Thrawn: Treason by Timothy Zahn - Book Review

Write on: Thu, 15 Aug 2019 by  in Archive Read 3061

I enjoyed Thrawn: Allegiances but there was a certain little something missing from Zahn’s second Thrawn outing into the new Star Wars canon. For one, the Clone Wars part of the dual narrative Allegiances embraced felt…inconsequential.  Not bad, necessarily, but inconsequential.  

Treason has its own share of problems but they are minimal and didn't get in the way of my enjoyment at all. Constrained by the last season of Star Wars: Rebels, the time frame of this novel is a mere week – and for Grand Admiral Thrawn, it’s one hell of a busy week. What starts off as a simple week-long bet between Thrawn and Director Krennic (of Rogue One fame) to exterminate a surge of mynocks, the energy cable-chewing vermin seen in The Empire Strikes Back, turns out to be far more than meets the eye, a serious threat to the internal security of the Empire. What is causing a delay in project Stardust is not a mere pest problem gone out of control; it’s orchestrated sabotage.

Politics in the Galactic Empire is nasty, ugly business. Thrawn is drawn into the situation by Grand Moff Tarkin as an instrument to humiliate Director Krennic and ultimately fulfill the Moff’s own ambition of wrestling control of Project Stardust away from Krennic. The Death Star’s chief visionary is hardly going to take that, of course – so he not only offers a near-impossible bet to Thrawn but also demands the Admiral’s actions be subjected to the scrutiny of an observer – enter Assistant Director Ronan, no impartial judge by any measure. One of Krennic’s right-hand men, Ronan is…not particularly likable. He’s a skilled bureaucrat whose trust and belief in the Director seems to amount to religious fervor. Ronan sees the Emperor as a sniveling old dolt, Tarkin as a politicking megalomaniac and Lord Vader as a cold-blooded commander who rules through fear and allows no dissension in his ranks.

…He’s on the credits on two of the three, isn’t he? Damn. Yes, Ronan starts off as damn unlikable but the more time Zahn spends to unveil the complexity and paradoxes of the Assistant Director, the more you can tell, there is an interesting human being underneath it all. But the ridiculous, blind obedience Ronan has for Krennic is downright pathetic.

If you thought all this was bordering on complicated, just you wait until Eli Vanto, the main PoV character of Timothy Zahn’s 2017 reboot, reappears. The former right hand to Thrawn now serves as Lieutenant on the Chiss Defense Fleet ship, the Steadfast. Having served under admiral Ar’alani for a year, Eli is seriously questioning his choice to accept Thrawn’s offer to join the Ascendancy. What he thought would be an honoured and high-ranking position has turned out to be little more than clerical work, going through data analysis endlessly and to no apparent purpose. There’s more to that, of course, but Eli hardly sees it when we pick up with him.

The grysks, Zahn’s new dangerous, as-of-yet barely touched upon alien race, are cause for the Chiss and Imperials to come together, for Thrawn’s loyalties to collide.

“They are a terrible enemy, Eli,” Vah’nya said. “Your Empire—your former Empire—forces its will on its slaves through soldiers and weapons and warships. But the Grysks…three can command a nation. A hundred can rule an entire world. Billions of beings, their hearts and souls broken, ready to fight and die at the order of a handful of aliens. No resistance, no revolt, no dissent, no hope.”

Add to this the par for the course Imperial corruption, the complex power struggle between admirals, moffs and project directors AND the one-week time limit for Thrawn to make his appearance on the Star Wars: Rebels Season Finale, and you’ve got something special. It all works, and there’s a simple reason why it does.

This novel is a return to form for Zahn after last year’s Alliances. Not that I didn’t enjoy that – but where that book suffered over a few issues, the chief of which were underwhelming (for the most parts) sections during the Clone Wars. Treason works because it goes back to the basics element that make the Grand Admiral so compelling – he’s a brilliant tactician who studies his enemies through a variety of methods and then dismantles them one piece at a time, using not brute force but their own weaknesses against them. We never see the Chiss Admiral’s inner thoughts – even when we spend some time in his head, what we get is how he perceives the world, as an observer; impartial, almost. Analytical, disciplined and entirely too alien.

Commodore Farro, who was among the strongest elements of Alliances, continues to shine just as Eli Vanto did in the first Thrawn (2017) novel or Captain Gilad Pellaeon from the original Hand of the Empire trilogy (who makes a cameo in this one). The dynamic is true and tested for Thrawn and for good reason – like many brilliant minds, he too seems to enjoy bouncing ideas off others of talent, and to cultivate the innate talent in officers who might benefit from a non-standard mentorship more than just your run-of-the-mill Imperial academy approach.

This novel ends on a note that promises an interesting set of new challenges for the character of Grand Admiral Thrawn, if Zahn is given yet more opportunities to continue chronicling his service to the Empire – and who knows, perhaps what happens beyond it – I believe he’s in the perfect position to thread new ground not only for Thrawn but for the wider Star Wars universe as a whole.

I listened to the audiobook, as voiced by Marc Thompson. He continues to deliver the finest, absolutely finest audiobooks – his voices have such incredible range and he manages to mimic many of the signature bad guys in Star Wars with uncanny precision. His Thrawn is the character’s signature voice and I’m so sad no one thought to ask him to voice the character on Star Wars: Rebels. I could listen to him read a cookbook in that voice or some sort of dreary manual – that’s how brilliant of a narrator he is.

My score for Thrawn: Treason is a shining 5/5 on Goodreads, along with my personal recommendation. If you’re going to read or especially listen to a single Star Wars book this year, make sure it’s this one.

You’ll enjoy Thrawn: Treason if:

  • You enjoy the adventures of the red-eyed, blue-skinned Grand Admiral;
  • You’ve lost faith or interest in the franchise but it still means something to you and you’d like something to revitalise your love for it;
  • You’ve got a weakness for stylish, capable villains and you often catch yourself thinking, “Hey, it’d be really cool if rather than following this Goody Two-Shoes, I could be reading about this badass!” and now you can;
  • You wonder what to do with that pesky art history degree mum’n’dad told you not to get but you got anyway – Thrawn will teach you how to use art to decimate the culture that produced it!
  • And More! Prob’ly.

Thank you for reading! Have you read any of Timothy Zahn's new Thrawn books? How about the original Hand of the Empire trilogy back in the 90s? 

Last modified on Thursday, 15 August 2019 16:43
Filip Magnus

Filip picked up his first fantasy novel when he was seven and hasn’t stopped reading since. A critical reader who judges novels on their technical use of language and plot alike, he has a soft spot for literary fiction and tragic, heroic tales.

In his free time, Filip writes fiction, makes gaming reviews on YouTube, and maintains a personal blog. All that when he’s not too busy going through piles of books in as short a time as possible.