Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron by Alexander Freed

Alphabet Squadron Cover

Publisher: Century (Trade Paperback – 18 June 2019)

Series: Star Wars

Length: 408 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

The Star Wars expanded universe continues to grow as Alexander Freed presents a new and exciting adventure in the Star Wars canon, Alphabet Squadron.

Following the death of the Emperor and the destruction of the second Death Star during the Battle of Endor, the Empire has fragmented. Without the Emperor’s leadership, the various Imperial commanders have devolved into infighting and are faltering in the face of opposition from the united forces of the Rebel Alliance, who have renamed themselves as the New Republic. However, pockets of Imperial power still exist throughout the galaxy, many of which have the destructive potential to fulfil the Emperor’s final order, Operation Cinder, the devastation of as many planets as possible.

Yrica Quell is a former Imperial TIE fighter pilot who deserted in the face of the Emperor’s final order. Living in exile with other Imperial deserters, Quell is recruited by Caern Adan from New Republic Intelligence to hunt down the remnants of the 204th Imperial Fighter Wing, Quell’s old unit. Known as Shadow Wing, the 204th, under the command of Colonel Nuress, has taken command of the planet of Pandem Nai, and is using it as a base to launch raids against New Republic targets.

In order to find and defeat Shadow Wing, Quell and Adan bring together a group of talented pilots who have experienced loss at the hands of the 204th pilots. Flying an assortment of starfighters and given the name of Alphabet Squadron, these pilots must learn to work together if they wish to have a chance against Shadow Wing. As Alphabet Squadron launches under the command of New Republic General Hera Syndulla, they must face not only some of the most skilled pilots in the galaxy but also some dangerous secrets from Quell’s volatile past.

Those readers who have followed my blog for a while will know that I have been really getting into the new Star Wars expanded universe in the last year. Alphabet Squadron has been high on my to-read list for a while now, and I had high hopes that this book would represent the start of an intriguing new series within the overarching Star Wars franchise. I have to say that I was in no way disappointed. Freed, who has written several Star Wars novels in the past, creates an intriguing new addition to the franchise which was a real pleasure to read.

Alphabet Squadron is set shortly after the events of the third original Star Wars film, Return of the Jedi, and focuses on the chaotic aftermath of the Rebels’ victory at Endor. In addition to that, Alphabet Squadron also crosses over with Marvel Comics’ latest Star Wars comic, TIE Fighter, which follows the exploits of the elite TIE fighter flight known as Shadow Wing. The trade paperback version of Alphabet Squadron even contains the first few pages of TIE Fighter Issue #1 in the centre of the book. The artwork in it actually looks pretty cool, and I think I will pick up a collected edition of it in the future.

This latest addition to the Star Wars universe contains an entertaining and at times emotional story that not only expands on the Star Wars universe, but which also features examinations of the horrors of war, the emotional toil of combat and characters attempting to find their place in a new reality. Alphabet Squadron is split among a huge range of perspectives, including of protagonists and antagonists, which really works to tell a complex and multifaceted story. In addition to this fantastic original story, Alphabet Squadron also features exciting starfighter combat, a new and at times darker perspective on the franchise lore and some excellent character work. There is also a lot of potential for the story to continue into additional books in the series, which I think would be good.

One of the big focuses of this book is the starfighter combat between the protagonists flying as Alphabet Squadron and the antagonists flying as Shadow Wing. The space combat in this book flies thick and fast, and there are a number of high-energy and action-packed sequences as the various starfighters engage in all sorts of combat. There are some great space fight sequences in this book, such as the protagonist fleeing from her old squadron or the continuous attacks of Shadow Wing against a New Republic cruiser and its fighter escort over a sustained period of time. Freed also does an exceptional job using multiple character perspectives to show various sides of the battle, which really helps to make these action sequences even more impressive. This all leads up to a massive final battle sequence that has some pretty epic moments and a whole lot of destruction.

