I’m going to come right out and admit that this is a difficult review to write. Not because I didn’t love what I read, but because I was so hyped up for this going into it that it’s hard to separate that hype from how I objectively feel about this story.
All that said, I thoroughly enjoyed Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising. I don’t know that I loved it just yet, but I will chalk that up to the fact that it is very heavy on details and events, along with the fact that there is very little here we know about going into the book. This is brand new Star Wars territory. That in itself is supremely exciting, but be prepared that all that Star Wars knowledge you have going into this means next to nothing. That’s in no way a complaint, just a fact.
Spoiler Warning: As this novel has been on shelves for a month at this point, I will not shy away from spoilers in this review. While I do not plan to give away the entire story, please read further at your own risk if you haven’t read this novel yet.
Let’s jump into the meat of the review.
Like I said before, this is totally new territory for Star Wars. For the first time, we get to really dive into the practices, beliefs, and inner-workings of the Chiss people and culture. We learn everything from how their families are structured to what their names mean. We learn how they interact with other species that live in what we have known to this point as the Unknown Regions (known as the Chaos to the Chiss). The looks at the family structures and culture really start to feel almost fantasy-like in parts. I was constantly reminded of another trilogy from another of my favorite authors, The Dark Elf trilogy by R.A. Salvatore. If you have read those books, you may know what I’m talking about. Basically, the family structure for the Chiss is not just blood-born members of the family. Part of it is almost like a job, or being accepted into a military regiment. And once you’re in there, politics reign supreme, and stepping out of line or causing the family shame is a quick route to being out of a family.
We also get a deeper look into how the Chiss navigate the difficult space of the Chaos. We’ve heard mention of how the residents of our side of the galaxy have a terrible time flying through the Unknown Regions because of how chaotic the space there is. Previously, in Thrawn Alliances, we found out that young female Chiss have a connection to the Force, and they are able to use this connection to navigate. In this book, we find out the Chiss call these children “sky-walkers” – a name that can’t be mere coincidence (as they call it in the novel for a reason I’ll get into later).
But this book is really about the early days of everyone’s favorite Chiss, Mitth’raw’nuruodo. The way Zahn tells this story is really quite smart. Not only do we have the normal chapters that tell the current story about the Chiss’s struggle with the Nikardun (an opposing species that reside in the Chaos) and their leader Yiv the Benevolent (who turns out to be our main villain), but we get sections called Memories that are interspersed throughout the book. Memories are formatted differently than regular chapers, with a different font, different page layout, and the absence of page numbers. These respites in the main story basically serve to tell us about relevant backstory as Thrawn is rising through the ranks of the Chiss and his own family, the Mitth. Other novels have handled this in the past by having larger chunks of narrative in the story itself. This gives you a bit of a break from the current story to tell you another relevant story. It’s quite a fun way to tell this story.
As I mentioned before, the name “sky-walker” is used in this novel, but not in the way we are used to it. And then, in one chapter, it was used in the way we are used to it. Beyond a doubt, my favorite part of this novel was where we brush right up against the events of Thrawn Alliances. I was absolutley not expecting this but my favorite scene from that novel made an appearance here as well, except this time we are seeing Thrawn’s meeting with Anakin from Thrawn’s side of things. I thought this was an ingenious use of that event. Was it fan-service? Maybe. But as I’ve said before, I’m kind of here for fan service. I love these types of connections and I about jumped out of my seat when I figured out what I was reading. Bravo, Mr. Zahn! Bravo!
I would be remiss here if I didn’t mention a couple physical aspects of this book that I also adored. The first, and probably the less exciting of the two, was that we (finally!) got a dramatis personae again! That’s probably a geeky thing to be excited for, but it’s something I’ve sorely missed from the EU novels and something that really helped keep some things straight in this brand new world. The second, and the thing that made me buy this in physical form, are those beautiful blue pages. Yep, in honor of our favorite blue-skinned character, the first printing of this book had wonderful blue-trimmed pages. It actually makes me want to display this on my shelf backwards so I don’t hide my favorite physical feature of any Star Wars book ever.
In summary, I think this was a great start to this new trilogy of Thrawn stories. I will always be excited to have Timothy Zahn bringing new entries featuring this titular character, and this was really no exception. I did mention earlier that this felt a little difficult at times, but I think if you are prepared for something absolutely brand new, you’ll have a lot of fun. This feels almost more like Star Trek at times, going new places we haven’t gone before. But that’s really the fun of it.
Have you read Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising yet? What did you think? If you haven’t, are you planning on picking it up? Let us know in the comments below or on our socials!