Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising was a really fun, dynamic way to kick off the Thawn Ascendancy trilogy, and it was a really exciting read that lured me in. We get all the fun, puzzle-solving strategy we expect from Thrawn while throwing us into a whole new world of Star Wars, where we get to learn more about the Unknown Regions and the people that populate them. The variety of Chiss characters we meet are really cool, and I loved getting to learn about Thrawn's culture. It's definitely a Star Wars book worth reading in my opinion, especially because while it's a look at Thrawn's past, it's getting my brain to start thinking about his future story and where it will go. It's definitely him I'm most worried about, not Ezra Bridger. Definitely.
Spoilers ahead for Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising by Timothy Zahn!
Learning about the Unknown Regions and the Chiss Ascendancy specifically is probably the most fascinating part of this novel. I really liked learning about how there is a whole other galaxy outside of the Republic and the planets we're familiar with from our other Star Wars stories, and how there's a variety of cultures with their own arts, histories, and tentative alliances with other cultures. The Chiss Ascendancy also has an interesting structure, we learn about the Nine Ruling Families, how they get inducted into different families and changing their name throughout their lives, and the politics at play between the ruling families and the Expansionary Defense Fleet, how they technically have no power but certainly have influence. It was really cool to learn about.
Another thing I enjoyed a lot was learning about Thrawn and Ara'lani's past. Not just from the main story about the novel, but through the occasional "memories" section between chapters, where we slowly piece together another series of events where Thrawn miscalculated the strategy of an enemy and resulted in the deaths of thousands. It hangs over Thrawn in this novel, as though many are impressed by his abilities, like in the Empire, others are frustrated with him and believe his strategies success comes down to luck, and aren't reliable. It's really great to follow this history in this novel, as well as learning about Ara'lani's past as she rose to the rank of admiral in the fleet, and also that she had a fairly close friendship with Thrawn for many, many years throughout both of their careers. Learning more about their bond puts parts of the first Thrawn trilogy into a new light, in a great way.
There are many, many new characters in this book, but my two favorites are Thalias and Che'ri. Thalias is an adult former sky-walker (Force-sensitive navigator for the Chiss) who's abilities faded as a preteen, and she's struggled to find purpose in life since. She met Thrawn once as a sky-walker and she remembered how he offered her advice that her life won't be over just because her ability to navigate fades (though he didn't know that's what he was offering advice on specifically). She joined the Mitth family as he did and got on his ship as a caregiver for his navigator, a young child named Che'ri. These characters have an interesting bond, as Che'ri expresses distress that her previous caregivers (who she calls momishes) didn't understand her or would leave her, but Thalias, being a former sky-walker herself, better understands and bonds with her. They grow a really close, sweet bond, and I loved seeing how they trust each other throughout the book and how much Che'ri matures.
There was also the intersection with my favorite books of the first trilogy, Thrawn: Alliances. It's a smaller part of the book, but we get to see the first meeting over comms between Thrawn and Anakin. In Alliances, Thrawn mentions his pilot who we never actually meet, but who later comes to pick him up towards the end od the book. That's the young girl Che'ri, who Thrawn taught how to fly. My favorite part of this crossover is getting Thrawn and Che'ri's initial thoughts on Anakin, and how Che'ri giggles when he can't pronounce Thrawn's full name properly. It's a funny and cute scene, and a very welcome surprise in the middle of the book.