Reviews: Thrawn

This is not the Thrawn you are looking for...

This troper vividly recalls reading the original Thrawn trilogy and, hearing of a new novel, eagerly pre-ordered and read it immediately. One expected a novel concerning Thrawn's recruitment into the Empire, competition with rivals, scattered setbacks, clever conquests, and his triumphant rise to the rank of Grand Admiral. This did not happen.

Yes, Thrawn is present and his career to Grand Admiral is storied, but outside of the beginning and end, the focus is on either Eli Vanto (Thrawn’s Watson) or Arihnda Pryce, whose presence seems arbitrary. Initially presented as an aspiring politician, she appears to be a foundation for some major role later on. Is she a key ally? Rival? Thrawn's political counterpart? A lover who helps the reader understand Thrawn’s mind? Instead, she exists to give Thrawn slight assistance as needed and acts as perspective character on events that seem to accomplish little.

Thrawn himself is lacking. He’s still developing his career, so one expects him to make mistakes, fail missions. He’s a stranger in a strange land, he should have setbacks due to bullying, cultural differences, and/or use foreign military tactics his troops don’t understand and can’t implement, yet instead the only battle he can’t win is one he doesn’t know he’s fighting. Life isn’t easy for him, but everything he puts his mind to, he succeeds. He’s practically a droid, the perfect Imperial Officer – loyal to a fault, capable, successful, and uninterested in politics.

Sherlock Holmes is a similar character, but Holmes wasn’t perfect - he had personality issues and was initially vexed by mysteries. Similar to Holmes, Thrawn does have his own nemesis, introduced with little more foreshadowing than the original Moriarty. Character is mentioned, revealed, and quickly dismissed.

Thrawn never fails, rarely makes an error, and is only inconvenienced by his excellence – he’s too capable and thus earns the hatred of his shipmates. Even then, prime opportunities for character development are missed. He’s given high rank early on, which he’s told is a trap – he’s expected to wear the rank and ostracize himself from his jealous fellow cadets, but the revealed trap is avoided. Why not fall victim to the trap and overcome it? He’s never angry, rarely frustrated, and barely seen. The page count seems to spend more time on Pryce than on Thrawn, likely only to make Thrawn’s moments of awesome more impressive. In short, outside of friendship with his Watson, Thrawn has no character development, no change beyond rank, and no major faults.

Perhaps it’s the nature of these novels. The original trilogy was only the first entry in the expanded universe and as such had to stand alone, this feels like it’s a supplementary novel – background for an established piece. Pryce feels like a major character in another story the reader is supposed to already know about. Perhaps the original Thrawn was simply too capable a villain or simply too hard an act to follow.