This review for Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy (Book I: Chaos Rising) by Timothy Zahn may contain minor spoilers.
The latest entry into Star Wars canon by Timothy Zahn begins:
A long time ago, beyond a galaxy far, far away….
And rightly so, as Thrawn Ascendancy (Book I: Chaos Rising) takes us to the origins of one Mitth'raw'nuruodo, deep into the Chiss Ascendancy in the Unknown Regions.
The story opens with a derelict ship found on the outskirts of Chiss space, the entire crew deceased. This follows a seemingly unrelated attack on the Chiss captial on the homeworld of Csilla. General Ba'kif believes the two events are not purely coincidental, and that one may have been a distraction for the other. Enter Thrawn.
Thrawn discovers the Nikardun Dynasty, and it's leader Yiv the Benevolent, are likely behind both occurrences, but why? The Nikardun have been forming alliances with other worlds, so is it possible they're becoming a threat to the Ascendancy? If anyone can ferret out the truth, it's Senior Captain Thrawn using his tactical skills and knowledge of art to discover what makes their potential adversaries tick.
An interesting thing about Chaos Rising is how it presents Thrawn's backstory as periodic interludes, called memories, throughout the book. These take us back to Cadet Thrawn, and as he works his way up through the ranks. We see his interest in art early on as a way of understanding races and cultures, as well as his tactical prowess, but one thing I never really considered is Thrawn lacking in political savvy. It causes much consternation along the way, marking Thrawn as a liabilty to some.
In Chaos Rising, author Timothy Zahn also presents an excellent look at Chiss government and culture, from the governing body of the Syndicure to the Nine Ruling Families. It also illustrates one can move between the Nine Families, either for mutual or individual benefit. Being born into one family doesn't necessarily seal one's destiny when there exists the potential of being adopted into another for advantage.
There are also some great characters introduced in Chaos Rising. General Ba'kif (as mentioned earlier) and Admiral Ar’alani are two such examples, and prove themselves to be allies of Thrawn throughout his rise thus far. I really enjoyed meeting former sky-walker Thalias, as well. (Sky-walkers, Force-sensitive Chiss navigators, were introduced in Zahn's previous Thrawn trilogy and are explored further in this book.) Thalias is assigned to Thrawn's ship, Springhawk, as caregiver to a young sky-walker named Che'ri.
No spoilers, but Chaos Rising dovetails with the second book in Zahn's earlier trilogy, Thrawn: Alliances, in a highly satisfactory way.
My copy of Chaos Rising also came with the blue edges, borders, and accents on the outside and interior of the book. It really made for a stunning presentation! Coupled with the handsome cover art by Sarofsky (known for their end-titles for Captain America: The Winter Soldier), this edition is a welcome addition to my Star Wars library.
In addition to reading the book, I was pleased to be able to listen to the unabridged audiobook. It's probably my favorite so far. Marc Thompson does the narration, and he outdoes himself in Chaos Rising. He gives each character such a distinct voice I had to remind myself it's all being read by the same person. In particular, his Thrawn is amazing. Thompson perfectly captures the essence of Lars Mikkelsen's vocal portrayal from Rebels. This is the first time I've heard Marc Thompson read for Thrawn, so this characterization might not be news to anyone else. But I was blown away. Commanding, intelligent, compassionate, a little slippery (depending on who he's dealing with), and smooth as silk — I could listen to Thompson reading the phone book as Thrawn and be perfectly contented. He's that good.
Very effective use of musical themes and cues from the prequels. On occasion the use of music composed by John Williams for the films seems out of place in audiobooks, but I didn't notice any issues here. I felt the music punctuated what was happening nicely, rather than taking me out of the story.
And, thankfully, the audiobook provided me with the proper pronunciations of names I had trouble with here and there in the novel. Some of them are tricky, and it's always important for me to get names right.
Since his introduction into official canon, Thrawn has steadily risen to be one of the characters I most look forward to revisiting. Due in large part to Timothy Zahn's development of the character both on the page and on-screen in Star Wars Rebels. It's fascinating watching his mind work, and wondering what his ultimate goals are. Thrawn is well-written and well-rounded, and for those reasons I was enthusiastic about reading Thrawn Ascendancy (Book 1: Chaos Rising), and I was not let down in the slightest. This start to a new trilogy was outstanding on every level and I'm anxious to discover what happens next. And that's the mark of a great author right there!
My rating for the book and audiobook: 5/5
You can purchase Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy (Book I: Chaos Rising) by Timothy Zahn in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook now from Amazon.com.
Thank you to Penguin Random House and Penguin Random House Audio for providing copies of the book and audiobook for review purposes.Powered by Sidelines