Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy – Greater Good (Book Review)

The second novel in the Thrawn prequel trilogy arrives this week, bringing more Chiss politics, a better feel for the enemy, and all kinds of tactics. Check out our review of this week’s new Star Wars release!

Our favorite blue “villain” is back in Greater Good, the second novel in the Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy. The series takes place well before Thrawn became Grand Admiral in the Empire, and chronicles his earlier escapades within his own corner of the galaxy.

Written By: Timothy Zahn
Release Date: 04/27/2021
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The first novel in this trilogy kind of blew me away. While I’ve always loved the character, I wasn’t over the moon about his current stories being told. The removal of Thrawn from the established timeline and locations gave the story more freedom, allowing for a story that feels completely fresh. It’s what I’ve been wanting to see out of new Thrawn stories, and Chaos Rising delivered.

As such, I was VERY eager to get my hands on Greater Good, to see if it could keep that momentum rolling. The short answer is both yes and no. It picks up nicely on the story threads seeded in Chaos Rising and brings the bigger threat into focus, but it doesn’t work as well as its own story either.

The Basics

Greater Good picks up the story just a short time after the events of the previous book. Having defeated the Nikardun, Thrawn and Admiral Ar’alani are tasked with cleaning up any remaining pockets of fighters loyal to Yiv The Benevolent. The Chiss are still wary of using such force, but recognize the threats to their own and seek to put an end to it.

Despite the victory, Thrawn (and his companions) are convinced Yiv and the Nikardun were only the beginning of a much bigger threat; perhaps only a distraction. This novel delves deeper into that aspect, going so far as to have a large chunk of the novel dedicated to the perspective of those working with the larger threat, including all of the flashback interludes this time around.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. In searching for more answers, Thrawn stumbles across a group of alien refugees (solving a mystery from the last book) who seem to have encountered the real enemy and had their homeworld completely demolished. Along with sky-walker Che’ri and her caregiver, Thalias, they learn that the refugees’ leader, the Magys, sees no hope for their people and intend to order them all to kill themselves. Not wishing to see a hitherto unknown alien species be wiped out completely, they enter a deal with the Magys to potentially save her people while unearthing more information.

Not everyone in the Chiss hierarchy is as thrilled with Thrawn’s victory after victory, however. Even those within his own family are concerned his meteoric rise will lead to a devastating downfall that could bring the entire clan down with him. So even as Thrawn continues to build his skills and protect the Chiss, there are those working behind the scenes to try and keep his genius contained.

Meanwhile, the true enemies of the Chiss are taking bigger strides to take them down. Working hard to sow the seeds of discord within the rival families. With the fate of an entire people hanging in the balance, Thrawn and his friends must find a way to solve the mystery AND prevent a civil war from erupting.

Bigger Than Thrawn

I don’t want to get into any spoilers here, so I’ll leave the story details at that. In many ways, it’s exactly what you expect from a Thrawn story. Plenty of intrigue and political maneuvering, with a whole bunch of strategic space battle action!

That said, Great Good doesn’t feel like a Thrawn story. For the most part, the titular character is more secondary to the story, even being shuttled off to a different corner of the ‘Chaos’ and out of sight/mind for a big chunk of events.

By no means is this a bad thing. In fact, getting to explore the intricate civilization of the Chiss through the perspective of others is refreshing and offers a deeper appreciation for how this corner of the galaxy operates. One of the people the novel focuses on specifically, is a new character, Lakinda. She’s worked hard to bring honor back to her family (formally one of the ruling families in the Ascendancy who’ve fallen out), but is one of many who feel overshadowed by Thrawn’s quick-rise through the ranks. Despite holding her own command as a Senior Captain, she’s desperate to prove her own worth.

When she’s mysteriously called back to attend to a “family emergency” she finds herself forced to choose between her desire to see her family once more ascend, or to the Chiss as a whole. Considering the amount of time that had been spent in the previous book setting up the intricate family dynamics/politics, it was nice to see that aspect play a bigger role and getting the personal perspective on it. Since Thrawn cares little for intra-family politics, it’s not something we normally get to see. Through Lakinda, we get to see that side of things and it brings a level of relatability that can sometimes be lacking with the iconic character. The same can be said for others like Thalias and Che’ri, though their roles in this book are much smaller scale than the previous one.

The Sherlock Approach

Here’s the thing with the Thrawn books (both this new trilogy and the previous ones in the New Canon)…You kind of already know how things are going to shake out. Thrawn is a military genius and inevitably he will find–possibly the most convoluted yet incredibly cool–way to get a victory over his enemies. That’s pretty much the deal with these stories. You’re not reading them necessarily to see what might happen, but HOW he gets out of the situation.

Understandably, this doesn’t work for everyone, and it’s a factor for those who haven’t quite been able to get into these novels. For me, however, it works wonderfully. It feels almost like how I approach stories about Sherlock Holmes. While you’re not given enough clues to solve whatever mystery is going on yourself (which can be a bit frustrating), seeing the character work through it and win the day can still be a lot of fun.

That said, one of the things I love about these Ascendancy novels, is that the setting and time period allows much more freedom to explore. Sure, the basic idea of Thrawn solving problems is the same, but there is much more lore and history to be explored than what we’ve seen before with the Thrawn novels set during the Rebels timeline.

Middle-Book Syndrome

If I haven’t been clear…I loved Greater Good. This whole trilogy is shaping up to be among my favorites and something I can see myself coming back to time and again. The one issue I’m really having with the book is that it very much feels like the middle part of a trilogy.

Despite kicking off a whole new trilogy, Chaos Rising managed to bring together a complete story that works entirely on its own. While there are teases for the bigger threats to come, it still feels like a self-contained adventure. Great Good isn’t able to do the same.

Instead, it very much feels like only part of a story, right down to a finale that felt smaller in scope than some of the action sequences that take place earlier in the book. More so, there are plot threads that are just sort of…there and don’t have any bearing on THIS book.

A big example of this is with a certain politician who’s the main member of Thrawn’s family trying to discredit him. There are a handful of chapters that cut away to him doing, well, random political things. Nothing that specifically deals with the story. It’s very obvious that the route his career takes in this book will have a huge impact on Thrawn in the trilogy’s finale but the inclusion in Greater Good just felt disjointed.

This, and a couple other moments (that could be spoilers so I won’t go into), give the book a bit of uneven pacing. Hell, there was one key plot element I completely forgot about when it came back near the end just because it’d been so long since the book reminded me about it!

Despite this, the book is still a really quick read. Zahn’s prose is concise yet detailed, allowing the story to flow quickly while still giving you clear pictures in your mind about the very alien civilization we are thrust into.

A Quick Read That Feels Like Only a Partial Story

So far, Thrawn Ascendancy is shaping up to be one hell of a trilogy, and Greater Good has all the right elements in place. Between strong new characters, deeper lore, and some fun action there’s plenty to love and keep you flipping the pages. While you’ll breeze through it quickly, but so much of it feels like it’s setting things up for the big finale.

For me, it still worked and is well worth picking up. I’m greatly enjoying these new Thrawn novels. That said, if you haven’t been big on them before, I doubt Greater Good will change your mind about it…