Book Review: Alphabet Squadron by Alexander Freed

Published: June 11, 2019 (US); June 13, 2019 (UK)
Author: Alexander Freed
Cover artist: Jeff Langevin
Publisher: Del Rey (US), Century (UK)
Formats: Hardback (416 pages), eBook (416 pages), Audiobook (830 minutes)
Timeline: 4 years ABY (After the Battle of Yavin)

The synopsis;

The first novel in a new trilogy starring veteran New Republic pilots!

On the verge of victory in a brutal war, five New Republic pilots transform from hunted to hunters in this epic Star Wars adventure. Set after Return of the Jedi, Alphabet Squadron follows a unique team, each flying a different class of starfighters as they struggle to end their war once and for all.

The Emperor is dead. His final weapon has been destroyed. The Imperial Army is in disarray. In the aftermath, Yrica Quell is just one of thousands of defectors from her former cause living in a deserters’ shantytown—until she is selected to join Alphabet Squadron.

Cobbled together from an eclectic assortment of pilots and starfighters, the five members of Alphabet are tasked by New Republic general Hera Syndulla herself. Like Yrica, each is a talented pilot struggling to find their place in a changing galaxy. Their mission: to track down and destroy the mysterious Shadow Wing, a lethal force of TIE fighters exacting bloody, reckless vengeance in the twilight of their reign.

The newly formed unit embodies the heart and soul of the Rebellion: ragtag, resourceful, scrappy, and emboldened by their most audacious victory in decades. But going from underdog rebels to celebrated heroes isn’t as easy as it seems, and their inner demons threaten them as much as their enemies among the stars. The wayward warriors of Alphabet Squadron will have to learn to fly together if they want to protect the new era of peace they’ve fought so hard to achieve.

Part of a Marvel and Del Rey crossover event, Alphabet Squadron is the counterpart to Marvel’s TIE Fighter miniseries, which follows the exploits of Shadow Wing as they scheme to thwart the New Republic.

The review;

Fourth grade philosopher Bart Simpson said, “there are no good wars… with the exception of the Star Wars trilogy.” However, author Alexander Freed shows us that even in the galaxy far far away, “War,” to quote American General William Sherman, “is Hell.”

A Star Wars novel featuring misfit pilots begs to be compared to the X-wing novels of the 90s, particularly Aaron Alston’s Wraith Squadron.  Both works feature pilots who are also called upon to act as infiltrators, saboteurs, and intelligence operatives. Both feature humor (albeit drastically different tones). Both deal with the dynamics of desperate people trying to work together. However, at the end of the planetary rotation, both works are light-years apart in terms of style and tone. Alston’s Wraith Squadron tells a tale of adventure, light hearted-humor, and dare I say fun; while Freed’s Alphabet Squadron gives us a gripping and compelling character study of flawed people amid the backdrop of a galaxy in turmoil after the battle of Endor and still burning from Operation Cinder (first mentioned in Marvel’s Star Wars: Shattered Empire). Readers who are expecting the comfort food of the old EU’s X-wing novels may be disappointed by this. Those that approach this read with an open mind will be rewarded with one of the best written Star Wars novels of the new canon.

Quell

I mentioned humor.  Alston’s pilots (much like their beloved author) engage in witty banter and wordplay. “Janson gave him a look that was all mock cheer. ‘Oh, wonderful. I killed his father. He hates me. He knows how to make bombs. Come on, Wedge, how does this story end?’  The humor in Alphabet Squadron is dark. The pilots of the Hellion’s Dare play a game where they predict the details of their own death: “Who, What, Where and When.” It is gallows’ humor, serving as a brief moment of levity between waves enemy assault. The first act alone shows us the demise of over two dozen named characters.

Alston’s Piggy Vort dancing at the end of Mercy Kill lives in a little birdhouse in my soul. I doubt Freed’s characters will take up the same real estate at the conclusion of this new trilogy (with the exception perhaps of Wyl Lark).  That isn’t to say the members of Alphabet Squadron are not well written in their own right, they absolutely are (I just don’t want them over for dinner, much less dancing). Freed is able to deftly produce a narrative that gives us two distinct theatres of war: an outer, public war against Shadow Squadron, and an inner, private war the members of the squad wage against themselves—perhaps for their very soul.

