Thrawn is one of Star Wars greatest characters. Spawned by Timothy Zahn back in the 90’s in the expanded universe for a long time it was possible that he had been lost in the great Disney Purge. Luckily he was brought into Star Wars via Rebels and then given a new back story by Zahn in a pair of books covering his rise through the Empire and his encounter with Anakin Skywalker.
Zahn returned with Thrawn again this year with Ascendancy that follows Thrawns early career in his home Chiss Ascendancy. The plot maintains Thrawns trademark tactical genius but wraps it into a story that although it eschews almost 90% of the Star Wars universe feels more ‘Star Warsy’ than many of the books actually set in that part of the galaxy.
We get to explore the Chiss in a way that we did not see until the very latter EU novels. Zahn has created a detailed and engaging race of isolationist control freaks with a superiority complex. We are introduced to a range of new characters Thrawns direct CO, Admiral Ar’lani, Thalias a care giver and Che’ri the talented force sensitive skywalker.
The plot follows the Chiss’ ongoing mission to safeguard themselves from everyone else in the Unknown Regions. In this wild space on the edge of the galaxy, navigation is hard and untouched by the Empire, Rebellion or Republic. Numerous races vie for power an allegiances come and go.
The Chiss Ascendancy counts itself as the supreme force in the area and protects itself via a policy of non-interference and retaliation. The Chiss are feared and respected. They are far from a carbon copied Star Wars race, they have nuance and a technology of their own. Turbolasers are replaced by straight lassers and shields by a kind of hull polarisation.
The culture is complex and yet simple to understand based on a form of house assembly adding in a nice touch of political manoeuvring into the plot. The plot itself sees Thran putting himself on the line to outwit a new hidden foe and risking the Chiss’ neutrality as he does it.
Zahn writes Star Wars with ease and Thrawn in particular very well. His books are comfortable reading and have the right balance of action to pathos. There is a lot of background in this book but this is to be expected, Ascendancy is the first book in a new Chaos Rising trilogy. A trilogy which if this book is anything to go by will be very rewarding. My one concern is, how long can Thrawn be written this way? For such character to always be so clever and right all the time could become boring and we know that most of his flaws, his arrogance mainly doesn’t catch up with him until the end of Rebels. What I think the Star Wars universe is waiting for is a post rebels novel showing how Thrawn has learned, grown and developed, that Thrawn is something I want to see explored.