Earlier this week, I finished reading the second novel in the Thrawn Ascendancy series. You can check out my thoughts on the first book here. The second book in the Ascendancy trilogy is quite the sprawling epic, I have to say! It definitely takes a more leisurely pace than the first book, and I think it does seem to suffer a little bit under its own weight.
We start the novel with Admiral Ar’alani in charge of the task force clearing out remaining Nikardun bases, alongside Senior Captains Thrawn and Lakinda. Thrawn has been tasked with a separate mission though, involving refugees on Rapacc, which brings us back to some elements from the first novel, although it seems that this is all tangled up in Thurfian’s plot to take Thrawn down. The refugees are led by the Magys, who has demanded her people join her in some ritual mass-suicide as a result of the attack on their world, but Thrawn tries to convince her otherwise, taking her to her home planet to see if the world really is beyond saving. Lakinda is asked to find Thrawn and help, but both ships come under attack at the planet, although of course Thrawn is able to ensure both Chiss ships escape unharmed. Without a clear idea of what was going on, Admiral Ar’alani takes over mapping the planet to assess the devastation while Thrawn continues his mission, which involves the Vagaari pirates.
There is a whole other plot that involves the alien Haplif and his attempts to bring down the Chiss Ascendancy for Jixtus, which is a really slow burn and is built through both present-day and Memory chapters. Haplif and his crew convince the Xodlak family they have control of a nyix mine, the metal from which the Chiss make their warship hulls. The Xodlak see this as their chance to gain more political power, and so declare a family emergency, recalling all of their personnel – including Lakinda – for the task. Things come to a head with two other families that have also had the aliens playing their con game, but Thrawn has naturally discovered the ruse and is trying to diffuse the situation. He is able to destroy the mine without the families losing face.
As I said, it was a very sprawling book, and I think it could have used a bit more space, particularly towards the end. The story seems to be fairly well balanced between the various elements, even if there seems to have been a lot of time spent with Haplif and his scheme. However, there is a significant lack of Thrawn for the middle act, and when he does re-appear, things seemed a little bit rushed, to me, to get to the end. Though interestingly, it was around the 350-page mark (the book is 410 pages long) where suddenly the light is seen at the end of the tunnel, when it all seems to coalesce and I finally understood how all the elements fit together, so maybe the crashing realisation that I came to at that point led to me feeling that!
As I said, a lot of the story seemed to involve Haplif and the Agbui scheme, including the Memories, and it did strike me as being a bit odd how the pace really seemed to slacken when compared with the first book. This shadow war is in direct contrast to the plotline with General Yiv in the first book, though, and I suppose it will by necessity feel different. It was an interesting book, I have to say, but I think there is a very different feel to the first one, and if you go into this thinking it’s going to continue the story of the first, it will feel very different.
I mentioned last time how this didn’t feel like Star Wars, and the fact this time we don’t even have a minor appearance from Anakin Skywalker to anchor it into the GFFA does seem to cut this book adrift. It feels so divorced from Star Wars as we know it, and yet it’s still a very compelling story. I find this quite fascinating, because I’m reading this as a Star Wars novel, but it hardly feels like a Star Wars novel. Does that make sense?
There is also the continuation of the plotlines about trying to take Thrawn down. Thurfian’s plot against him still feels a bit daft, but Samakro, his first officer, has more of a legitimate grievance as he was removed from command of the Springhawk to place Thrawn there. Samakro also seems to have it in for Thalias, thinking her a spy for Thurfian and he is convinced she’s going to confuse the command structure in favour of family politics, despite so much evidence to the contrary. It definitely feels like it’s there simply to provide conflict, and doesn’t really have a believable basis. But it’s a minor complaint in an otherwise really good series.