All beings begin their lives with hopes and aspirations.
–Timothy Zahn - Thrawn - c.2017
The main character of this book is General Thrawn ((the clue is in the title, for those in the know)) , who will be known to many Star Wars fans as he shows up in quite a few of the extended universe tv shows and books. Personally I am not familiar with him as I’ve only really watched the films. But I have heard of him once or twice but I certainly have no history with the character.
And I don’t think that his companion, Eli Vanto, was introduced before, but I may be wrong about that. He is mainly the reader’s gateway to getting to know Thrawn, and how Thrawn operates in the wider world. He both informs the reader about Thrawn and also introduces Thrawn to the ‘verse of the Empire and how all the various pieces fit together therein.
The other main character is Arihnda Pryce, again, she has appeared in other Star Wars stories but I am not familiar with them. Of all three I’d have to say that Pryce is probably the least sympathetic, or maybe that was just my interpretation? I started off thinking her story would be the most easy to understand but I don’t think we ever really get to know her too well. I can understand why she makes certain decisions, but are they more selfish and self-serving than other characters? But then again, can we really judge her for that, given where she is coming from?
Zahn seems to present Thrawn as a very neutral character. He may be working for the bad guys (the Empire) but he isn’t really ever described in evil terms, simply doing his job, very effectively and for his own reasons. Although I don’t think we ever really get to know him either. He is continually described as “other” and almost unknowable by the other characters around him.
Eli is much more of a good guy, although he too has joined the imperial navy. But for those living within the confines of the Empire is it evil? Was every British subject during the colonial days a baddie? Even if they were part of the army, or were they merely trying to live their lives as best they could. Of course they benefited from the horrors of colonialism, exploiting the wealth and resources of elsewhere raised their society up, and of course a lot of them assumed that the English way was the best and only way. So maybe we can give Eli a certain amount of leeway, but he never really thinks about his role in the Empire. And if it is such an evil thing, as is portrayed elsewhere, why doesn’t he ever question in? I know, maybe you could argue that to even consider that would be to put yourself in harms way, better to fool yourself into believing the best and pretend that you are helping by enforcing the Empire’s dictates.
In fact for a book about serving the Evil Empire there really isn’t much in the book about how the empire is perceived. Especially by those serving the powers that be. They simply do their job, the certainly don’t think of themselves as the bad guys, even if they all recognise that corruption is everywhere in the empire, that is simply thought of as part of life, and to get by you need to be able to navigate those crooked paths. Personally I would have liked just a little bit of introspection from the characters.
It is an entertaining enough read, but nothing I could really recommend as a standout novel. Maybe if I was more familiar with Thrawn from the extended universe I would’ve been more involved in his story. But as it is he left me a little cold.