Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising Book Review
Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising is the first book in the new Chiss Ascendancy series from Timothy Zahn. I was very excited when this book was announced. I’ve been a big fan of the Thrawn character since I first read the Heir to the Empire series. Zahn’s skill at creating unique stories, as well as his ability to write in the Star Wars universe, has only got better with time.
What piqued my interest immediately was the setting of this series. Rather than focusing on Thrawn’s time with the Empire, this series picks up early in his career with the Chiss Ascendancy. Located outside even the Outer Rim in the hard-to-navigate Wild Space, this region is unexplored in official lore. This allows Zahn freer rein than he might have otherwise had, but he remains true to the Star Wars universe as well as to the concept of the Chiss that he established decades ago.
Since this novel takes place in a new part of the galaxy with no connection to the Republic or Empire, it could be challenging to put it in the greater context of the Star Wars universe. To help establish the timeline, Zahn sets events in the novel to coincide with events from his previous book Thrawn Alliances. In Alliances, Thrawn teams up with Anakin Skywalker during the Clone Wars to save Padme. It doesn’t spoil any of the events in Alliance, just repeating a few lines of dialogue, so you can read the books in whichever order you prefer.
I was happy to see that Zahn retained some of the Chiss elements from his old Legends novels. The defining aspect of the Chiss military, that they will never fire first, is intact. This means that they will never be the first to violence. But if someone does attack them, then they will retaliate with no mercy. Also remaining is the complex social structure based around families, with some families holding the power of government. In fact, Zahn was able to expand on these elements, making the interaction between the families even more complex.
Of course, adding to Star Wars lore isn’t worth much if the story doesn’t match. As expected, the plot doesn’t disappoint. Following Thrawn’s meteoric rise in the Chiss military, his success is far from assured. With his willingness to resort to violence and his political ineptitude, Thrawn gets himself and everyone around him in hot water.
One of the complaints against Star Wars films, specifically the prequels, is the excessive politics. If the politics in the prequels were anything like the intrigue in Chaos Rising, there would be fewer complaints. Rather than many people talking, Chiss politics involve more than their fair share of backstabbing and conniving.
A key element of Wild Space, and why it is unexplored by either the Republic or Empire, is the difficulty in navigating. Because Hyperspace routes are constantly in flux, they don’t navigate using computers, which require that the routes remain relatively static but with people that can mysteriously navigate through mystical power. While the Chiss can navigate for themselves, those navigators are children. Since families are essential in Chiss society, it leads to moral quandaries when it’s possible that the actions of a ship would put their child navigator in danger. Other species rely on hiring navigators from a guild. While it’s illegal for navigators to share client information, they know much of what goes on in the sector. Interesting side note: the Chiss refer to the area of the galaxy that the Republic occupies Lesser Space.
Zahn established in a previous trilogy that Thrawn was a military and tactical genius with no affinity for politics. This new book established that he used to be much, much worse. Basically, he’s so bad that he has powerful politicians, even those within his own family, working against him. This is a significant point of conflict in the novel, but it’s also nice to know that Thrawn has flaws.
This book lived up to the hype inherent in using Thrawn and exploring the Chiss Ascendancy. It works as a prequel without running into consistency problems. It fits well within the Star Wars universe even though it has relatively few ties with established canon. Most importantly, it’s just a good book.