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Review: The Breaking Point Has Been Reached in Thrawn Ascendancy: Lesser Evil by Timothy Zahn

Discussion in 'SWNN News Feed' started by SWNN Probe, Dec 3, 2021.

  1. SWNN Probe

    SWNN Probe Seeker

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    Timothy Zahn brought us into the Chaos once more with the final installment of the Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy: Lesser Evil. The Chaos is a harrowing part of space home not only to the Chiss Ascendancy, but to a multitude of alien species as well. Chiss law dictates the military take a completely hands off approach to their alien neighbors. Due to the events of the preceding novels, we know the shroud of secrecy surrounding the Chiss has been unveiled. They will be forced to adapt in order to survive.

     

    Zahn expects the reader to have a firm understanding of the story coming into each novel and rarely backtracks to fill in the gaps. If you’d like to catch up or refresh your memory with a quick review of the two preceding novels you can find one on here, or click on over here for Greater Good. Lesser Evil is as thick a book as you will find in the Star Wars universe spanning nearly 600 pages so we have a lot to unpack. Let’s get to it.



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    Spoiler free version:



    For those wanting to venture on without spoilers, rest easy this portion won’t ruin anything for you. 



    Lesser Evil is a satisfying end to a trilogy which merely scratched the surface of future stories to be told out in the chaos. Similarly to Greater Good, we don’t see nearly as much of Thrawn as Chaos Rising gave us, but this possibly perceived weakness is not only a strength of the book, but a necessity. Thrawn being a sole main character can struggle to be effective especially for those of us who know him pretty well at this point. Since Thrawn is the personification of knowing everything at all times, the story would lack some ingenuity and unpredictability if we simply stuck with him through its entirety. Instead, following characters around Thrawn and creating a greater world through them is precisely the approach needed. In our hearts we know Thrawn has to figure it out somehow so the narrative being pushed from outside characters, some of which may even be a bit too brash, is a great technique by Zahn.



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    Much of the plot is centered around Jixtus causing more infighting between Chiss families in an attempt to rip the Ascendancy apart from within before launching his own armada against them. Jixtus coming out in the open to drive the plot is what we have all been waiting for, but the threat he and his people present to the Chiss still doesn’t have the desired level of potency. The shroud of secrecy around the Grysks felt pushed past the brink and unveiling a bit more of their origin and motive would have helped.



     Thankfully, we are once again given a “memories” section every few chapters and these follow Mitth’ras’safis. Reintroducing this popular character from legends lore was a wonderful way to offer some perspective on Thrawn’s younger life that forced me to ponder what a future might have looked like if things had turned out differently. They served as my favorite part of the book and I am now yearning for more Thrass stories.



    We are finally treated to the epic battle between Thrawn and Jixtus we've been frothing at the mouth for. While being difficult to follow at times due to the immense number of ships and individuals to keep up with, the grand finale still packs an appropriate punch.



    While coming in a safe third place in my Ascendancy Trilogy rankings, Lesser Evil is far away from being a disappointment. Despite feeling more like Greater Good part II than being a separate work, Lesser Evil as a concluding piece to a trilogy does its job effectively.



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    Please grab Lesser Evil and give it a whirl! Continuing on I will dive a bit deeper into the book so, if you don’t mind a few more details and even a few SPOILERS, feel free to press on.

     

    Lesser Evil picks up quite literally where Greater Good left off. The Springhawk has since left the battle at Hoxim and rather than make their way back into the Ascendancy for repairs they venture out to the unknown system of Zystek where Thrawn hopes to uncover more clues to the plot against the Ascendancy. This results in our first meeting with the Kilji Illumine, Jixtus’ new puppets. Instead of Haplif and the Agbui (RIP Haplif) he is now using a group of people called the Kilji Illumine led by Generalirius Nakirre to fulfil his plans. Those under Nakirre’s command obey his order without question as they have reached a state of “enlightenment” which you will certainly read about in plenty. Jixtus looks at the Kilji as nothing more than an expendable tool while Nakirre believes the Kilji to be destined for greater things. This battle of ideology and wills reaches a less than climactic conclusion. The breaking of the Illumine due to the arrogance of the Grysks came rather quickly and the confrontation between these two never really came.

