Review: Thrawn: Treason is a spacefaring mystery worth the read


Thrawn: Treason, the latest Star Wars installment in Timothy Zahn’s canon trilogy, is a slow-burn space mystery with a thrilling payoff.

It’s no secret that Grand Admiral Thrawn, everyone’s favorite red-eyed genius resurrected from Legends purgatory by Disney, is basically an alien, sorta-evil Sherlock Holmes. So it should make sense that the latest installment in Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars canon series, Thrawn: Treason, is basically an episode of Sherlock in space, with a great space battle at the end for good measure.

Treason begins with a challenge: Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn’s white-caped antagonist from Rogue One) is hard at work on the secretive Stardust project, but his efforts are hampered by an infestation of grallocs (a type of mynock, the batlike things that menaced the Millennium Falcon in The Empire Strikes Back). After a bit of Imperial politicking, it falls to Thrawn to rid the Death Star’s supply lines of the grallocs. If he can successfully tackle the vermin problem, Thrawn gets to keep the funds allotted for his TIE Defender program, as seen in the TV show Rebels. Of course, nobody wants to read a story merely about pest control, even one involving Thrawn, and it quickly becomes clear that there’s much more at play.

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All the elements of a good Sherlock Holmes mystery are here: a trail of bodies and intrigue, an aloof hero with an uncanny talent for observation and deduction, and a loyal Watsonian character trying to keep up. In this case, the latter role is filled by both Lieutenant Eli Vanto (returning from the first canon Thrawn novel) and Commodore Karyn Faro, the commander of Thrawn’s Star Destroyer (who essentially fills the role of Gilad Pellaeon from the beloved Legends novels where Thrawn first appeared, though a canon version of Pellaeon appears briefly in Treason as well). Both Vanto and Faro are given chances to step out of Thrawn’s shadow, proving themselves in their own right. (As a side note, one of the interesting things about this trilogy is that most of the characters are Imperials, ostensibly the “bad guys” of the saga, and yet plenty of them are just as sympathetic as their Rebel counterparts.)

Vanto and Thrawn each struggle with loyalty to their respective causes, their positions reversed. Thrawn is a Chiss serving the Empire; Vanto is a former Imperial serving the Chiss. The loyalty of both men is called into question on multiple occasions against a backdrop of deeper treason against the Empire. It’s that treason that forms the basis of the mystery, as Thrawn uncovers evidence of a threat to both the Chiss and the Empire.

The story is a bit of a slow burn at times, but the sleuthing pays off in an exciting fashion, with a two-fronted space battle scene that recalls the best parts of the old Legends trilogy, where Thrawn uses his tactical genius to outwit a numerically superior foe.

The end of the novel leaves the door open for another sequel, though the timing of the story (during Rebels season 4, not long before Thrawn’s defeat at the hands of Ezra Bridger and his subsequent disappearance into parts unknown) makes you wonder what such a sequel would entail. Fingers crossed that we eventually get a story detailing what happened to Thrawn and Ezra after they were pulled into hyperspace by a pod of magic space whales (really!).

All the hallmarks of a classic Zahn novel are here: subterfuge, sinister plots, and Thrawn calmly saying “perhaps” a lot. Zahn’s usual stylistic tics can occasionally be irritating to some readers, like his aversion to giving his characters physical descriptions, but longtime Star Wars readers know what they’re getting into and will be rewarded.

A few notes on the audiobook version: Marc Thompson returns to narrate, using his superior impersonation skills to voice characters like Thrawn or Grand Moff Tarkin with an uncanny accuracy that nearly makes you forget they’re not being voiced by their original screen or voice actors. He’s a little less impressive when given free rein to imagine the voices of book-only characters, though: the Chiss accents start with a nasal German affectation and get weirder, and Assistant Director Ronan, a new character, has a voice that makes you want to punch him unconscious every time he appears. Still, every Star Wars audiobook is a full production, with music and sound effects liberally sprinkled in to give a cinematic experience, so there’s not much room for complaint.

If you’ve ever enjoyed a Thrawn story—whether that was Heir to the Empire and its sequels or Zahn’s new novels—you’ll find more of what you enjoy in Treason. 

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Have you read ‘Thrawn: Treason’ yet? Tell us what you thought about it in the comments.