Saturday Star Wars: Chaos Rising (Thrawn Ascendancy #1) by Timothy Zahn — Book Review and Lingering Questions

Hullo everyone, and welcome back to Saturday Star Wars!

It has been a while, hasn’t it? Rest assured, I’m riding high on a Star Wars wave which’ll keep me pumping out regular editions of this column for a few weeks, at least!

Today, I’ll share with you an excerpt of my Chaos Rising review, which you can read in full over at the Fantasy Hive:

I hold Thrawn in such esteem because few characters signify the sci-fi elements of the Star Wars DNA better than he does. The best Thrawn stories, I have always held, are strong enough that they would thrive in a setting different from the Star Wars one. If you were to crop all the important plot points and characters, and only have to do some fine-tuning to make of a franchise novel something unique and original, could you do it? When it comes to most Thrawn books, the answer is a resounding yes. (With the exception of Thrawn: Alliances, that is, which incidentally is the weakest of Zahn’s Chiss-centred works.) These novels are enhanced by being in the Star Wars universe, not dependent on it.

Chaos Rising is a return to form for Zahn. The first in three novels which chronicle Thrawn’s ascendance in his native Chiss Ascendancy (you didn’t think I would resist, did you?), this does exactly what you want a Star Wars novel to do after the horrible dog’s breakfast** that was the sequel trilogy. It expands the fricking universe in ways that are beyond engaging, while offering a whole new look at our title character. One character I was crazy about in the Thrawn: Treason novel makes her return here – Admiral Ar’alani, whose personal history with Senior Captain Thrawn goes far deeper than I dared hope. She’s one of the main PoV characters in this one, and the novel is all the better for every sentence spent through her perspective; Ar’alani is almost a foil to Thrawn in some ways. Though incapable of seeing what he sees (Thrawn is a tactical genius, capable of understanding both the strategy and tactics of other species by studying their art and philosophy), Ar’alani excels at seeing through the minefield that is Ascendancy politics, and her own insights into military matters are no small thing. Through an unlikely friendship with the more junior officer, Ar’Alani proves an invaluable ally in the political machinations taking place against Thrawn.

One of the consistent points of Thrawn’s characterization across thirty years of books, comics and even animation has been his inability to process the world of political intrigue. In Chaos Rising, there’s no end to the Chiss’ blunders. Add to that the complex hierarchical order of the Ascendancy, with its nine ruling families plotting and conniving against each other for greater power, and you will begin to see how great a blind spot Thrawn’s political ineptitude is.

To read the full piece, click on the link above!

Right, with all this wonderful praise in mind, I’ve a mind to ask several questions. Some spoilers below, read at your own peril! Here’s what I want to learn in the next book:

  • Who guided Yiv the Benevolent? The very last scene at the end of Chaos Rising offers us a name, but what’s behind that name? Is this an agent of the power that has the Chiss Ascendancy desperate enough to fake Thrawn’s exile?
  • Is that exile faked? Timothy Zahn confirmed as much in 2017’s Thrawn, but could it be that this might be retconned, or that it was a lie told by Thrawn to close the gap between him and his foe in that piece, Nightswan? With the political clime against the senior captain the way it is within the Ascendancy, that is a distinct possibility.
  • How far is Thalias going to enter into the politics of the Mitth family, to keep the politically inept Thrawn safe? One of the finest scenes in the book showcased her conversing with the ailing Patriarch of the Mitth, and his revelations about Thrawn will doubtless place her in the thick of family politics. This leads me to my next question…
  • What will be the repercussions for Thrawn? Though he has succeeded with flying colours, the Chiss are staunch isolationists, loath to strike against someone without provocation. Yes, Thrawn managed to skirt through the lines and succeeded in what was necessary — but he was told there would be consequences, and I don’t doubt they will cost him.
  • And my last but most important question: Did Ar’alani and Thrawn bone? When she made commodore, a rather suggestive few lines hinted towards the possibility.

Those are the leading questions — when I return to them a year from now, I do hope I’ll have answers to all of these. Until then…

Join me over the next three weekends as I review Volumes 5, 6, and 7 of the Doctor Aphra graphic novel! That sounds exciting – it’s exciting, isn’t it?

