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.
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.
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.
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 Alliance being just a rebellion, they’re referred to as terrorists, the destruction of the Death 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 editor 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.
The series has potential, although this does depend on what happens in the next 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!
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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