BOOK REVIEW: Greater Good, by Timothy Zahn

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Rating: 4 out of 5.
  • Book Two of the Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy
  • Published by Del Rey in 2021
  • A Space Opera novel
  • 410 pages

General Yiv has been defeated, and the immediate danger to the Chiss Ascendancy is over. But in the shadows, a new evil is at work. Because the mysterious Jixtus is not yet finished in his mission, and not all enemies come from outside the Ascendancy’s borders . . .

There’s a phenomenon much discussed among readers of genre that is often referred to as a ‘sophomore slump.’ Put simply, it’s the idea that the the second book in a series, particularly a trilogy, will be weaker than the first. There is some logic to the idea. In theory, an author has endless time to work on their first novel, while the second is written under a great deal more pressure (at least in terms of deadlines). In more general structural terms, the middle volume in the trilogy has to not only build on what has gone before, but also pave the way for the grand finale. It’s no wonder a lot of people deem middle books the weakest as independent novels. So, maybe sophomore slumps are a thing. Then again, maybe not. It could be that I’ve been extraordinarily lucky in my reading. Or it could be that my opinion of what constitutes a good story is different to a lot of other readers’. Whatever the case, I often find that it’s the middle act of a trilogy that is my favourite. Often, but not always. Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good lands as an exception to my usual delight at a second volume.

It’s not a bad book by any means. As it happens, it’s a very good one. But coming off the back of the phenomenal Chaos Rising, it does feel less than what I hoped to find. The reason for this is simple. While the characters, worldbuilding, and writing are all up to the standards you’d expect from Timothy Zahn, the plot develops in a rather unexpected way. From the last book, we know that General Yiv was being guided by an unknown being called Jixtus. In this book, Jixtus sends another enemy against the Chiss Ascendancy. Jixtus’ motives remain unclear, but his methods are intriguing. Rather than another military strike, this time Jixtus sends in the Agbui, an empathic species who seek to undermine the Chiss by sowing discord among the ruling families.

It’s all very clever, actually, and pulls on some of the strongest elements of this series. Zahn has put a lot of work into making the many families of the Chiss Ascendancy, not to mention their twisted web of relations and entanglements. Of course, this does come with a problem. As Mitth’raw’nuruodo would tell you, Chiss names can be quite long. Because each individual takes the letters of their family name, this leads to a lot of similar names. And while I can remember the differences between major characters like Thrawn, Thalias, and Thurian, all the members of the Xodlak family soon blended into each other. Thankfully, there is a dramatis personae, but at a single page it can’t contain all the characters in this twisting, turning book.

While its not quite on the same level as its predecessor, Greater Good is a strong entry in the new Star Wars canon, and another reminder of why Zahn and Thrawn keep coming back for more. Long may their voyages last.

Did you enjoy this book? If so, you might also enjoy:
Revenger, by Alastair Reynolds
Thrawn, by Timothy Zahn
Outbound Flight, by Timothy Zahn

Published by Alex Hormann

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

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