Review | Alphabet Squadron: by Alexander Freed

I wrapped up Alexander Freed’s entry into the new expanded universe lineup (well tread jargon for you Star Wars fans) recently, and was somewhat underwhelmed. That’s sort of hard for me to type out for a few reasons, which I will expand upon myself in this post. Overall, I had pretty high expectations considering Freed’s reputation and CV that includes the novel version of Rogue One. The review here will get into some pretty nerdy Star Wars talk. Be warned. If SF, or – more specifically – space opera, is not your thing, I understand.

Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron | Book Review
Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron

I picked up Alphabet Squadron after an online bookstore hunt for the latest and greatest titles in the Star Wars expanded universe novel series. In fact, Freed is one of the top writers in the LucasFilm/Disney writing fold. As mentioned, he’s got the Rogue One novel to his credit – the film version is held in high regard by most of us older fans of the Star Wars franchise. I noticed there’s a second novel already available for pre-order in a planned trilogy, and I was excited to get caught-up with the original.

Freed is one of the top writers in the LucasFilm/Disney writing fold…he’s got the Rogue One novel to his credit – the film version is held in high regard by most of us older fans of the Star Wars franchise.

The overall story arc is pretty sound. It follows in the tradition of the Rogue Squadron novel series of the 1990’s and early 2000’s. In my opinion, while a cool idea, that series was always a bit hard to enjoy because it was using a minor (though beloved) character of the old Star Wars movies – Wedge Antilles – on which to build an entire series of novels. What Freed is doing is something similar, but using a completely fresh set of characters. This I like quite a bit.

The heroine of the novel, Yrica Quell, a deserter of the very recently fallen Empire is thrust into the New Republic’s shadowy intelligence services as penance for her war crimes as a TIE fighter flying-ace member of the dreadful “Shadow Wing”‘s war crimes. This is a very cool back story, and one that serves to provide quite solid plot devices throughout the remainder of the novel. Freed definitely leverages his work with Rogue One’s use of intelligence officers like Cassian Andor to keep building out a well-received addition to post “original trilogy” timelines in the history of the New Republic.

The first few chapters are great. We get a well-painted picture of the Quell character. She’s down-and-out on the outpost of Traitor’s Remorse – a place where Imperial captives and defectors wait out their destinies – most of which are pretty bleak. She soon crosses paths with the New Republic intelligence leader Caern Adan and his trusty IT-O unit, a re-purposed Imperial interrogation droid – think the hovery black globe w/ the hyperdermic needle from A New Hope (I warned you this would get nerdy in a very Star Wars kind of way 😉 ). Plumbing the depths of an imperial TIE fighter defector’s depression after the collapse of the Empire can get a bit weary, but Freed keeps it moving.

The first few chapters are great. We get a well-painted picture of the Quell character.

We shift our gaze to a parralel plot-line at this point. Unfortunately, in my opinion, this is where Freed loses a bit of his oomph, as it were. The other group we, the reader, focus on for a few chapters is a New Republic fighter group that is tasked with protecting a destroyer starship as an escort on the run from a particularly merciless old Imperial Star Destroyer fleet. We meet up with a host of alien and humanoid pilots whose identities are tied closely to their piloting of A, B, and Y-wing starfighters. Here, again, is where I find the novel to be at its weakest.

Almost as soon as I put the book down I lost track of the characters in this part of the story. Meanwhile, when shifting back to Yrica Quell, Caern Adan and IT-O we get a highly compelling story line of redemption through the heroine earning her stripes as a New Republic intelligence operative. This is great stuff! Adan and Quell have a tension you can cut with a knife. He doesn’t really want her, but needs her to carry out his mission to investigate the whereabouts of the Star Destroyer fleet that is still carrying out the world-killing mission of the fallen Empire. Quell isn’t crazy about working to pay off her debts, but has a redemption story tied to a childhood ambition to fight for the Rebel Alliance. She ultimately works her way back into a gig flying an old X-Wing.

By the final third of this novel, the parralel plots of Quell and the team of A, B & Y wingers from the beleaguered escort team (they literally get torn to shreds providing escort to the on-the-run destroyer), converge and the eponymous Alphabet Squadron is formed.

Alexander Freed is a really good writer. Please, don’t get me wrong. Much respect, as the kids say. However, as stated at the top, I had pretty high expectations going into this read, and they weren’t quite met. I also think Freed is a Philly guy! All the more reason to like him. I have Shadow Fall: Alphabet Squadron Book 2 on pre-order, so the first entry can’t be all that bad. The biggest area that drags is in the middle as the characters from the A, B and Y wings are built up. Admittedly, charcters like the extremely mysterious U-Wing pilot Kairos, and the wiley – inscrutable – Nath Tensent are well sketched. Those names though. Woof. Hard to keep track of – even as a Star Wars lifer.

Here’s to the next one.

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