Friday, 5 May 2017

'Star Wars: Thrawn', by Timothy Zahn

Title: Star Wars: Thrawn
Author(s): Timothy Zahn
Release Date: 11th April 2017
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Publisher

Synopsis:
In this definitive novel, readers will follow Thrawn’s rise to power—uncovering the events that created one of the most iconic villains in Star Wars history.

One of the most cunning and ruthless warriors in the history of the Galactic Empire, Grand Admiral Thrawn is also one of the most captivating characters in the Star Wars universe, from his introduction in bestselling author Timothy Zahn’s classic Heir to the Empire through his continuing adventures in Dark Force Rising, The Last Command, and beyond. But Thrawn’s origins and the story of his rise in the Imperial ranks have remained mysterious. Now, in Star Wars: Thrawn, Timothy Zahn chronicles the fateful events that launched the blue-skinned, red-eyed master of military strategy and lethal warfare into the highest realms of power—and infamy.

After Thrawn is rescued from exile by Imperial soldiers, his deadly ingenuity and keen tactical abilities swiftly capture the attention of Emperor Palpatine. And just as quickly, Thrawn proves to be as indispensable to the Empire as he is ambitious; as devoted as its most loyal servant, Darth Vader; and a brilliant warrior never to be underestimated. On missions to rout smugglers, snare spies, and defeat pirates, he triumphs time and again—even as his renegade methods infuriate superiors while inspiring ever greater admiration from the Empire. As one promotion follows another in his rapid ascension to greater power, he schools his trusted aide, Ensign Eli Vanto, in the arts of combat and leadership, and the secrets of claiming victory. But even though Thrawn dominates the battlefield, he has much to learn in the arena of politics, where ruthless administrator Arihnda Pryce holds the power to be a potent ally or a brutal enemy.

All these lessons will be put to the ultimate test when Thrawn rises to admiral and must pit all the knowledge, instincts, and battle forces at his command against an insurgent uprising that threatens not only innocent lives but also the Empire’s grip on the galaxy—and his own carefully laid plans for future ascendancy.

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This book was drowning in hype from the moment it was announced, and it seems with very good reason. Grand Admiral Thrawn is a very popular character from the animated series Star Wars: Rebels, and Timothy Zahn had not only already written about him before, but he is one of the most beloved Star Wars writers.

Now, this, with me, could have gone very wrong for several reasons.

One, I have yet to see a single episode of Rebels. (I know, very bad of me. I'm still making my slow way through Clone Wars, don't judge me)

Two, I had never read a Timothy Zahn book before.

So, for me, most if not all of the reasons people were excited for this book did not apply. Still, I love a good villain origin story, especially when it is Star Wars related (as long as there are no 'I do not like sand. It is coarse and it gets everywhere' lines involved. I'm still scarred from that one), and even if I did not have that precursor knowledge about the character, at least I knew I would be in for a good ride.

And boy, was I ever.

The blurb is very explanatory (maybe a little bit too much, but I will get to that later), so I won't spend much time on the main plot of the book since it is all there, but this is very much the story of how Thrawn came to be involved in the Imperial Navy. On a routine mission to track down smugglers, a ship finds the encampment of someone that might be up to no good, so they set out to investigate it. Stormtroopers start disappearing, attacks are enforced, and what they think is a group of criminals is almost literally running circles around them.

In the end, it turns out that a single alien, blue skinned and red eyed, that had been left on that planet as a form of exile had been able to outsmart them all. A navy cadet, Eli Vanto, who is only a few months away from graduating and pursuing his desired career as a supply officer, is the only one that can speak a language that the alien understands, and, suddenly, his plans are changed for him.

As the alien, Thrawn, is taken to Coruscant, he gets an audience with Palpatine himself, and with the drop of a very recognizable name, he has the Emperor's attention. Thrawn is enlisted in the Navy, and Eli goes along with him as a translator, much against his will.

This book, much like the majority of the Star Wars canon, spans a window of several years. A lot of what goes on in the Star Wars universe is a waiting game, and it is always interesting to see how long and how subtly certain parts come into play for the big picture plans that we all know and love. So, while Thrawn does fly through the ranks very quickly, having Eli along with him does allow us to have a better perspective of the time that goes by and of how unusual that pace is. This reminded me a lot of 'Lost Stars', as you are able to get a behind the scenes look at how the military in the Empire was built, and how clueless mostly everyone in it was to what was really going on.

The best part about this book was, without a doubt, the unorthodox tactical weaving of plans that only Thrawn seems to be able to do. If there is one thing bad about a villain it is when they are dumb, and Thrawn definitely does not fit that bill. Everyone around him does not understand his tactics until they come to fruition successfully, and even with good results people still question his methods. He is very much like Orson Krennic in that regard (which is more obvious in 'Catalyst' than the 'Rogue One' movie, sadly), and I rejoiced at being able to take a peek at that odd brain of his.

Along with Thrawn's story, however, is a parallel storyline for another Rebels character: Ahrinda Pryce. The daughter of miners that have just found a vein of Doonium, a very sought after metal (which the Empire is very much looking for, as no one figures out why), she pledges revenge against the politicians that steal the mine away from her parents and herself and give it to the Empire. In the beginning I wasn't seeing why these two stories were told simultaneously, but I soon understood: while Thrawn rises through the ranks of the navy and learns how to work the military side of things, Ahrinda is infiltrating herself in the world of politics. It was fantastic to see how these two worlds clash and how someone can be brilliant at one and not the other, when characters like Palpatine seem to be so expert at both. Both their storylines came together seamlessly, and I am now very eager to move on to the animated series to find out what becomes of them!

'Star Wars: Thrawn' is not filled with many surprises, as the overall plot is evident in the synopsis, but it is still a very, very pleasant read for anyone looking to learn more about such an iconic character of the Star Wars universe. I gather that it will be filled with easter eggs and little nods to the show for its fans, but even for someone that has no background of it at all, it still very much stands up on its own, which is not easy to achieve. As far as Star Wars villains go, Thrawn is definitely high up there with the best!

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