I hope Timothy Zahn continues to be a pole bearer for the continuing Star Wars canon after Thrawn Ascendancy. Because this is fantastic!
The Thrawn Ascendancy series is at the midway point of the trilogy. Timothy Zahn explores Thrawn’s origins among his own people before he was banished and subsequently joined the Empire.
THRAWN ASCENDANCY: THE GREATER GOOD | By Timothy Zahn
The book starts off with a fun “Dramatis Personae” which neatly highlights the military and political ranks of the Chiss Ascendancy. Politics are very important in this book. For someone who grew up with a father working in politics; I find political maneuvering to be quite interesting. In contrast to the many critics of the Prequel movies for having too much “boring” political stuff.
The Chiss are ruled by 9 ruling families, sort of an oligarchy. And everything in their society revolves around underhanded tricks and climbing up in the ranks of power. The two Syndics (a high rank), Thurifan and Zistamulu meet to discuss how to trap Thrawn and cause him to fail. Thrawn is completely brilliant, but his political grasp is feeble. And honestly, these two fuddyduddies are just jealous of him. They hide their jealousy with excuses of Thrawn’s brazen tactics in battle being bad for the Ascendancy as a whole.
Yes, a lot of his battle plans have collateral damage, but you can’t deny that Thrawn always gets the job done. It’s just jealousy. It’s super easy to see. Also, it’s ironic that they chastise Thrawn’s cold sense that family is expendable, yet Thurifan actively plots the disposing of rivals. Quite hypocritical.
The Memories interlogue feature is back, but thankfully Zahn has mastered this trend and it is much more fun to read this time around. The Memory chapters are flashbacks woven into the main story. And even though I don’t care for cutaways; this is a rare exception.
The book’s location is called Chaos and it is completely cut off from the rest of the galaxy. Many species populate this region and it seems that a lot of them are gunning for the Chiss. What I like, is that this book mimics a lot of real-world tensions between “countries”. Like in Europe during the World Wars. Skywalker Ch’eri and her caretaker Thalias have returned, and they are quite two well-filled-out characters who serve a unique role in the novel. Ch’eri is called a Skywalker because she uses her Force abilities to help Chiss warships navigate hyperspace. Strangely, the Chiss do not have navigation computers, or deflector shields, or cloaking devices, or most of the tech we see in the main trilogy. This I found to very strange and somewhat distracting, as it is difficult for my suspension of disbelief to push this aside.
Thrawn Ascendancy: The Greater Good has many interwoven plots in the sequence, and it can be a little hard to keep track of everything that’s happening. You also find yourself asking “How does this fit in” or “Why is this in the story”. Impatient readers may give up, but the reward for those who are patient is quite glorious. Thrawn is dealing with the aftermath of the defeat of the alien Yi from the last book. And he needs to find out how many more enemies the Chiss has in the Chaos. He encounters the group of refugees from the last book. And we learn that their leader plans to commit suicide and have her people do the same. Especially as their world is beyond repair and she believes death will allow them to rejoin the Beyond and fix the planet for future inhabitants.
It certainly isn’t out of place for religion as many strange things are believed in. But the Magys’s (the leader) warped view of the Force is quite fascinating. Thrawn needs to convince her that her planet may not be beyond repair and travels to her world to investigate. There is also a very peculiar “bad guy” character named Haplif, with who we also need to be patient. His intentions are not clear at the beginning. You need to pay close attention to everything as there are so many things that are not clear as the book progresses, and sometimes you will probably find yourself re-reading passages to make sure you got what was going on. Yet, that doesn’t stop it from being a terrific, brilliant story with tons of amazing Thrawn moments, where Thrawn uses his brilliance to solve difficult problems. He is the ultimate battleship player!
Timothy Zahn is OBSESSED with hyperspace travel time and finds it important to state it whenever possible. As a lover of scientific details, I quite appreciate it. He also gets science and makes Chiss ships have micro-jumps while in the system. This allows them to cover the vast distances of just one solar system. The Chiss have a very strong rule against pre-emptive strikes and it is super fun how Thrawn follows this rule, yet also succeeds with dastardly space aliens. I cannot stress enough, how many times Thrawn blows your minds with his tactical genius.
He uses tricks and amazing clarity to achieve his goals and is cool as a cucumber-like a blue Sherlock Holmes/Mr. Spock hybrid. He is also strangely much more benevolent towards innocent lives, and by the time we see him in Rebels; this has changed and he is much more ruthless. What caused him to change?
A DIFFERENT THRAWN
I also learned quickly, that the Chiss aren’t as smart as I thought, and Thrawn is a genius among them. Just as much as he is among other species. I like reading through the eyes of a child as well, and we see 10-year-old Skywalker Ch’eri contemplate the hard lesson of death. And then what comes next if anything and that reminds me of myself at that age. Haplif poses as a nomad and he is a master manipulator that Palpatine would be impressed with. Yet, what does he want?! Thrawn sees patterns that others don’t. And that’s the secret to his strategies and he plays chess with warships essentially. Mid Captain Samrko is very skeptical of Thrawn, and he is almost like a Watson to Thrawn’s Holmes.
Later on in the book, those two morons Zilastamu and Thurifan decide that they can’t beat Thrawn and adhere to the old adage “if you can’t beat them, join them.” They hope that will he may bring glory to his family, it will also lead to a chain reaction to benefit them as well. Grasping at straws, honestly! Haplif is working for a mysterious dark shadowy figure named Jixtus who is quite menacing but also a very patient and flexible boss, as far as evil Lords go. It isn’t until the last few chapters, do I see what they were setting in motion and it was like waiting for a never-ending chain of dominos to fall.
Yet, when it is all said and done; I am blown away by Zahn’s genius storytelling. My only complaint honestly, is how I wanted the Chiss to be technologically more advanced than the Galactic Republic/Empire/Rebellion. And I find their lack of sophistication, not sci-fi enough. Yet, I may get some of my wish in the third and final book, as it delivers a cliffhanger that is worthy of Empire Strikes Back.
The stage is set, and we will soon see Thrawn’s fatal error that got him removed from Chiss society. What could be done to outfox such a brilliant man like Thrawn? The possibilities are titillating and I hope for an amazing conclusion. I have to say how impressed I am with Zahn and hope he continues to be a pole bearer for the continuing Star Wars canon. Because this is fantastic!
Max Nocerino is a regular Staff Writer for The Future of the Force. He is a passionate Star Wars fan and loves the literature of the galaxy far, far away. Follow him on Twitter where he shares his love of the Force frequently!