Publisher: Del Rey/Penguin Random House Audio (Audiobook – 4 January 2022)
Series: Star Wars – The High Republic
Length: 13 hours and 31 minutes
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
The awesome new focus of Star Wars fiction, the intriguing High Republic range, continues to shine brightly with the latest epic adult novel, The Fallen Star, a dark and impressive entry by the extremely talented Claudia Gray.
Ever since its start at the beginning of 2020, the High Republic multimedia project has presented some unique Star Wars stories that I have deeply enjoyed. Set in the golden age of the Republic and the Jedi, hundreds of years before the films, The High Republic focuses on a different generation of Jedi facing off against the murderous raiders known as the Nihil. This series has so far produced some excellent gems across various forms of media, including novels, comics, audio dramas and other cool entries written by some of the best authors of Star Wars fiction.
While there is an interesting spread of fiction in The High Republic, the key storylines are generally contained in the main adult novels such as The Fallen Star, and the previous novels, Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule, which introduced the High Republic era and the Nihil, and The Rising Storm by Cavan Scott, which saw the Nihil launch a bold attack at the very heart of the Republic. Other cool entries, such as the young adult novels Into the Dark and Out of the Shadows, and the audio drama Tempest Runner, added to this tapestry, and it has resulted in a fantastic and compelling overarching narrative and setting. As such, I have been very excited to see where this franchise goes next, especially as The Fallen Star acts as one of the finales to the current phase of High Republic fiction. Written by Claudia Gray, who previously authored the incredible Master & Apprentice (one of my favourite Star Wars novels), this was an epic book with a fantastic adventure story.
Following the brutal Nihil attack on the Republic Fair, the entire galaxy is hunting for the Nihil, determined to destroy them and their mysterious leader, the Eye, once and for all. However, the Republic and the Jedi are unaware that the true Eye of the Nihil is the fearsome Marchion Ro, who plans to devastate the Jedi and the Republic headquarters, Starlight Beacon. A massive space station out in the Outer Rim, Starlight Beacon was intended to bring light and cooperation to the most remote areas of the galaxy. Staffed by some of the most powerful Jedi, Starlight Beacon stands a symbol of hope and determination, but that is about to change. Determined to make the Jedi and the Republic pay, Ro sends his cohorts on a deadly mission to destroy Starlight Beacon from the inside, causing a massive explosive that rips through the station, causing chaos and destruction, as Starlight Beacon loses all power.
Determined to save the station and its inhabitants no matter what, the Jedi try to restart the station before it is too late. However, something else is aboard Starlight Beacon, something ancient, unseen and bearing an insatiable hunger that drives it to hunt and feast on Jedi. With their abilities to connect with the Force disrupted by the foul beasts stalking them, the Jedi will need the help of everyone on the station, including weird pilots, annoying droids and rogue Nihil, to save the people around them. But even their combined abilities might not be enough to save Starlight Beacon from its imminent destruction, nor from monsters capable of turning even the most skilled Jedi into dust.
The Fallen Star was an incredible book from Claudia Gray that does an excellent job of continuing the impressive High Republic storylines. Gray has come up with a very unique Star Wars tale that sees some of this era’s best characters trapped in an impossible and dangerous situation. Loaded with a ton of action, some major plot moments, interesting storyline continuation and a ton of character development, this was an excellent novel that proves very easy to get drawn into.
Honestly the best way to describe The Fallen Star’s story is as a nautical disaster story, like Titanic or The Poseidon Adventure, in space. This novel begins with the initial stages of the disaster as a small team of Nihil saboteurs infiltrate Starlight Beacon and systematically take out the station. These early parts of the novel have a great sense of tension, as the reader is forced to watch the Nihil continue to succeed while the Jedi remain oblivious. The story starts to pick up as the Nihil plan goes into effect, not only because of the explosion that knocks Starlight Beacon out of orbit, but because several unseen creatures immediately start to attack the Jedi in brutal mind-bending ways while also disrupting their connection to the Force. The true disaster narrative takes over from here as the characters attempt to survive the destruction while also trying to save the station. Gray really dives into character psychology here, as the Jedi are forced to overcome their guilt and the building fear of the creatures attacking, while the other characters try to determine whether to focus on self-preservation or helping those around them. The last two-thirds of the book is purely devoted to the attempts to survive the station’s slow destruction, and Gray really does not let up the plot intensity. Every time the protagonists seem to make some progress or success they are immediately hit with obstacles or tragedy that seek to overwhelm them. This leads to some impressive and confronting moments throughout the book, and you honestly will be surprised and shocked by some of the deaths or twists that occur. While there are one or two fake-outs designed to ramp up the feels, you will come away from this book being extremely moved and a little emotionally drained.
