Welcome to Book Reviews. In this series I will look to review any canon books that come out in the Star Wars galaxy as I work my way through them. I am no expert book critic or expert in writing (as you may be able to tell), so this is very much from a fan’s point of view. In each review, I will also try to point out a few “Moments in Canon” – moments that link into the wider canon and references to other canon stories. Today I will be looking at Alexander Freed’s Alphabet Squadron.
Released in June, Alphabet Squadron is the first in a new trilogy of books by Alexander Freed. The sequel, Shadow Fall, was recently announced to release 23ʳᵈ June 2020. The story also crosses over with the Marvel comic miniseries Star Wars: TIE Fighter, which focuses on Shadow Wing, the villains of this book.
Set in the period between the Battle of Endor and the Battle of Jakku (some mentions in the book suggest that it is set before the novel Aftermath), Alphabet Squadron follows the formation of the titular squadron to combat the elite Imperial fighter group Shadow Wing (the 204ᵗʰ Imperial Fighter Wing).
Another disconcerting advantage of flying with an astromech droid: Your ship came when you called.
The main points of view are 4 of the Alphabet Squadron pilots: Yrica Quell, Nath Tensent, Chass na Chadic and Wyl Lark, but there are a number of other characters whose eyes we see the story progression through, including Hera Syndulla, Caern Adan of New Republic Intelligence and Colonel Shakara Nuress, commander of Shadow Wing.
There are also a few chapters in the story that are separate to the main story line, showing the viewpoint of a character named Devon.
I’ve mentioned in a number of other reviews that I generally prefer more action-heavy stories to slower-paced character pieces, so it’s no real surprise that I enjoyed this one. Having enjoyed Freed’s previous novels in the canon (the novelisation of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Battlefront: Twilight Company), I was confident that this was a book for me and I was 100% right. I could not stop talking to my work colleague about this one.
Much like Twilight Company, it focuses on a specific group of combatants that are nothing special (they aren’t Force users or heroes of the Rebellion, just your average Rebel), but instead of infantry soldiers, we are now looking at a squadron of pilots. There are distinct similarities in how we see the pilots finding ways to relax between engagements and having to cope with limited supplies and limited support. I also really love how Freed writes the dogfights in a way that you only focus on the specifics for the pilot we are following, but through their peripheral understanding and other transmissions, we can still get a good general understanding of the battles. I also like how the idea of each pilot having a different type of fighter is addressed in the novel, not just why they each have different fighters but also the difficulties this causes to them working together.
This was what her Empire had become in the days after Endor. She saw it now, but she was too late to save Nacronis.
On the whole, I really like the way the characters are written. Adan’s motives for creating Alhpabet Squadron are not wholly unselfish and while the need to take out Shadow Wing are clear, he is far from a good person, especially compared to Hera, who remains very faithful to the character we came to know and love in Rebels. Kairos is kept largely mysterious, but the other members of the squadron are all relatively well developed, but with enough space to grow and for us to learn more about them as the trilogy continues. I really love how each of the pilots has their own motivation for not just joining this squadron, but even joining the fight against the Empire before this. Yrica Quell is clearly the lead character in this story and having defected from the Empire, it is a lovely touch to see her comparing the way the New Republic operates compared to the Empire and also getting used to the differences.
Aside from Nuress, the bad guys are kept largely faceless in this novel, with the Shadow Wing pilots often being referred to by recognisable features on their TIEs or the way they act, but they still feel like legitimate characters in their own rights. In particular, there is a scene that sticks with me from the first act where Wyl communicates with one of them during a stand-off. While the Empire are clearly made to be the bad guys, there is enough humanity here to stop them feeling like a faceless evil.
“How many other squadrons deserve to go down like yours?”
As for the story, it takes a while for the group to all come together, but I didn’t mind this as I knew coming in that this was part 1 of a trilogy. I really liked the time it took for everyone to come together as it felt like this was the time that we were getting the reasons for the pilots to each want to take down Shadow Wing, so that once everybody was together, the focus could switch to their interactions with each other and their coming together as a group.
Before bringing this to an end, I just want to mention the couple of chapters focusing on Devon, however due to the book still being relatively recent, I don’t want to spoil anything for those who haven’t read it. The first Devon chapter felt very out of place as it was not linking into the wider story at all, but as the second chapter went on, it started to become clearer that this was loosely linking in to the wider story and I imagined that it’s relevance would become clear in the second book. Very early in the third chapter, however, everything clicked into place in my mind and I realised just how this character linked in to the rest of the story and I think that this will be setting up a key storyline in the sequel.
Should I read it?
Most definitely! I think that the tone of this story works well both for adults and slightly younger readers. If you enjoyed Freed’s previous novels and like stories that focus on the soldiers and pilots rather than the famous names, this is not to be missed.
Caern considered the resources before him. Five operatives and five starfighters that hadn’t yet been claimed, reclaimed or requisitioned by the New Republic military. Those operatives ranged from absolutely reliable to—well to Yrica Quell. Put together, they were barely enough to mount a raid.
We’ve had quite a few stories set in this time period just after the Original Trilogy, but as they are making it clear how the war is continuing, I think that the uniqueness to the story still makes it a worthwhile read.
Moments in Canon
- Due to the timeframe this story is set in, Operation Cinder is heavily discussed and featured in the novel
- There is a mention of Imperial Special Forces helping to stop Operation Cinder on Naboo, which Star Wars Battlefront II reveals to be Inferno Squad
- The Messenger droids seen in the Aftermath Trilogy, Star Wars Battlefront II and Shattered Empire comic make an appearance and their message from Palpatine (which we see in the game and the comic) is discussed
- Coruscant is mentioned as being under Imperial lockdown, something that was still the case in Aftermath: Life Debt
- Nuress refers to the power struggle between Moff Pandion and Gran Admiral Sloane, which is one of the storylines of Aftermath
- The genocide on Lasan is mentioned, something that we have heard discussed on Rebels
- Chass flew for the Cavern Angels, who were part of Saw Gerrera’s Partisans
- The Empire changed the story of the Jedi over time: Initially they attempted to stage a coup and assassinate Palpatine, but later they were described as just a small cult, more in line with what we saw Thane and Cienna taught in Lost Stars
Have you read this book? What were your thoughts on it? Thanks for reading. May the Force be with you…