We’ve hit a bit of a milestone today. This is the first series I’ve read for the Biweekly Book Review that is still ongoing. So when the book ended on a cliffhanger, naturally I screamed. It’ll be really interesting to revisit this chunk of the galaxy next year, when the third book comes out.
In another milestone, this is the first book I’ve read for these reviews that I had to borrow from the library (since I want to buy it in paperback). Which is fine. Unless you’re like me, and you leave the book sitting in your overdrive account for almost 3 weeks while you finish the rest of your reading, then spend the three days before it’s due back frantically racing against the clock trying to read and also take coherent notes because you know you won’t be able to refer back to it later, all the while terrified you’ll make some horrible mistake in your post because the notes weren’t good enough.
*deep breath* OK. Shadow Fall by Alexander Freed.
After failing to eliminate Shadow Wing in the last book, Alphabet Squadron has relocated over the ancient world of Troithe. Along with Hera Syndulla and her squadrons, they have set a trap to lure the elite TIE fighter wing out to the edges of the Outer Rim and to get rid of them once and for all.
So of course, it all goes to shit.
Kairos is injured in their initial attempt to bring down Shadow Wing over Troithe and is taken out of commission. Matters are of course complicated because no one really knows what species she is. The group then discovers that Yrica Quell, their leader, didn’t really leave the Empire after failing to prevent Operation Cinder. She left after being ordered to by her commander, Major Soran Keize. Incidentally, Soran Keize is still alive and has resumed command of Shadow Wing.
And if that wasn’t bad enough.
Immediately after discovering Yrica’s secret, the squad is pulled into battle, assuming they’ll deal with this when they get back. So naturally they’re all flung to separate corners of the system. Wyl and Nath crash land in the city. Chass runs out of fuel and is left stranded in space until she is rescued by a cult. Yrica, grounded after the groups discovery, steals a transport and tries to stop Shadow Wing on her own. Instead she ends up marooned on a random rock in the system with Caern Adan, the intelligence officer who put Alphabet Squadron together, and with IT-0, the torture droid-turned-therapist who works with Adan.
3 Things I Liked (and 1 I Didn’t)
1. Yrica and the Sith Tower
When Yrica is stranded with Adan and IT-0, they set out in search of some kind of structure or civilization that can get them off of the rock they crashed on.
Remembering that there were Imperial vaults targeted for destruction after the loss at Endor, Yrica sets off in search of one such vault, with IT-0 in tow. Side note: I wonder if this is like the vault that Del and Luke find in Battlefront II.
She finds it, but it isn’t just a vault. It’s a SITH TOWER *dun dun*. With no visible way in, Yrica thinks she’s hit a dead end. That is, until the system’s black hole lines up with the top of the tower. This has an effect on Yrica, where it sends her into a trance of sorts where she has to relive particularly strong, negative memories. It’s only after a conversation with IT-0, who starts out trying to help her before a malfunction causes him to instead punish her for her war crimes, that she realizes she needs to “move forward” to succeed with the tower. Rather than the metaphorical moving forward suggested by IT-0, it is only in literally moving forward while in her visions that she is able to unlock the Tower and find a ship inside.
She goes straight from opening the tower to surrendering to the Empire, the Alphabet Squadron tattoo on her arm now cut off. I’m hoping the next book goes into what exactly she went through in that tower, and how the experience combined with her bad memories caused her to make the decision she did.
2. Chass and the Cult
By far, the most interesting subplot of the entire book belongs to Chass. After her ship is damaged and she is left for dead, she is rescued by members of a cult known as the Children of the Empty Sun.
Chass is feeling angry and disillusioned by Yrica’s lie, but also has her guard up because her mother was in a cult when Chass was a child and she was made to live among them and follow their rules. So she is in absolutely no mood for this cult and runs away at the first opportunity.
However, faced with no better options to get back to the fleet, she finds where the cult is based and presents herself as a believer looking to join. All a charade of course. Her aim is just to get supplies, a weapon, a ship and then leave.
To do that, she has to hang around the cultists, get them to trust her. And some of that involves listening to what their leader has to say. Some of the speeches made by the leader don’t seem totally out of left field either. I started wondering if my not trusting them is because of the negative connotations of the word “cult”. Maybe they aren’t so bad after all. Then Chass pops up to remind the reader that this is how cults get you. By kind of making sense.
