About a month ago, I did a top 10-ish list of canon novels. I took a risk and put a book all the way up at #2 that I hadn’t even read yet – because it hadn’t even been released yet! Well the book, Thrawn – Alliances, came out, has been read, and judged. The final verdict, was Thrawn – Alliances worth the #2 spot that I gave it? We will get to that.
Author, Timothy Zahn, released a book simply called Thrawn, a little over a year ago. The greatest part of the book was that it brought a massive fan favorite back into canon. It was an origin story of how Thrawn joined forces with the Empire. In a conversation with Chancellor Palpatine, Thrawn asks to meet with one of the Chancellor’s commanders that he had met in the unknown regions long ago, one General Skywalker. Palpatine states Skywalker no longer exists and the book moves on. Now in Alliances, we get that story – plus more!
Timothy Zahn does a masterful weave bouncing back and forth between the Clone Wars era and a time shortly after Thrawn had just lost to Phoenix squadron on Lothal due to the Bendu’s interference. Some books have a very uneven feel when they do split timelines, but Zahn keeps everything balanced and relevant.
In the past, Anakin Skywalker is chasing after Padme after she runs off after one of her handmaidens, after the handmaiden had managed to signal there was a real issue on the planet Batuu, near the unknown regions. In the process Anakin runs into Thrawn and they join forces as their goals lay along similar paths. Anakin must learn to trust Thrawn, and in the end they start to work well together. Respect quickly grows.
Interwoven to that story is the more recent timeline where Chancellor Palpatine senses a disturbance in the force. He sends his two best out to investigate and deal with the issue. This time Thrawn and Vader are well acquainted, and not for the best. Vader hates Thrawn and Thrawn has a healthy dislike for Vader, at least as far Thrawn can dislike someone. One of the key disagreements has to due with Thrawn’s Tie Defender project. Vader does not agree with it.
Thrawn is put in charge of the mission, with Vader to act as the eliminator when needed. As you can imagine, Vader doesn’t enjoy second place. He is continuously having to keep himself from crushing Thrawn and his questionable actions. The only thing holding him in check is the fact the Emperor himself specifically told Vader he is not to harm Thrawn. Vader has to balance his distrust with Sidious’ trust of Thrawn.
How Zahn captures the interaction between Vader and Thrawn is perfect. Vader almost comes across as Hulkish in the book. Think of it like this. Vader runs around saying “Thrawn puny. Vader SMASH!” It’s a battle of intense logic and brain power versus Vader single mindedly forcing his way through any problem because he is the stronger. Here, as in the past, Vader must learn to trust Thrawn, as Thrawn continually acts against Vader’s better judgement without any more explanation than “Trust me.” Unlike Anakin, Vader has problems with it.
The characterizations are all dead on. Zahn does a great job with all involved. One interesting thing about this book is that its the first time in any Thrawn book we get Thrawn unfiltered. In the Legends trilogy we saw Thrawn through the eyes of Gilad Pellaeon. In the new canon book we see him through the eyes of Eli Vanto. Here, while we get thoughts from Vader and Skywalker, Thrawn for the first time is Thrawn. He keeps his plans and knowledge secret from us as much as he does Vader though.
I enjoy the way Zahn depicts the ‘force sense’ of both Vader and Anakin. When they get force premonitions of attacks, Zahn writes “Double vision: bolts at chest, at chest, at head.” It was a very unique way to depict this power.
The book is very well paced and keeps thing moving. However, the only real problem I had with the book was the enemy itself. I will not spoil anything, but I was expecting a bit more from the ‘threat’. I would have liked something a bit more, however that does not mean what Zahn did was bad in any way. As with many things lately, it is more about expectations.
Don’t think of this as some bad ass villain that Vader will have a major throw down with. Instead think of the villain and the entirety of this book really, as an extension of Thrawn himself. The evil is not brutish but cunning and with purpose. It is a story well thought out and chess like, deserving of Thrawn.
Meanwhile, the Thrawn, Padme, Skywalker story line is a very good fit for the Clone Wars era and its characters. Again without spoiling anything, the goings on of this story had major implications on the war had Anakin and Co not interfered. It also brings a very important something back into canon as well. I’ll leave it at that.
One last interesting morsel is Darth Sidious. He is only in the opening of the book, but his presence lingers throughout. Vader best expresses this as he knows there are things the Emperor ahs not told him. There are things the Emperor is doing that Vader can only guess at. We are also left guessing at motives and drawing lines to where we know the future lies. Not bad for a character that is only in the opening chapter.
In the end I really liked this book. Timothy Zahn doesn’t miss when he writes. If Claudia Gray was not on such a perfect tear with her books I’d say Zahn is the best current Star Wars writer right now. Temper your expectations for the ending just a bit and if you are a Thrawn lover, you will love this book.
Did it live up to my #2 rating? Not quite. I’m gonna bump it back just a bit, but only to #3, moving Dark Disciple back ahead of it. The end fell just a bit flat, but that is my only fault for this book.