"You were sent to the Empire to learn about it, not to join it."
While the opinions exhibited in this review are primarily those of the writer, input was provided by the entirety of the Youtini staff.
Grand Admiral Thrawn is a name that has carried weight in the Star Wars universe for almost as long as Darth Vader. He's unique in almost every way, from his blue skin and red eyes to his highly intellectual methods of warfare. He's a character that relies on brains more than brawn, but he will still manage to crush you as definitively as the strongest of Force chokes.
So whenever Thrawn's creator, Timothy Zahn pens another chapter in the Grand Admiral's story...it's always a major event for the fandom.
Thrawn: Treason was no exception. Even the title itself promised to answer questions that fans have been asking for years.
Will Thrawn betray the Emperor?
Will he return to the Chiss Ascendency?
What exactly are the threats that he purports linger just beyond the edges of the known Empire?
Treason promised to answer all of this and more.
As we’ve come to expect from Timothy Zahn, the plot of Thrawn: Treason is a whirlwind of military might and clever riddles. Rather than shy away from what readers have come to know, Zahn rightfully thrusts the titular character and his unique talents front and center. What begins as a challenge posed by Director Krennic to secure supply lines for his secretive Project Stardust soon leads to the discovery of an impending galactic invasion. Following a trail of breadcrumbs that only Grand Admiral Thrawn could discover, it soon becomes apparent that the Grysk have infiltrated the Empire and are seeking to destroy it from within. It’s up to Thrawn and the trusted crew of the Chimaera, as well as newcomer Admiral Ar’alani and her Chiss military forces, to comprehend the mysterious ways of the Grysk and eradicate them once and for all.
While Zahn is clearly capable of crafting an intriguing plot, it seems he may be restrained by the timeline in which he is allowed to operate. Perhaps what made the original Thrawn trilogy so wonderful and imaginative was that there were no rules. Now, with Canon being so closely guarded, it’s difficult to allow a story to breathe. Thrawn’s apparent mortal enemy, the Grysk, just don’t feel all that frightening because we know that they’re nowhere to be found later in the timeline. In fact, we already know what happens to Thrawn after the events of this novel. We saw it in the finale of the Rebels television series. Therefore, it’s easy to wonder: how impactful can this story actually be?
From the title itself, what this novel promises to address is whether or not Thrawn is truly loyal to the Empire or the Chiss Ascendency—a question that was posed throughout its predecessor, Thrawn: Alliances. However, by the end of the book, that question hasn’t been answered. Again, perhaps Zahn is hamstrung by not being able to address Thrawn’s ultimate fate, despite being the creator of the character in the first place.
All that being said, this book is definitely worth the read. While some may say this wasn’t a “necessary” story, we don't find that to be a legitimate criticism as every story can hold meaning regardless of individual desires. Maybe this novel didn’t have groundbreaking events that shift the entirety of the Canon timeline, but it’s still an immensely fun ride that is classic Thrawn from start to finish.
This book is absolutely true to the character of Thrawn. If you’re a fan of his intellect and mental acumen, you’ll get plenty of that in this novel. If you’re one who grows tired of his seeming omniscience, this book will undoubtedly wear on you.
Of course, there are more characters important to the story than just Thrawn. In fact, one character who is arguably just as important as the Grand Admiral himself is Commander Eli Vanto, who makes his triumphant return after a notable absence from Thrawn: Alliances. Vanto is, in many ways, what makes the Canon Thrawn work. He’s relatable (something Thrawn will never be), acting as a lens through which the audience can inspect and learn about Thrawn. Vanto is the Dr. Watson to Thrawn’s Sherlock Holmes. But in Treason, Vanto has made some significant strides of his own. He has transformed from a young Imperial to a seasoned intergalactic soldier. Not only does he serve as a window into Thrawn’s life, but also into the entire Chiss Ascendency and their military forces with whom he has been working since he was last seen.
Other familiar faces contribute heavily to the story as well. Most notably, Grand Moff Tarkin and Director Krennic. It’s their political maneuvering over funding for Project Stardust that sets the stage for the entire story, and Zahn writes them with such skill that it made many of us wish they had even bigger parts. Admiral Ar’alani and Assistant Director Ronan also feature heavily. Not to mention, readers also get to know a couple of Death Troopers without their helmets.
