The latest book from Alexander Freed, Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron, looks at what it takes to work as a team, finding commonality and camaraderie, and finding yourself when your world and everything you once knew and believed are turned upside down.
Yrica Quell is an Imperial defector. A TIE fighter pilot from the glory days of the Empire, to the stunning defeat during the Battle of Endor, through the immediate aftermath of the Emperor’s death. Disillusioned with actions taken in the name of the Emperor, Quell sees she can no longer serve what remains of the Empire. She joins the Rebels — at this point, the New Republic — with hopes of redeeming herself and showing she can be of value. Trust isn’t so easily earned, and she needs to prove herself before she can fly as a true part of the Republic.
To that end, Quell is ultimately teamed with Nath Tensent (himself a former Imperial pilot turned Rebel), Wyl Lark, Chass na Chadic, and Kairos, a mysterious helmeted pilot of few words — each survivors with their own motivations. They’re a ragtag group of individuals, illustrated by the craft they fly — an X-wing, a U-wing, B-wing, A-wing, and a Y-wing — nicknamed “Alphabet Squadron” as a bit of joke by the other pilots.
They answer directly to a member of New Republic Intelligence (aka, a spy), Caern Adan. Adan’s ultimate goal is to find the lethal 204th TIE fighter squadron known as Shadow Wing. Quell used to be a member of the 204th, so she knows how they function, and Nath, Chass, Kairos, and Wyl have their own scores to settle with Shadow Wing.
Less convinced of the need to root out Shadow Wing is General Hera Syndulla. There’s a lot of work to be done, on many worlds, and this group of Imperials doesn't top of her list of priorities. However, she allows for the mission to track down the 204th — provided Quell and her unlikely team can learn to work together as a cohesive unit. Easier said than done.
Alexander Freed has written a compelling group of characters with Alphabet Squadron. Not a particularly warm and fuzzy collection of individuals, but I found myself drawn to them regardless of whatever flaws they may have, or baggage they carry. Each can be understood in their own unique ways. Quell specifically was hard to get to know, and while she took the longest for me to warm up to, I never felt like giving up on her. I was rooting for all of them by the end of the book, which is the first in a trilogy.
Reading space battles isn't always easy for me. The action doesn't necessarily translate, and I often find myself glossing over a bit of the text. Not something I'm proud of as a Star Wars fan, but it is what it is. For some things, I need the visuals. The space battles in Alphabet Squadron were exhilarating, however. I didn't skip over any of the action because I was swept along in the drama and the tension and the interplay between the characters, and I didn't want to miss anything. That surely is a credit to Freed's writing.
While there were a few lulls in the reading, they were short-lived and didn't interfere the flow or with my overall enjoyment of the story. It's a minor quibble.
There is a side story that surfaces at several points in the book focussing on a mysterious character named Devon. I won't reveal anything aside from saying it's intriguing and there is a payoff that deftly acts as a set-up to the continuation of the story.
Alphabet Squadron is also part of a crossover with Marvel Comics. The book ties in with current series Star Wars: TIE Fighter. The first two issues are available now, and there is an excerpt from the first issue featured in Alphabet Squadron. TIE Fighter tells the story of Shadow Wing, and includes characters seen in Alphabet Squadron. I'm looking forward to checking out that series now that I've finished reading this story.
An additional aspect of Alphabet Squadron I appreciated were references to other Star Wars media, not just with Hera Syndulla of Star Wars Rebels, but also with nods to Jyn Erso and Luke Skywalker, and the events of Rogue One and Return of the Jedi. Perhaps most notably, Operation Cinder, the Emperor's contingency plan depicted in Battlefront II and Marvel's Shattered Empire series. They were an organic part of the storytelling, not wedged in for the sake of being there.
Alexander Freed's Alphabet Squadron is a strong entry into Star Wars canon, and I feel the characters could easily find their place among those we've come to know and love over the years, spanning films, animated series, novels, video games, and comics.
My rating: 4/5
You can purchase Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron now from Amazon.
Thank you to Penguin Random House for providing a copy of this book for review purposes.
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