One of the aspects of the focus on the starfighters that was particularly intriguing was the makeup of the titular Alphabet Squadron. Alphabet Squadron was so named because each of its five members fly a different Rebel Alliance fighter, each of which has been featured in the various movies. These include: (add photos)

Yrica Quell – X-wing. X-wings are the iconic fighter seen in most of the movies and serve as the main fighter of the Rebel fleets.

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Nath Tensent – Y-wing. Y-wings were seen in all three of the original movies and are the Rebel Alliance’s bombers.

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Wyl Lark – A-wing. A-wings have appeared in a couple of the movies and television shows and were the fastest ships in the Rebel Fleet.

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Chass na Chadic – B-wing. One of the more usual ships in the Rebel arsenal, these are slower ships with a huge amount of firepower.

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Kairos – U-wing. The Rebel Alliances troop transports. A couple of them first appeared in Rogue One and have been a feature of the Rebel Fleet ever since.

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Having all five different ships in one squadron was a really cool concept that I really liked. Not only did it give a cool name for both the book and the squadron, but it showcased the various pros and cons of the various Rebel starfighters. Having a group made up of one of each of these ships makes for some intriguing problems, as well as giving the protagonist some unique advantages. The various tactics these mixed ships can employ in battle are really interesting, and it was a great concept that Freed did a good job exploring. The focus on starship combat was a real highlight of this book, as it allowed for some extremely exciting and enjoyable scenes that really set this book apart from some other Star Wars novels.

Alphabet Squadron is an interesting new addition to the overarching Star Wars canon that ties into the movies and other additions to the expanded universe and also helps set up a new series of books. One of the main things I enjoyed about the book was that the story was set in a fascinating part of Star Wars history, immediately following the events of Return of the Jedi. During this period the Rebel Alliance is achieving victory after victory while the Empire fragmented. I found this examination of the aftermath of the original film trilogy to be extremely enjoyable, especially as the ending of Return of the Jedi always seemed to imply that the Rebels won completely and the Empire was no longer a threat. Alphabet Squadron instead shows it as a far darker period, filled with mass desertions from the Imperial Army, uncertainty and lawlessness throughout the galaxy and the devastating results of Operation Cinder. Freed does and amazing job examining this period, for example, I really liked how he highlighted the sense of victory coming of the Rebel Alliance characters and the hints of desperation and despair that the Imperial characters were feeling. Freed also does a good job examining the general feeling of weariness that both sides are feeling by this point in the extended war.

This book ties into a bunch of entries in the current Star Wars expanded universe. It is going to run side by side with the TIE Fighter comic book series, and it has links to the Star Wars: Battlefront II video game and the Star Wars Rebels television show. The whole concept of Operation Cinder was first introduced in Star Wars: Battlefront II, as the protagonists were trying to stop it. Alphabet Squadron shows more of this intriguing piece of Star Wars lore, as the main character Quell was there when Operation Cinder was undertaken at one of the planets, becoming a key motivation for her. Having not played the Battlefront games, I thought this was an incredibly interesting and dark inclusion to the overarching Star Wars story, and I really enjoyed how Freed explored it. I was particularly intrigued by the inclusion of the Sentinel droids, scary red droids that project the Emperor’s face on a screen and which were sent out after his death to deliver his final order. Not only are these droids a cool and sinister inclusion from the Battlefront game, but I find anything that could potentially explain the Emperor’s presence in the upcoming film, The Rise of Skywalker, to be extremely fascinating.

As I stated in the Waiting on Wednesday I did for this book, one of the things I was excited for was the presence of Hera Syndulla. Hera was one of the main characters in the Star Wars Rebels television show, serving as the group’s pilot and the leader of a Rebel fighter squadron. Since the end of Star Wars Rebels, Hera has had a number of small appearances in other pieces of Star Wars media, including the Star Wars comic book series and cameo mentions in the Rogue One movie. Hera was a good supporting character in this book, serving as the New Republic General overseeing Alphabet Squadron’s missions and as a confidant for several of the main characters. Fans of Rebels will love seeing more of Hera in this book, and I know I was happy to get another snapshot of this character’s history. I was slightly disappointed there were no mentions of the other surviving characters from the show, but there were probably restrictions on what the author was allowed to say about them in case of contradictions with a future show.

