Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron by Alexander Freed Book Review
Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron by Alexander Freed
Category:
Series Number: 1
Published: 30 Apr 2020
Page Count: 576
Publisher:
On the brink 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 starfighter 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.
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I’ve been eying up the Alphabet Squadron series for a while so after being approved to review the second book on NetGalley I picked up this one. I thought it would be interesting to review both so you could see whether my opinions changed as the series progressed. Here is my review for Alphabet Squadron by Alexander Freed.

 

Spoiler Warning

I stick to a strict spoiler-free policy with my book reviews, however, I am breaking it slightly with this review because I feel it’s essential to review this book for potential readers. It is a very minor spoiler which calls out a blatant lie in the book synopsis designed to draw in readers. It doesn’t ruin the book for anyone, it just sets a fact straight which I feel readers deserve to know before picking this title up.

First Impressions

I’m a big fan of the X-Wing novels from the Legends timeline so as soon as it was announced that a new starfighter series was in the works I was really excited. Nothing could replace those books, but as far as I’m concerned Star Wars isn’t Star Wars without its starfighter squadrons. Throw in Hera Syndulla who I fell in love within Star Wars Rebels and I’m sold!

Unlike the X-Wing series the premise of this new series, which gives it its name, is that the squadron is filled with random starfighters. In the movies and novels, X-Wings really did steal the show and it’ll be interesting to see other starfighters play a larger role for a change.

Prior to reading this novel, I read the accompanying comic series, Star Wars: TIE Fighter and even before doing so Shadow Wing reminded me of the 181st Imperial Fighter Wing. One big difference though is that the 181st served directly under Darth Vader, whereas there doesn’t appear to be any link to a Sith here. The leadership is purely military.

Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron by Alexander Freed Book Review

The Review

I went into this novel with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I had really high hopes for a new starfighter series, and on the other in the back of my mind was the only new canon novel I had read (Aftermath by Chuck Wendig) which had been extremely disappointing. I clung to the link to the TIE Fighter comic series and reminded myself that one novel didn’t necessarily mean that all the new canon novels were going to be disappointing. The new comics have been absolutely brilliant. And so, I went into this book with an open mind…

… and I was thoroughly disappointed.

Let me start with the blatant lie I mentioned in the synopsis and go from there.

 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.

As I mentioned I’m a big fan of Hera so the idea of a new squadron run by her sounded awesome. In hindsight the synopsis only makes it sound like she is running the show, so I’ll give them that; it’s careful wordplay. However, it’s still a lie because Hera isn’t the one who gives them the task in the first place. She is involved, and it’s fantastic to see her, but in a much smaller capacity than the synopsis makes out. It’s a name drop to draw in fans of Star Wars Rebels.

Other than Hera the book is made up of brand new characters and there are a lot of them. Too many, to be honest. There are four separate narratives happening at the same time; Alphabet Squadron, Shadowing Squadron, the Imperial commanders and group of New Republic Military. The last group seems quite random at the start, and as the novel progresses their identity becomes evident. What confused me was how much effort was put into their narratives. The role they play in the novel didn’t require the amount of characterisation and detail that the author chose to go into, and many scenes regarding those characters seemed to be fluff to just bulk out the novel. Even when I realised who these characters were I didn’t feel the need to know anywhere near as much detail about them as I now did.

In comparison, I knew almost nothing about the main characters, the actual Alphabet Squadron. Being cagey and mysterious about your characters is one thing, but there’s a problem when you’re giving the reader a full character history of minor characters they’ll never meet again. I felt absolutely no empathy or bond to any of the main characters, and that’s a big problem. The only interest I had in them by the end of the book was to unravel their mysteries and that will only go so far for me.

For a novel which is built around a space fighter squadron, there were not that many space battles, at least for Alphabet Squadron itself. Most of the space battles scenes didn’t involve them, and for most of the book, they were out of the cockpit. It felt more like a spy novel than a space pilot one, and as I found in Wendig’s Aftermath there is Disney’s obsession with featuring terrorism in a universe where it doesn’t exist. Both sides throw the words “terrorist attack” around multiple times throughout the novel. Rather than the Rebel being just a rebellion, they’re referred to as terrorists, the destruction of the Star is called a terror attack by the Imperials, and the destruction of Alderaan is referred to as justification for it, and further attacks.

While I don’t disagree with showing the Imperial point of view, no universe is black and white, not even a fictional one like Star Wars, I abhor the way real-world events have been drawn into a fantasy world that is many people’s escape from reality. I don’t want to, nor expect to, read about terrorism in work of fiction unless I purposely go looking for it. It’s also the incorrect use of the term terrorism:

the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims

The entire point of the Rebellion is that the Senate was dissolved by Palpatine. While the Rebellion was originally started by politicians (Bail Organa, Mon Mothma, etc.) it developed into a full-on rebellion because no political avenue was available to them. The Rebellion’s aims were not to cause violence or intimidation, and their targets were primarily military or members of the Empire – not civilians.

While it’s obvious that an Imperial would not care for the exact definition of the terminology, a writer should. Injecting words into a narrative that have no place and are incorrect is something that an should pick up on. The fact that this has been present in two new Star Wars novels makes me believe that this a decision by Disney rather than both authors. I’ll be interested to see if other new post-Original Trilogy novels continue this pattern.

Star Wars: My review for Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron by Alexander Freed, the first book in the new starfighter novel series of the same name from Disney.

Conclusion

The series has potential, although this does depend on what happens in the novel. I have it sitting here to read and review so I’ll be able to follow up the thoughts of this review for you all. The members of Alphabet Squadron have enough personality, quirks and history that could be the foundation for a really good series. The problem is all the other junk in between. There is so much political rubbish in this novel whereas all I really wanted was for them to get in their ships and do what star pilots do best. I really feel like the author completely misunderstood what he was getting himself into when he signed up to write a series called Alphabet Squadron. If you want to go write a military novel, fine, but don’t label it a starfighter novel and drop a name like Hera Syndulla just so people will pick it up!

Meet the Author

Alexander Freed

New York Times bestselling author Alexander Marsh Freed has worked as a game designer, novelist, editor, and comic book writer for nearly fifteen years, contributing to dozens of works ranging from mass market video games of record-setting scope to critically acclaimed small press anthologies.
From 2006 to 2012, Freed was part of the in-house writing staff at video game developer BioWare, where he served as Lead Writer on multiple projects before departing to focus on freelancing. Since then, he has continued to work on such BioWare franchises as Star Wars: The Old Republic, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age, as well as contributing to products from companies such as Kabam, Obsidian Entertainment, Stoic, WB Games Montreal, and others.
Freed’s original short stories have appeared in Interzone magazine and various anthologies. His first novel, Star Wars: Battlefront: Twilight Company, was included on BuzzFeed’s “Best Science Fiction Of 2015” list.
As of this writing, he lives in Austin, Texas and refers to himself in the third person. He is an avid roller skater and eater of mangos.

You can find out more about his work over at his website. You can browse his on Goodreads. Or connect with him on social media; he’s on Twitter!

Over to you

Thanks for reading my review for book one of the Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron series. More book reviews are on the way this month as I catch up with my to-do list, including the follow-up review to this one which is Shadowfall, the second book in the series!

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1 Comment

    OH NO! I also read Aftermath and I agreed with you. I have Alphabet Squadron on my TBR pile. I hate when books add too many characters and you don’t really care about them because it’s hard to keep track of them all.

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