s there anything more quintessentially Star Wars than being in the midst of a Thrawn trilogy written by Timothy Zahn?
Oh sure, there’s that whole business with the laser swords, the scoundrels, the Jedi, and the ships. But there’s something about being within one of Thrawn’s major arcs that just feels...right.
Since 1991’s historic launch of Heir to the Empire, Zahn has continued Mitth’raw’nuruodo’s antics across the stars in both Legends and Canon storytelling., For readers that may have been too young to read those original pages about yslamiri and Mara Jade, the Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy is providing the balm for that very same itch.
Because Zahn is creating something epic. Again. Again again.
Despite the success of Zahn’s previous (unofficial) trilogy composed of Thrawn, Thrawn: Alliances, and Thrawn: Treason, the Ascendancy trilogy appears to be a far closer compatriot to the mythic status of Zahn’s initial entries into Thrawn’s history.
You can feel the weight of the universe he’s crafting. You can tell that he is writing without restriction. You can tell that...well...he’s doing exactly what he wants to be doing.
This sense of ecstatic freedom and creation led to last year’s Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising leading the charge as our Youtini Book of the Year, so it’s safe to say that the remarkably fast release of Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good had a lot to live up to.
And although it may not be a surprise, it is still a marvelous pleasure to say that it beautifully lived up to the hype.
With Greater Good, Timothy Zahn continues the fascinating tale of a youthful Thrawn that introduces a host of new characters, including a chilling new villain, while further expanding what may be the most intriguing part of Star Wars in years: the Chaos.
Greater Good takes us once more to the wilds of the Chaos where Thrawn, alongside favorites from Chaos Rising like Thalias and Ar’alani, is pursuing the remnants of the Nikardun Destiny after his vanquishing of Yiv the Benevolent. Meanwhile, Haplif, the leader of a nomadic race of aliens called the Agbui, enlists the aid of a number of Chiss to help his people encounter the wonders of the burgeoning Chaos.
And, of course, Thrawn’s own family continues to plot his downfall whilst seemingly every other family in the Chiss Ascendancy refines their personal obsessions with power, conquest, and advancement.
Did you get all that? Good. Because admittedly, this book can be quite a mouthful.
Much like its predecessor, Greater Good begins at a relatively slow place as Zahn carefully places all of the chess pieces that will comprise his larger narrative. Much more in line with the pace of books like Victory’s Price than Light of the Jedi, the latest Thrawn entry’s early chapters can provide a bit of a hitch for some readers who may be used to the more kinetic stylings of other Canon writers.
However, once the threads of each separate piece begin to gel into the larger story, the book becomes pure electricity as it bellows toward its ultimate conclusion, leaving a sweet aftertaste for readers to carry into their conversations about the latest Chiss escapades.
This method of plot evolution is a tried and true method for Zahn, and if you’re able to fully commit to the streams of consciousness that this writer presents for the taking, the reward is worth it tenfold as the final line flashes across your eyes.
Another helpful tool within Zahn’s immaculate writer’s case is the return of the memories from book one of the trilogy. Whereas these interludes were previously focused mainly on Thrawn’s own adventures, these sections in Greater Good focus largely on other character groups like the Agbui and the Xodlak, another prominent family of the Chiss. These additive backgrounds flesh out Zahn’s universe wonderfully and help tremendously with any possible confusion that could arise as the book jumps between perspectives rather frequently.
But despite the addition of a multitude of exciting new characters and species, this is undoubtedly a Thrawn novel, and lifelong fans of the future Grand Admiral will be pleased to find him hard at work deciphering galactic mysteries as only he can. By employing these familiar story beats alongside his multitude of new entries, Zahn’s secondary story of the Ascendancy provides pure Thrawn enjoyment for new fans of the Chiss and well as lifelong fanatics.
