Thrawn is back! Well…”back”. For all that is name is on the cover of this book, he isn’t actually in it all that much. And unlike last time, people don’t even talk about him that much. He just sort of…is there. While other people are there.
That’s not to say that I’m not still enjoying the world of this story. It’s still so removed from the rest of Star Wars that it feels like conventional science fiction. Or rather Star Trek-flavoured Star Wars. That said, I wish Timothy Zahn was better at describing alien beings because we’ve never seen any of these species before, and I have no idea what they look like…
OK, I’d be lying if I said it was easy to explain what happens in this book. There’s so much battle math and fighting and spaceships and *sigh*.
One plot picks up where the last book left off, with Thrawn, Ar’alani, Lakinda and co. (including the sky-walker Che’ri) fighting those who would seek to destabilize and scatter the Chiss. Through it all, they must convince an alien names The Magys not to kill herself and all her people out of a false belief that their homeworld is destroyed.
The second concerns a farmer named Lakphro, who plays unwitting host to Haplif, , an alien working for Jixtus, a Grysk looking to destabilize the Ascendancy. Haplif is playing a long game, trying to drag some of the 40 high ranking families of the Chiss into a conflict among themselves using a very elaborate plot using handmade jewellery.
It takes about 300 pages for these two plots to converge properly, and for the main mystery to unfold.
3 Things I Liked (and 1 I Didn’t)
1. Potential Nihil Connection?
“Arezou, stop. You’re making everything about the Nihil.”
And what of it?
When the first Ascendancy book came out, I didn’t question the way the Chiss navigate. Their sky-walkers fall into trances and navigate in a way that circumvents hyperspace. There are few others who can manage it, but one such group living in the Chaos that can, are called the “Pathfinders”
The Paths? Alternatives to hyperspace? Navigational trances? This is sounding awfully Nihil to me!
I know the Chiss have been around a long time, and are an ancient society, so they didn’t exactly learn this from the Nihil. But did the Nihil learn it from them? Or did the Nihil perhaps help them refine the technology after being driven out of the Outer Rim by the Republic? They’re just too cool a concept to disappear from canon entirely, and I’m certain they do exist in “present day” canon in some form or another. It wouldn’t be unlike Lucasfilm Publishing to thread these connections in somehow.
2. Unresolved (and Unknown) Sexual Tension
My friend Hope once observed that Timothy Zahn accidentally writes very shippable characters, and then is absolutely surprise-pikachu baffled when people pick up on this energy.
Last time around it was him sending Thrawn and Ar’alani on a date without realizing it’s a date. This time, it’s the unresolved sexual tension between Caretaker Thalias and Mid-Captain Samakro.
These two do not like each other. At all. She really likes and admires Thrawn, and he hates him. They have a rivalry, he is plotting against her and suspects her of spying. They snip at each other constantly. In literally any other author’s hands, they would be hate-fucking I’m certain of it.
I would hold out hope that Zahn is going to bring this up in a future instalment, but I’d be very surprised if he even knew what he’d done, honestly.
3. Chiss Society
One of the things I liked from the last book was the structure of Chiss society. There is still some of that here, but unfortunately not nearly enough to satisfy.
I will say, it was really cool to get more into the family structure beyond the Nine Ruling Families and all the intrigue between them. I’m hoping as things come to a head next time that there will be more of this.
More political intrigue, less battle math!
I’m not gonna lie…this fucked me up.
Like. If I didn’t have to podcast about this book with people I would have DNF’d.
This time around the “memories” in the book are given over to Haplif. In order to gain access to the inner workings of their society, he tricks two young Chiss into being his “guides”, on his dime, hoping to befriend them. While the man has no problems and tries to go along with it, his fiancee is less accommodating.
Once she catches on to Haplif and his bullshit, you know what he does? He kills Yomie and throws her lifeless body out into space.
I hate it so much. Just typing this out, I feel nauseous and have tears in my eyes. I get that death and violence happen but this was so cold and unnecessary.
Points Left Hanging
I mean…I suppose there isn’t much I can speculate about. I imagine the Chiss will dissolve into the civil war that sent Thrawn to the Empire.
I’m more interested to see if my Nihil speculation pays off or if it’s just me seeing my new faves where they don’t exist.
The random “space words” that Zahn uses for certain things crack me up. Especially because he doesn’t use them for everything, and sometimes certain things are painfully “of Earth”. For instance, zippers are “sealer teeth”, but then Thrawn encounters beings who say things like “Prince Militaire”, which is French, and generalissimo which is straight up Italian.
I will give kudos where it’s due, it would be very easy for Zahn to write this book and make all the characters men. So the fact that so many of the characters are women is remarkable in itself. NOW THAT SAID…
The Magys and her people are said to operate in a matriarchy. But I can’t help but feel like he just said that, and didn’t stop to consider how many facets of our society are informed by its patriarchal nature. When they first meet the Chiss, the Magys’ people are gathered around her in a way that is most efficient to protect her. So the outer ring is young men, then older men, then older women, younger women and then children. But I cannot help but question why a matriarchy still takes such a patriarchal stance on warfare.