Alphabet Squadron‘s tone lives somewhere between the old X-wing books of the Star Wars Expanded Universe and the rebooted Battlestar Galactica TV series. Set after Return of the Jedi, Alexander Freed’s novel brings together five pilots for the New Republic. They’re recruited to a special squadron hunting down a dangerous Imperial TIE group still at large and beyond the fact that each pilot flies a different class of ship, they’re an interesting bunch. Three-time Star Wars author Freed continues to do well at hooking you on characters you’ve just met in a galaxy full of so many you know already.
This author is not the type to give you a character info dump. Instead it’s all wonderfully pieced out as the story develops. You might not know everything you’d want to about these characters in the end but the process allows you to discover them in a way that feels very natural. Each member has something compelling or intriguing about them – from Wyl’s relationship with his ship and his homeworld to Chass’ coping mechanisms.
That being said all five pilots ultimately still felt a little too distant. They tend to hold themselves at arm’s length away from their task and each other. Then the narrative doubles down on that distance with misdirection and implications of ulterior motives despite also letting us get in characters’ heads. And while these pilots definitely have reasons to do the whole arm’s length thing within the story – it made me wonder if some readers will ultimately have trouble connecting with characters that don’t seem to want connection. The book’s resolution isn’t the most satisfying either. This is the first book of a trilogy so that might account for some of the storytelling choices, but consider this your heads-up: Alphabet might technically be a Squadron but they’re not much of a squad. If you’re expecting the team dynamics the word squadron often implies in Star Wars books and comics, this isn’t it.
As advertised and luckily for us, Hera Syndulla of Star Wars Rebels figures into this story too. It takes a while to get to her, and she’s not a primary focus. When she gets some time though, Freed has her voice and character down. (Although I find it strange that the consummate Space Mom’s own son isn’t even mentioned in passing). She’s a welcome presence to have in the mix for this skilled but worn down group of individuals.
Overall Alphabet Squadron is a story of a tough time told with dense writing – not too unlike Freed’s first Star Wars entry Battlefront: Twilight Company. That also means it’s not a quick read but fortunately it doesn’t really get too difficult to understand. You’ll also find some similar vibes to the Battlefront II video game’s story mode. That’s not only because the squadron’s leader, Yricia Quell, has some similarities to Battlefront‘s Iden Versio like being a female pilot with Imperial experience. The post-Endor era is a messy time for the Rebels and Empire alike and Freed doesn’t pull punches. So while I appreciated the realism of it and the first half hooked me, I’ll have to wait for future entries in the series to see if they’ll finish reeling me in.
Alphabet Squadron is out now from Del Rey in hardcover, e-book, and audiobook. It’s also part of a Marvel and Del Rey crossover event where Marvel’s TIE Fighter miniseries serves as a counterpart.
The publisher provided FANgirl with a copy of the book for review. As usual opinions are my own.
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