BOOK REVIEW: Lesser Evil, by Timothy Zahn

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

The Chiss Ascendancy teeters on the brink of civil war. The enigmatic Jixtus prepares to lead an invasion of zealots intent on ‘enlightening’ the Chiss. In their path stands one officer: Thrawn. The odds are against him, but Thrawn will risk everything to preserve his home . . .

Like so many expanded universes of tie-in fiction, the literary canon of Star Wars is more than just one series. In this Disney era, that is more true than ever. Whereas once there was a simple trilogy, now there are three, plus two standalone films. Then there are the TV offerings, each telling a complete story while forging part of a broader whole. In the days of the old Expanded Universe, there were myriad series running simultaneously, from the derring-do of X-Wing pilots, to the apocalyptic New Jedi Order. Thrawn was at the centre of one trilogy, but his legacy had a duology of its own, and the character appeared in or was referenced in many other tales. With the clean slate offered by Disney, there is a chance for a more cohesive whole. Or maybe a repeat of what has gone before, for better and for worse.

Thrawn Ascendancy is a complete story, and it’s a very good one. For the first time, we have the full origins of Mitth’raw’nurodo, from the day he joined the Mitth family, to his eventual exile. And no, that’s not a spoiler for how this series ends, because its role as a prequel is explaining how he came to be discovered by the nascent Galactic Empire. In that respect, the series is a total success. I already want to reread the previous Thrawn trilogy to recall what happens next. Perhaps most remarkable of all is the way Zahn satisfies all manner of fans, from the newly inducted to the old grumps. How? By writing a story set far enough in the past that it can be slotted into both the canon of the Disney era and the now-discontinued Expanded Universe. With a web as complex as the one woven here, that is no mean feat.

Taking a step back from its role in the larger continuity, Lesser Evil is a wonderful conclusion to this arc of Thrawn’s story, and a strong story all by itself. All the build-up of the previous two novels is paid off in spades, with both the external threat of Jixtus and the internecine squabbling of the ruling families coming to a head. The smaller scale affairs reach their climax too, with character arcs neatly concluded to either end a journey, or to set up the next one. Thrawn, as the lynchpin of this saga, naturally has a starring role, and his genius, both in universe and in concept, is on full display. But this isn’t a story of Thrawn running away with victory. Yes, he achieves his goals, but there is a high cost to them. And those goals are only realised because of the supporting cast. From Thalias to Qilori, Zahn has crafted a corner of the galaxy rich in memorable faces, and it’s a shame our time with them is so limited.

Or is it? Because while there is a conclusion here, it’s not the end of Thrawn’s story. Leaving aside those volumes which already exist, there is plenty of room in the new canon for a Grand Admiral. Rumour suggests he will make a live-action appearance sooner rather than later. With the write actor, and writing team that includes or can match Zahn, Star Wars looks set to have another success story on its plate. But only time will tell what manner of meal it becomes.

For now, we have Thrawn Ascendancy, an origin story fit for a Chiss of Thrawn’s stature. And for now, I am a very contented reader.

Did you enjoy this book? If so, you might also enjoy:
Thrawn, by Timothy Zahn
Outbound Flight, by Timothy Zahn
Choices of One, 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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