Timothy Zahn’s latest novel concludes his new “Thrawn” trilogy. It brings together the characters from Zahn’s previous novels for a big epic finale.
The Grand Finale
The story begins right before the final events of Rebels. In the opening scene, Thrawn is reflecting on the recent capture of Hera Syndulla, and how much of a task is it going to be for governor Pryce to safeguard her while he is away. Yes, we learn the reason for Thrawn’s absence during the crucial events before the Rebels finale: he was called away by the Emperor, and what was supposed to be a short distraction got quickly out of hand.
If “Thrawn” was about the Chiss commander’s first major tasks and about proving himself to the Imperial command, and if “Thrawn: Alliances” featured his first contact with the Grysk threat from the Unknown Regions, “Thrawn: Treason” ties everything together. Even as a Grand Admiral, Thrawn is dragged into a web of politics where at the moment everything revolves around Director Krennic and his “Stardust” project. The Death Star construction is plagued by trouble, and Thrawn’s own TIE Defender project needs more funding. Tarkin, who has his own stakes in the game, suggests a deal: if Thrawn solves Krennic’s problems, he can keep some of Stardust’s own funds.
At the same time, Eli Vanto, now in the service of the Chiss Admiral Ar’alani, is following the threat of the Grysks, expanding into the Imperial space. Soon, the task of the Chiss and Thrawn’s mission collide. The questions of loyalty run throughout the entire story. How do the Imperials see Thrawn, and how do his former Chiss compatriots perceive him? And what about Eli Vanto – in the same position, but from the opposite perspective?
Timothy Zahn manages to spin a thrilling, page-turner story on the back of these questions.
The Heroes Come Back
When I said that all the characters are brought in for the big finale, I meant it. Eli Vanto is back, but so are characters from Zahn’s other novels, such as Admiral Ar’alani (who features prominently in Outbound Flight). In a minor role, we also meet Dayja (from Zahn’s latest non-canon novel, “Scoundrels”) and we even finally get a (however still brief) appearance of Captain Pellaeon.
Aside from Zahn’s own characters, a couple of film personae make their appearances: especially Tarkin and Director Krennic, and briefly, the Emperor. The political machinations in the highest level of Imperial command is portrayed beautifully, and both Tarkin and Krennic are faithfully their annoying selves.
The most significant recurring character, aside from Vanto, is Commodore Faro who made her appearance as one of the Chimaera’s top officers already in the previous parts of Zahn’s new trilogy. This time, she is given as many of her point-of-view sections as Thrawn himself. Her personality is illustrated in detail and her character development, again perhaps aside from Vanto’s, is the most notable part of the book.
One newly appearing central character is Assistant Director Ronan. Ronan works on the Stardust project and he is introduced, for all purposes, as “little Krennic” (even wearing a white cape to match). His blind belief that Krennic is the only competent person in the whole Empire obviously puts him at odds with Thrawn. I was certain that I would hate Ronan – he is the classic archetype of a nuisance whose sole purpose is to obstruct the main characters – but thanks to Zahn’s amazing writing, I grew to love him just as much as all the others.
In some strange way, it almost feels like Zahn has “matured” – after so many years, there is something fresh about the way he writes the characters and their relationships in this story, which makes them much more interesting and relatable than in the previous ones. Vanto, Faro, Ar’alani, and of course Thrawn himself are simply delight to read, and I found myself rooting for all of them.
I think what makes Zahn’s books unique is that he manages to present the Imperials as the “good guys”.
“Thrawn: Treason” is an amazing book. It is also clearly the best of Timothy Zahn’s new trilogy. (Incidentally – it would be nice if “Treason” was not the end of it. To paraphrase another sci-fi franchise, “the truth is still out there”.) If the first two novels felt a bit disconnected or random at times, “Treason” suffers from no such problems.
There was not a dull spot in the entire book. One just has to keep reading and reading, and Zahn further nudges you into it by switching points of view just when the story gets into an intense spot. An old writers’ trick, but here it works perfectly. On top of that, the final big battle scene is epic, perhaps more epic than any other battle scene I have read in Star Wars novels recently.
The characters are amazingly detailed and all are delightfully written. You sympathise with them, and that goes even for people like Assistant Director Ronan.
The only possible weak point may be – as it sometimes happens with Timothy Zahn – that some descriptions of strategies and technicalities may prove difficult to follow. If you don’t possess that type of “3D tactical imagination” (I don’t), you may occasionally have to switch off for half a page and simply wait for the clarification of what happens if ships A and B are positioned between points X and Y. But this happened maybe three times throughout the entire book.
Postscript: Old Thrawn vs. New Thrawn
Now that the story of Thrawn is complete, what can we say if we compare Zahn’s original Thrawn trilogy and the new one?
One thing to say is that Zahn has certainly matured as a writer. Even if the original trilogy was very good, the years of experience have made Zahn’s style more interesting. Chiefly, it seems to me that he has learned to write better in terms of characterisation.
In terms of plot, “Thrawn” and “Thrawn: Alliances” lag a bit behind compared to the old trilogy, which was much more clearly focussed. This problem was eliminated in “Thrawn: Treason”, as it has already a very clear and focussed plot. With this in mind, “Thrawn: Treason” may perhaps be the best of Zahn’s Star Wars novels to date.
One last detail that may have escaped your notice. Timothy Zahn has been trying very hard to make his stories compatible with both the new canon and his novels from the old canon. And it works to an amazing degree! Perhaps a few odd details could be found (or alternate realities, namely around the time of Thrawn joining the Empire), but try to imagine placing the events from “Treason” on a timeline following up to the old Thrawn trilogy, and you will find that it would work fairly well: that is, if you imagine that sometime after the events of Rebels, Thrawn either came back or got in touch with the Emperor. In that alternate universe, the epilogue of “Thrawn: Treason” could signify something else than it does now.