For this book, Freed drew together a great bunch of central characters to serve as the heart of the story and as the book’s various narrators. Each of Alphabet Squadron’s members has their own intriguing story to tell, including Yrica Quell, Alphabet Squadron’s leader. Quell is a former Imperial TIE pilot who is still haunted by the events surrounding her defection and the guilt of participating in Operation Cinder. Thanks to her status as a former Imperial, Quell is a bit of an outsider in the New Republic forces but is determined to stay and fly for them. However, her connection to Shadow Wing and certain secrets she is hiding become a major part of her character and a really intriguing central focus for this book. Quell was a good central protagonist for this book with a really cool story arc about her past and her attempts to find redemption. I also liked seeing her thoughts on the pros and cons of the various Rebel starfighters compared to the TIE Fighters she was used to flying, which really helped with the book’s focus on starfighter combat.

Alphabet Squadron also includes Nath Tensent, who acts like a bit of a rogue operator, with his own objectives and cons to run. He is recruited into Alphabet Squadron because Shadow Wing killed his entire squadron and he wants revenge. There are also Wyl Lark and Chass na Chadic, the surviving members of two squads of fighters devastated by Shadow Wing earlier in the book. Both of these characters are impacted by the recent losses of their previous squads, which affects how they act within this book. They are also somewhat antagonistic towards each other due to the guilt and anger they feel over being the sole survivors of their group. Both Wyl and Chass have their own fun personalities and unique quirks, including Chass’s love of music while she flies. The final member of the squadron is Kairos, a mysterious alien of indeterminate species who is covered in bandages. Kairos’s lack of past or connection to Shadow Wing are an intriguing anomaly within this book that I hope is explored in future books.

As an overall group, Alphabet Squadron is an intriguing bunch of characters who the reader finds themselves getting rather attached to. Each of them has their own emotional or personal damage, and it is great watching them try to redeem themselves by flying as part of this mismatched group, and each of them has a certain Rebel spirit to them. I really liked how Freed spent time looking at their various motivations for joining the Rebel Alliance in the first place, especially as they each have some interesting stories about the oppression of the Empire or inspiration from certain characters. The Squadron also has a certain everyman or outsider status to them, and I found it pretty interesting to hear their various opinions or takes on the events that happened in the movies or about Luke Skywalker’s Jedi abilities.

Freed has also included a few great characters from outside of Alphabet Squadron. For example, there is Caern Adan, the New Republic intelligence agent who recruits Quell at the start of the book. Despite being a member of the New Republic, Adan is something of an antagonistic in this book, as his obsession with finding and neutralising Shadow Wing drives him to control and manipulate members of Alphabet Squadron. Adan is accompanied by IT-O, a repurposed Imperial torture droid, who acts as a therapist for Alphabet Squadron and who provides Adan with psychological analyses of the various members of the squadron. Freed also seeks to tell the story from the perspective of the Imperials by including Colonel Nuress as a point-of-view character. Nuress, who is a character in the TIE Fighter comic book series, offers an interesting counter viewpoint into the fall of the Empire, especially as she views the Empire as more of a stabilising force than a destructive one. Her desire to rebuild the Empire and serve the will of the deceased Emperor is rather intriguing to read, and I liked how the author has included a character from the comic. While they were never specifically named, I assume that the group of highly skilled TIE fighter pilots that the protagonists faced off against where the main cast of the TIE Fighter comics, and I look forward to seeing them in any future books in this series.

