Colleen’s Book Club: Thrawn: Alliances
Author: Timothy Zahn
Published July 2018
Set 19 BBY (past) and 2-0 BBY (present)
Genre Change for Our Guy Thrawn!
The first word that came to mind when I finished this novel was “propulsive.” Unlike the first Thrawn novel, which was more of a slow-burn political/military thriller, Alliances was a nonstop action-adventure story. I read it in about three days, reading way past bedtime. Definitely set aside time to read, because you will not want to put it down.
But Still, Familiar Faces
Like Thrawn, the book is split into character POVs. Some were expected and others surprising. The main POVs are: Anakin (CW era), Darth Vader (after the Battle of Atollon – Rebels era), PADMÉ! (CW era), Commodore Karyn Faro (Thrawn’s right hand), and Stormtrooper Commander Kimmund (Vader’s current unit commander).
I have to start with Anakin/Vader. There were two possible book covers for Alliances: Thrawn flanked by either Vader or Anakin, showing where our narrative focus will be. This book showcases how Thrawn interacts with Anakin and Vader, the differences in his approaches to both but also the similarities. Not only are there split POVs, there’s a split narrative! We get to see Anakin and Thrawn meet, which was teased in the last book, and then watch them on a present-day mission together. The Emperor delights in pitting them against each other, but he’s also playing multiple games: finding where Thrawn’s true loyalties lie, testing Vader, seeing how Thrawn and Vader work together, and finding out what’s going on in the Unknown Regions. How Anakin and Vader deal with Thrawn are the best parts. Both are exasperated by Thrawn’s cool demeanor and approach to situations, but they also see his gifted tactical mind. Anakin is more open to Thrawn, but his impulsiveness is still on display. Vader is another story. You’re left wondering for most of the book if Thrawn knows Vader was Anakin, with Vader suspicious and paranoid from the get-go. He doesn’t trust Thrawn, and old “Jedi” memories keep popping up when he least wants them to. Anakin/Vader is arguably the novel’s main character. Anakin/Vader get really cool inner monologue interpretations of Force abilities too. Watch for those moments!
Spotlight on the Imperials
I appreciated the Imperial POVs even more in this book. While I miss sweet Eli Vanto, it was fun to get Faro’s and Kimmud’s opinions on the mission. Faro is the Eli stand-in, with Thrawn going through his Sherlock machinations with her. She’s not quite as quick as Eli, but she catches on fast. Her sarcastic attitude toward Vader and his Stormtroopers is awesome. Kimmud is an unusual POV. He’s an actual competent Stormtrooper, and he runs his unit with a firm but understanding hand. He both fears Vader and is astonished by his power, and it was refreshing to get an inside view of an Imperial foot soldier.
Alas, We Don’t Know You, Thrawn
But we still don’t get a Thrawn POV! Some of his observations are in the text, but no direct POV. Upon reflecting on this authorial choice, it makes complete sense. Sherlock Holmes does NOT narrate his stories; Dr. Watson does. Zahn uses this technique well, wanting to draw the reader in, making them curious about the titular character. It’s a writer’s struggle: how can I help the reader get to know this character without giving too much away? Anakin/Vader is perfect for this, a great foil for Thrawn. Anakin and Vader, like the reader, ask continual questions of Thrawn, which he is loath to answer fully, if at all. The one character who interestingly gets under Thrawn’s icy exterior when he’s least expecting it is Padmé. She’s not afraid to call Thrawn out. She’s such a clever badass in this book!
Conclusion: Never too late to sign up for more Thrawn! 9/10 Lightsabers
My favorite parts are when Thrawn’s emotions peek through. One moment near the novel’s ending made me tear up! I’m not sure if he’s only using this as a manipulation tactic, but it’s nice to see that he has emotional layers, that he’s not a perfect robot. That would be so boring. By allowing Thrawn’s personality layers to unfold slowly, Zahn keeps the reader engaged.
Fun note: one of the main settings is Black Spire Outpost on the planet Batuu, the setting for Disney’s Galaxy’s Edge park attraction!