Thrawn: Treason by Timothy Zahn is the third novel in the author’s Thrawn trilogy, set in the new canon of Star Wars. Grand Admiral Thrawn has proven himself time and again to be a cunning and resourceful asset in service of the Empire, but the politics within the Imperial Navy mean that his tactical proficiency in war is not enough to curry favour. As such, the Grand Admiral’s TIE Defender program is at risk of being halted in favour of Director Krennic’s secret Death Star project. However, if he can solve a seemingly petty issue with the latter project’s supply chain, he can secure his own interests. With only limited time, what begins as a rather simple investigation into pest control unravels into a much deeper conspiracy of treason within the Empire and an incursion of enemy forces from the unknown regions of the galaxy.
I’d been slowly going through this trilogy over the past few years, and I’m happy I’ve finally gotten around to completing it, as it has served as an interesting little anomaly for me in the new canon of Star Wars. Due to his appearance in the Star Wars Rebels TV series, Thrawn is a character whose fate (for the time being) is cemented. These books dealing with his time in the Imperial Navy, however, and weaving between the events of that series made for a tricky spot to put the character in. Ultimately, you likely know what his fate will be, and the closer he gets to it, the less tension for the story. Such was the case with this novel for me, as it seems to take place a mere week or so before he is taken off the board, so to speak.
Unlike the middle novel, which is divided between a story that takes place during the Clone Wars and one in the present, which had mixed results for me, I appreciated that this book had a more singular focus. The dangerous and enigmatic Grysks make a return in this book after their debut in the previous novel, and a ship from the Chiss Ascendancy, Thrawn’s people, plays a crucial role as well, eventually leading to questions of where Thrawn’s loyalties precisely lie. To speak of the novel’s strengths, I really liked how much legwork it put into establishing an enemy for Thrawn to combat that isn’t just the Rebellion. They’re sincerely resourceful and threatening, but not so much that you’re left wondering why they might have been overlooked in the franchise before now.
Though the trilogy as a whole has had degrees of emphasis on military strategy and coordination, I especially enjoyed how this book approached combat between capital ships, the resources at their disposal, and how they went about using them to overcome overwhelming odds in a calculated fashion, without completely foregoing the grand spectacle of space combat that Star Wars is known for. It took a while to get the story to this point, but there are two climactic confrontations that the story builds toward that take place practically at the same time, but I was highly invested in both of them and surprised with how they resolved themselves, even if what those resolutions were to felt to be a foregone conclusion.
Though I really did enjoy the climax of all that unfolds, I was actually less enthused about a lot of the story itself leading up to it. It’s not that it wasn’t interesting per se, but in the grand scheme of the novel it all felt a little too humdrum at times; I never really got the sense that the characters were in any particular danger and I kept waiting for the situation to lead to a shoe-dropping moment, rather than the skirmish with the Grysks and the conspiracy within the Empire being all there was to it. With such an emphasis on treason in this novel, the synopsis specifically making Thrawn the target of such a question, I kept anticipating an dilemma arising for him that never came.
At the end of it all, the stakes couldn’t be as high as they should have been, because an unrelated fate for the character had already been sealed, which is a shame because these books give us the most interesting perspective on the character. Though he works towards the interests of an evil Empire, this trilogy is the first work I’ve experienced that so successfully casts the infamous regime in more shades of grey. The enemies they engage with are worthy opponents, not oppressed peoples, and Thrawn respects and nurtures the talents of his subordinates in a way very uncharacteristic of Imperial hierarchy at large. Zahn has written a wonderfully complex character in these books, and a part of me wishes that he wasn’t beholden to other stories, even though I ultimately want continuity between the media to be preserved.
Thrawn: Treason did not wow me as a finale to this trilogy of novels, but I think I always expected that, knowing that it had to weave itself around and through existing material. If you’ve been along for the ride up until this book, the characters, continued world building, and naval combat should be satisfying, even if the story as a whole feels somewhat constrained. It is a worthy conclusion to this story that is poignant in a way, as it presents a spark of what something with the scope of the Empire could be, perhaps what it was, if not for the corruption at its heart. A spark that is ultimately fleeting, in the grand scheme.
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5