Alphabet Squadron is an outstanding piece of Star Wars fiction that was an absolute blast to read. Not only has Freed created a compelling story filled with electrifying starfighter action and a great array of characters, but he has made some truly intriguing additions to the Star Wars canon. Like all pieces of the Star Wars expanded universe, Alphabet Squadron will be most enjoyed by fans of the franchise. However, I would say that readers who are not familiar with Star Wars fiction will find a lot to love in this book, and no real prior knowledge of other expanded universe entries is required to follow the exciting story. This is another amazing addition to the Star Wars canon that comes highly recommended. I am looking forward to seeing if Freed will continue the storylines he started here in any future books and I hope that Alphabet Squadron flies again.

Book Haul – 8 June 2019

It’s been a while since I’ve published a book haul, but this has been a really good week for books.  Not only have I gotten some amazing books from the publishers, but I also went out and bought a few new books and comics that I am really excited to check out. I am really looking forward to reading all of these and will hopefully reviews them soon.

War of the Bastards by Andrew Shvarts

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I have been looking forward to this book for a while now.  The second book in this trilogy, City of Bastards, ended on such an epic note and I cannot wait to see how Shvarts wraps up his series.

Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron by Alexander Freed

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The second in a batch of upcoming Star Wars books I have been looking forward to, this should be fairly epic.

The Stiehl Assassin by Terry Brooks

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The Stiehl Assassin is the third book in Brooks’ The Fall of Shannara series, which started with The Black Elfstone. This is the penultimate book before Brooks ends his iconic Shannara universe and should prove to be pretty interesting.

Commodus by Simon Turney

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This looks like a fun one. Commodus is a pretty crazy Roman Emperor and a novel focusing on his life should be very entertaining.

Girl in the Rearview Mirror by Kelsey Rae Dimberg

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Alien: Echo by Mira Grant

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This is another one that I have been keen to check out for a while.  Mira Grant is an amazing horror writer and I am interested to see how she tackles the Alien franchise.

Firefly: The Unification War – Volume 1

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Yay, new Firefly tie-in fiction. I have really enjoyed both of the recent Firefly books, Big Damn Hero and The Magnificent Nine, and this new comic series should also be really cool.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: High School is Hell

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The first volume of a new Buffy The Vampire Slayer comic book series, which is set in an alternate universe from the television show.  This looks really cool and I am very curious to see what they do with such an intriguing story premise.

Waiting on Wednesday – Upcoming Star Wars Tie-in Novels

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.

I have never made it a secret that I am a huge fan of the Star Wars extended universe, having devoured several of the books and comics in the last year.  After reviewing the first 2019 entry into the Star Wars extended universe, the young adult novel Queen’s Shadow, last week I thought this would be a good time to talk about some of the upcoming books in the franchise.  There are three Star Wars novels being released in the next four months that I am very much looking forward to.  These three novels represent a very interesting spread of stories across the Star Wars timeline, and each have some very intriguing story premises.

The first of these books is Master and Apprentice, by Claudia Gray, which is coming out in a few weeks.

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Master and Apprentice is an intriguing novel that will focus on the relationship between Qui-Gon Jinn and his young apprentice, Obi-Wan Kenobi.  While previous novels have explored Obi-Wan’s apprenticeship with Qui-Gon, none of these are considered canon anymore, so it will be interesting to see how this relationship is explored in the new extended universe.  This will be fourth Star Wars novel from Claudia Gray, who has already contributed to the current Star Wars extended universe with Lost Stars, Bloodline and Leia, Princess of Alderaan.

Goodreads Synopsis:

An unexpected offer threatens the bond between Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi as the two Jedi navigate a dangerous new planet and an uncertain future.

A Jedi must be a fearless warrior, a guardian of justice, and a scholar in the ways of the Force. But perhaps a Jedi’s most essential duty is to pass on what they have learned. Master Yoda trained Dooku; Dooku trained Qui-Gon Jinn; and now Qui-Gon has a Padawan of his own. But while Qui-Gon has faced all manner of threats and danger as a Jedi, nothing has ever scared him like the thought of failing his apprentice.

