This is a guest post by Sean Burns, filling in for Andrew, due to Andrew being too lazy to get up and write a post himself.
Dear reader, I imagine that if you are anything like me, then you love reading books so much that you likely have a large pile of books waiting and tantalizing you from your bedside table. So you also likely have the same problem I do, the problem of occasionally seeing that pile grow to an intimidating size; however, that doesn’t stop us from coming to a blog like The Quill to Live to find fantastic new books that you want to add to that pile. Having Andrew as a friend has added so many books to my pile, it is beginning to resemble a tomb. It is, however, a glorious tomb of books that I cannot wait to read my way out of. Books of mystery, fantasy, sci-fi, non-fiction, and more fill my bed stand promising a cavalcade of eclectic adventures, but it wasn’t always so diverse. For a long while I read almost exclusively books from the Star Wars Expanded Universe, and it is all because I was sucked in by one man’s writing. Subsequently, following the theme of adding tomb-encasing levels of books, I present to you my guest post on the Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn.
As I mentioned, this series takes place in the Star Wars Universe, but don’t let that throw you off if you have been burned by ‘movie books’ before. I know there are some terrible movie/game based books out there, but Timothy Zahn is a Hugo Award winning author and he brought his A-game to the table in this trilogy. Now I should mention there was a recent de-canonizing of all the Expanded Universe books after Disney acquired the franchise, so these books *officially* didn’t happen, but they will always have happened in my heart. Zahn is known as more of a military writer, and that comes through in new and exciting characters (as well as many from the original trilogy), an intriguing interwoven plot, and plenty of action. This series takes place five years after the end of Return of the Jedi, and deals with the remains of the Empire pulling itself together under a brilliant new military leader, with plans to overthrow the New Republic that has risen out of the Rebel movement after the Emperor’s demise. And how might he do this? He enlists the aid of a mad Jedi, conscripts a planet full of assassins, employs fascinating and varied forms of espionage, and matches his own cunning battle strategy against the best the New Republic has to offer.
Book One, Heir to the Empire, brings back the heroes of original trilogy while also introducing us to a whole new cast from the fallen Empire, including Grand Admiral Thrawn, the new supreme leader of the Empire and one of my favorite villains, a brilliant strategist who can hold his temper making things far more interesting. We also meet a brand new group of rogues; smugglers to be precise. These smugglers are led by a crafty, thoughtful, and generally honorable information broker named Talon Karrde who finds himself and his team dragged slowly but inexorably into the new galactic struggle. I don’t want to get too deep into the plot of the book, but there are harrowing escapes, a search for a long lost fleet of starships, deadly space battles, clandestine meetings, military maneuvers and out-maneuvers, love stories, hate stories, varied espionage and more.. The first book transports you straight into the story without preamble, and pulls you along with the characters as they face struggles and both sets of galactic forces try to outwit each other.
Zahn brings all these characters into a story that pulls you in quickly and rarely lacks for excitement. The story balances the load of characters and plots very well, and you are regularly left with a need to start the next chapter. Zahn does a very good job of following the heroic arc that the movies also follow, and if you are a Star Wars fan you will feel right at home. If you aren’t a Star Wars fan, the characters are still very well written, with the newly introduced characters holding greater depth and complexity than most of the original trilogy heroes, especially the likes of Luke ‘Pure Light Jedi’ Skywalker. One of the most interesting sub-plots of the series follows Mara Jade, one of Karrde’s Lieutenants who has a dark past as a spy and assassin working as the ‘Hand’ of the Emperor. She struggles under the weight of her past as she tries to move on with her life, and Zahn develops her character in a way that has made Mara Jade my favorite female ‘anti-hero’ of all time. I also found myself rooting for the Grand Admiral in some chapters, and hating him in others. Zahn does a fantastic job of continuing to engender these feelings throughout the series.
The second book, Dark Force Rising, brings you deeper into contact with the new characters of this series and you get to begin to unravel the mysteries of the mad Jedi and the former Hand of the Emperor. You also get a closer look at the home planet from which the Empire is pulling its assassins, and the political ambition threatening the developing New Republic. I feel like this book is the only place the trilogy lags a little, but I was easily able to power through some of the slower chapters about political rivalries to get back to the inner workings of the clans on the planet of assassins. Furthermore, this book does a fine job continuing the excitement and high-stakes sensations, while also bringing the first book’s character arcs closer together in preparation for the finale.
The final book, The Last Command, sees the many final confrontations that Zahn has masterfully built up. His story arcs are crafted to allow the whirlwind of events to come together in a coherent manner, never using “The Force” as a deus ex machina. The characters feel realistic and vivid despite its Sci-fi setting, and come up with surprisingly clever ways to overcome the challenges the grapple with. As the book reveals the tantalizing mysteries it has been hoarding since book one, you are also treated to climactic battles in space and land, and some surprising turns as the series comes to an extremely satisfying end that left me looking for more in this universe.
In conclusion, even if you feel that books based on movies or within a movie’s universe are generally poor quality, this is a classic series that should appeal to any reader. Timothy Zahn introduces complex and interesting characters to the Star Wars universe and weaves together an impressive collection of story arcs in a satisfying finale. He introduces a multitude of new places, creatures, and ideas in an already exciting galaxy. I laughed, I raged, and I cheered throughout these books. It is frustrating that a story that shaped my early reading career is no longer canon in the Star Wars Universe, especially one that includes one of the most powerful and complex female characters in a galaxy far, far away, but the non-canon aspect doesn’t mean it is not worth a read. So if you look over at your growing stack of bedstand books with a hint of gnawing dread, what is the harm of adding another great series to the top of the pack? It might not bring you as deep into the Star Wars Expanded Universe as it did for me, but this series is definitely worth your time.
Heir to the Empire – 9
Dark Force Rising – 8
The Last Command – 10
The Thrawn Trilogy Overall – 9