Long ago, when I was but a wee lad spending my nights in the upstairs front bedroom of our old family home, I would occasionally pass the time perusing the built in bookshelf. Seeing as I'd yet to learn how to read, I generally admired cover art and tried to discern the plot lines of the many titles then beyond my reach. One of my favorite pieces to stare at was the cover of Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn, a title I'd later learn was a high water mark for the old Expanded Star Wars universe. Two elements of that old book cover left me wondering what happened within those pages, one was some old guy with light shooting out of his fingers, the other was a blue skinned man, who I later learned was a fan favorite named Thrawn.
Seeing as I never indulged in Zahn's previous work, imagine my excitement when it was announced that along with Thrawn appearing in the Rebels TV series, Zahn would also write a novel establishing the characters history within the new continuity. Not having gotten to that series yet, this was finally my chance to see what makes this character so special. There was no waiting for a good ebay price on this one, no sir, I nabbed this up quickly, actually interrupting progress on another book. Was it worthy of such excitement? Let's find out.
Despite what the title may lead you to believe, Thrawn is actually a tale of three individuals. One of is obviously blue boy himself, but equal time is spent with young Imperial recruit Eli Vanto. Another large chunk of attention is spent on young bureaucrat Arihnda Pryce. It is through these personalities that the reader is treated to a very cold and calculating look at life in service of the empire, and all of the twisted decisions that come with climbing to a position of power.
It all begins with a group of imperial officers investigating the camp of an unknown alien, only to suffer repeated raids by the being in question. At the forefront of this investigation is cadet Eli Vanto whose knowledge of fringe space gives him a measure of understanding towards what they're facing. Eventually the alien is taken into custody and brought before the Emperor. During this meeting an agreement is made that Thrawn will serve the Empire and educate the Emperor on the dangers lurking withing unknown space. In return, the Empire will aid in the protection of Thrawn's people, the Chiss, from such threats.
From there on it's off to the academy where Thrawn can learn the finer details of Imperial military service alongside Cadet Vanto who is kept nearby as an aid and translator. This relationship is at the heart of the whole novel as the actual plot is a bit thin. After the pair graduates from the academy, it's off to a series of different missions to track down pirates, smugglers, and malcontents. The real meat is witnessing how Thrawn climbs through the ranks while training Vanto to be an equally astute strategist. The reasons for this interest in the boy are kept hidden for quite some time.
Arihnda Pryce's plotline shares the theme of climbing the ranks, though her's is a much less steady approach. Early her family owns a mining facility until corrupt officials steal it away. From then on it's a journey through the world of civil service and political intrigue to strike at those who wronged her and make a name for herself. Arihnda's story is mostly removed from the other two characters, not truly joining up until late in the proceedings. This struck me as very odd until I found that she also appears on Rebels. Without prior knowledge of her on screen prescience, the character came across as being shoehorned in for a higher page count and world building. Perhaps once I catch up with that show I'll find a greater appreciation for her on page antics.
As you can probably guess by now from my general tone, this is a tough one to review. On the one hand the prose is strong with a nice flow and pace. There's some truly interesting developments about unknown space and the dangers found there, and just reading how Thrawn continues to outwit everyone can be a real treat. On the downside it's all a bit haphazard without a strong core narrative to hold it all together. Not to mention that if these cool developments fail to lead to anything worthwhile, well then what's the point? For example, the fate of Eli Vanto sets up a potentially interesting scenario, I won't spoil it for you, maybe he'll show up in of the movies, aged and greatly changed from his experiences, if not then it's just a wasted twist ending.
Perhaps the best way to sum up the issues with this novel is that it's worth is far too reliant on other parts of the universe. The ending is cool yet may lead to nothing, Arihnda's story probably only matters to those who know her from Rebels. There's supposedly a meeting that occurred between Thrawn and Aniken Skywalker that happened sometime in the past, but we either don't get the details, or they were so uninteresting as to slip my mind.
So yes, Thrawn was an odd one. I mostly enjoyed my time with it, yet I sort of resent it for meandering so much and wasting my time when it could have proved to be more efficient and effective like it's lead character. In the end it's going to miss the top five in the rankings by just a slim margin. My advice is that it's a good read for dedicated Star Wars nuts, just not those who only want to read the best of the best. Let's update the rankings.
1. Lost Stars by Claudia Gray
2. New Dawn by John Jackson Miller
3. Bloodline by Claudia Gray
4. Ashoka by E. K. Johnston
5. Tarkin by James Luceno
6. Thrawn by Timothy Zahn
7. Battlefont Twilight Company by Alexander Freed
8. Moving Target by Cecil Castelluci and Jason Fry
9. Before the Awakening by Greg Rucka
10. Smuggler's Run by Greg Rucka
11. Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne
12. Aftermath by Chuck Wendig
13.The Weapon of a Jedi by Jason Fry
If you've noticed that updates have been a little slower lately, that's about to change. Currently I'm in the midst of home projects, longer work weeks, and a new animal addition to the household. Most of the items should be taken care of by the end of this week. After that I've got so much to share with you all, whether that be more Star Wars, Canadian Doritos, or my attempts at model building. See you soon.