Pawn (Sibyl’s War #1) by Timothy Zahn — Book Review — The Fantasy Hive

Blurb: Nicole Lee’s life is going nowhere. No family, no money, and stuck in a relationship with a thug named Bungie. But, after one of Bungie’s “deals” goes south, he and Nicole are whisked away by a mysterious moth-like humanoid to a strange ship called the Fyrantha. Once aboard, life on the ship seems too good […]

Pawn (Sibyl’s War #1) by Timothy Zahn — Book Review — The Fantasy Hive

Six Excellent Sci-Fi Novels I read in 2019

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

First of all, look at that cover art. Look at it. It’s breathtaking. It creates within you certain expectations, of majesty and power and Empire, of two cultures clashing with one another, of two individuals removed from all others for entirely different reasons. It sets up a confrontation, too, a central notion of otherness; it is, in a word, one of the finest sci-fi covers I have ever seen.

The book itself?

A Memory Called Empire is a celebration of masterful worldbuilding and cerebral storytelling, the story of exciting political intrigue and murder, of civilization and the other. All these vastly differing aspects are threaded seamlessly into one, a narrative that enfolds steadily at first, turning ever more unpredictable and complex as the story progresses.

The reader will find the culture and society of the Teixcalaanli Empire both familiar and alien; while individuals are driven by passions that will be familiar to any of us, the culture is ruled by an obsession with the past and the recreating of it. One of the tools in the recreation of the Teixcalaanli’s past is poetry, which plays a unique role in the Empire, from politics to its every other social aspect. Whether criticizing authority or in defense of it, poets have influence enough over the citizens of the Empire to force them onto the streets; the role of poets reminded me of what Percy Bysshe Shelley described as “…legislators of the world” in his essay, “A Defence of Poetry.”

This is but a part of my full review of the novel. A Memory Called Empire is my favourite sci-fi novel of 2019, and second only to The Word for World is Forest in terms of blowing my sci-fi mind with the sheer scope of its ideas.

Starsight by Brandon Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson, why you gotta be so good?!

Spensa returns in this character-driven adventure, forced into a situation wholly outside her experience. As a result, Starsight is an exploration of the other, and a way to reconcile with it. It is a story of fear, of facing that fear and growing stronger for the staring down of it. It is a tale of friendship, loyalty and sacrifice. And it is beautiful.

You can read my full review of it here.

The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin

The 2010s took Ursula K. Le Guin from us at the venerable age of 88; as I find my way through her works, I realise more and more that hers was an extraordinary loss, one that will leave a void in the SFF community. Her humanity, humility, wry humour and wisdom, her ideas – they humble you. They make you a whole lot more human, they change and transform you. It’s a scary thing – you can sit down, thinking you know yourself, then open up a book by Ursula K. Le Guin and suddenly, you’re not so sure. Something, a process, a shift has taken you away from yourself and you are new, you are different, and that is scary. Scary as all hell. But also special.

Here is a work of speculative fiction worthy of the “Masterworks” label. The Word for World is Forest  has plenty of meat on the bone despite the short number of pages its text occupies. It’s thematically rich, a novel of memorable ideas and characters both. Le Guin problematises the ethic of exploitation in her signature style, poignant and deeply thoughtful.

“…it was becoming clear that the ethic which approved the defoliation of forests and grainlands and the murder of non-combatants in the name of “peace” was only a corollary of the ethic which permits the despoliation of natural resources for private profit or the GNP, and the murder of the creatures of the Earth in the name of “man”. The victory of the ethic of exploitation, in all societies, seemed as inevitable as it was disastrous.” (from Le Guin’s Introduction).

This realisation is the initial push that gave birth to The Word for World is Forest. The theme of exploitation is joined by the equally relevant subject of colonialism: our very own human race, now travelling along the stars, has promulgated across different planets; central for The Word is the so-called world of “New Tahiti,” dominated by oceans and lush green forests, where a little over two thousand men are working to deforest the world one island at a time, in order to sate the unquenchable thirst of an Earth that has exhausted all its natural resources of wood.

My full review for it is here.

Shadow and Claw by Gene Wolfe

What is this madness, and what right does it have to be so damnably good?

This is the first half of Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun, one of the most complex sci-fi novels ever written – at least that seems to be the prevailing opinion. It’s complex and not a quick read, and it takes an emotional toll. But there’s something about this world, this Urth awaiting the birth of its New Sun, that is nothing short of transcedental. It treads the line between sci-fi and postmodernism, playing around with time and voice and philosophy, and it’s unnervingly complex.

Well-worth the read, though, for everything the torturer Severian goes through. And possibly the re-read. I’m slowly making my way through the remaining two novels – you can expect my review/essay/manifesto on the series later this year.