One of our favorite inclusions in Chaos Rising was that of Thalias, the former sky-walker and seemingly co-protagonist alongside Thrawn, himself. The ability to view Thrawn’s antics as well as the larger plot through the eyes of a relative newcomer gave readers an instant point of connection with the wilds of the Chaos, and that thread remains taught throughout Chaos Rising.
Thalias, Che’ri, Thurfian, and more all make triumphant returns to the page as they wander through Zahn’s worlds in service of their own ambitions and alliances while also adding flavor and occasionally obstacles to Thrawn’s journey. However, two new characters shine all the brighter thanks to their unique contributions and remarkable senses of agency.
Senior Captain Lakinda and Haplif of the Agbui.
Lakinda, or Xodlak’uvi’vil to her friends, initially seems another simple Thrawn detractor, but as the story evolves, so do her motives and understanding of her place within her family and her family’s larger place in the Ascendancy. Witnessing a Chiss question such things from within the system is a marvelous new take of the family dynamics of the Ascendancy, and aside from the political intrigue she provides...she also presides over some pretty killer space battles.
This is still Star Wars, after all.
Commanding a page count similar to that of Thalias in the first novel, Lakinda acts as yet another gateway for the audience but in an entirely new way. Where Thalias was a born admirer of Thrawn, Lakinda’s life has taken her down an entirely different path, and Zahn’s ability to integrate her own personality into her narration and observations breathe life into her chapters that make book two an entirely different beast.
And then there’s Haplif. The name alone instills within me an undeniable need to wash my hands and face.
I’ll be right back.
Alright now where were we? Right. Haplif. I can’t remember ever reading a character quite like Haplif in the history of my Star Wars literary journey. Without giving away too much about this quagmire of a character, the contrast he presents to Yiv the Benevolent of Chaos Rising is vast, intense, and incredibly effective.
Part of Chaos Rising’s charm was the arrival of an adversary that could match Thrawn in nearly every way due to their intellectual equality, and that match made for some of the best dialogue scenes Star Wars has ever seen. Haplif presents an entirely different kind of energy, and that shift ensures that Greater Good does not become a carbon copy of the previous entry but rather a different story of different people occupying relatively similar space.
Zahn’s decision to focus so much of the story on a brand new character from a brand new species could have easily backfire, but by infusing the story of the Agbui with so much mystery and mysticism, Zahn ensures that time spent with these new beings is just as exciting as the minutes spent at the right hand of our favorite Mitth.
Just as Thrawn’s presence in his original trilogy was enough to balance the power of Han, Luke, and Leia, Greater Good’s original characters continue to carry the torch of Timothy Zahn’s breathtaking development.
One of the most impressive factors of Chaos Rising was its monumental expansion of the mythos of the Chiss. Within its pages, Timothy Zahn fleshed out the political dynamics of the major families, the technology that allowed interplanetary travel, and both the military and societal makeup of the various races that inhabited the Chaos.
There’s a reason it earned our nearly perfect 9.7 in Originality.
In a similar regard, Greater Good presents an interesting challenge within this particular category. While the factors listed above certainly appear throughout the second entry in the trilogy, the monumental impact of their inclusion in Chaos Rising is somewhat minimized by comparison.
Rather than being wowed by the introduction of the Mitth familial structure or the integration of recreation time into a Sky-walkers schedule, we treat these story points as old friends. They add a layer of comfort and familiarity to make us feel included in the narrative’s execution.
Additionally, the structure of the mysteries sprinkled throughout Greater Good may feel relatively recognizable to fans of Chaos Rising as well as any other long form Thrawn story. A seemingly unrelated set of circumstances play out amongst a disparate set of groups, and only Senior Captain Thrawn is able to suss out the connections between them.
Is this a wholly original concept? Perhaps not. Is it a well executed concept? You better believe it.
All that to say that while many of the larger thematic elements and foundational story structures are inherently familiar to Thrawn’s larger story, Zahn still infuses Greater Good with enough new adversaries, mythologies, and story beats to allow this entry to easily stand on its own.
