Over the years we’ve learned that the Galactic Civil War was even more complex than what was seen in the original trilogy of Star Wars movies. Star Wars – Battlefront II: Inferno Squad adds to the complexity taking us into a less-visited Imperial perspective of the war right after the destruction of the first Death Star.
Iden Versio, TIE Pilot and Death Star survivor is the captain of Inferno Squad – a newly-formed specialized task force within the Empire. In the wake of their great loss this is an Empire smarting and on the defensive. Looking to seal up leaks and finish off what remains of Saw Gerrera’s Partisans, Inferno Squad is assigned to infiltrate and clean up by Iden’s own father, Admiral Versio of the Imperial Security Bureau.
Where Christie Golden’s book excels is at getting a better understanding of players on both sides, blurring the lines between good and evil. All four members of Inferno Squad staunchly believe in the order the Empire could bring to the galaxy, but their approaches are colored by their life experiences and specialties. The Partisans are fleshed out to both represent the wild threats the Empire regards them as but also individuals with hopes and cares. Motivations of hate and rage stand alongside those of hope and betterment.
The time both sides spend together serves up plenty of inner and outer conflict. Tension within that second half of the book deftly ebbs and flows. It’s interesting and easy to read. So it’s unfortunate that all of these great elements underscore how weak the book’s lead-up to the main mission is.
From the assembly of Inferno Squad through their early missions together, there’s way more tell than show. The excerpt featured on StarWars.com is a quintessential example. Instead of showing on a mission what the genius and skills are of each member, the characters are literally brought into a room and given an info-dump on two of the four officers. The only reason it’s not four info-dumps is because one member, pilot Gideon Hask, already gave us those on himself and Iden when he was on the way to the room. The team barely gels as the book races through to get them where they need to be for the meat of the story.
What does get much emphasis and expounding in the early pages is Iden’s need to be the leader of her group. And while Iden’s constant need to prove herself does play a large role in the story overall, her leader-quest is made hollow by the fact that the team almost exclusively acts independently once they’re undercover. What’s more, her leadership is barely respected by her teammates for no clear reason.
Since the book bounces between the Imperials’ perspectives, their lack of connection with each other comes in vivid contrast to the intriguing relationships they develop with the Partisans. Those relationships built both on commonalities and lies are layered and it’s hard to believe any member of Inferno Squad feels exactly the same way about their enemies after this mission.
Beyond the weak first half and riveting second half, there’s one more element of this book that leaves me feeling conflicted about it overall. Seyn Marana, Inferno Squad’s intelligence officer comes equipped with arguably the widest skillset of the team. Her knowledge and abilities are no doubt helpful for the work they’re meant to do. But when you take her much-talked about youth/limited life experience and a comfort zone that flourishes in isolation – I don’t understand how she was the best choice for being on the ground with this team – especially on this Partisan mission.
It’s not discussed within the book but there’s been the idea floating around Star Wars storytelling that many of the Empire’s best and brightest were aboard the Death Star. So their loss along with the battle station creates a hole in the Empire’s top personnel resources. But even that reasoning doesn’t entirely sell me on how Admiral Versio decided Seyn was an excellent fit. She’s a very interesting and sympathetic character but I can’t shake the feeling that she’s not supposed to be there.
So in the end, I enjoyed but also deeply questioned Inferno Squad. I appreciated that there was no normalization of abusive romantic relationships like in Golden’s other Star Wars contributions and with so many more female characters in play the fridging of one (or arguably two) of them didn’t sting as much as in the past. Reading this book didn’t make me any more excited for the upcoming video game than I already was, but it didn’t lessen my excitement either.
Despite a weak foundation Battlefront II: Inferno Squad delivers on a fraught drama, sliding its main characters – as well as two sides of the war – back and forth between hero and villain. It’s something a little different than what we’ve gotten from Star Wars books before and that definitely makes it welcome.
Star Wars – Battlefront II: Inferno Squad is out now from Del Rey in hardcover, e-book, and audiobook. The publisher provided FANgirl a copy of the book for review purposes.
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