You know what I was expecting?
I was expecting to read this book, to struggle to come up with talking points, and ultimately to write a review that was along the lines of “yeah, that was fine I guess”
What I didn’t expect was for this book to so thoroughly knock the air out of my lungs and break my heart in a way that would leave me needing several days to recover.
Here goes nothing. Victory’s Price by Alexander Freed.
The book picks up some time after former Imperial-turned-Alphabet Squadron leader Yrica Quell abandoned the Rebellion and returned to the familiarity of her former squadron, known as Shadow Wing.
In her absence, her former squad is fractured. Wyl Lark has assumed leadership of the team, Nath Tensent seems one bad day from running away from the whole thing, Chass Na Chadic can’t quite shake the teachings of the cult she encountered in the last book and Kairos is….well…Kairos about it.
But the team can’t afford to fall apart now, not with the Empire amassing its forces over Jakku for the battle that will determine the fate of the galaxy, at least for now. All while at the centre of the galaxy, Major Soran Keize is planning a move that will have ramifications for anyone who has ever been in Imperial service.
If it sounds like I’m being vague, it’s because I am. There is just so much going on in this book that I cannot distill it into one summary. It’s overwhelming. So let’s dive right into the breakdown.
4 Things I Liked (and 1 I Didn’t)
1. Kairos’ backstory – at last!
I’ve spent the last two Alphabet Squadron reviews wondering what Kairos’ deal was, and lo and behold we get an answer here!
I love that for all that we get an explanation of her culture, and her beliefs, we still don’t completely know what she is. She’s some kind of insect-like being (given that she uses a chrysalis to regenerate). In being rescued from the Empire and healed with a blood transfusion, she is now too impure to ever truly return to her home, and spends most of this book trying to reclaim her identity.
Even on a visit to her homeworld, it’s less of a homecoming and more another obstacle to be overcome. She has been tainted by outsiders and violence, and it is only in finding a new perspective and a way to shed her “wartime skin” that she can finally begin to heal and move forward.
Kairos was fascinating and I hope we never see her again. I don’t think she would want us to.
2. The Emperor’s Messenger
OK so as some of you know by now, I am downright OBSESSED with the Emperor’s Messengers. Like. So much.
They’re creepy, they’re mysterious, and they make a whole lot more sense than “somehow Palpatine has returned.” This is what calculating, 6D-chess-playing Palpy would do. Create an artificial life form to carry on his work after his death, with a built-in failsafe that will drag the entire Empire down if they cannot see his objective through.
This failsafe takes the form of an underground vault on Coruscant detailing the level of involvement for every single person who ever worked for the Empire in any capacity, spelling out their crimes for the New Republic, or whoever would take over, so that they cannot reasonably expect to be pardoned.
Which…we’ll get into that.
3. Chass and Yrica
A romance?? That ends with both of them alive?? Can it be??
I distinctly remember saying in my other reviews that I wanted them together, and morbidly expressed the fear that one of them would die in the other’s arms. Though Chass does in fact nearly die, she does actually make it out alive and gets the girl in the end and wow I wish this was less surprising in a franchise built on hope, love and found family (love is family too and is not a bad thing, do not @ me) but here we are.
I also just love the entire subplot of Chass fighting to get Yrica back from the Empire, because she’d mad at her and wants an explanation, because she feels left behind. This is the kind of angst and tension I live for and this book delivered on that front.
I have a lot more to say about this below in my overall thoughts!
4. Have I mentioned I hate space battles?
Literally nothing new here. This is the one thing I think that has really stopped me from loving this series fully. The character work is exquisite. They are complex, they have a range of emotions, they are grounded. If only it weren’t for the space battles.
But Freed does love him a space battle.
I expected this, going in. Especially since it was building up to the Battle of Jakku. You know, the one with all the downed star destroyers. I expected this to be my “dislike” for the book, and it was. It is what it is, at least they felt less all-consuming than the ones in Shadow Fall did.
Overall Series Thoughts – Redemption
Alright, buckle up, because I have some things to say about redemption, and redemption arcs.