     

    Jixtus doesn’t waste time in plotting to get the Ascendancy to destroy one another. Instead of lurking in the shadows he is doing the dirty work himself. Reaching out to leaders of several of the ruling families with a doctored video showing a battle simulation indicating an unusual alliance being formed between the Erighal, Dasklo and Xodlak. Jixtus offers this video and other “information” to ruling family leaders in addition to ships to bolster their defenses. During one of these meetings, we are introduced to Clarr family captain Roscu, or Clarr’os’culry. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more loyal member of the Clarr family. Roscu means well, but with Jixtus pulling the strings it becomes easy for her pride to get in the way. After uncovering a plot stemming deep within her own family from even the family patriarch himself, she is forced to choose between following family orders or putting her faith in people who lost her trust a long time ago.



    Our favorite little Sky-Walker is in for a rough time in this novel. Cheri is first plagued by nightmares of things that may come to pass. We later come to find out the Magys is connecting to her through her third sight. If you remember, the Magys is the leader of the people from Sunrise who has a connection to something they call The Beyond. We know the Beyond and Third Sight to be other iterations of The Force.  Because of the nightmares, Cheri begs to continue her work navigating the Springhawk and is willing to push herself to her limits. 



    However, the nightmares and visions influenced from the Magys come to take the form of something far worse. The Magys attempts to completely take over Cheri’s consciousness and force her will upon her. She claims this is the only way to prevent disaster in the upcoming battles as the two of them together can see into the future to predict the enemy’s movements. Force manipulation has always been an intriguing concept to me, but to see it played out in this way sent shivers up my spine.



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    Political schemes and plots pour over the Ascendancy like beer at a football game and as you would expect, the Miith patriarch is in the thick of it. Thurfian was less of a focal point in Greater Good, but he comes roaring back to life in Lesser Evil. Being brave enough for politics is a trait one needs to read the Ascendancy novels so I welcomed the chapters where we get away from the wars of Plasma Spheres and Breacher Missiles and get immersed in a war of words and behind the scenes deals. Thurfian was exactly who I hoped he would be in this book as he faces the dilemma many Chiss are facing: does family and power come before the Ascendancy?



    Through the lens of Thurfian we get a glimpse into how a ruling family of the Chiss is run from the top down.  His new responsibilities as Miith Patriarch force him to set aside his vendetta against Thrawn for the time being. To no one’s surprise that itch won’t stay away forever, and Thurfian is presented with his opportunity to alleviate the source of his irritancy. A gripping confrontation between him and Thalias sets the stage for the ultimate conclusion to this story.



     Thurfian’s choices mostly didn’t surprise me within this novel. Choosing a path for the betterment of all Chiss while predictably finding a way to “take down” Thrawn. Thurfian is a great secondary antagonist of sorts. He actively works against the wellbeing of our main character, but is trying to do what he ultimately thinks is right for the future of his family.



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    Our story takes a turn when Thrawn leaves the Springhawk in the command of Mid- Captain Samakro. After thwarting a Kilji attack in the Rapaac system on the Paccosh, Thrawn must join with the Paccosh in a race to Sunrise against the fleeing Kilji ships. Finding out who the Kilji are meeting and what their plans are may unfold more of the plot against the Paccosh and possibly even the Ascendancy itself.



    This leads to a pleasant surprise of getting more of Mid-Captain Samakro at the helm. With Thrawn being away from the Springhawk for much of the book it forces Samkaro into the spotlight. This dutiful officer’s relationship with Caregiver Thalias is pushed to its limits as a result of his command. The dynamic with Thalias has always been a little frosty, but they are forced to trust each other more than ever before.



    With Cheri’s ongoing nightmares and ultimately having her mind and body taken over by the Magys, Samakro’s leadership is challenged in unprecedented ways. Samakro having always thought of Thalias as a spy has been the thorn in this relationship’s side, but there comes a point when Thalias proves to Samakro she is nothing but utterly devoted to Cheri, Thrawn, the Springhawk and its crew. Samakro is the perfect first officer. Time and again he displays his loyalty to duty and honor.



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    The journey Thalias finds herself on in these three books is one which forces its way into my mind randomly throughout the day for pondering. She’s my favorite character. While she wasn’t as much of a focal point in Greater Good as I would have liked, she springs back into the fray in Lesser Evil.



    Early on, she is given a data cylinder from the senior aide to the late Miith Patriarch Thooraki. The data cylinder was put together by the Late Syndic Thrass, who is the focal point of the memory sections. Through this data cylinder she comes to uncover a dark secret of the Chiss. They have been wiping away the memories of the young children who are found to have Third Sight. They do this to take away chances of them leaving the Sky-Walker program or being distracted by memories of family and home. This painful discovery leads Thalias to none other than Thrawn’s long lost sister Borika who because of the program, has no memory of her brother. While I loved the family connection it did make the Ascendancy feel much smaller.