That said, I spent the rest of the book terrified that Chass was starting to drink the Kool-Aid so to speak. How much of their story was she buying into? By the time the book ends, she’s made it back to the New Republic fleet, but hasn’t totally rejected everything the cult says either. So who’s to say where we’re going to find Chass in book 3?
Two small things I thought were interesting about this subplot: Chass already sees herself as an opposite to Jyn Erso. When she joins the cult, she gives them the name Maya Hallik (homage to Jyn’s pseudonym Lianna Hallik).
The other thing I liked was an observation Chass made when the cult tries to recruit her near the start of the book. The cultist assures her that everything is merely up to the will of the Force, but Chass observes: “For a zealot, the Force desired whatever the believer wanted”, which speaks not only to the ideals of the cult, but arguably the Jedi and the Sith at the fall of the Republic.
3. A Sith Cult??
So we already read about the ghostly Palpatine robot in the last book. The one that ordered Operation Cinder and has remained silent since.
This thing pops up in the Aftermath series, in Battlefront II campaign mode, and it also features here. Only in this book, it’s taken to a weird, creepy new level.
Soran Keize notices that this robot (droid? machine? I don’t know) has been given a shrine in the middle of one of the ships. It stands at the centre of a ring of offerings from…worshippers, I guess you could call them. He even witnesses one supplicant pray to the Palpa-droid for victory in the upcoming skirmish, right before the supplicant then slices his hand open to make a blood offering to the droid.
We know that the droid only gave the order for Operation Cinder to commanders whose identity it verified with blood, so I wonder what the connection is here? Are these future Sith cultists, like the ones we see on Mustafar at the start of The Rise of Skywalker? If not, I’m curious to see where this line of thought goes.
Also it’s just hilarious that everywhere Keize goes, there’s always someone behind him like “Oh, this came for you” and then delivers the Palpa-droid.
4. Nath and Wyl and Whatever it is they were doing
Nath and Wyl wind up stranded in the city with their ships barely working and have to find their way back to the fleet. They also meet a group of people whose role I could not tell you, who they decide to form up into a makeshift squadron to take down the Imperials that did make it planetside.
The reason I am being so vague is, in all honesty, I kind of skimmed these parts. Of all the plot points, theirs was the least interesting to me. It could have been the focus on the ships, which I don’t find overly interesting. It could also have just been that I found the other plot points more engaging and didn’t like leaving them for this. But either way, their parts of the book, in the second half mostly, were the least interesting to me.
I’m going to have to reread this book before the third one comes out, aren’t I?
Points Left Hanging
- Wyl is almost certainly Force Sensitive. He does way too much because he has a “feeling”
- We see Kairos’s face! More about Kairos now please! I haven’t ruled out Tusken yet. But I also wonder if she’s possessed by the Dark Side somehow
- Yrica and Chass have gotten closer by this book, and Chass takes the revelation about Yrica really hard. I need them to be endgame please
- Who is “Blink”? It doesn’t matter, but I have to know (It’s probably Seedia)
You know that thing when you revisit a team in a book/movie and they get along better than they did when you left them and it’s so cute? This book does that and I’m here for it.
There was less fighting overall in this book, which is odd considering the whole book is about one battle and the resulting fallout. But mostly the narrative is concerned with how people are feeling about the fight, rather than the fight itself.
I still feel like I know next to nothing about Shadow Wing. I can’t help but wonder if reading the comic would have helped with that
Further evidence Wyl is Force Sensitive: the idea of Vader taking a lightsaber from a Jedi freaks him out very deeply. What is my theory based on? Nothing. Am I sticking with it? Yes.
Hera still misses Kanan and yes I’m still sad about it
Twilight Company shows up in this. None of them are addressed by name so I had no idea who was who (would it have made a difference? Probably not)
Hera left, I assume, to go do whatever she’s doing in the Squadrons video game, before returning at the last minute to help Alphabet Squadron out. If the game winds up having a story mode, I would love if this was one of the big battles you play.
Kairos keeps trophies from the Imperials she’s killed. WHAT IS HER DEAL I HAVE TO KNOW