This was a very well put together novel; it has an amazing flow to it, and once the various disasters start up, the pace and stakes of the novel just keep jumping higher and higher. The use of multiple character perspectives helps to tell a massive and impressive story, and you really get the full sense of how deadly and disastrous the events of the book are. I loved how well Gray layered tension and grief into the non-stop action of the plot, and you are honestly left reeling or yelling at the book, wishing to help the characters you have become extremely attached to. Gray also is also very skilled at detailing some fun and compelling action and disaster sequences, which works extremely well to showcase all the chaos and destruction occurring around. I did find that there were a few plot gaps here and there throughout the novel, most likely because the full extent of this event will be featured in other High Republic media, such as the main comic series, although this didn’t impact the story too dramatically. Overall, thanks to its powerful moments, character growth and great action, and you have an outstanding narrative that hits all the right notes at the right time.
In addition to its excellent narrative, The Fallen Star is also a great new entry in the High Republic sub-series. Gray does an impressive job of continuing the events from the previous pieces of High Republic fiction, and aspects from most of the preceding novels are strongly featured here. I deeply enjoyed seeing the return of several great characters and the continuation of some interesting story arcs, and Gray brings them together to create an outstanding Star Wars story. Like most of the High Republic series, The Fallen Star is probably best read by fans of the expanded literary universe, especially as much of the build-up for this period was in the prior novels. While I would recommend at least reading The Light of the Jedi and The Rising Storm first, people with a basic knowledge of Star Wars should be able to follow what is happening here, as Gray does a good job of recapping key events. While there are a few good reveals here, there is still an aura of mystery around other parts of the book, particularly the character of Marchion Ro and the real motivations of the Nihil. An epic conclusion to this phase of the High Republic novels, I will be interested to see if any other reveals or revelations occur in the connected comics.
To support her fantastic narrative, Gray makes use of an excellent collection of great characters, and I loved the mixture of protagonists and antagonists that she chose. Not only are the protagonists of the previous adult High Republic books heavily featured, but Gray also makes strong use of characters from young adult novels like Into the Dark and Out of the Shadows. This amazing blend of character perspectives really helped to craft a unique and interesting book, and it was great to see the different protagonists react to the situation. Readers should be aware that Gray has gone on a bit of a killing spree here, and several fan favourite characters may not survive. These deaths really help to ratchet up the tension and emotional weight of this novel, and you will really be left reeling. While I might question the wisdom of killing off as many characters as they did, especially as the High Republic has a greater need of recognisable characters than other Star Wars novels, I think they all worked in the context of the plot and served the overall narrative extremely well.
The most prominent characters of The Fallen Star are the Jedi protagonists of Light of the Jedi and The Rising Storm. These Jedi go through some big moments in The Fallen Star, especially as they face disaster and failure on a scale they have rarely seen before. Gray works in some very interesting changes in the various Jedi’s characterisation because of the unseen monsters let loose on the station who disrupt the Jedi’s connection to the Force, which messes with their heads. As a result, for most of the book the Jedi are scared, uncertain and irritable, which is a fun and clever change of pace that I felt added to the high-stakes disaster narrative extremely well. The most prominent of these characters include Stellan Gios, Bell Zettifar, Elzar Mann, who have had some excellent character arcs in the previous novels, and it was great to see them again.
The first of these is Elzar Mann, who has been a standout figure due to his battles with his emotions, his romantic feelings towards fellow Jedi Avar Kriss, and his inadvertent connection to the Dark Side of the Force. Following this dark moment, Mann has gone into a deep meditation retreat with a unique spiritual guide, who is teaching him to have a different perspective on life. As a result, when Mann returns to Starlight Beacon just before the first attack, he has mostly cut himself off from the Force. While this impacts his ability and mentality as a Jedi, his lack of a Force connection ensures that he is one of the only Jedi not incapacitated by the monsters roaming the station, which forces him take on more responsibility during the crisis. I liked seeing this side of Mann, and it was great to watch him attempt to step up and protect his more responsible friends. Unfortunately, Mann also experiences some big losses and failures in this novel which really strike him hard. The final few chapters of The Fallen Star have some major moments for this character, and there was some brilliant development occurring here. Gray did an incredible job expanding on one of the best and most complex High Republic protagonists here, and I loved Mann’s story in this book.
