BOOK REVIEW: Chaos Rising, by Timothy Zahn

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Rating: 5 out of 5.
  • Book One of the Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy
  • Published by Del Rey in 2020
  • A Space Opera novel
  • 383 pages

For generations, the Chiss Ascendancy has been an island of calm in a chaotic region of space. But now an enemy has set their eyes on the Ascendancy. Rising through the ranks, one Chiss is thrust into the spotlight in this pivotal time. His name is Thrawn . . .

Outside of the big names like Luke, Leia, Han, and Darth Vader, there are few characters in Star Wars as iconic as Grand Admiral Thrawn. Or to give him his full name: Mitth’raw’nuruodo. The blue-skinned alien first appeared in Timothy Zahn’s Expanded Universe-founding Heir to the Empire, and has featured in a dozen books since. And if you need proof of his popularity, how about this? Though he started off life in the Expanded Universe, Disney brought him back in their new canon. That new lease on life is seen in Rebels, and also Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy. But now Zahn is going into uncharted territory, in more ways than one. Because now we’re leaving Known Space behind, and taking a trip back in time to Thrawn’s formative years.

Chaos Rising is technically set during the Clone Wars, but with the expectation of one encounter with a Jedi, this book has nothing to do with the rest of the Star Wars continuity. And that’s greatest strength. It’s very rare (especially in this day and age) for an author to be able to explore a new region of the Star Wars universe. Yet filling in the gaps in established lore is what tie-in fiction is for. Even in the behemothic Expanded Universe, the Chiss Ascendancy was never really explored. Outbound Flight came close, but nothing on the level we see here. The removal of so many familiar Star Wars elements really works to Thrawn Ascendancy‘s strength. The Ascendancy feels truly alien, in a way not seen since the days of the Yuuzhan Vong. And if you’re not a die-hard fan of a Galaxy far, far away, then this is a brilliant space opera in its own right.

As many fans will know, the greater events of Thrawn’s life are still to come, so what we see here is something on a slightly smaller scale. But while the fate of the Galaxy may not be at stake, the future of the Ascendancy is very much imperilled. It might be odd to see Thrawn dealing with solitary pirate vessels rather than rebellious fleets, but everyone has to start somewhere. It’s actually quite refreshing to have an adventure not centred on Jedi and Sith rivalries, and the absence of familiar faces means you’re never quite sure who you can trust. or who will live.

As always, Zahn’s writing is superb. It’s direct, balancing both intrigue and action well, with touches of introspection here and there. We get to see Thrawn’s legendary tactical mind, and his love of art, in full force, and this is the book where the link between the two actually starts to make sense. Zahn also deserves praise for including a large number of flashback sequences in a manner that is separate from the main story, but never intrusive when we do take a break from the present. These snippets of Thrawn’s past give us a bit moreinsight into the great leader. And if you’ve come this far down the Star Wars rabbit hole, those insights are probably what you’ve come here to read.

A great space opera on it’s own terms, and an intriguing reintroduction to one of Star Wars’ most interesting antagonists, Chao Rising sets up what looks to be a most excellent trilogy.

Published by Alex Hormann

I'm a writer, reader, and farmer, with an interest in all things speculative.

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