Review: Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good is a slow burning political space thriller

Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good cover. Photo:
Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good cover. Photo: /

Heading back into the mysterious, not-quite-lawless area of the Unknown Regions of the galaxy, legendary Star Wars author Timothy Zahn once again presents a slow-burn political thriller featuring the beloved blue-skinned Chiss commander, Thrawn. Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good is the second book in Zahn’s newest Thrawn trilogy, taking us farther back into the future grand admiral’s origins as he navigated his own homeworlds, culture and familial bureaucracy.

Picking up where the first book, Chaos Rising, left off, Greater Good sows the seeds of civil strife planted in the former novel as the militaristic Chiss try to sweep up the remnants of one enemy only to find a larger one trying to infiltrate their home. Besides Thrawn, returning favorite characters include Thalias and Sky-walker Che’ri and Thrawn’s closest ally Admiral Ar’alani. However, Thrawn and his compatriots take a back seat for much of the novel in favor of spotlighting a new character Senior Captain Lakinda, her family the Xodlak and a mysterious alien race who seem a bit too friendly to be good.

Lakinda and the Xodlak are part of the 40 Great Families of the Chiss but used to be part of the Ruling Families, of which there are 9. Lakinda is portrayed as ambitious and eager to prove her worth in the Expansionary Defense Force, especially alongside Thrawn, who’s a member of the Ruling Family the Mitth.

Thrawn Ascendancy – Chaos Risin
Key art for Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy – Chaos Rising. Photo: Star Wars/Penguin Random House. /

Though it’s unfortunate we don’t read more of Thrawn in this novel, Lakinda’s story arc is a fascinating exploration of the complexities of family, politics and culture that define the Ascendancy and the Chiss. That’s especially true toward the end of the book when Lakinda is forced to choose between bringing glory to her own family or protecting the entirety of the Chiss race. In the Ascendancy, the unspoken rule may be “family first,” but in the end, they learn they are all Chiss.

Despite the inclusion of new characters like Lakinda and Haplif of the Agbui (keep a close eye on this one), Greater Good is still a quintessential Thrawn book, even if the future Star Wars villain mostly swoops in at key points to decipher a space puzzle or calmly explain his risky behavior. Like in the first novel, we again see other Chiss and members of Thrawn’s own family attempt to take him down, wrongfully labeling him as dangerously arrogant.

Thrawn, however, doesn’t care much for familial and political squabbles, and Greater Good shows that politics is the one thing he’s actively bad at understanding and using to his own advantage. As he will be later known for during his tenure with the Galactic Empire, Thrawn’s focus has always been collecting knowledge of his enemies and fighting for the (ahem) greater good of the Chiss species rather than personal or familial glory.

Being a Thrawn novel, Greater Good is also a classic Zahn story and can be a bit overwhelming and heavy in the first half. Zahn is a master at laying out the game board and slowly moving the pieces into place while the reader is understandably distracted by the intricate and epic space battles and intriguing details of Chiss family culture. Just as the complexities of Chiss virtues like ambition, power and respect come into greater focus, the long con of a mysterious larger enemy is revealed, pushing the blue-skinned aliens to the brink of civil war.

Like all Thrawn novels, Greater Good doesn’t focus on if Thrawn can solve the mystery in time, but how he gets there. Fans know that Thrawn is a brilliant strategist who leaves little room for doubt of his intellectual skills. But it is just as intriguing seeing Thrawn’s mental methods at work through the eyes of other Chiss — some of whom respect and admire or despite Thrawn. With Zahn’s detailed, stream-of-consciousness style writing, Greater Good brings you right into the middle of the mystery, prompting you to pick each character’s brain to try to solve it before the cerebral Thrawn does.

And then there’s that cliffhanger at the end, one that only a Zahn Thrawn book could pull off, wrapping up the epicness of Greater Good while making us clamor for the final book in the trilogy, Lesser Evil. We can only assume that the seeds planted and sown in Chaos Rising and Greater Good will be harvest in Lesser Evil. That book is due on Nov. 16, 2021.

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Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good is available now from Del Rey.