Today’s review is a little different, or the content is anyway. Where in earlier reviews, I would refer back to the movies, today I will be referring primarily back to a video game. I am talking, as you may have guessed by the title, about Battlefront II (2017). This book also marks a shift for me in my rereads. Before, if I changed my opinion on a book, it went from “that was ok I guess” to “wow I loved it”.
But this time? I went from not liking the book AT ALL to it becoming one of my top Star Wars books. All from the added context of having played the video game.
Before we get started, today’s organization in WaterFirst, a Canadian NGO whose mission is to bring clean water and sustainable water solutions to First Nations communities in Northern Ontario. Yesterday was Canada Day, and in acknowledgement of the fact that this country (which I love very much) has to do way WAY better by our First Nations population, I made a donation to the organization. I found it a constructive way to mark the occasion!
When I read this book the first time, before I had ever played the video game, I’ll be honest, I didn’t enjoy it very much. I didn’t much care who these people were and that, for some reason, made the whole plot hard to keep track of. I imagine it’s much like trying to read Lords of the Sith, but you haven’t seen any Star Wars movie after A New Hope. I remembered virtually nothing about this book except the premise. But while we’ve been stuck at home I decided to give the game a try, and I absolutely loved it. I am deeply attached to this video game, and it’s not just because it’s the first game I ever beat by myself (it’s partially about that). So with that in mind: Battlefront II: Inferno Squad by Christie Golden.
*Spoilers Below for both the book and the game*
The book serves as an origin story for Inferno Squad, an elite Imperial special ops team made up of Iden Versio, Gideon Hask, Del Meeko, and Seyn Marana. The first three appear in the video game. Seyn does not. Make of that what you will.
They are assembled by Iden’s father, Admiral Versio, after the destruction of the Death Star. The Rebel Alliance striking such a blow has the entire Empire rattled. Inferno Squad’s larger goal is to retaliate against the Alliance. However, their first big task is tangential to their goal: eliminate the remainder of Saw Guerrera’s partisans.
The partisans, Saw Guerrera’s radical offshoot of the Rebel Alliance is a group we’ve seen before. They appeared in Rogue One, in the TV shows, and even in Rebel Rising, which I’ve reviewed as part of this series. After Saw’s death on Jedha, the remainder of his partisans are scattered to the winds. One very active cell, which calls itself The Dreamers, attracts the attention of Inferno Squad, and they are tasked with infiltrating it and taking it apart from the inside.
Seyn, an intelligence officer with an eidetic memory, poses as a slave and orchestrates her liberation by The Dreamers. Gideon, a pilot, and Del, an engineer, sneak aboard a vessel likely to be overtaken by the partisans and surrender when the time comes. Iden, however, doesn’t assume an alternate identity. Rather, she pretends to betray Imperial ideals, questioning the logic of destroying Alderaan, chalking this up to having survived the destruction of the Death Star. She lets herself be taken by the partisans to use as their mouthpiece against the Empire.
Inferno Squad’s mission seems simple: take part in any rebellious activity initiated by the partisans until they have the resources to take them out. But the deeper the squad gets with the rebels, the harder they find it to maintain that line in the sand.
4 Things I Liked (and 1 I Didn’t)
1. Getting to know Inferno Squad (this time with video game context)
The first time I read the book, I had a hard time connecting to the characters. This might have been because in the back of my head I knew their main adventure/story wasn’t going to be told in this book, but rather in the video game that shares its name. It certainly wasn’t because the book itself does a bad job communicating this to me. I just personally felt very removed from both the characters and conflict. I was nagged by the constant idea that I should know what’s going on, but I didn’t.
Then lockdown happened, and I spent one very intense weekend playing through Battlefront II story mode. Suddenly I couldn’t wait to revisit this book.
The added context of playing the game suddenly made the characters stand out all the more sharply to me. Seeing how much Iden hates Leia now is funny considering she that the two will work together later on to bring down the Empire. Iden and Del’s tentative friendship is made all the sweeter with the knowledge that they will eventually fall in love. On the other hand seeing how close both of them are with Hask hurts that much more when you remember he is the cause of much of their suffering after they defect to the Alliance, and that he is the one who eventually kills Del.
2. Propaganda and Hypocrisy
One thing we really get to see here, which also appeared in Lost Stars, though with less focus, is the extent of the propaganda fed to those who grow up within the Empire. The idea that the Empire is the saving grace in the galaxy, and those who stand against it want nothing more than to sow discord and chaos is so deeply engrained in Inferno Squad, and in Iden especially, that by the time they get to the Dreamers, they are in so deep, they eat, sleep and breathe hypocrisy.
The catalyst for them infiltrating the Dreamers is the destruction of the Death Star. Very little consideration is given to the major event directly preceding this one: the destruction of Alderaan. The Death Star was filled with people just doing their jobs, but Alderaan was home to potential Rebels. Who can say how the children there were being raised? If they are raised to be rebels, they will have been raised to be the enemy. And enemies must be destroyed. This is Admiral Versio’s justification for their actions on Alderaan, which Iden at least partially agrees with. She puts her “abduction” by the Dreamers into motion by publicly expressing regret that the Empire destroyed an entire world full of innocent beings unnecessarily, and also saying that at least the Rebels only took out a military target full of military personnel.