I also deeply enjoyed the story arc that surrounded apprentice Bell Zettifar. Bell has gone through a lot in the last two books, especially as his master was killed before him in The Rising Storm. This has led to some excellent and dark moments for Bell, and Gray does a wonderful job continuing them here as Bell struggles for most of this book, dealing with intense doubt and a sense of failure that gets enhanced by the influence of the strange creatures stalking the station. I enjoyed seeing Bell slowly regain his confidence as he finds himself in the middle of another crisis and it led to some great and heartfelt moments, even as Bell suffered even more personal tragedies.
I must also highlight the continued story of Stellan Gios, the Jedi Master and rising star of the Order who was such a fantastic figure in The Rising Storm. Stellan starts this book off as the new Marshal of Starlight Beacon, but he is still impacted by the doubts and trauma of the last Nihil attack at the Republic Fair. Thanks to this and the influence of the Nihil’s monsters, Stellan shows a very different side to his character in The Fallen Star, being more petty, angry, and dispirited. This is such a substantial change to what we have previously seen out of Stellan that it really hammers home just how dangerous the Nihil monsters are. Watching Stellan battle with his emotions is pretty intense, and it proved to be exceptional to see him slowly overcome everything that is happening to him. Gray writes an amazing couple of moments for Stellan in this book, and you end up with an impressive appreciation of this character by the end of this awesome book.
Aside from these main three figures, The Fallen Star also features an interesting array of supporting Jedi characters. This includes the friendliest and fluffiest Jedi of all-time, the Wookie Burryaga, who everyone loves due to his kind nature and innate connection to the Force. Burryaga forms a moving friendship with Bell, and he is easily one of the best supporting characters in the entire novel. I also liked the reappearance of the Jedi Wayseeker, Orla Jareni, a semi-rogue Jedi who offers her own insights into the Force. I will say I was surprised that there was barely any Ava Kriss in this novel. Kriss, who is frequently touted as the main protagonist of the High Republic, has barely appeared in any of the novels since The Light of the Jedi, being more of a feature in the comics. I feel that she leaves a noticeable absence in the novel, especially as the other character seem to reference how awesome she is in every second sentence. Still, I think it worked without her, although I hope they use her more in the future.
Aside from the Jedi characters, Gray also makes exceptional use of an interesting collection of other characters trapped aboard the station who offer a great alternate viewpoint to the various Jedi. What is interesting is that most of these characters are creations of Gray’s who first appeared in her last High Republic book, Into the Dark. This includes the crew of the Vessel, a unique and unusual ship that transports Mann and Orla Jareni to Starlight Beacon and then gets trapped there. The Vessel is crewed by a very entertaining trio of characters who balance each other out nicely. This includes owner Affie Hollow, who plays straight woman to her unusual crew, and is a great central adventurer and emotional base for much of the book. However, Affie is very much overshadowed by the rest of the crew, including captain Leox Gyasi, who is essentially a space hippy. Leox is a wildly entertaining figure, with his Zen mindset, pacifistic tendencies, unique way of talking, and outrageous sense of humour, and you will quickly fall in love with him as the book progresses, especially in the few scenes where he gets serious.
The most solid member of the Vessel’s crew is Geode, a Vintian who ends up being the heart and soul of not only the Vessel but all of Gray’s High Republic novels. Geode is essentially a sentient rock who never talks, rarely moves, and for most of his first appearance in Into the Dark, you were half convinced was some sort of elaborate prank and was really just a rock. However, Geode ends up being a remarkable figure, capable of great feats of ingenuity and courage, while also being a social genius and a massive flirt. I cannot emphasise how hilarious it is to see all the outrageous things that the other characters attribute to this silent, giant rock, especially as he just sits there for the entire book. However, the other characters can apparently all see the “facial” expressions he gives off, and he is apparently quite an emotional and thoughtful character, who ends up being the solution to several problems. Honestly, having a motionless rock as a major supporting character should not work, but it really does in The Fallen Star, and I loved every second that was spent on him. I enjoyed seeing all these characters return, and I hope that Gray brings them back in the future, although I do worry the Geode joke might eventually becomes too overused.
