Biweekly Book Review: Alphabet Squadron

Well, would you look at that? Another book that got DNF’d (this time only once).

In fairness, I tried to read it at a point in my life where I was really preoccupied with other things, and it wound up taking me 2 months to get through the book on my second attempt. This is not the kind of book to take two months on. The ladies on the Lipstick and Lightsabers podcast said it best when they said that Alexander Freed’s writing style is dense to say the least. He is not the kind of author you can return to for a few pages a day. Guaranteed, you will wind up forgetting key plot points. Which is exactly what happened with me, because I didn’t remember ANYTHING about this book when I came back to it this time.

This time I read the whole thing in a day and a half, had a much easier time with it, and I’m actually looking forward to the sequel! It’s time to dive into Alphabet Squadron by Alexander Freed.

*Spoilers Below*

The Story

After the battle of Endor, what’s left of the Empire is an absolute mess (get used to it kids, this is going to be a reoccurring theme for the next 5 books)

Yrica Quell is a pilot and recent defector from the Empire. She is recruited into a “working group” tasked with eliminating Shadow Wing, an elite group of TIE pilots causing the New Republic a whole lot of trouble. But Yrica is torn, because she used to fly with Shadow Wing, and still feels the pull of loyalty.

Also in the working group, are Wyl Lark and Chass na Chadic, rebel pilots who are the sole survivors of their respective units, Nath Tensent, a formal Imperial who defected before Alderaan, and Kairos, a silent, mysterious being with an even more mysterious past.

The group officially answers to Hera Syndulla, since they use her ship as a base. But because they were recruited by an Intelligence officer, and not by Hera or the New Republic directly, there are no resources to spare for them. Fortunately, each of them comes with their own fighting ship. Unfortunately, each of these ships is different. There is the A-Wing (Wyl), the B-Wing (Chass), the U-Wing (Kairos), the X-Wing (Yrica) and the Y-Wing (Nath). Since the ship types span the High Galactic alphabet, this earns the team the nickname Alphabet Squadron.

As is always the case when a gang of damaged misfits is thrown together and told to play nice, tensions run high in the beginning. But when they finally get a shot at taking out Shadow Wing, the group finally learns how to set aside their baggage and function as a unit.

3 Things I Liked (and 1 I Didn’t)

1. Alphabet Squadron get proper introductions

Back in my Twilight Company review, I mentioned how I was frustrated that we never really get the chance to know the main characters, beyond the fact that they’re a ragtag band of misfits drowning in personal baggage.

Well, the cast of this book also happens to be a ragtag band of misfits with more personal baggage than an oversold flight.

The difference? There is time dedicated to getting to know each of them! And what a difference that makes!

Each of them gets several chapters from their own point of view, except for Kairos, but that’s kind of her whole deal.

Yrica is a former Imperial who one had dreams of defecting to the Alliance as a teen. She tells the team she defected during Operation Cinder, an act of desperation by the Empire where they completely obliterated several worlds following Palatine’s death. In reality, she defected right after Cinder, on the orders of her commander, Major Soran Keize. He worries that if she’s capable of something like Cinder, then there is no going back for her, and he wants her to have a chance at saving herself, rather than letting hatred destroy her from the inside.

Nath was an Imperial who defected to the Alliance before Alderaan, then following the death of his entire Imperial squad (who followed him), he turned more mercenary and became a pilot for hire while still using the New Republic name for legitimacy.

Wyl and Chass were pilots with two different New Republic squadrons. Wyl is a sweet kid who wants to leave the fight and return to his idyllic home world, Chass had a difficult life prior to joining the Alliance and has a grim outlook on her future as well. Both of their squadrons were wiped out by Shadow Wing, leaving them the only two survivors. Wyl forces Chass to flee the scene and prevented her from trying to help her friends, an act which she holds against him for most of the book.

And Kairos…well there isn’t much to say about Kairos. She is a mysterious being who is always covered up in bandages and layers. She speaks maybe two lines in the whole book and she is an aggressive warrior. As of right now, my two theories are that she used to work for the Empire, though perhaps not by choice, and that she is possibly Tusken.

2. More inner workings of the Empire

One thing I find endlessly fascinating in these books is when we are shown things from an Imperial point of view, and the hypocrisy and lack of perspective becomes staggeringly clear. No matter what, they are prepared with defences of their own actions, but it is the rebels who take things too far.

Yrica is proud of the skills she earned as an Imperial. She has to continually remind herself not to let her pride shine through when explaining Shadow Wing tactics. One such tactic is the one that Chass and Wyl’s groups fell prey to, where the TIE fighters swarm a single New Republic ship and wipe it out once they steal their data for the next rendezvous point. That is cold, and calculating, but still it is the rebels who are cruel and take it too far.

A continued refrain in books starring Imperials is that the destruction of Alderaan was necessary. It had to be done. But this is the first time we see that argument tried after Operation Cinder, where the Empire destroyed not one, but several worlds. The two are very different, according to Yrica, because Alderaan was necessary to ensure the survival of trillions, but the deaths during Cinder were pointless civilian casualties.

