(2019) Timothy Zahn, Century, £20, hrdbk, 335pp, ISBN 978-1-529-12401-9
The third in Timothy Zahn’s new Star Wars trilogy, Thrawn Treason is definitely a return to form after the weaker second book, Thrawn Alliances. Once again, we have a layered political plot as conspiracies, terrorism and rival agendas build into a heady mix, with the Emperor’s favourite Chiss Admiral right in the centre of the mix.
This time, Zahn weaves the Imperial characters from Star Wars: Rogue One into his plot and this is a much more successful incorporation than his interpretations of Padme, Anakin and Darth Vader. Emperor Palpatine and Grand Moff Tarkin return and Director Orson Krennic is used as much more of a peripheral character – a rival for the Emperor’s attention. His assistant, Brieley Ronan is left to become the guest amidst Thrawn’s loyal staff.
The conspiracy builds from the previous two novels, exploring more of the mysteries around Thrawn’s own people, the Chiss and involving the Grysk – the enemies he has encountered in the previous two books. This time, Zahn also brings back Eli Vanto, Thrawn’s deputy from the first novel who was sent away to work with the Chiss Ascendancy and Vanto’s perspective provides a welcome counterpoint to his Holmes-like patron. Thrawn is continually one step ahead of the reader and at least two steps ahead of all the other characters in the book. It is a tribute to Zahn’s writing that he manages to maintain this without making his lead character insufferable or resorting to giving him an obvious Shakespearian character flaw.
Where the book shines though, is in its space opera moments. Zahn, along with James Khan and Michael A. Stackpole have always understood the visceral popcorn pleasure of Star Wars spaceships planning, manoeuvring and then battering each other. The “Spitfires in space” quality of this kind of writing, that includes the tactical and strategic build up takes its cue from war fiction. It doesn’t matter that the physics of the Star Wars universe are inherently unrealistic, the imagery is a nostalgic warm blanket and the writing activates the same cinematic echoes as the movies. We know what Star Wars looks like and all we need is a good writer establish a new context and jump start that vivid visual feast we remember, accompanied by a John Williams soundtrack.
Thrawn Treason is a great book for Star Wars fiction aficionados and continues the story of the Grand Admiral’s rise to power prior to the events of Star Wars: A New Hope (1977). Zahn’s character has made other appearances in the Star Wars canon, most recently in Star Wars: Rebels (2014-2018) which is also set just before the original trilogy of films, so there is much interest in him as a staple character in the franchise – always straddling the line between being a hero or a villain based on the perspective he brings to the circumstances he finds himself in.&nbs; Thrawn is always self-serving but never wholly selfish. There is always a plan and a strategy. Zahn also seems to have a path for his work within the wider fictional universe, weaving his plot in and out of the other texts.
Thrawn Treason is a fitting conclusion to the Thrawn trilogy. Nonetheless, hopefully this will not be the last we see of the Grand Admiral.
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