Max digs into Alexander Freed‘s new Alphabet Squadron novel
When I first read Alexander Freed’s Alphabet Squadron; the first book in this series, I felt it was a nice nod to the X-Wing novels of Legends. However, I didn’t feel that it was an acceptable substitution. However, the sequel, Shadow Fall; exceeded my expectations. It starts off with a space battle, and if you are a junkie for space fights – this book is for you.
Star Wars: Shadow Fall | By Alexander Freed
One of the cool things about this tale is they are fighting for the Ceberon system and the planets that support life do not revolve around a star. Cerebon is instead a massive black hole, and Freed did his homework, as a black hole gives off enough heat for planets to support life, (at least its been theorized to). Troithe is the main world focused on and it’s kind of a Coruscant wannabe. The narrative switches between the good guys and bad guys very seamlessly and I quickly took a liking to Yrica Quell; arguably the main character of the novel. Yrica is responsible for Operation: Cinder, a contingency destruction plan that was implemented in the aftermath of Palpatine’s death.
Okay, when I say responsible; I mean she did nothing to stop it and carried out the orders to destroy Narconis. She is blackmailed by Caern Adan, a New Republic agent who knows her secret. In the midst of all this, Hera Syndulla leads a campaign to seize the system and lure the infamous Shadow Wing TIE Squadron out of hiding. These guys are the real deal and the first depiction of fully skilled Imperial pilots. They fought to a stalemate in the last book and escaped, and are led by Colonel Soran Keize; ace pilot and mentor of Yrica Quell when she was part of Shadow Wing. Everyone in this book was extremely interesting, from the mysterious U-wing pilot Kairos to the interrogator droid-turned-therapist, IT-0.
Fighting for the New Republic, Caern Adan is captured; the agent who knows Yrica’s secret; and the secret is unfortunately revealed. Many are horrified, and the music and alcohol loving Theelian pilot Chass wants her dead. Not a great way to start off your new life. The book references Darth Vader, Kanan Jarrus (indirectly), and Luke Skywalker, and although the references are short; they really convey a sense of how removed these people are from “historical” figures. Personally, I find it very fascinating about the character perception of Vader. They say, he killed his own people out of frustration early in the Empire, but “matured” as time went on and waited for his subordinates to make mistakes before killing them.
Another thing that caught my eye is that droid piloting A.I. is inferior to organic pilots, and while it doesn’t make sense; I liked that it was at least referenced. Perhaps piloting is one of those jobs that A.I. can’t replace. Chass is a great character, as well as the “two commanders”, Wyll Lark and Nath Tensent. Chass is passionate and tough while Wyll and Nath are good friends with great military chops. The ensemble of characters is really well written, as I said, and each of them has their own form of catharsis during the events of the story. The battle goes sideways, and the New Republic and Imperial forces find themselves stranded on Troithe and Part 2 of the book is basically them trying to get off-world. Shadow Wing needs a ship with a hyperdrive and the New Republic forces to become Rebels again, trying to gather meager resources to fight overwhelming odds. Meanwhile, Yrica and Adan are injured on a moon that is being sucked into the Cerebran black hole. Yrica learns a lot from her companion, Adan whose final mantra of “keep moving forwards” allows her to come to terms with all the bad decisions she’s made in her life. The “Rebels” return to guerilla warfare as they try to use tricks and strategy to outmaneuver Shadow Wing. Shadow Wing is nigh undefeatable and they hunker down in a mega facility in the mountains. The “Rebels” try to penetrate this facility by foot and by air and fight harder than any military force in any military battle I’ve ever read. Throughout all this, they are admirably very strong when it comes to death, and while they mourn their fallen comrades; they never falter with grief. This is the brutal reality of war and Freed conveys it expertly. Even the “bad guy” Soran cares about his men. Very rare for an Imperial.
One of the most resonating parts of the book was how the New Republic’s ugly side was addressed. Even though, they aren’t xenophobic like the Empire; most “death squads” are exclusively human in the military hierarchy. Also, the existence of prison camps on both sides really paints the grim picture of how ALL governments engage in cruelty.There is also a strange faction in the book; a religious cult called Children of the Empty Sun. They believe in the Force (even though none of them display any Force sensitivity) and play a major role in Chass’s story arc. They represent religion at its best and worst. They provide care for all those who join but also engage in passive-aggressive tactics and hypocrisy. I feel Freed nailed organized religion so beautifully, and really balanced the science and mystical aspects of Star Wars into a delightful mix. Yrica’s ac was my favorite by far, but I also so enjoyed the others as well and couldn’t put this book down for a second. The ending was very surprising and really put all the pieces together. The amount of time spent fighting WAR, and sailing around a STAR (or black hole) is perfect for the fans and does not leave a single moment wasted. Hats off to Alexander for delivering this epic war story and it receives an A+. A sensational read!
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Max Nocerino is a new addition to the Future of the Force roster. He is a passionate Star Wars fan and loves the literature of the galaxy far, far away. Follow him on Twitter @MaxN2100 where he channels his passion frequently!