I don’t even know where to start on the justification that the deaths of millions on Alderaan were somehow ok purely because the senator from that planet stood in opposition to the Empire. But the argument that Alderaan and Cinder were totally different cases remind me of the “they’re the same picture” meme from The Office.

3. The Adventure at the Jedi Temple

When Hera realizes the team is not getting along, and not flying as they should, she grounds them for training exercises only. Then, in an apparent show of trust, sends them off on a non-combat mission to recover supplies from a former Alliance cache which turns out to be in an ancient Jedi temple.

Now you know me. You know how much I love the Jedi, so this was just a treat right in the middle of a book about pilots. Also shows you how much I was paying attention on my first read through because I remembered NONE of this.

While in the temple, the squad (minus Yrica) start to know each other better, and bond. They tell their stories, or a version of them anyway. They also trigger some kind of…diorama? spectacle? planetarium light show? that shows the map of galaxy as is was, as it is, and as it will be. This seems to be something Hera expected them to see, because she expresses regret that Yrica missed it while keeping watch.

What Yrica DOES see, however, is a shadowy figure that appears to be the Emperor. Is it a ghost? A Messenger Robot like the one that gave the order for Operation Cinder? Or, in this post-TROS world, is it a straight up Palpa-clone? We don’t know.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we got an answer to the Palpatine apparition thing a bit down the line, but I don’t think we need an answer to the other mystery within the Jedi temple. That would take half the fun away.

4. The Fight Scenes

The fight scenes are long and detailed. The various tactical merits of each situation is weighed both in the narration and in the dialogue.

You want stars and wars? This book has them in spades! And that isn’t an inherently bad thing. A lot of people love this book, so I assume that is part of what they love about it.

A lot of people are excited for Star Wars: Squadrons, which based on the trailer is a lot of pew pew action from the inside of a spaceship. There is clearly a market for this. This is everything a pilot-loving Star Wars fan could want.

But there is a reason the aerial battles in the movies don’t last very long. And a reason they are intercut with non-aerial battles. It’s because ultimately the point of them is not for the pew pew pew fighting, it’s to drive the plot forward. It’s to liberate Naboo, to catch Jango Fett, to save the Chancellor. It’s to steal the Death Star plans, or steal a train full of coaxium. It’s to blow up the Death Star, to escape the Empire, to blow up the Death Star (again). To blow up a planet that is essentially a Death Star, to teach a hothead pilot a lesson about being a leader, to blow up a bunch of starships that are actually just a bunch of mini Death Stars (I’m starting to see a trend).

The battles here do drive the plot forward, they do enrich character. But they also just last a little too long for my taste.

Points Left Hanging

  • Who is Kairos? What is her deal because I am fascinated
  • Will Major Keize’s time living as “Devon” affect how he lives his life going forward?
  • Chass reminds Yrica of her ex, so will there be something there in future books? More importantly, will it end well??? Let’s be real, this is Star Wars, I need to prepare myself for one of them to die for no reason. I mean, Chass looks up to Jyn Erso and her martyrdom…so my money would be on Yrica not making it out. Because Star Wars likes to hurt me
  • Is Wyl Lark Force Sensitive? TBD

Random Thoughts

If I had a dollar for every time the word “silt” is used in chapter 1, I would be a wealthy woman indeed.

Hera Syndulla is here! I got nothing to add, I just like when she shows up.

Chass flies one mission with a group of random ground troopers, but much is made of describing them. Can’t help but wonder if this is supposed to be Twilight Company?

They do that thing in this book where people call them Alphabet Squadron as a joke, but then they all embrace it and use it unironically. Yrica has a crest designed and painted on the hulls of their ships. She even has the same design tattooed on her arm. I am always 100% here for this trope.

Operation Cinder was ordered by a ghostly robot version of Emperor Palpatine (also seen in the Battlefront II game). Raise your hand if you thought this was going to come back in the movies even a little bit.

Chass plays music in her cockpit while flying, which is the most relatable thing in this whole book.

The Empire see themselves as the victors of the Clone Wars, which I guess is true but also…this goes back to that lack of perspective I mentioned earlier.

The Empire is fractured and has no leader, the New Republic was not equipped to win the war. Really, is it any wonder the First Order rose to power?

IT-0, the therapy droid, suggests that once he became Emperor, Palpatine wasn’t smarter than everyone in the room, he was just cruel. It’s an interesting way to look at things, because yeah I do think the skill at 4D chess kind of went out the window once he took power.

Favourite quote from the whole book, again from IT-0, comes when Adan, the New Republic Intelligence officer who put Alphabet Squadron together, scoffs at the idea that anyone in the squad knows what real pain is, because he has suffered more. So IT-0 lets loose with the line: “their pain does not diminish yours”. Which I LOVE. Something we can all keep in mind.

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