Former Nihil members Nan and Chancey Yarrow perfectly rounded out the main cast aboard Starlight Beacon. Both have had some interesting appearances in the young adult books, and it was great to see them here. Nan is another character created by Gray and is a young and zealous Nihil member, while Chancey is a brilliant scientist working for the Nihil while also promoting her own agenda. After leaving the Nihil and starting their own partnership, Nan and Chancey get captured by the Jedi and are being questioned about Starlight Beacon when events kick off. Freed by the Nihil infiltrators, they spend most of the book on the fence about where their loyalties lie as they try to find their own way to escape. This results in a fantastic and compelling alternate viewpoint to the book, and I loved seeing these two morally grey characters interact with the more selfless protagonists. Gray comes up with a great dynamic between Nan and Chancey, which is semi mother-daughter in nature, and there are some interesting moments as Nan struggles to overcome her loyalty to the Nihil. Their storyline comes to a very interesting and powerful end, and I will be deeply intrigued to see what happens to them next.
I want to make a final mention about the antagonists of The Fallen Star, especially as there is a rather unusual dynamic with this book. This because, in many ways, the main villain of the story isn’t the Nihil, but is instead time, despair, impossible choices, panic, and human nature. To a degree, these basic, uncontrollable elements end up causing more damage, and the impossible battle against them results in much of the book’s most dramatic and powerful moments. There are a few proper villains in this book, such as series antagonist Marchion Ro. Despite only being in it for a short while, Marchion cuts a distinctive and menacing figure in The Fallen Star, especially as he instigates the next stage of his master plan. There are some interesting developments around Marchion here, and although they are probably saving any major revelations for his upcoming comic limited series, I felt that he continues to shine as the main villain of The High Republic. The rest of the Nihil aren’t shown as much in this book, although I did enjoy the examination of the fear and hatred associated with them, especially after all the pain and suffering they caused. I was very intrigued by the mysterious Nihil controlled monsters that infest Starlight Beacon and mess with the Jedi. Despite the fact you never see them, they are incredibly intimidating, effortlessly defeating the Jedi and sending them on some dangerous head-trips. I cannot wait to find out more about them in the future, especially as they are bound to explore their history more, and it should lead to interesting discoveries. Overall, The Fallen Star had an exceptional group of characters and their intense, compelling and entertaining story arcs really elevated this around exciting novel.
I will come as very little surprise to anyone familiar with this blog that I chose to check out The Fallen Star audiobook. I have so much love for Star Wars audiobooks, and this ended up being a very good example of how fantastic this format could be as it combines impressive narration with clever sound effect and epic music. With a run time of 13 and a half hours, this is a somewhat shorter Star Wars audiobook. I had a wonderful time getting through the story in this format, and I found that the compelling narrative became even more intense when read to me. This is particularly true in such a trauma and action laden book like The Fallen Star, with the awesome medium of the audiobook helping to enhance the danger and despair of the situation. The use of sound effects and music was once again superb, and I loved how hearing the distinctive sound of blasters, lightsabers and other pieces of Star Wars technology, helped to bring me into the story and enhance the events being described. I also cannot overemphasise how awesome it is to hear the incredible and iconic Star Wars music during this plot as well. Whenever the music is played, especially during some of the more dramatic or action-packed sequences, it really enhances the impact of the moment, drawing the listener in and ensuring that they are perfectly entrapped by the events occurring.
You can’t talk about this audiobook without mentioning the epic voice work of the narrator Marc Thompson. At this point in his career, Thompson is essentially Star Wars royalty, as he has narrated so many amazing Star Wars audiobooks over the years. He is easily one of my favourite audiobook narrators and I loved his work on previous audiobooks like Thrawn, Chaos Rising, Greater Good, Lesser Evil, Scoundrels, Dark Disciple and more. He once again does a great job on The Fallen Star, bringing all the characters to life and moving the story along at a swift pace. I loved the consistency in voices from all the previous High Republic books he narrated, and he also did a great job voicing characters from other books he hasn’t worked on. All the characters have very distinctive and fitting voices, which included some very distinctive accents, which helped to highlight the characters and what they did. I also loved the sheer emotional range that Thompson was able to fit into these great characters, ensuring that all the intense emotions were on full display. It was pretty intense hearing all the character’s despair, anger and grief as everything they knew and loved was burned around them, and it makes for some incredible sequences. This was easily the best way to enjoy this cool Star Wars novel, and I would strongly recommend The Fallen Star audiobook to anyone interested in checking this book out.
Overall, Star Wars: The Fallen Star by Claudia Gray is an excellent read that I would strongly recommend. Featuring a clever, action packed, and emotionally rich, character driven story, The Fallen Star brilliantly continues the outstanding High Republic series, and you will love the dark places this story goes. I deeply enjoyed this cool book and I cannot wait to see what happens in this brilliant sub-series next. Long live the High Republic!