Thrawn: Alliances does a good job in following up on Thrawn’s introduction, this time offering the reader a much sought-after team-up: that between Thrawn, and everyone’s favourite disabled father of the year, Darth Vader. Jokes aside, I always did wonder how a meeting between two of the Star Wars universe’s most distinguished villains would go, and this book does a fantastic job of showing just what happens when you put the Empire’s foremost strategist and its deadliest blunt weapon in one room. Spoilers: It’s like walking on the blade of a dagger…or shaving with a lightsaber.
After I read 2017’s Thrawn, I recall telling my friends that, because of Thrawn’s nature, the book could very well work as a standalone sci-fi novel in just about any setting. His character alone is strong enough to carry any spacefaring story of war, politics and intrigue, and even if you were to pluck him from the Star Wars universe, he would still regain the vast majority of what makes him so interesting.
Thrawn: Alliances, in contrast, has the feeling of a Star Wars story, certainly because of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader’s presence, both in Thrawn’s present and past. The story in the past tells of Thrawn’s first meeting with Anakin, and feels very much like a solid arc in the Clone Wars animation…which, most will agree, is the best piece of entertainment to come of the Prequel Era. It’s a story familiar to many viewers of that show: Padme Amidala gets in trouble, and who’s to come to her aid but her husband, Anakin? On the way, he meets the red-eyed Chiss, and the two of them commit to an alliance. At first, it’s an uneasy one, but circumstances force Thrawn and Anakin to trust in one another. You can see how this hits all the familiar Star Wars story bits. Padme’s few PoV chapters were well done, themselves, with the senator’s continued ability to resolve and defuse a number of life-threatening situations by using her wits and experience as a politician.
It was an entertaining enough B-story if you will, and I would be happy to see it animated by the folks at Lucasfilm Animation. And hey, with The Clone Wars making a surprising return…you never know.
More interesting was seeing the Grand Admiral and Vader working together, both of them having to restrain themselves from murdering the other. Well, the possibility of that is much greater on Vader’s part, what with his reputation of literally choking the life out of his commanding officers on a monthly basis. Regardless, I wouldn’t write Thrawn off just yet.
This novel introduces an interesting new alien threat from the Unknown Regions; one which holds a threat not just to the Empire, but to Thrawn’s own Chiss Ascendancy, as well. The conflict of the Grand Admiral’s dual loyalties is at the very core of this novel, so much so that I often call it ‘Star Wars: Allegiances,’ so pervasive is the theme of his fealty to the Empire.
I am disappointed that we never got to see the Chiss and Eli Vento’s fate throughout the book. Eli Vento, for those who haven’t read Thrawn (2017), was the character whose head-space the reader shared the most. He was also the translator, confidant, right hand and even friend to Thrawn. His shoes are partially filled by Commodore Faro, who goes on to play the role of Thrawn’s student in the field of tactics and leadership. Like Vento and Pellaeon(who played the original role of the Grand Admiral’s second in command in the 90’s Thrawn Trilogy), it’s a joy to watch Faro’s growth under Thrawn’s tutelage, although this particular character interaction doesn’t have as much time to develop as the previous ones.
Did I enjoy this book as much as the first? Not quite. The ending is more abrupt than I would’ve liked, and I believe that Thrawn works best when he does big space-fights with vastly underwhelmed resources on his side. That’s when his tactical prowess shines the strongest; and it’s these moments in Thrawn: Alliances that I’ll remember most fondly. The times when the Grand Admiral sees what no one else does are when the book and character shine the brightest. The rest is good, but not quite great.
How about the narration of the audiobook?
I love Marc Thompson’s Thrawn. His voice is velvet, thoughtful and ever-so-slightly amused. He’s my Thrawn of choice, and whenever I read or think of the character, I hear him speak in Thompson’s voice. Most every character has a distinct voice, and even Darth Vader’s narration is passable.* The sound effects every Star Wars audiobook has are present as well – blasters, lightsabers, Vader’s breathing apparatus and the sound of engines roaring to life. It’s a really great performance, never hindered by the addition of effects, and I heartily recommend it to everyone who enjoys consuming books in an audio format.
Should you read this book if you’re not a fan of Star Wars? Nope. But you should read the previous entry in the series. It’s better, and that’s why I gave it five stars last year. This one, I award four out of five stars on Goodreads!
Here’s to hoping there’s a next one down the road. Timothy Zahn’s continued exploration of Thrawn is something I cannot get enough of!
*Let’s face it, no one can do Darth Vader the way James Earl Jones does Vader.