It’s here. I can’t believe it. The final batch of reviews in the middle grade books, and the last Biweekly Book Review of 2020. Thank you so much for sticking with me, and for joining me on this adventure through this crazy year. The series will be back next year with the movie novelizations, and of course any new books that come along, starting with the HIGH REPUBLIC in January!! But for now, let’s turn our attention to the middle grade books of the Sequel Trilogy
Where the last review focused on three books meant to be read as a series before The Force Awakens had come out, this series is a little more spread out, with the events of each book preceding one of the movies of the sequel trilogy and providing a little added context (and also breaking my heart into a million pieces along the way).
Before the Awakening by Greg Rucka
Before the Awakening is a story in three parts, with each section of the story focusing on one of our new main characters in the lead up to The Force Awakens.
The first story is about FN-2187, later known as Finn, who is an exemplary stormtrooper and well on his way to a command program within the First Order. But his sense of teamwork and camaraderie, his kindness towards his unit, as well as his reluctance to kill on command becomes a concern for Captain Phasma, and for FN-2187 himself. He wants to do well, but struggles within the confines of a life he was never given control over.
The second is about Rey, and her lonely life in the Jakku desert. Rey is an experienced pilot, in theory, since she found an old flight simulator on a scavenging trip, and fixed it up well enough to use. Basically just picture WALL-E and his old iPod with Hello, Dolly! playing on a loop. But the simulated flights aren’t enough, and soon she masters even the toughest simulations. She is ready to fly for real. A storm unearths a half wrecked ship, and Rey takes it upon herself to fix it up. When two fellow scavengers offer to help her, Rey needs to decide if she can trust them or not.
The third and final story is about Poe flying with the New Republic. When his squadron uncovers something that looks like a serious First Order fleet, New Republic officials refuse to take it seriously. Not wanting a massive threat to grow right under their noses, Poe and his squadron undertake a covert evidence gathering mission and are recruited by the Resistance for their efforts.
This book is so, so sad. Not Poe’s part so much, because while he does lose a squadron member on a mission, he still has friends, a purpose, a support system. But Finn and Rey? Poor babies.
Finn is a good man with a good heart stuck in a harsh, unforgiving environment. He is extremely good at what he does, when if what he does is “being a stormtrooper”. He wants to do well by the First Order and thinks his compassion for others is a personal failing of some kind. It is rewarding then, to know that he’s moments away from breaking away from all this and making it over to the Resistance (the book ends with his squad en route to Jakku).
Rey’s story, in my opinion, is by far the saddest. Because even if Finn is stuck in a bad situation, he is stuck with people he cares about. Rey is alone on Jakku, half-starved and barely surviving. She opens herself up enough to trust two fellow scavengers who want to help her fix up a ship she found, only for them to turn back on their agreement to sell it to Unkar Plutt. They instead wait until she’s out of the ship before taking off and leaving her there, just further cementing how much trouble she has trusting people.
I think what makes me extra sad about this book is that it is currently December 2020, and with the anniversary of Episode IX on the horizon, I am extra in my feelings about it. Finn in this book has empathy for his fellow stormtroopers because he knows none of them had a choice, then jumping ahead to Episode IX is gleefully watching them die. I’m not suggesting he let himself get killed by them, but surely the story could have found some kind of middle road? And Rey comes out of this book likely feeling she can’t trust anyone, and ends Episode IX…still not trusting anyone. She undergoes two major personal upheavals and her friends never hear about either of them. Granted, the loss of a soulmate comes right at the end of the movie so there isn’t time to talk about it. But they also never hear about her supposed lineage either, and there was plenty of time for that to come up. Though she is now surrounded by people, I can’t help but feel like my poor Rey ends her story as lonely as she began it.
Major Ematt from the last series is here, and I love it when this tapestry weaves together.
Rey actually does have training for flying so…take that haters. Not that she needs it, it is a movie after all. But she has it. So there.
Cobalt Squadron by Elizabeth Wein
After fleeing their homeworld of Hays Minor, which suffered at the hands of the First Order, Rose and Paige Tico found their way to the Resistance, and now fly as part of “Cobalt Squadron”, one of the teams of bombers. They fly on the same ship, and that is just the way Rose likes it. While on a fact finding mission in the Atterra system, their bomber is boarded by two refugees, desperate to tell someone, anyone that their home is dying.