It’s quite easy to fall into the trap of thinking that Thrawn: Treason can’t be very original. After all, hundreds and hundreds of pages have already been dedicated to the character. Yet, it seems Zahn still has some surprises up his sleeve, because Treason delivers in a way that is both surprising and welcome.
While Thrawn gets up to his usual antics by outwitting anyone and everyone around him, the situations he finds himself in, as well as the solutions he concocts, are entirely unique. The use of alien technology that is foreign to the Empire, as well as finding brand new uses for Imperial tech of old make for truly interesting space battles.
The Grysk species is also quite original. Though they were featured in Thrawn: Alliances, readers get to learn much more about the stealthy alien race in Treason. In some ways, they feel similar to the Yuuzhan Vong of Legends, but they’re actually very different in their methods of conquest. Rather than launching a full-scale invasion, they prefer to slip into galaxies unnoticed and bend the will of entire populations by preying on their deepest hopes and darkest fears. Although they don’t feel all that threatening because we know they don't exist later in the timeline, that concept in and of itself is genuinely terrifying.
Timothy Zahn is no stranger to the Star Wars Expanded Universe. In fact, Thrawn: Treason is the thirteenth novel that he has written in the saga! With that in mind, it’s safe to say that he doesn’t often switch gears in terms of his writing style and Treason is no exception. He does what he does best by presenting a technical, militaristic plot infused with several small mysteries that ultimately all wrap up nicely in a satisfying conclusion. He definitely doesn’t go outside of his comfort zone with this novel, but he’s such a brilliant story teller that he really doesn’t have to in order to deliver a gripping tale.
In many ways, it’s difficult to separate one’s feelings about the character of Thrawn and one’s feelings on the entertainment of the books revolving around him. If you’re a fan of the Grand Admiral, you’ll no doubt be delighted by his display of sheer genius in this novel. However, if you’re one who is not impressed with his antics, then you’ll most likely struggle to make it to the end.
Treason is, more or less, Thrawn to the absolute max. Not only is he out-thinking those around him—allies and enemies alike—but he’s doing it before they even knows what’s happening. He’s not just a few moves ahead in the holochess match; he’s in the final phase of his plan before anyone else has even sat down at the table. If that doesn't pique your interest, maybe the fact that the finale of the novel features a battle between Imperial Star Destroyers matched up against one another will!
Marc Thompson is a true master of his craft. That simply cannot be understated or argued by anyone that comes into contact with his work, and the audiobook of Thrawn: Treason is no exception. Thompson’s narration adds in levels of excitement and stakes that are occasionally lacking in the written word, and his character voices are easily navigable no matter how many players are featured in a scene.
However, Thompson’s skill at narration can at times serve to highlight some of the shortcomings found in other parts of the book. As I listened, I wanted there to be more political infighting between characters like Tarkin and Krennic, because Thompson is so skilled at their portrayals. I wanted Thrawn’s personal stakes to be higher, because the way that his voice was acted was brilliant—although it could have been taken further with additional textual motivation. It occasionally harkened to driving a Ferrari in a 55 mph zone; you’re going along just fine, but you know this baby could really move.
Overall, Thrawn: Treason is another phenomenal example of the skill employed by those at Random House Audio, and the production and narration mix together to create an astoundingly well-crafted listening experience.
CLICK HERE to check out Marc's work on the audiobook if you haven't already!
All in all, Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn: Treason is a solid entry in the Canon Thrawn series. While we doubt it will become a fan-favorite like the original Thrawn novel, it is most certainly a step up from Alliances. Most likely, fandom will be split based on their feelings about the actual character of Thrawn. If you love him, you’ll love this book. If you don’t, you may be searching for the escape pod before your freighter exits hyperspace.
What fandom cannot be split on is Thrawn’s importance to the Expanded Universe. And just as the epilogue of this book teases, Thrawn’s story is far from over.
Whether the rest of that story comes in the form of another novel, a comic, or even a live-action television series (we can hope), this is most assuredly not the end. We have not heard the Grand Admiral's last command.
Thrawn will endure.