Alphabet Squadron

When we look at Star Wars, it’s all too easy to see the heroes and the villains in the original trilogy. In the prequel era, those lines became less clear. Instead of it being a story of black and white, we were introduced to the element of gray. Anakin Skywalker is the good guy who saves the day time after time, yet he’s the hero who’s tragic fall leads so many to death and misery. And yet, he’s the one who kills the Emperor and brings about the beginning of the end for the Empire. When looked at as a whole, Star Wars is not such a simple story of heroes defeating villains. In that vein, Alexander Freed weaves a tale that is both complex and illuminating. Sure, in the broad sense it’s about the forces of good fighting the forces of evil, but who are the people on both sides of the conflict? What happens to those who try to leave the Empire and forge a new life for themselves? What happens to the heroes who have to live with the casualties of war? Alphabet Squadron dives into those themes, and many more, as it explores the consequences of war and the choices we make.

First and foremost, Alphabet Squadron is a book that centers on its characters. There’s the Imperial deserter, Yrica Quell, who is recruited by New Republic intelligence to hunt down the Empire’s infamous Shadow Wing. Through her, we see the Rebellion through the eyes of the Empire. She’s been shaped by the propaganda of the Emperor, fought against the Rebels, seen the horrors of war, and through that hardship, has found herself now on the other side hoping to right a wrong. But fighting for the New Republic isn’t easy when no one trusts you. Alongside her is another Imperial defector, Nath Tensent. Unlike Quell, Nath deserted early, but that doesn’t make him a saint. He’s lived for himself over the years, by whatever means necessary, and often breaking the law in pursuit of credits. For all his charm, his fellow squad mates know he can’t be trusted entirely. Then there’s Wyl Lark, the most noble of the bunch. A talented pilot who yearns to return home now that the Empire has been mostly defeated. Yet events keep happening that keep him in the fight. Chass na Chadic, while lacking nobility, is certainly in it to fight the Empire. Her care free nature leads her to a love of music while blasting TIE’s out of the sky. However, her recklessness is a danger to everyone in her sights as well as those on her team. Kairos is one of the most mysterious characters in the book, let alone the members of Alphabet Squadron. She is a warrior hidden behind a mask who doesn’t speak. Her cryptic nature instills curiosity among her squad mates, but her actions often illicit fear with the brutality she’s able to administer. Rounding out the team is Adan Caern, a member of New Republic intelligence who forms Alphabet Squadron in order to hunt down and neutralize the threat of Shadow Wing. But Adan is not some clear cut good guy out to do what’s right and heroic. Sure, he wants to stop the Empire, and yeah, Shadow Wing is a threat, but this is also an opportunity for him to show how important he can be and perhaps a chance for him to climb the ranks. A victory against Shadow Wing would help him secure a promotion, more assets, more authority, and if he has to coerce and manipulate some ex-Imperials to get the job done, so be it.

With this rag tag assortment of characters, flaws and all, this book builds a story around an intriguing cast. Each character, aside from Wyl who is pretty much a solid good guy, has their downsides as well as their heroic moments. They’re all complex characters who give the reader plenty to chew on and discover. Slowly, as the story progresses, you learn about their personalities, their backstories, their baggage and goals, and you see them progress as they work together and encounter new obstacles. Some of them you will continue to learn about throughout the book as they have secrets to keep. And while there is a story beyond the characters as they fight in battles and eventually hunt down Shadow Wing, it’s the characters that drive the story along and make the whole thing interesting. Alexander Freed does a great job of creating investment in the characters, slowing revealing some of the mystery around them, exploring their flaws and motivations, and showing them build a relationship with each other as they form into a squad. Oddly enough, you might not even like all the members of the squad as there will be times when you love them, and moments when you hate them. But in the end, you’ll grow attached to them because you know them. You’ll see their struggles, you’ll see their points of view, and one way or another, you’ll be able to emphasize. That delicate balance is one of the biggest joys in reading this book and it helps make the characters feel so real and believable.

Aside from Alphabet Squadron, there are other characters in the book.  Nearly halfway through, General Syndulla shows up and sticks around as the commander of the fleet Alphabet Squadron gets attached to. While she’s not a main character, she gets some page time and it’s something Star Wars Rebels fans will certainly enjoy. The villain of the story is Colonel Shakara, aka Grandmother, the commander of Shadow Wing. She’s an Imperial trying to keep the Empire alive despite the changing tide of the war. There are other characters and plot threads at work that keep the story interesting, as well as the general exploration of what happened after the battle of Endor. The book touches on Operation Cinder and the Emperor’s post-death wrath. It explores the weaknesses of the New Republic and the challenges before them. There’s also a nice little thread that reminds us of the heroism of Rebel heroes like Jyn Erso. But even with all of that, there’s always a character focus at play.

If you’re not a fan of space battles and plot heavy tomes, then fear not, Alphabet Squadron may be just what you’re looking for. Yes, there are space battles, and there is a great story woven through the 416 pages in this novel, but all of that fails in comparison with the deep, intriguing character exploration that is at this book’s core. With an even handed approach to characters on both sides of the conflict, this story dives into the motivations, flaws and heroism that resides in us all. In the end, Alphabet Squadron tells an intriguing story, and builds up a solid cast for the books that will follow. I give it a five out of five metal bikinis.

Reviewed By: Skuldren for Roqoo Depot.
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