe that the Force is an entity that lives in and around every living being, but which also has enough autonomy that to draw on it and use it is an affront to its very nature.
Two of these adherents are Marda Ro, and her cousin Yana. Of the two, Marda is the one who more wholeheartedly believes in the vision and the gospel of the Path, as laid down by the Mother, the woman at the head of the cult. Yana, as one of the “Children” who travels the galaxy ostensibly proselytizing, sees things more for what they are. Far from perfect, and grittier than Marda wants to believe.
Complicating matters is the arrival of Jedi Padawan Kevmo Zink and his master Zallah Macri, who have come to Dalna seeking answers about missing – read: stolen – Force artifacts that the Path might know a thing or two about. Complicating things even further is the growing attraction between Kevmo and Marda, despite holding opposite views of the Force.
Initially, when it was announced that the High Republic would be taking a time jump backwards, I will admit I was frustrated. Phase 1 ends on such a massive cliffhanger, with each book having its own internal closure, but the question of what the Jedi will do in the face of such loss and devastation hanging in the air. However, when Midnight Horizon ended with Yoda’s cryptic declaration that to move forward, one must look to the past, I began to feel better about the backwards jump. Path of Deceit proves that that relief was well-founded.
If the mission of Phase 2 is to lay out all the pieces to solve the puzzle that is the Nihil and the Nameless, and even Marchion Ro himself, then Path of Deceit does so magnificently. If you’re a Nihil fan like I am, you can already see the beginnings of their organizational structure being laid out. The constant references to Paths, the construction of the Gaze Electric flagship, and the division of their foot soldiers into smaller cadres that carry out the leader’s will.
At the heart of it all is Marda Ro. Unlike her great-grandson however many times removed, at the outset of the novel, Marda is principled to the point of naiveté. She believes what she believes about the Force, and cannot conceive of the galaxy functioning any other way. Marchion holds his beliefs, but because he didn’t grow up sheltered as she did, has a better perspective on the realities of life in the rest of the galaxy. What they share, however, is a deep mistrust of the Jedi and their approach to doing things. My initial assumption had been that Marchion’s mistrust stemmed from the Jedi being superpowered agents of a colonizing government, and while that might still be true, I now wonder how much of that mistrust also comes from Marda’s view of the Jedi as twisting and abusing the Force for their own purposes.
What winds up giving Marda pause – before eventually confirming her beliefs – is the arrival of Kevmo Zink. Marda is attracted to him, and him to her, even though he sees no problem in using the Force to suit his own ends. Marda holds the view that every positive use of the Force will result in a negative consequence elsewhere in the galaxy. A butterfly effect of sorts. While I suppose there’s no way to know that that’s not true, given how rough a time the Jedi usually have, that also seems like an awfully convenient way to had wave away all the atrocities happening in the galaxy.
And that’s without mentioning how the Mother, like any cult leader, preys on the vulnerable for her own benefit.
This book also introduces us to the Nameless, those creatures who provoke such fear in the Jedi that they calcify until there’s nothing left of them except a petrified (in both senses of the word) shell. In the hands of the Mother, they are creatures who serve to help the Path in eliminating anyone who would threaten their belief, which is several kinds of terrifying.
The book ends with Marda devastated at Kevmo’s death, but more firm in her belief than ever before. We know from The Rising Storm that Marchion’s people suffered a massacre on Dalna at the hands of those who misuse the Force, and we also know from Mission to Disaster that this is not the only devastation to have taken place there, with the Jedi being the ones to blame. Hard to imagine we’ve jumped back all this way not to see that addressed at some point . So now we wait…
It’s interesting that Marda describes the Force as light and life, when that would later become a phrase associated with the Jedi she mistrusts so much.
The Path of the Open Hand has its roots in the Guardians of the Whills, where their founder hailed from. An interesting twist, to say the least.
Yana reads a holonet romance about a senator who falls in love with a Jedi, a Jedi who in turn in torn between his allegiance to the order and to his love. And she thinks it sounds “far-fetched”. I feel like I’ve heard this one before…
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