Timothy Zahn has been writing Star Wars books for over 30 years. Throughout that intensely impressive career, he has developed a specific style of writing that has clearly served him well, and devotees of his prose will find many of their favorite tentpoles within Greater Good.
Are there mysteries? Yup.
Are there questionable allegiances? Yup.
Are there apostrophes? Y’ou b’ett’er be’li’e’ve i’t.
But the large majority of our review staff agreed that Greater Good is possibly Zahn’s most accessible book to date. While the initial pacing may prove a barrier to some as noted above, the latter half of Greater Good flies by in a way that will make every reader want to pull out their flashlight and continue reading under the covers long past bedtime.
The ease with which the second Ascendancy entry could be attributed to a number of factors. Like any profession, writers continually work on their craft, so it’s possible that Zahn has simply upgraded this particular skill. It is likewise just as possible that the familiarity with the Chiss society after reading Chaos Rising allows Greater Good to be understood that much clearer.
Whatever the reason may be, Greater Good represents yet another leap forward for Zahn’s masterful skill in world creation and character development, and if you were put off by some of his more complex tendencies in earlier novels, this new trilogy may be the perfect point of re-entry into the Zahniverse.
And finally, there remains one lasting question brought on by the writing skill in Greater Good: Does anyone do a cliffhanger quite like Timothy Zahn?
No. No they don’t. Lesser Evil can’t get here quickly enough.
Like many Thrawn stories of years past, there exists a turning point within Greater Good that fundamentally changes the narrative and begins to pull all of the story threads toward a singularity.
Before this moment, Greater Good’s entertainment value lies within its intrigue and placement of its various puzzle pieces. This build up is absolutely enjoyable, but once the switch is flipped, Zahn’s mastery of momentum becomes evident, and the desire to finish the rest of the book immediately becomes overpowering.
Third act climaxes have been truly outstanding this year between the chaotic showdowns of Light of the Jedi and Victory’s Price, and Greater Good continues that trajectory with style. Zahn’s mastery of military spectacle has never been questioned, but as our heroes tangle with an entirely new type of threat near the end of this entry, his skill in providing pure unadulterated Star Wars entertainment reaches a whole new level.
High excitement values also find their way into the book’s traditional cooldown following the final confrontation as Zahn’s plans for the full trilogy become even more evident. Oftentimes, the last chapter of a Star Wars book can lose a massive amount of steam in comparison to the antics of final battles and missions, but the way that Zahn laces in future teases and reveals within the ending pages leave your heart pounding just as fast as it was during volleys of laser fire.
With the highs and lows of pace, intensity, and vigor, Greater Good presents an entertaining ride that satisfies the needs for excitement and revelation in equal measure while instilling a desperate need to pre-order the final entry in the series.
One of the greatest things about Star Wars books is the variety of stories presented to readers every single year. Some tales are high paced thrill rides from page one, others are quieter examinations of destiny and desire, and others still are filled with mystery and intrigue that demand your attention in order to receive ultimate satisfaction.
Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good definitely falls into that final category, and if you allow yourself to sit within Timothy Zahn’s more than capable hands and trust that he will lead you along the way, the reward will be undoubtedly worth it.
Perhaps no character has received more evolutions and additions over the last 30 years than the future Grand Admiral, but the Ascendancy trilogy may allow him to reach his highest peak we’ve seen thus far. While Chaos Rising introduced us to an entirely new universe in which to explore the intricacies of the Chiss and their counterparts, Greater Good carries the baton admirably and allows Zahn to continue the giant game of chess he aims to conclude in this fall’s Thrawn Ascendancy: Lesser Evil.
Will this entry be thought of as fondly as the monumental success of Chaos Rising? It’s hard to know for sure. But does Greater Good deserve to stand proudly beside its predecessor as they both wait for their ultimate conclusion?
The answer is a resounding yes. No perhaps to be found.
Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good by Timothy Zahn is available now.