Sympathetic to their similar situations, Rose wants to help them any way she can. After consultation with Leia (and Holdo!), the Resistance agrees to limited supply runs to Atterra to help the citizens fight back. Though the mission is an eventual success, the bomber squadrons are soon called away to help with evacuation efforts over D’Qar after the First Order destroys the Hosnian system, taking us right into the opening moments of The Last Jedi.
I don’t think that books should be a replacement for character development onscreen in a franchise that is first and foremost screen based. I also don’t think that’s what this book does. I think anything you need to know about Rose Tico is presented on screen in Episode VIII.
But what this book does very nicely is it colours in details about the character. We know from the movie that Rose and her sister were close. We know this because she tells us, because they wore twin necklaces, because Paige’s death devastates Rose. But what this book does is show us just how close they are. They fly on the same ship, they hang out all the time, such to the point where Rose refuses to fly without Paige on a mission (ultimately a good call for her, since the ship on that mission was destroyed). She is adamant they remain together up until the end of the book, when the needs of the Resistance separate them. Paige insists it’s temporary, but we the readers know that that’s not true. This is the mission with the bombing run that kills Paige. This then adds an extra layer to Rose’s devastation when we first meet her in the film. Not only is she grieving, but she is likely either wishing she had gone with Paige after all, or ideally that Paige had accompanied her on board one of the flagships. The one time they were separated, and it ended in a worst-case scenario.
I love Vice Admiral Holdo. I let out an unholy shriek when she popped up.
Spark of Resistance by Justina Ireland
Sometime after the events of The Last Jedi, Rey, Rose and Poe are on their way back to base after a supply run when they receive a distress signal from the planet Minfar. The inhabitants call out for help because the First Order is occupying their homeworld and taking over. Deciding it’s better to beg for forgiveness than ask permission, the three of them decide to fly in and see how they can help.
Meanwhile on the planet, the First Order is hunting for a device known as the Echo Horn, with the help of scientist Glenna Kip, whose goals do not totally align with those of the First Order commanders overseeing the occupation, and she wants to find the Echo Horn before they do.
Rey, Poe and Rose encounter a group known as the Zixon, who are the ones who called for help. The Empire had once used the Echo Horn on them, a device that drives the people it is turned on to mindless submission. The trauma of what that did to them still runs deep, and Rey and friends vow to destroy the device before it is able to be used on the Zixon again.
This one…made me nervous.
My relationship with The Rise of Skywalker is a difficult one, and this was released as part of the “Journey To…” publishing program. But then again I loved loved LOVED Resistance Reborn so I was hoping this would be more of the same.
All in all I didn’t think it was a bad book, necessarily. It was a cute story with a compelling adventure. I thought Poe and Rose sounded like themselves, but I thought it was bizarre that Finn isn’t in the book at all. There was space for him on the adventure I’m sure.
Then we have my two favourites from the Sequel Trilogy: Rey and Kylo Ren. Though Rey was in the entire book, something about her felt off. It’s as though she was only half there, never fully materialized. I noticed the same in Resistance Reborn, but in that one she was a minor character at best. Here she’s meant to be the lead character, and other than being filled with a lot of self-doubt, I never got the sense that I knew her any better.
My issue with the characterization of Kylo Ren is a little different because technically, he isn’t in the book at all. But any mention made of him paints him as far more of a cold, manipulative psychopath than we ever see on screen. Despite the soft spot I personally hold for Armitage Hux, the way they describe Kylo is far more in like with the Hux we see on screen.
But I’ve been ragging on this book long enough so let’s look at some things I did like: I loved the different groups of First Order officers and their various dedications to the ideals of the group they serve. I LOVED that our gang assumes the person who rescued the Zixon from the Empire was Luke Skywalker, only for us to find out it was Glenna Kip. There is a bit of a tendency to ascribe a little too much…godlike power to Luke and this book steers well clear of that so kudos.
I said it already but: I cannot think of a single good reason why Finn isn’t in this book. Not a one.
My favourite fun fact is that Poe is so canonically good looking that the entire First Order knows who he is because he has nice hair.