Thrawn Ascendancy is the latest trilogy written by Timothy Zahn that follows the titular character. Chaos Rising is the first novel. In the Star Wars timeline it is set before the events of the trilogy that Zahn released from 2017 to 2019 with Thrawn, Thrawn: Alliance and Thrawn: Treason. It will cover his rise through the ranks of the Chiss Ascendancy and eventual exile. The latter event will eventually lead to his spectacular conquest of a large portion of the Star Wars galaxy in the Heir to the Empire trilogy. Yet, Chaos Rising is set after the events of Outbound Flight. In which a group of Jedi were killed in the doomed expedition to a neighboring galaxy. As such we do not see much of a young Thrawn. Instead, it covers his first contact with the higher echelons of command and his adoption into the Mitth family.
A brand new trilogy
Chaos Rising depicts Thrawn as a brilliant master tactician, but also someone who is chastised and looked upon with suspicion. The novel starts with an threat to the Chiss Ascendancy by a species that appears to know too much about its culture and politics. During the first half of the novel we see Thrawn use his powerful skills of inference based on analysis of art to determine the nature of the threat. We also see plenty of his non-conventional tactics and policies and their consequence on the internal Chiss political situation. Many notable characters return such as Thrawn’s confident Admiral Ar’alani. Chaos Rising is notable in that it also reveals a great deal of her background. Between the two there are plenty of battles against worthy opponents for fans of the character to salivate over. With Zahn’s crisp depiction of battles they are enjoyable to read.
The second half of the book changes the story into a new direction. More emphasize is placed on internal Chiss politics and the rivalry between the families. As Thrawn and the Chiss are entirely an invention by author Timothy Zahn it is proper he should its backstory. Thrawn was born into the Kivu family before being adopted into the more powerful Mitth family. A great deal of the story is taken up by this change. But also the pushback the character receives from certain members. Yet, when there is the risk the story gets bogged down the author quickly changes tack and thrusts it into a new direction. It should be clear to any potential reader that these various divergent storylines do eventually come together at the novel’s conclusion. It is a delight to know that the author is also able to surprise the reader.
A few problems with Thrawn Ascendancy
That is not to say there is nothing wrong with Thrawn Ascendancy. While reading through the novel I was struck by three aspects. As this is an origin story it is set before any other event in Thrawn’s history, ending roughly in the time period of his cooperation with General Anakin Skywalker on Batuu, as seen in the 2018 novel Thrawn: Alliances. Thus this story does not tie-in with any of the events in the larger galaxy. There is no Emperor Palpatine or any Star Destroyers. The second issue is that at times the story could be a little bit confusing. A few chapters open after some time has passed, forcing the reader to catch up with events. With the consequence of taking the reader out of the story. My third and final gripe is when the story is not focused on Thrawn, then it is not as enjoyable.
An enigmatic character
This last gripe is proof of Thrawn’s enigmatic character. For nearly thirty years he has been a fan favorite and I don’t see that changing. It is good luck for the author that the Disney canon universe holds the Unknown Regions in such high regards, considering that is where the Chiss Ascendancy resides. Though luck may not have much to do with, it also makes excellent business sense. If you are unfamiliar with the character of Grand Admiral Thrawn, or if you known juts from the Star Wars Rebels series then I think this new trilogy is an excellent starting point. In the two upcoming novels we will no doubt learn why Thrawn decided to leave the Ascendancy and how this ties in with the machinations of Palpatine. Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy (Book I: Chaos Rising) can be purchased as a hardcover for $28.99 or for 1 credit on Audible.