And with that, the Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy has come to a close. Credit where credit is due, Timothy Zahn certainly took it in a different direction, isolating the trilogy as a whole from the general goings-on of the GFFA during the Clone Wars.
The highlights from the first two books are still the highlights here, frustrations from before are still the frustrations now. Let’s not dance around it anymore and get right to it. This is Thrawn Ascendancy: Lesser Evil by Timothy Zahn.
Picking up right where the second instalment ended, Lesser Evil follows the crews of the Chiss Expansionary Defence Fleet still contending with the threats presented to the Ascendancy from the mysterious Jixtus and the Grysks.
Despite his name being part of the title, much like the second book, Lesser Evil doesn’t actually feature Thrawn all that heavily. Rather, it focuses on the ensemble of Ascendancy military and family leadership struggling to keep their home from crumbling altogether – and in some cases denying that there’s a problem at all.
Things I Liked (and 1 I Wanted More Of)
1. The Memories
Unlike Greater Good, where the “Memories” messed me up big time, I really enjoyed them this time around. They are from the perspective of Thrass, a character I was peripherally aware of going into this.
Even though I’ve said before that Thrawn doesn’t really feel like a main character in his own trilogy, the Memories manage to centre him in a way I had hoped he would be throughout the series.
Thrass feels like equal parts mentor and big brother, and it’s these slice of life looks into how the Ascendancy works that I wished would have formed the bulk of the books. Really, there are only so many space battles and strategic scenarios we. can read before they start running together. But an insular community with family drama? Far rarer in the books. There wasn’t enough, but I’m happy with what we got.
2. Thalias and Samakro
You cannot convince me that Timothy Zahn didn’t know what he was doing with these two.
Accidental chemistry, I can buy. But two books in, with ongoing tension and chemistry that further escalates into “oh no, I care about this person, maybe?”. Feels deliberate. There’s also a moment where our boy Samakro fully throws himself in the path of danger and proclaims that the Magys ought to take over his mind rather than Thalias’s.
I’ve seen canon ships set sail with less. I can’t believe this was written unintentionally.
It’s cases like this where I wish the books had just been about the Ascendancy as a whole and not actually tried to focus on Thrawn. Having him be the focal point around which others revolve is fine. They do, after all, need a common element to bring them together.
But its a shame Thalias and Samakro, as two people who so tightly wound their fates and futures together with Thrawn whether they realized it or not, and as the two with the most interesting subplots, are left hanging by the end of the book. They’re shocked that he is exiled from the Ascendancy, but then the reader isn’t given any resolution from their point of view. The book ends where the first book of the older Thrawn trilogy picks up, and it’s going to be years before we come back to the Chiss in any significant capacity, story-wise.
3. The sky-walker program
In one of the most fascinating parts of the book, Thalias – herself a former sky-walker – learns that when the Ascendancy takes young Force-sensitive girls from their families to train as navigators, they alter their memories to make them forget where they came from, and to forget their families. She gets this information confirmed for her by no less a person than Thrawn’s sister Borika.
Which, by the way, is a whole other thing that I wish had been unpacked more either by introducing Borkia sooner, or actually letting Thrawn reflect on the sudden apparent loss of his sister a little more than he did.
The sky-walkers, and Che’ri specifically, have been such an instrumental part of the Thrawn Ascendancy series, and for them to have undergone this horrific experience not all that different from what the Jedi do, is absolutely fascinating. It’s worth remarking upon which brings me to…
4. The sky-walkers themselves
Considering a current and former sky-walker play such a big part in the story, I wish more time had been spent on Thalias’s investigation into the sky-walker training program. Maybe Che’ri could have gone along with her (and Samakro maybe? OK I’m getting off track)?
I understand ultimately why that didn’t happen. Timothy Zahn seems most comfortable writing complex battle and strategy scenes, even when those scenes are not the ones that 1. particularly hold my interest 2. anybody seems to remember in retrospect. By the third book in your second trilogy – a trilogy that was released in its entirety in 14 months – Zahn probably wasn’t in the mood to branch out quite so far and start waxing poetic about the tragedy of the sky-walkers.
It just feels like so much untapped potential, especially given the parallels between what the Jedi do to force-sensitive children and what the Chiss Ascendancy does in turn. Isolated as they are they still make the same bad choices, and it ought to have been explored. Maybe down the line eventually. That would be a story I’d be interested in reading.
Overall Series Thoughts
It’s hard to say where I land on this series overall. I maintain that the first one, Chaos Rising, was unexpectedly very good, for someone like me who doesn’t consider herself much of a Thrawn fan, generally speaking. Lesser Evil was good, but I felt it relied far too heavily on Greater Good, which I consider to be the weakest in the trilogy.
Greater Good read so much like a hard-to-follow side quest that I was astonished – and honestly a little dismayed – to see how relevant it was to the plot of Lesser Evil. That’s why the parts of it that focused on the inner workings of the Ascendancy, which were so reminiscent of Chaos Rising were both my favourite part and the strongest parts overall.
The Nihil, unfortunately, didn’t make a surprise appearance in this book with regards to Pathfinders. Honestly I would have been shocked if they had, but that doesn’t mean the High Republic won’t end with the last vestiges of them disappearing into the Unknown Regions or something.
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