Welcome to Book Reviews. In this series I will look to review any canon books that come out in the Star Wars galaxy. I am no expert in book critic or expert in writing (as you may be able to tell), so this is very much from a fan’s point of view. I will generally try to give a quick idea of what the story is about but avoid any spoilers. In each review, I will also try to point out a few “Moments in Canon” – moments that link into the wider canon and references to other canon stories – and also give my opinion if it is worth reading. Today I will be looking at Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn: Alliances.
The second adult-novel series of the new canon (The Aftermath trilogy being the first) continues with Thrawn: Alliances, the second book in what will be at least a trilogy – if not more – from Timothy Zahn.
The story heavily features the planet Batuu, specifically Black Spire Outpost, which is the setting of the Galaxy’s Edge attractions at Disney theme parks.
Be warned: As the second novel in the series, I will be making references to some story aspects of Thrawn, which could include some spoilers.
The story follows 2 separate plotlines at 2 different times in galactic history. The storyline set shortly after season 3 of Rebels follows Grand Admiral Thrawn and Darth Vader as they are sent to the Outer Rim world of Batuu on a mission for Palpatine. The storyline set during the Clone Wars sees Anakin Skywalker setting out to Batuu to find Padmé – who has gone missing – and shows his first meeting with a Thrawn, something Thrawn mentioned in the first novel.
He smiled thinly. Time for Thrawn to face his future.
Time for Vader to face his past.
We get a number of points of view during the story. The Clone Wars timeline is largely seen through Anakin and Padmé, while the later timeline is seen largely through Thrawn, Vader and 2 Imperial officers: Karyn Faro and Commander Kimmund of Vader’s First Legion.
As someone who has not read much Legends content, my experience of Thrawn has been limited to the canon media, but I have developed a real love for the character. While there is less of the grand deductions that we saw in the first novel, we still get a mystery throughout the novel as Thrawn will be steps ahead of the reader, who gets to figure out the truth alongside the other characters.
Thrawn was clearly the type who stayed a couple of steps ahead of his opponents. It was nice to know that he, Anakin, could keep pace with him.
All of the characters feel faithful to their previous depictions and I love how Vader has managed to separate himself from Anakin and now sees him as completely separate individual – “The Jedi” – which follows on wonderfully from his struggles to do so in Lords of the Sith. Meanwhile the new characters introduced, like Kimmund and Faro, do a great job of furthering the story and giving extra points of view. Faro feels like a good replacement for Eli Vanto, who is no longer around following his disappearance to join the Chiss Ascendency – something that I appreciated them addressing in this book. The one thing that did feel odd for me was in the scenes depicting Kimmund and his unit. For a while, I could not figure out what was making me feel odd, but then I finally realised that it was the use of names for the stormtroopers, whereas we have generally seen troopers referred to by their operating numbers, going as far as to call Thara Nyende “SP-475” in her POV sections when she is in armour during Battlefront: Twilight Company. Once I had realised what my issue was though, I was able to use my own headcanon that as the First Legion are an elite unit they may use names rather than numbers, similar to Inferno Squad, and this stopped it being an issue for me. Similarly, I love the use of the First Legion as Vader’s unit, rather than the 501st due to Vader wanting to distance himself from Anakin, even though it goes against the depiction of the Battle of Hoth in Twilight Company, where Everi Chalis calls the 501st Vader’s personal legion. However as Lucasfilm Story Group member Matt martin suggested, things could change in the years between the 2 stories, or it could just be that Chalis is misinformed, so again this is a minor quibble in the overall scheme of things.
Thrawn’s eyes narrowed, his face hardening. It was an expression The Jedi had seen on him once, a long time ago. An expression that spoke of imminent death.
Both of the plots are really well done, I really enjoy seeing Anakin team up with Thrawn, whose analytical mind is a perfect foil for Anakin’s impulsiveness, especially where Padmé’s safety is concerned. Likewise, he also teams up well with Vader, slowing down the Sith Lord when required but also directing him in the ways that make him incredibly useful. I also really like how throughout the later storyline, a combination of Thrawn’s “failure” at Atollon (as seen in the season 3 finale of Rebels) sets Vader against him, but his previous experiences as Anakin with Thrawn stops him from acting too hasty and allows Thrawn the time he needs to out-think his opponents. My only real problem with the plots is the switching between the timelines. While I agree that it allows a symmetry between the stories that allows certain reveals to work better, I find that the majority of my reading is done on the commute to and from work, which would mean that sometimes I would take a while to remember where I was in one timeline if I’ve only been reading the other for a few days. I would not be surprised though if I appreciate the format better when I read it again.
I also really enjoy how the story will cleverly add to big events in the wider canon in a way that seems very natural. This is seen very well in the use of lightsaber-resistant clone armour during this novel, and the subtle hint that this is (or was potentially) part of Palpatine’s grand plan to eradicate the Jedi.
“You have uncovered some of their secrets. I will uncover the rest.”
The beauty of this story is that the novel works both as a sequel to Thrawn or as a standalone story, as this does not directly follow on from the last one. I do however feel that the story is setting up for its sequel and that people will have needed to read both of these novels before reading the third novel, Thrawn: Treason.
As for Zahn’s writing style, I really enjoyed it in this novel and think that he does a great job of keeping me guessing what will happen next and also getting me invested in the characters. Perhaps my favourite part of the novel, though, was the depiction of Anakin’s “double vision”, something that Qui-Gon Jinn talked about inThe Phantom Menace, explaining that it is what makes Jedi appear to have such quick reflexes.
Should I read it?
If you enjoyed Thrawn and especially his character, then I highly recommend this novel. That said, I would not consider it as good as the first novel, so if you were not drawn in by that story or if you don’t like mysteries, then this may not be the story for you.
Moments in Canon
- The First Legion is drawn from the elite troopers of the 501st
- Eli Vanto’s disappearance remains unexplained in Imperial circles
- Thrawn makes a mention of Twi’lek Kalikoris, something that he came across when taking on Cham Syndulla’s resistance on Ryloth, as seen in theRebels episode “Hera’s Heroes”
- Padmé references Ahsoka’s “Marg Sabl” manoeuvre at the Battle of Ryloth, as seen in The Clone Wars episode “Storm Over Ryloth”
- Thrawn, like Tarkin before him, deduces that Vader is Anakin
- Vader suggests some improvements to the TIE Defender, which results in the upgraded Defenders seen in season 4 of Rebels
Have you read this book? What were your thoughts on it? Thanks for reading and May the Force be with you…