Author: Timothy Zahn
Length: 432 pages
EE Critic Score: 8/10
Greater Good is the second book in the Thrawn: Ascendancy trilogy, author Timothy Zahn's exploration of the origins of his most famous character, Grand Admiral Thrawn. It tells of Thrawn's desperate mission to prevent a civil war in the Chiss Ascendancy from a new threat from out in the chaos at the edge of the Galaxy.
This book is both better and worse than Chaos Rising, the previous volume in Zahn’s Ascendancy Trilogy. It’s better in the sense that it has a more engaging story and interesting, mysterious antagonists. It’s worse in the sense that it has less of the character exploration and setup of the unique world of the Chaos that were the first book’s strengths.
The core of the book is the first incursions against the Chiss by the Grysks. Yes, Jixtus from the end of the last book is indeed a Grysk (although that’s kept secret for most of this book; it was widely assumed he was when he was introduced that he was, so it’s not a surprise at the end of Greater Good when he mentions the term. The “attendants” who hung around Snoke in The Last Jedi are also hanging around Jixtus, so maybe we were meant to think Jixtus was Snoke somehow? I dunno.) And I think that the Grysks are starting to live up to the hype. Where they had previously been shown as simple hostage takers, in this book they deftly manipulate Chiss culture in a way that genuinely frightens Thrawn, and the reader. For the first time, they seem to have the potential to be a Vong-level threat.
Another nice thing we see in this book is Chiss civilians, which I’m actually not sure we’ve seen at all before. It’s always been Chiss warriors or Ascendancy leadership, but here we see Chiss ranchers and Chiss birdwatchers. Yes, there’s birding in this book, and yes, the person into it is brutally murdered and dumped out of an airlock. This book’s a real rollercoaster for me in particular. But seriously, it’s always great when we can see regular people in Star Wars.
The problem, the thing that makes this book imperfect, is that the plot kind of unravels. Some plotlines come together really well, others just sort of trail off. There’s one scene wherein Ar’alani and her flagship are scouting out a planet whose native population was displaced by the Grysks, and run across the Grysks there mining rare metal (which ties into the other plotline) and she promises to “make them sorry they came here”, and then she’s just not in the book anymore. This is at the 85% mark, just before the climax kicks off, and Ar’alani’s story just cuts out. I guess we’ll find out what happens in the third book this Fall. Thurfian’s scenes especially never build to anything besides his eventual promotion to Mitth Patriarch, which, again, will probably pay off in Lesser Evil.
But besides those things, this book works well as the middle chapter. It follows from the previous volume smoothly, it points toward an interesting third book, and the story of Thrawn, et al, racing to prevent a civil war between the Chiss is more than enough to justify Greater Good in it’s own right.
A few more notes: Che’ri’s term for her caregivers, “momish”, is not used in this book. I’m not certain why. Also, long-time fans will know that Zahn likes to include food in his writings, but he tends to give them some sort of weird space name. “Tarsh maxers” and “ribenes” and the like. Well, we have a real all-timer in this book with “meat-striped fruit squares”. I have no idea what that even would be.
Recommendation & Rating
Hard-core Zahn fans will have read this already. Otherwise, even if you’re not into Star Wars books generally, I think this book might be worth a shot. Zahn has really carved out a unique part of today’s Star Wars universe, something that gives a different spin on the universe, and not relying too much, if at all, on other stories. This trilogy is both creative and accessible, and the second volume builds well on the first. I eagerly await the third, but until then, I’ll give Greater Good
8/10 — Without significant negative worth. Able to be recommended, at full price, without reservation.