Until now most of my reviews have been for standalone novels or first books in a series. This review is the first time I’ve followed up on a series by reviewing the second book in the series. As I discuss Shadow Fall I will be referring back to my previous review of Alphabet Squadron, the first book, so it may be helpful to read that review if you have not already.
This book was provided for free by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to NetGalley and Randomhouse UK for the opportunity.
Normally my reviews are spoiler-free, however, I don’t know how to return to a series without giving context. That means this review contains some minor spoilers for book one in the Alphabet Squadron trilogy as I’ll be discussing previous events. I will not be giving any spoilers for this book.
If you would like to read a completely spoiler-free review you can see it here on GoodReads.com.
After the disappointing first book, the obvious question in my mind was can Shadow Fall improve? Is this going to be another book more concerned with politics and terrorism than actual space battles? I remember feeling the same reluctance to pick up the second book of the Aftermath trilogy, and to be honest, if I had not been approved to review this book it would probably have taken me years to pick this series up again. I was that disillusioned with the first book.
What I’m looking for from this book is much better characterisation that makes me actually feel something for the characters. I want to laugh and cheer when they succeed, cry when they lose a comrade or grow angry when a plan doesn’t go their way. At the end of Alphabet Squadron, I felt zero connection to any character in the novel, save for Hera Syndulla who I already knew and is a secondary character. I’m also looking for a distinction between the main cast and minor characters so that the book doesn’t feel so cluttered and has a clear narrative throughout.
Looking at the plot this novel offers a lot of promising drama and epic space battles straight out of the X-Wing novels. Its mentor vs. student as Yrica’s former mentor returns to Shadow Wing to take over the elite TIE fighter squadron. The implications of what that means for Alphabet Squadron professional and personally are huge. The question is, can Alexander Freed deliver?
Unlike book one Shadow Fall starts right in the middle of the action. I wondered if the pace would end up slowing down and dwindling into endless politics and was pleasantly surprised when it didn’t. If anything it kept ramping up. From start to finish Alphabet Squadron are in the thick of it as they lay a trap for their Imperial nemesis’, and like any good plan, there are always bumps along the way. These bumps allow us to get to know the characters, to watch them grow and work through what’s happening.
There are also delayed reactions to what happened in the first book for Lark and Chass who are coming to terms with being the only survivors of Shadow Wing’s attack on the Hellion’s Dare and the choices they have made. In my opinion, this is as much to do with the circumstances as it is to do with the better characterisation in this novel. Despite there being action the author has made space for the characters to get retrospective with themselves and each other. The main cast isn’t fighting over space in the novel with twenty other characters, and as I’d hoped, the line between minor and major characters is much clearer. The minor characters pop in and out like scenery, adding to the story, adjacent to Alphabet Squadron but never taking the attention away from them as they did in the first novel.
There is so much improvement in this novel that I honestly wondered at one point if it was written by a ghostwriter. However, as I continued to work my way through the book I began to see familiar patterns in the writing style that dispelled that idea. For one, the author continues to write as though striving to impress someone way too hard. This is particularly noticeable through long rambling sentence structures which would probably make J.R.Tolkien proud. In a science fiction novel that is already filled to the hilt with jargon, it just feels out of place and clunky. I ended up skimming quite a few sections of the description due to the long sentence instruction because I lost interest in the lacklustre description which essentially wasn’t telling me anything I needed to know. It became even more difficult to read when the author used words that the average reader is unlikely to recognise.
“But Vanguard’s on a mission to try to ameliorate the shortage of starships going around.”
With multiple degrees under my belt, one of which is in English Literature, I have a wide and varied vocabulary (I’ve read old English, for goodness sake). The use of the word “ameliorate” was unknown to me and I had to look it up. Even if I had been familiar with it (it means ‘make (something bad or unsatisfactory) better’), it feels completely out of place in the sentence. It’s a complicated word thrown in there just for the sake of being there, and while the character in question, Adan, speaks well his speech is not usually filled with overly specific jargon. It would have felt more in keeping with his usual dialogue to just say ‘fix’ or even ‘alleviate‘ if a slightly less common word was really necessary.
One thing that struck me as odd was the use of the terms navy and army throughout the novel. These felt too pedestrian for a Star Wars novel and I don’t recall them being used elsewhere in the franchise. According to Wookiepedia, however, they are the correct terminology. I think previously it has been armed forces rather than army and star fleet (or similar terminology) instead of navy. So while this is correct, it doesn’t feel like it’s typically done and a part of me is a little… irked at this break from tradition.
These may seem like small nitpicking things, yet all of them together prevent Shadow Fall from being a 5-star book for me. At least compared to the first book the obsession with terrorism has dropped considerably with it only being mentioned twice compared to the seven times previously. In the end, it was the characters and the plot that shone through, and I was pulled into the action eager to find out what would happen to the Squadron as I became emotionally attached to them at last. There are highs and lows, and there were finally moments where they said things to each other that had me laughing or made my heart squeeze with emotion.
Shadow Fall is a long book filled with everything that Alphabet Squadron should have had. If like me you were disappointed with the first book then I would definitely pick this one up and give it a fair shake. Will it ever take the place of the X-Wing series in my heart? No, buy these characters have started to make their own spaces and I’ve become invested in their stories. I want to know what happens next especially after that one hell of an ending. Things are just beginning to get interesting and there’s only one more book left in the trilogy. The final book, Victory’s Price, was released at the start of March 2020, so it’s now complete. I just need to get my hands on it to find out how it all ends.
Over to you
Thanks for taking the time to read this review for Shadow Fall, the second book in the Star Wars Alphabet Squadron trilogy. I will publish a review for the final book once I’ve read it so if you’re curious to know how that one holds up in comparison to its predecessor’s then I’ll let you know 🙂
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