11/22/63 by Stephen King

Stephen King writes a time-travelling thriller about an English college teacher’s attempt to . Is it as sci-fi as anything else on the list? Likely as not. But is it as good as anything else on the list? Yes, yes it is. You want to read more about it? Here you go!

Thrawn: Treason by Timothy Zahn

Despite the extremely divisive nature of The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker, we live in a golden age of Star Wars for fans of the franchise. Not since Zahn’s original trilogy and the Knights of the Old Republic games has there been such a sheer amount of excellent expanded universe content; comics, novels, even audio dramas (though, I hear, the Dooku audiodrama of last year wasn’t quite as good as most would’ve liked). Leading the

Thrawn: Treason is but the latest of Zahn’s New Canon novels and it does an excellent work of playing to the blue-skinned tactical genius’ strengths. Though it was really cool to see him match wits with Darth Vader in 2018’s Thrawn: Allegiances, that novel had a number of issues – Treason corrects the course in a satisfying way and digs deeper into the divided loyalties Thrawn has to the Empire and to his own Chiss Ascendancy. It’s really good, good enough to be on this list.

You can read my full review here.

Honorable Mentions:

Master and Apprentice by Claudia Grey – another Star Wars book, quite excellent; as it’s centered on Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn’s relationship, it’s a lot more fantasy than sci-fi because…Jedi. It’s really good, though, you’re welcome to read my review of it if you enjoy that.

I also listened to nine Horus Heresy novels! Some were entertaining, some weren’t, none of them are really all that great. Except for Fulgrim, which is absolute nonsense but in the best way possible. Or the worst way. Can’t quite tell.

For the Emperor…?

Evil Revenge Of The Sith GIF by Star Wars - Find & Share on GIPHY

August in Review: Sharp Ends, Blunted Keyboard Keys and Loads of Reviews!

Another month has passed, and with it I’ve grown a year older! Gasp, Filips age! I was shocked when I found out and I bet you are, too! At any rate, I had

I reviewed some fantastic books!

I read and reviewed a number of wonderful books. Let’s run down the list:

Wrath of Empire (Gods of Blood and Powder #2) by Brian McClellan

I missed my train station.
Brian McClellan’s Sins of Empire was among the finest novels published in 2017. I came to it blind, not having read Brian’s first Powder Mage trilogy, unfamiliar with a world that, soon enough would come to be one of the most treasured fictional realms I’ve ever resided in. I recall opening Sins of Empire up for the first time, on a train from Milano to Monza where I was living in March 2017. I’d bought the book on something of a whim, after glancing through a review on the r/fantasy subreddit. It’s a short trip, from Milano to Monza, barely twenty minutes.
And I missed my train station.
That’s the sort of magic Brian McClellan works into his writing. You forget everything but the page you’re on, and then there’s the next one, and the next one, and the one after that. His Powder Mage work is escapism at its finest, and it’s enchanting and addictive.

This was a wild read, and I wrote a review I was very happy with. Adding to that, to my utter amazement, the thread I made on reddit blew up! Even author Brian McClellan took notice and stopped by! One of the blogging highlights of August, even this whole year.

The Last Wish (The Witcher, #0.5) by Andrzej Sapkowski

I had a lot of fun with this anthology. It’s a retelling of some of my favourite fairy tales with one of my favourite gaming protagonists in recent times:

Ah, Geralt of Rivia, how I love thee. With the CDProjekt Red games behind us and the Netflix show soon to come, now is the best time to finally acquaint myself with Andrzej Sapkowski’s signature works.
 The Last Wish is an anthology chronicling six of the Witcher’s adventures, a seventh one interspersed between them. These are good stories, one and all – though a few are not without issues. Most of them are based on familiar fairy tales – “A Grain of Truth” incorporates many of the elements of Beauty and the Beast, while “The Lesser Evil” borrows from Snow White – offering a few different interpretations of that tale, in fact, each one darker than the last. Even those not directly based on existing material borrow from folklore; so, for example, the eponymous story, “The Last Wish” begins with the discovery of a djinn. That is, with the sole exception of “The Voice of Reason,” which, as the connecting tissue between all these other stories, is wholly the author’s own.

The full review is over on booknest.eu.