Obi-Wan Kenobi has deep respect for his Master, but struggles to understand him. Why must Qui-Gon so often disregard the laws that bind the Jedi? Why is Qui-Gon drawn to ancient Jedi prophecies instead of more practical concerns? And why wasn’t Obi-Wan told that Qui-Gon is considering an invitation to join the Jedi Council—knowing it would mean the end of their partnership? The simple answer scares him: Obi-Wan has failed his Master.

When Jedi Rael Averross, another former student of Dooku, requests their assistance with a political dispute, Jinn and Kenobi travel to the royal court of Pijal for what may be their final mission together. What should be a simple assignment quickly becomes clouded by deceit, and by visions of violent disaster that take hold in Qui-Gon’s mind. As Qui-Gon’s faith in prophecy grows, Obi-Wan’s faith in him is tested—just as a threat surfaces that will demand that Master and apprentice come together as never before, or be divided forever.

This sounds like it will have a complex and character driven plot that will really plumb the depths of this Jedi Master and apprentice relationship.  This is actually the furthest back the new extended universe books have explored, and I am quite excited to see the earlier adventures of these two iconic characters.  I am extremely curious to see how Qui-Gon Jinn is characterised in this book, and I would love to see some discussion about his relationship with Count Dooku.  Master and Apprentice sounds absolutely incredible, and I have already requested a copy.

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The second book is the ultra-exciting-sounding Alphabet Squadron by Alexander Freed.  Alphabet Squadron, which is set to be released in early June, is the first book in a new original Star Wars trilogy, featuring New Republic pilots in the post-Return of the Jedi timeline.  Freed is another established Star Wars author, having written two books in the current canon, Twilight Company and the Rogue One: A Star Wars Story novelisation, as well as a series of Star Wars comics in the now defunct extended universe.  Alphabet Squadron also has a synopsis out, although I chose to use the one I found on the Penguin Random House website as it contains a lot more detail.

Penguin Random House Synopsis:

On the verge of victory in a brutal war, five New Republic pilots transform from hunted to hunters in this epic STAR WARS adventure. Set after Return of the Jedi, Alphabet Squadron follows a unique team, each flying a different class of starfighter as they struggle to end their war once and for all.

The Emperor is dead. His final weapon has been destroyed. The Imperial Army is in disarray. In the aftermath, Yrica Quell is just one of thousands of defectors from her former cause living in a deserters’ shantytown—until she is selected to join Alphabet Squadron.

Cobbled together from an eclectic assortment of pilots and starfighters, the five members of Alphabet are tasked by New Republic general Hera Syndulla herself. Like Yrica, each is a talented pilot struggling to find their place in a changing galaxy. Their mission: to track down and destroy the mysterious Shadow Wing, a lethal force of TIE fighters exacting bloody, reckless vengeance in the twilight of their reign.

The newly formed unit embodies the heart and soul of the Rebellion: ragtag, resourceful, scrappy, and emboldened by their most audacious victory in decades. But going from underdog rebels to celebrated heroes isn’t as easy as it seems, and their inner demons threaten them as much as their enemies among the stars. The wayward warriors of Alphabet Squadron will have to learn to fly together if they want to protect the new era of peace they’ve fought so hard to achieve.