The deaths of millions of innocents on Alderaan is met with some regret by members of Inferno Squad, but not much considering just how many of those innocents were children. By contrast, when the Dreamers want to sneak Seyn and Sadori (another young member of their crew) onto an Imperial academy field trip to plant a bomb and take out high ranking officials, Inferno Squad are horrified. The students on the field trip are innocents! How could they consider killing them? This disturbs Seyn so much she meddles with the bomb so that the students have a chance to evacuate before it detonates.
They remain open to torturing rebels for information if necessary. They have no problem manipulating the Dreamers and playing them against each other. But when asked to kill a Stormtrooper, Iden is physically sickened by the idea. She cannot comprehend how the Dreamers can be so cruel. It’s both interesting and frustrating that Inferno Squad comes so close to getting it, but never quite makes it there. They claim to want to protect the innocent, but that desire only extends to innocents on their side of the conflict. Everyone on the other side is painted with the same brush.
3. I don’t think we’re in the Rebel Alliance anymore
The book is set primarily among the Dreamers, but the only narrative points of view we get are from Inferno Squad. However, both groups feel very strongly that their approach and point of view is the right one.
I found myself wondering why there wasn’t any respite from these polar opposite, yet almost identical approaches to getting the job done. Then I realized that unlike in other Star Wars books, neither organization is being shown in opposition to the Rebel Alliance, which is usually the case.
The Rebel Alliance approach is usually marked by caution, by gathering as much information as possible, by trying to work within the system, all of which is heavily criticized by the Dreamers as being ineffective. There is something to be said for taking bold strides, but the problem is the Dreamers stride with no sense of direction. They have the nebulous goal of “stopping” the Empire, much like the Empire aims to “squash the Rebellion” but neither are particularly strategic about it.
It’s little wonder Inferno Squad fits in with the Dreamers as well as they do. The object of scorn is different, but the tactics are virtually the same.
4. The Setting and Tone
This book, more than the others, felt deeply unsettling to me.
That the main characters, for all that they’re Imperials, spend most of the book in deep cover is unnerving. That they frequently catch themselves slipping up and revealing more than they meant to is nerve wracking.
Unlike other books with an undercover/mystery element of some kind, we never cut away from these characters. We spend about 80% of the book undercover with them and never get that break to breathe.
As a reader, I was constantly on edge wondering when they were going to slip up again, and if they did what would the consequences be? This despite knowing that most of Inferno Squad survive until the video game.
Most of them.
When Seyn slips up and reveals that she knows more than she’s supposed to, everything unravels for her right there. She is called out on all fronts and her teammates can only sit there and watch it happen. They can’t help her, or they’d get dragged into the mess too.
5. The inclusion of Lux and Staven
Normally I’m a fan of recognizable characters dipping in for a brief moment in the story to tie it back to the familiar. But this is one time I think it worked to the books detriment.
We are given backstory on Staven, and his tragic first love among Saw’s partisans. It wasn’t until I checked Wookiepedia that I realized Staven had appeared in Rebel Rising, as had Maia, the woman he loved. It may be because I read them too far apart, but nothing about this character stuck with me from the other book, so I had to actively remind myself that I “knew” him from before, and that I knew the circumstances under which he lost Maia.
And speaking of characters not sticking with me.
Much is made of The Mentor, a shadowy figure living among the Dreamers who never goes out on missions. Iden figures it’s because he is well known and cannot risk blowing his cover, and she’s right. We find out towards the end that he is actually Lux Bonteri, a character from the Clone Wars TV Series. Despite having seen this show more than once, I routinely get Lux mixed up with Duchess Satine’s nephew (whose name, I want to say, is…Korkie?) (I’m also convinced Korkie is Obi Wan’s son, but that’s a conversation for another day).
Lux plays a much bigger role in the series than Korkie does, but he still didn’t leave much of an impression on me to carry over into this book, beyond name recognition. With this in mind, I found myself wracking my brain anytime he made reference to his beloved wife and step-daughter. Are these people we know? They must be! After all, Maia, Staven’s late love, is someone we know. There is a passing reference to Jyn Erso, who we recognize. So who could this wife and daughter be? No doubt someone I’ve just forgotten.
They don’t have names, they haven’t come up in any other story so far. Which is fine, but they are treated SO significantly, I thought I was missing something big.
The push and pull between Staven having a backstory I should already know, and Lux having a story I felt like I should know led me to wish they’d both been left out altogether.
Seriously, Hask, Del was like your BROTHER…and then you just…SHOOT HIM??
Dugs are described here as walking on their hands and using their feet to hold things, which makes me wonder why those body parts are referred to that way? Is it just because the hands and arms are closer to the head?
Seing Seyn pop us as a member of Inferno Squad and remembering that she isn’t in the video game filled me with more dread than I expected.
Poor Iden is in so deep she doesn’t realize Del isn’t pretending to have bonded with Piikow, the other mechanic.