Thrawn: Treason by Timothy Zahn

Timothy Zahn. Man, that’s probably the first author whose work got me into sci-fi, however tangential Star Wars is to proper science fiction! For the full review, click here; and if you want a taste, read on:

This novel is a return to form for Zahn after last year’s Alliances. Not that I didn’t enjoy that – but where that book suffered over a few issues, the chief of which were underwhelming (for the most parts) sections during the Clone Wars. Treason works because it goes back to the basics element that make the Grand Admiral so compelling – he’s a brilliant tactician who studies his enemies through a variety of methods and then dismantles them one piece at a time, using not brute force but their own weaknesses against them. We never see the Chiss Admiral’s inner thoughts – even when we spend some time in his head, what we get is how he perceives the world, as an observer; impartial, almost. Analytical, disciplined and entirely too alien.

Sharp Ends by Joe Abercrombie 

I love Abercrombie. So much, in fact, that I wrote a 2250 word review of this brilliant anthology! Here’s a review of one of the short stories within:

The Fool Jobs

Curnden Craw is among the last straight arrows in all the North. This, I learned reading The Heroes. However, you don’t actually need to have read that novel to have a grand old time with this. It’d work well enough as an introduction to Craw’s crew, even if you haven’t had the pleasure; this, for example, is the first time Craw himself sees Whirrun of Bligh in action. To those unfamiliar with Whirrun, think, ‘barbarian, possibly insane, with the father of all two-handed swords in his hands, crazy funny’. Craw’s Dozen is chock-full of memorable characters, several of whom different from those familiar from The Heroes.

Something else I loved was the irreverent take on sorcery – it’s signature Abercrombie and like the rest of the story, it’s chock-full of laugh-out-loud moments.

Wonderful, Craw’s Second-in-Command, is as wonderful as her name implies – and damn quotable, too:
‘…Don’t get too comfortable, though, eh? If the rest of us come to grief these Fox fuckers’ll track you down before our blood’s dry and more’n likely cut your fruits off.’
Raubin’s sigh rattled to a quick stop.
‘Cut your head off,’ whispered Never, eyes all scary-wide.
‘Pull your guts out and cook ‘em,’ growled Jolly Yon.
‘Skin your face off and wear it as a mask,’ rumbled Brack.
‘Use your cock for a spoon,’ said Wonderful.
They all thought about that for a moment.

I don’t know, maybe I’m just crude as sin but this exchange between the band of bloodied warriors and the cowardly courier bringing them their orders had me cracking.

Soul Music by Terry Pratchett

A really fun Discworld novel, even if I didn’t enjoy this particular B-plot as much as some of the others in previous novels. For my full verdict, click here:

The star of this book is Susan sto Hellit, the granndaughter of ol’ bonebag himself. Susan, an orphaned girl in an all-girls school, is called to the greatest Duty ever — to fulfill the shoes of her grandfather, of whom she remembers next to nothing. Susan is sixteen, and taught to trust the ways of logic — a ludicrous enough preposition in the Discworld, but what can you do, education ruins young people nowadays, wrote the 23-year old. When she’s forced to take on her grandfather’s mantle as the personification of Death, Susan who is now mid-way between an abstract concept and a human being (difficult preposition, as I well know, being on the crossroads myself), she rebels at the unfairness of it all, the terrible cruelty of senseless death.
Meanwhile, in good old Ankh-Morpork, Imp y Celyn is a lute player from Quirm, a young lad come to search for the greatest city on the Discworld. Pity him, finding Ankh-Morpork instead but what can you do — sometimes, the trouble finds you. What trouble is, in this case, is a guitar with music in it. And not just any music, but music with rocks in which is to say, rock music. And the Discworld is far, far away from ready for such a thing. Music is a rhythm, the rhythm of life, of all the universe — and an overwhelming one, at that, the sort of force that’s bound to stir up human hearts and minds. And it does, oh how it does.

The Sword of Kaigen by M. L. Wang

…Which apparently has more than 16 THOUSAND hits! What?! Here it is!

I’ve found my favourite standalone fantasy novel of 2019.
I always have difficulty speaking about the fantasy books that win me over as completely as The Sword of Kaigen has. When you come across greatness, your first instinct is to fall silent.  But damn it all if I’m a slave to my instincts! I’ll talk about M. L. Wang’s latest novel, hell, I’ll scream about it from the rooftops if that’ll get anyone to listen!
Before the screaming begins, here’s what you need to know: this is a fantasy novel inspired by Japanese warrior culture with modern-day elements which are more often talked about than seen – satellites, planes, info-com devices and broadcasting towers, to name a few. The magic system is elemental, reminiscent of Avatar: The Last Airbender but with the added benefit of being aimed at adults and not constrained by a PG rating*.