While I was always going to get this book no matter what, the moment I saw the plot summary mention of Hera Syndulla, of Star Wars Rebels fame, I knew I would move heaven and Earth to get this book.  I absolutely loved Star Wars Rebels and I am extremely keen to read anything that explores the fates of any of the characters from the show.  Aside from the presence of Hera Syndulla, there are so many other cool elements of Alphabet Squadron that make me really want to check it out.  First of all, the focus on a fighter squadron has so much potential for action and adventure, and I am anticipating a ton of awesome dog fights and wonderful examples of ship-to-ship battles in space.  I am also looking forward to the requisite training and analysis of the various flying techniques that tend to follow those sorts of stories, and a squadron made up of one of each of the Rebel Alliance’s iconic ships sounds pretty damn awesome to me.  Finally, I am excited to see the start of a whole new, original Star Wars series, focusing on a whole new bunch of characters.  While the Star Wars books that focus on the characters from the films, shows and games are really cool, it will be interesting to see an extended universe book whose plot is not as closely linked with the overarching story of the movies and televisions shows.  I have a feeling that this might be the Star Wars book I enjoy the most in 2019, and I have high hopes for it.

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The final book that I will be looking at is Treason, the third book in the Thrawn series by master of Star Wars novels, Timothy Zahn.  Treason, set to be released in July, will continue the story of one of the best villains of the Star Wars extended universe, Grand Admiral Thrawn.  Grand Admiral Thrawn was introduced in 1991’s Heir to the Empire and is one of the most iconic characters in the previous extended universe, serving as a major antagonist for several books.  Thrawn proved so popular that Disney resurrected him for their extended universe, featuring him as a villain in Star Wars Rebels.  In addition, Disney also invited Zahn to reimagine his character’s origin in 2016, with the first book in this series, Thrawn.

Goodreads Synopsis:

Grand Admiral Thrawn faces the ultimate test of his loyalty to the Empire in this epic Star Wars novel from bestselling author Timothy Zahn.

“If I were to serve the Empire, you would command my allegiance.”

Such was the promise Grand Admiral Thrawn made to Emperor Palpatine at their first meeting. Since then, Thrawn has been one of the Empire’s most effective instruments, pursuing its enemies to the very edges of the known galaxy. But as keen a weapon as Thrawn has become, the Emperor dreams of something far more destructive.

Now, as Thrawn’s TIE defender program is halted in favor of Director Krennic’s secret Death Star project, he realizes that the balance of power in the Empire is measured by more than just military acumen or tactical efficiency. Even the greatest intellect can hardly compete with the power to annihilate entire planets.

As Thrawn works to secure his place in the Imperial hierarchy, his former protégé Eli Vanto returns with a dire warning about Thrawn’s homeworld. Thrawn’s mastery of strategy must guide him through an impossible choice: duty to the Chiss Ascendancy, or fealty to the Empire he has sworn to serve. Even if the right choice means committing treason.

This should be a really interesting read, and I believe that it will be the final book in the Thrawn series.  Thrawn is an amazing character to read about, and the adventures of the Empire’s ultimate tactician are some of the best stories in the entire Star Wars universe.  I really enjoyed the second book in this series, Alliances, which saw Thrawn team up with Darth Vader, although the plot of this book sounds like it will be more closely associated with the first book in the series, Thrawn.  I have not had a chance to enjoy the first Thrawn novel yet, although I am planning to listen to it before Treason comes out.  I imagine that this book will wrap up the character’s story before his final appearance in Star Wars Rebels, and I am very intrigued to see how this story arc finishes up.  I will be interested to see Thrawn try and work against the Death Star project, and the return to his home planet has some intriguing potential as well.  Overall, this sounds like another enjoyable instalment in the Thrawn series, and I am quite looking forward to see how the author ends this series, and where he will go from here.

While I may try and get physical copies of these books, preferably before their release dates, I will be strongly tempted to seek out the audiobook versions of these books instead.  Star Wars audiobooks are something special, and I love how they utilise the franchise’s iconic sound effects and music to enhance the story and make them sound out.  I will have to see how I go, but do not be surprised if one or more of the follow up reviews to this article involve the audiobook versions of these books.

I am very excited for these next three Star Wars novels, and I know that I will love all of them.  I love how these books represent such a wide range of stories, and I think that the new Star Wars extended universe is in excellent shape.  Stand by to see what I think of these amazing sounding tie-in novels.