    Finding out Patriarch Thurfian was one of the Syndic’s who signed off on this monstrous program gives her the combination of leverage and outrage needed for her final confrontation with the leader of the Miith family. A heart stopping confrontation with Thurfian where she forces him to hear her out and help put into action Thrawn’s final plan was the only hope for the Ascendancy. It’s a gripping passage and had my heart clenching the entire time.



    As previously mentioned, this book, like its two predecessors, gives us various “memories” sections and follows the relationship of Mitth’ras’safis and Mitth’raw’nuruodo. Re-introducing Thrass into Canon (he had only been mentioned up to this point) was a surprise to be sure, but a welcome one. This was my favorite part of the book as we gained perspective on Thrawn’s younger self.  While Thrass would become one of very few to ultimately understand and truly know Thrawn, like many, he didn’t truly grasp him at first and was even a bit taken aback.



    Their relationship begins when the two of them are discussing various artwork during Thrawn’s Miith family welcoming dinner. Thrass is stunned someone could glean as much as he did from just a few minutes of observation let alone someone so young. The journey’s they would encounter together would forge a deep bond of brotherhood. The memory of most importance to our story is their discovery of Starflash.



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    Starflash is a weapon gathered by the Chiss thousands of years ago and kept secret from nearly the entire Chiss race. It could fire an incredible blast of tachyonic and lightspeed energy at a star, causing a return burst which was that much more powerful. (reminds of Starkiller Base a bit) Thrawn and Thrass discover the secrets of Starflash from the heads of the Stybla family who safeguard it. The tragic history of the weapon was revealed when Stybla Patriarch Lamiov reluctantly told the tale to the inquisitive Thrawn. Starflash doesn’t end up having the kind of impact on the present-day story you’d expect, but ultimately simply presents a symbolic way of bringing sacrifice to the Ascendancy.



    I would have loved a bit more from the memories section as I thought Thrass’s story had a less than satisfying conclusion, but I am thankful for what we did receive. A pleasant surprise was learning the backstory on how and why Thrawn received the title “odo” at the end of his name. This section not only re-introduced a character from legends many of us love, but gave more depth to Thrawn and let us see how these two Chiss became brothers.



    My favorite character introduced in the previous novel, Greater Good, was Senior Captain Lakinda. Her flare for the dramatic mixed with the right balance of brash and bold was something I loved. After accepting an offer to join the Irizi family she is now known as Irizi’in’daro, or Ziinda. Her and Admiral Ar’alani, another character I admire, play mostly supporting roles in Lesser Evil. They serve important purposes in safeguarding Chiss space and helping to undo some of the plots hatched by Jixtus, but ultimately feel more along for the ride this time.



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    As the story continues, Qilori of Uandualon, the navigator working for Jixtus, has seen himself navigating for the Kilji Illumine, taken into custody of the Chiss after a battle, and ultimately back in the “care” of Jixtus aboard a Kilji warship. At times, he represents how we the readers feel when pouring through these pages; seemingly in the know, but often in the dark. Not until the plan is suddenly laid out before him does he grasp the big picture. We find ourselves thinking we know how Thrawn is going to pull this off and then we sit back in bewilderment at how he actually does it.



    Personally, I have never been overly intrigued by Qilori’s character. His connection with The Great Presence was engaging, but mostly I never found him an enjoyable character to follow. His main task from Jixtus has been to discover the secret behind the Chiss navigating the Chaos. In the final pages he has his moment of revelation and discovers the secret, but it didn’t hit home. The humor of it was lost on me and it felt a bit underwhelming. If you enjoyed this character, I am happy for you, but he just wasn’t for me.



    I won’t dive much more into detail as the final third of the book is a wild ride you need to experience purely for yourself, but the grand finale was everything we thought it would be. This epic finale between Thrawn and Jixtus takes place over Sunrise and features another crazy hatched plan by Thrawn to not only turn the tables on the scheming Jixtus, but to eliminate him from the equation for good. While a bit convoluted, I trust you will still enjoy the fiery conclusion.



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    This was probably my least favorite of the trilogy, but in order to beat out the previous two it would have had to be truly special. Overall, it set the stage for the future stories of Thrawn while leaving us wondering how he becomes the person he is in Rebels. Lesser Evil did its job, but rather than separate itself from the previous novel, it felt more as an extension of what I just read. It’s a daring story of sacrifice interlaced with the stone-cold nature of politics. I hope you enjoy it. 


    <p style='text-align: center;']Rating: 7/10</p>


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    #1 SWNN Probe, Dec 3, 2021
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2021
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