I read some great articles, essays and blog posts

I spoke at length about these here and here, and you should, too! I regret not having the time to write more posts like these over the last few weeks — I haven’t really read too many articles, I’ve prioritised indies and audiobooks lately.

And still more reviews, these ones tiny, tiny, tiny!

I spoke about The Sword in the Stone by T. H. White, Of Mice and Men, and Marx the Humanist, all in one succinct post. I really enjoy writing tinier reviews sometimes — the big ones demand hours of concentration and in-depth study and mini-reviews allow me to speak about books with frank brevity, which is a different kind of fun altogether.

What’s Next?

I’ve got quite a few really fun reads ahead of me — Red Country and A Little Hatred by Abercrombie, The Dragon Republic by the brilliant Rebecca F. Kuang, as well as the excellent Star Wars: Master & Apprentice by Claudia Gray ; God of Gnomes , Wrath of Storms by Steven McKinnon, and eventually, as soon as I’m done with Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun in full, I’ll talk plenty about that, most likely in October. There are yet more indies I would like to cover — time will tell when I’ll get to Banebringer‘s prequel, Sweetblade by the wonderfully talented Carol A. Park. And many, many more.

On the graphic novel front, I finished Monstress Vol. 03: Haven by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda, as well as Wic/Div: Year Three by Kieron and McKelvie and will eventually talk about them too, right over here on the Reliquary.

Oh, and lest I forget, I’m part of a book tour on September 11! Looking forward to telling you all about this month’s victim A Different Time!

Thrawn: Treason by Timothy Zahn – Book Review (Excerpt)

Another day, another book review written and accounted for! I had a wonderful time writing about Treason and an even better time listening to the audiobook by Marc Thompson. The review, as most reviews I write nowadays, can be found in full over at booknest.eu. The most important highlights, if you’d rather take a glance at something shorter, can be found below:

Politics in the Galactic Empire is nasty, ugly business. Thrawn is drawn into the situation – a simple week-long bet between Thrawn and Director Krennic (of Rogue One fame) to exterminate a surge of mynocks, the energy cable-chewing vermin seen in The Empire Strikes Back by Grand Moff Tarkin as an instrument to humiliate Director Krennic and ultimately fulfill the Moff’s own ambition of wrestling control of Project Stardust away from Krennic. The Death Star’s chief visionary is hardly going to take that, of course – so he not only offers a near-impossible bet to Thrawn but also demands the Admiral’s actions be subjected to the scrutiny of an observer – enter Assistant Director Ronan, no impartial judge by any measure. One of Krennic’s right-hand men, Ronan is…not particularly likable. He’s a skilled bureaucrat whose trust and belief in the Director seems to amount to religious fervor. Ronan sees the Emperor as a sniveling old dolt, Tarkin as a politicking megalomaniac and Lord Vader as a cold-blooded commander who rules through fear and allows no dissension in the ranks.

Thrawn: Treason is a return to form for Zahn after last year’s Alliances. Not that I didn’t enjoy that – but where that book suffered over a few issues, the chief of which were underwhelming (for the most parts) sections during the Clone Wars. Treason works because it goes back to the basics element that make the Grand Admiral so compelling – he’s a brilliant tactician who studies his enemies through a variety of methods and then dismantles them one piece at a time, using not brute force but their own weaknesses against them. We never see the Chiss Admiral’s inner thoughts – even when we spend some time in his head, what we get is how he perceives the world, as an observer; impartial, almost. Analytical, disciplined and entirely too alien.

 Commodore Farro, who was among the strongest elements of Alliances, continues to shine just as Eli Vanto did in the first Thrawn(2017) novel or Captain Gilad Pellaeon from the original Hand of the Empire trilogy. The dynamic is true and tested for Thrawn and for good reason – like many brilliant minds, he too seems to enjoy bouncing ideas off others of talent, and to cultivate the innate talent in officers who might benefit from a non-standard mentorship more than just your run-of-the-mill Imperial academy approach.

This novel ends on a note that promises an interesting set of new challenges for the character of Grand Admiral Thrawn, if Zahn is given yet more opportunities to continue chronicling his service to the Empire – and who knows, perhaps what happens beyond it – I believe he’s in the perfect position to thread new ground not only for Thrawn but for the wider Star Wars universe as a whole.