I’m a big fan of redemption. Specifically *living* redemption. Doing one nice thing and then dying is, in my view, a poor redemption arc (and I’m sure you can already see where this is going, stay with me)
We get an in-universe glimpse at why this is in Victory’s Price. We already know that Leia had a hard time accepting Vader’s turn back to Anakin because of the kind of relationship he had with her – namely torturing her when she was a teenager then making her watch as he blew up her planet. This is also why you’ll see me bristle when people call Leia a Skywalker. She wanted nothing to do with that mess.
But then we have this really cute scene between Chass and Wyl, where he tells her that after the Battle of Endor, when he wandered off into the trees on the forest moon, he came across a strange sight: Luke Skywalker burning the body of Darth Vader. What Wyl cannot figure out though, is why. Was it a final “fuck you” to the man who terrorized the galaxy for two decades? Some kind of ritual? Because of course, Wyl hasn’t seen Return of the Jedi, so he has no idea. We know that by the time Bloodline happens, it isn’t as though Luke has gone around trying to rehabilitate Vader’s public image, because just a blood relation to him is enough to mess up Leia’s political career. So the galaxy will always see him as a monster, even if in his final action, he saved his son, and by extension, all the lives that Luke would go on to save.
Granted, Vader was an older man, and more machine than anything else. All his internal systems were fried by Palpy’s lightning, so his chances of survival were never great. But this does reinforce the importance of living redemption nonetheless, for those who have done wrong to live with the consequences of their actions.
Palpatine’s fallback in the event of failure was to create an entire database with the crimes of everyone who has ever worked for the Empire all spelled out. He kept them living in fear of a new government, one who would take this list of crimes perpetuated by everyone from the Admirals right down to the indirectly complicit file clerks, and condemn them all for their actions.
It is in this way that he fundamentally misunderstood the other side.
Mon Mothma and Hera Syndulla, after the Battle of Jakku are faced with the conflict of what to do with those who once served the Empire in a major capacity, and with Yrica Quell specifically. She defected to the rebellion, then went back to the Empire, intending on tearing them down from the inside. Part of her reason in doing so, in a fear that many Imperials no doubt share, is because she cannot visualize a life for herself outside of the war, nor can she picture any scenario where she is forgiven.
The two leaders come to the right conclusion, that making an example of her would make their new Republic a deeply hostile environment to every single person who had ever worked for the Empire. The Admirals and higher ups were one thing. But those stuck in a bad situation? Those who were just…working for the current government and didn’t have the luxury to stand against it on principle? Or those like Yrica, who at some point before the end of the war did try to make things better? All that would be achieved by locking them up and throwing away the key is the loss of half the galaxy’s population, and fostering an atmosphere of resentment.
And not only is Yrica freed, pardoned and allowed to go her own way – with conditions, of course – but then down the line Chass finds her, and they eventually get together. Like…romantically. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility in this galaxy for someone to do horrendous things, to pay the price (while staying alive) and to find some measure of peace after the fact.
Now for the part you all knew was coming:
I only wish that two certain writers could take the same view Freed does when it comes to what’s possible for a person seeking redemption. We’ve often said, since…oh, I don’t know, December 2019, that while a moment of redemption followed by death is a simple way to tell a story, it is far from the best way to do it. It’s not interesting in the least. I found peace, and catharsis in watching Yrica Quell come to terms with what she’s done, and I can’t help but wish that a character like Ben Solo had been given the same chance. Not through exile (which solves nothing, because then he might as well be dead) or through prison for “war crimes” (lets promise right now to never use the term “war crimes” within Star Wars discourse again), but through an actual chance to work and try to make things better. To face the mistakes made head on. There is room for that in this galaxy, clearly. As for what I think that would look like? Probably something like the epilogue of Victory’s Price.
Where, and I cannot stress this enough, the fuck is Admiral Rae Sloane? Where?? The absolute potential of this character, and somehow she disappears into the fringes of space, never to be seen again? I get that she wasn’t one of the major characters of this series, but if she’s mentioned at all here then it was so quick I missed it completely.
Every reference made to Hera and her life, every scene she was in, absolutely broke my heart. Maybe it’s because I just rewatched Rebels, but when they talk about her “putting children in the line of fire” I just had Ezra and Sabine’s faces before my eyes.
Yrica is proud of how far Wyl has come. That’s it. Nothing to add, I just got all weepy