Star Wars - Thrawn: Treason (Book)
As Thrawn works to secure his place in the Imperial hierarchy, his former protégé Eli Vanto returns with a dire warning about Thrawn’s homeworld. Thrawn’s mastery of strategy must guide him through an impossible choice: duty to the Chiss Ascendancy, or fealty to the Empire he has sworn to serve. Even if the right choice means committing treason.
The iconic blue villain returns for another novel set during his service to the Empire. As politics swirl about him, Thrawn’s latest mission might put his loyalties to the test. Come inside to check out our full (spoiler free) review!
Treason marks the third novel since Thrawn’s return to the Star Wars canon. This one takes place shortly before the Star Wars Rebels finale while also picking up on some story threads presented in the previous novel, Thrawn: Alliances. Unlike that previous novel, however, the story doesn’t alternate between two different timelines.
While Thrawn is dealing with the Rebels on Lothal, he’s summoned into a meeting by Governor Tarkin, with none other than the Emperor himself. Project Stardust (the Death Star!) is woefully behind schedule and Director Krennic is seeking to divert funds from Thrawn’s personal TIE Defender project to deal with a supply problem.
Interstellar based creatures (grallocs) are seemingly slowing down one of the secret supply points by attacking freighters. Krennic wants the funds to deal with the problem, but obviously Thrawn doesn’t want to see his project pushed to the side. As such, Tarkin/Palpatine suggests a wager and gives Thrawn ONE WEEK to deal with Krennic’s gralloc problem or risk losing his Defender funding.
Thrawn puts his legendary skills to the test, but what he uncovers goes far deeper than a simple vermin issue. Instead they uncover a treasonous plot as well as an invasion by the alien Grysks (who were problems in the previous novel). Along with the help of Chiss Admiral Ar’alani, who’s been tracking the Grysks, and his former protege, Eli Vanto, Thrawn must simultaneous uncover the traitors and prevent the Grysks threat from expanding into the Empire. All the while he’s under the suspicious eye of Director Krennic’s right-hand man, Assistant Director Ronan, who calls into question Thrawn’s own loyalty to the Empire.
A Culmination that Stands Alone
As always with a good Timothy Zahn/Grand Admiral Thrawn book, there’s a ridiculous amount of things going on in the plot. Since I don’t want to spoil anything, I’ll leave it at that, in terms of story discussion. Treason does an excellent job of pulling together multiple story threads from both of the previous Thrawn books, as well as elements from the Rebels TV series.
Don’t panic, however, if you haven’t read the others or even watched the show. Treason manages to maintain a delicate balance in this area and still manages to be enjoyable as its own thing. While some of the prior context offer a deeper meaning behind certain moments and character beats, the overall story is disconnected enough from any other adventure to really work by itself.
In fact, I feel that’s one of the reasons I enjoyed this book so much. While I enjoyed the previous Thrawn books (though the first one was a tad tedious), I’d have to say that Treason is easily my favorite of the bunch. A big part of that has to do with the fact that it features a mostly new cast of characters.
While Tarkin and Krennic pop in, they aren’t featured players in the story. Instead the narrative puts the focus on Thrawn, Ar’alani, Vanto, and Ronan. These are the primary perspectives we see and the result is a story that feels somehow free from the constraints placed upon it. While it leads up directly into the events of the Star Wars Rebels finale, there’s still a sense of freedom within the story as it deals with alien threats and internal strife. This keeps the tension high, despite knowing how things ultimately end up for the character soon after this story ends.
Another reason I think Treason appealed to me even more is due to the overall setting of the story. The bulk of it takes place in space aboard the various starships/bases. I know, it seems like a silly thing to be excited about, yet this seems to be where Thrawn as a character shines brightest.
It’s a big picture sort of story, with major pieces on the proverbial board being moved around. There’s a mystery to be solved, sure, and that element plays out like a classic Sherlock Holmes story. The bigger picture, however, plays out as a giant series of space battles which brings into play all of the things fans love about the character.
Personally speaking, some of my favorite Star Wars books (new or Legends) are those that dealt more with dynamic space battling action, and in this Thrawn: Treason absolutely delivers. Where Alliances spent more time on “the ground” showing Thrawn and Anakin in an early adventure, Treason keeps to the larger galactic conflict.
In many ways, this book feels like Timothy Zahn unleashed and able to tell the kind of Thrawn story he wants to. Not that he hasn’t been able to before, but the first book was all about introductions and reestablishing the character in the canon. Alliances had to tell a pair of stories where so much of the focus was split between other (legacy) characters.
That’s not the case this time around. Here we get to see Thrawn at the height of his abilities and power within the Empire. Free from legacy characters or necessary setup, Treason is a story that’s pure, unadulterated Thrawn action...and it’s a blast.
The pacing in Thrawn: Treason is incredibly fast. It takes place over the span of just a few days and the story wastes little time in getting to the point. From the moment the first battle takes place (fairly early in the novel), it races forward at a breakneck pace until the last page is turned. There’s plenty of action to go around in the book, but even in the quieter moments, the plot is moving quickly ahead.
Whereas many people know Zahn, and his iconic character Thrawn, for lengthier bits of exposition, Treason felt more streamlined and trimmed. You still get those flashes of Thrawn’s brilliance, but they aren’t as dragged out in previous adventures, and generally follow along with some bit of action sequence taking place as well.
The result is a quick read that doesn’t sacrifice any of the elements fans have come to love about the character. The battles felt incredibly epic, and on a scale we don’t always see in the novels (oftentimes things are a bit more personal). Things are wrapped up nicely as well, though still leaving enough story bits to keep you invested and wanting more.
I thoroughly enjoyed Treason, but there are some minor issues to be aware of as well. I absolutely loved the new characters in the story (and I’d kill for a novel all about Ar’alani and her work in the Chiss Ascendancy), but some of the later interactions don’t always work. It’s an element where the faster pacing works against the story, as too many of the character moments felt unearned rather than fully rewarding.
As always, Thrawn is several steps ahead of just about everyone else...which includes the reader as well. This means that even with all the clues presented, it’s not likely you’re going to figure out the mystery at the center of the story before it’s laid out for you. I get the intention, but it’s a recurring problem with just about any Thrawn story that’s out there.
Lastly, while Treason feels like it has more freedom than the other stories, there’s no denying it’s still firmly locked into its moment in the Star Wars timeline. We can’t change the fact that Thrawn will go back to Lothal and the events depicted in the show. While the story does a great job of maintaining the tension regardless, there are moments presented where I wish it was able to go outside those boundaries. There’s a really great subplot about loyalty and service to something greater, but it cannot be fully addressed before the story ends and Thrawn goes off to be defeated by a pod of space whales.
None of these are deal breakers on the book by any stretch of the imagination, but a niggling issues I felt needed to be addressed in this review. On the whole, it’s a really great Star Wars story that I could see myself coming back to reading more often than any of the other Thrawn books.
While it connects well with the previous books and the Rebels cartoon, it manages to still tell its own, self-contained story. Even if you haven’t kept up with everything else readers will still have an entertaining story, with engaging characters, to enjoy.