Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good is the fifth Thrawn book in the Star Wars canon and the second book in the Ascendancy Trilogy after Chaos Rising by renowned Star Wars author Timothy Zahn. This trilogy is a prequel to the first of the canon Thrawn novels, entitled simply Thrawn, giving us Thrawn’s origin story. The Thrawn novel was then followed up by two more books completing the first trilogy, Thrawn: Alliances and Thrawn: Treason.
Following the events of the previous book, Greater Good, Thrawn is tasked with the clean up of the Nikardun forces in the months following the defeat of General Yiv. Meanwhile, the mysterious Jixtus, introduced at the end of the last book as the person behind Yiv, is tasking his servant, Haplif, with sowing further discord in the Chiss Ascendancy.
Appearing as a simple cultural nomad, Haplif of the Agbui sets up a temporary farming refuge on Celwis, one of the Chiss Ascendancy planets. Haplif’s plan, at least the front he is putting on, is to sell some spices, however he also presents some jewelry made of strands of rare, and valuable, metals. It is these metals that have the potential to set off an interfamily war within the Ascendancy.
Meanwhile, Thrawn is elsewhere, first dealing with a group of refugees from another world. These refugees are led by the a leader calling herself the Magys, who is intent on ordering the suicide of all the remaining refugees if there is no hope for her home world. This causes Thrawn to travel to her recently war-ravaged planet to determine if there is anyone remaining, leading him to wonder what exactly happened to her people. However, Thrawn is then called away to deal with remnants of the Nicardun forces, as well as other forces that are threatening the Ascendancy. All of which may end up being related to Haplif’s plan.
The story is hard to quickly summarize without giving too much of the plot away because it is a rather convoluted plot. In the end everything makes sense, however it takes the whole book to get the reader to that understanding. The book is broken up between two main plotlines, with part of the story following Haplif and part following the Chiss Expansionary Defense Fleet, which usually means Thrawn, however those sections are often taken up by other characters. These two storylines do end up intersecting, however the characters from both storylines are essentially isolated to those stories.
Like the previous book, this book also has Memories sections which act as flashbacks. However, unlike Chaos Rising, all of the Memories sections are dedicated to the Haplif story. So after all is said and done, the events around Haplif end up occupying the majority of the book. This means that it felt like Thrawn wasn’t in this book very much at all. He was in the beginning sections of the book and then came back at the end, but the middle felt strangely devoid of him. Even the sections not dedicated to Haplif, were focusing on other members of the Chiss Expansionary Defense Fleet.
Looking at the writing of the book, Zahn’s work holds up rather well. His writing style is still in top form and I will say that if you like Zahn’s previous Thrawn works, you will likely enjoy this one. I get the feeling, though, that in order to tell the story he wanted to tell, which is that of the greater Chiss political games, he is trying to deviate further from Thrawn than he previously has done before, to the benefit or detriment of the story.
Because of that, both storylines seem to focus a lot more on the internal family politics of the Chiss than we have ever seen before. It is these internal family politics that could end up being a downfall for the entire society. Their structure is set up with the Nine Ruling Families on the top and the 40 Great Houses below them, with rivalries and alliances all mixed up between the two. It felt similar to how the outbreak of World War I was set off by the assassination of a minor Arch Duke, but because of the rivalries, everyone ended up getting dragged in.
With Haplif’s mysterious plan, and how he ends up enacting it throughout the book, the story ends up being a mystery, with the plot threads slowly revealed throughout the story. The Memories sections end up adding to the background of where Haplif came from and how he got to where he is in his plan. However, unlike Chaos Rising, the Memories sections don’t take place a long time before the story. They actually take place all after the end of Chaos Rising, filling in the three month gap between the books, with the exception of the first one taking place some months before.
My main complaint about the last book was the Thrawn was Thrawn throughout his entire life. He never was seen to grow into the character that we know and love. But here, we barely even get Thrawn. He is off fighting threats to the Ascendancy, while we sit back and watch this growing threat that we have no idea what the endgame is going to be. It felt very much like a Thrawn mystery, just without Thrawn in the Sherlock Holmes role we so love him in. This could be a good thing for those looking to learn more about Chiss culture, however I feel that since Thrawn is the most interesting part of the Thrawn books, to be without him leaves a notable void in the story.
And that is mostly my main complaint about this book. Even though Thrawn can get old after a while, we don’t get enough of him here to be bored with him. The Haplif storyline is definitely a second-tier story that is allowed to take the main stage and I kept finding myself bored with it. The writing was fine — it just wasn’t as intriguing because Thrawn wasn’t involved. Many of the characters in that story also felt like they weren’t given the room to shine that the military personnel are in the parallel story. Even one of my favorite characters from the previous book, Admiral Ar’alani, is barely a footnote in this book. This book definitely has the feelings of setting up the events for the final book in the trilogy, but at this time I’m just not that intrigued in it.
As I have been doing lately, I “read” this book by listening to the audiobook. The ever-present godfather of Star Wars audiobooks, Marc Thompson, returns and remains absolutely perfect with his narration. I particularly enjoyed the navigator (I believe) that sounded remarkably like Sulu from that other Star franchise.
Overall, I would say that the story itself was enjoyable and I liked trying to figure out what the mystery was as it was being unraveled. My main problem was the distinct lack of Thrawn in the unravelling, or while it was being raveled. When I read a Thrawn book I do want Thrawn, regardless of how Thrawny he ends up being. The best part about Greater Good was how the other characters interacted with and around Thrawn. With this book we’ve just taken him out of the equation. Because of that, this is my currently least favorite of the canon Thrawn books, with the caveat that that ranking be as a Thrawn book. If you take the book on its own, it is generally a pretty good book. However this book does seem to set up a pretty good final book in the trilogy pitting the master Sherlock Thrawn against Jixtus Moriarty.
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