We have Kairos. U-wing pilot. Not a big talker, she poses enormous physical strength. She is the member of the squadron that has been with agent Caen Adan the longest.

We have Nath Tensent. Y-wing pilot. I feel like we all know this type of scoundrel.  There is one in every office or in every classroom: a weasel, a charmer, a schmooze. He sees all human interaction in terms of quid pro quo. He is also the last survivor of his old units, a trait he shares with the other pilots of his squad. In Nath, Freed gives the reader a character to love to hate; yet, we also want him redeemed as well—perhaps more than Nath does himself.

We have Wyl Lark. A-wing pilot. From a planet called Polyneus, or as the natives refer to it: Home. Having grown up riding flying beasts, Wyl is an accomplished pilot. While his backstory seems similar to the Navi from Avatar, it reminds me of the Lost Tribe of the Sith stories by John Jackson Miller. Wyl talks to his fighter like one would a flying beast, or a family pet (or like a Corellian would his freighter). A young pilot, he is full of naiveté—like when, during a lull in the action, he opens his comm to reach out to swap stories with the enemy TIE pilots. Also, the last of his old unit– Wyl serves as a moral compass for the squad (and a likeable character for the reader).

We have Chass de Chadic. B-wing pilot. Also, the last survivor of her squadron, she seems to have a death wish, hoping to be martyred like her hero Jyn Erso. That she didn’t yet die for the Cause is a source of contention between her and Wyl, whom she feels robbed her of her agency by preventing her from going out in a blaze of glory. The connections with Rogue One are neat if not unexpected (Freed also wrote the excellent novelization to the film). I like that Chass rocks out to music in her cockpit.

Finally, we have Yrica Quell. X-wing pilot. Our protagonist in the novel, we get a front row seat to the battlefield of her mind. A former Imperial, she isn’t fully embraced by the New Republic. In turn, she doesn’t fully embrace the New Republic either. She still views them as rebels and terrorists and struggles with hunting the squadron that used to be her family (the Imperials even refer to their commanding officer as “Grandmother.”) Freed writes her conflict very well. His prose reminds me of Tim O’Brian’s The Things They Carried, also a war novel. It is an intimate portrayal of the public and the private—as Yrica wages her war on two fronts (the battlefield and her identity). Luckily for both Yrica and the reader, she is aided in both conflicts by General Hara Syndulla. She also has her droid friends; her astromech and a plucky imperial torture droid repurposed by Agent Adan as a medical droid (played, in the movie of my mind, by Dr. Ball M.D. from Robot Chicken).

Freed also scores a victory for special diversity. Not every hutt is greedy, not every Wookiee is loyal, not every Twi’lek is a slave, and not every Gungan is annoying. Freed knows this and does a very nice job of upending special storytelling stereotypes. We get a chadra-fan starship captain (I pictured Bobby Moynoiahan’s Jura, from Resistance, in an admiral’s hat), which may be a first for Star Wars. Intelligence officer and Yrica’s handler, Caern Agen is trying to save the New Republic (and his branch of the government). A Balosar, he is not trying to sell death sticks, unlike the Balosar we see in attack of the Clones (although, at times he should– as Obi-Wan would say– go home and rethink his life.)

I should note that my copy of Alphabet Squadron is the Barnes and Noble Edition. Generally, Barnes and Noble offers exclusive mini posters featuring artwork depicting events in the novel. The posters that came with the new Thrawn novels, for example, are really cool. Sadly, in lieu of art, my Barnes and Noble edition came with rather generic-looking monochromatic bookmarks (they did not even use the cool Langevin portrait art Del Rey used for SDCC, featuring a silhouette of each squad mate.)

Alphabet Squadron is a great start to what will be a great trilogy; I hope you all enjoy it as much as I have. In the meantime, I am going to go dance with the Gamorrean pilot that lives in my soul. It looks like an A-wing pilot is going to join us after all.

Availability;

Alphabet Squadron by Alexander Freed is published by Del Rey in the US on the 11th June 2019 and Century in the UK on 13th June 2019 in hardback format. was released in the US and in the UK. It is available at all good bookstores and through online retailers including Amazon with a RRP of £20. It is available in hardback, eBook and audiobook formats.