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Reviews Books The JC Lit Reviews Special: ALPHABET SQUADRON: SHADOW FALL (spoilers)

Discussion in 'Literature' started by The2ndQuest , Aug 24, 2020.

  1. The2ndQuest

    The2ndQuest Tri-Mod With a Mouth star 10 Staff Member Manager

    Jan 27, 2000
    Alright, everyone's had a couple months to dive into this starfighter-centric sequel, time to rate and review!

    Alphabet Squadron: Shadow Fall by Alexander Freed

    Provide a rating score on a scale of 1 to 10. You may include a review with your post, but leave in-depth discussion for the main Alphabet Squadron: Shadow Fall discussion thread.

    Please do not post a review score unless you have read the entire book.
  2. Charlemagne19

    Charlemagne19 Chosen One star 8

    Jul 30, 2000


    SHADOW FALL by Alexander Freed is the sequel to ALPHABET SQUADRON. Alexander Freed has a history of writing Star Wars novels in the new canon that take a remarkably unglamorous look at the Galactic Civil War. His heroes are frequently cynical, full of trauma, and often confused at meeting people who really believe it is a battle of Good vs. Evil. Alexander Freed also tends to right very sympathetic Imperial characters.

    The premise of Alphabet Squadron as a series is Yrica (pronounced "Erica" in Jacen Solo fashion) Quell is a defecting Imperial starfighter pilot who has been sent to head up a ragtag band of misfits with varying starfighter types. Their goal is to bring down Shadow Wing, an elite Imperial combat unit that has been reigning hell on various groups during the Imperial retreat after Endor. It is something of a quixotic quest as the war effort is far bigger than the hunt for any individual group of Imperials, even as dangerous as Shadow Squadron.

    In a perhaps deliberate deconstruction of the original Rogue Squadron and Wraith Squadron novels, Alphabet Squadron is not a group that comes together as a family. Indeed, its members become even more divided and shaken up by getting to know one another. Worse, their effectiveness is frequently questionable as they are carrying around enough baggage that they never know if the other members have their backs (or even if they want them).

    There was a good scene in the previous novel where Hera Syndulla (Star Wars: Rebels) decides to mentor Yrica because she doesn't trust Intelligence officer Adal. This proves to be wasted effort because Yrica is a spectacularly awful leader and has no real loyalty to the Rebellion. Indeed, her Imperial war crimes are severe but she can't really seem to recant of them either and just wants to pretend she wasn't involved in them.

    Opposing Alphabet Squadron is the forces of Shadow Squadron. The Empire is in full retreat and scrambling for supplies, reinforcements, and equipment. They have since been taken over by Soran Keize, a pilot dedicated to protecting them as well as giving them purpose. Soran knows the war is lost and pointless but has a passionate devotion to the people he leads, even if it gets countless innocent people killed.

    The novel follows Alphabet Squadron as they are stationed over a Deep Core world called Cerberon. Ceberon is a planet with remaining Imperial sympathies that is mostly pacified by the time events spiral out of control for both sides. Both sides wish to destroy the other for morale purposes and indirectly cause massive collateral damage. Friendships are destroyed, lives lost, and perspectives changed in a surprisingly dark as well as deep storyline.

    There are a few flaws, though. To be honest, almost all of the good guys are completely unlikeable. almost every character in this book is deeply unlikable. Yrica is a war criminal, Nath is a corrupt glory hound, Chass' harsh cruel exterior hides a harsh cruel interior, and Wyl--okay Wyl is nice. There's even a lengthy section of the book where Chass spends it hating on the religious commune that rescued her from certain death. It may be interesting but it's not exactly fun to read. If Hera Syndulla had a bigger role then I would have been happier.

    In conclusion, I recommend this book but it is a lot darker and grittier than your typical Star Wars novel. Given the awful things on in the world today, I'm pretty much for a book that reinforces that the shooting of Space Nazis in the face is a good thing. No one here really seems to have any ideological commitment to the shooting of Space Nazis. If not for Wyl, I wouldn't want any of these people on my team.
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2020
    Ra Harmakis likes this.
  3. Rogues1138

    Rogues1138 Jedi Master

    Jul 15, 2013
    I expect an epic dog fight between Chass na Chadic and Yrica Quell, together again in the worst possible capacity. Will Chass sing a swansong before burning Quell to a cinder or will the inertia overtake the encounter? Will the Theelin heave or bite her tongue during her melody? Will the thought on Nacronis enrage her to burn Yrica Quell to a cinder?

    Last edited: Nov 30, 2020
  4. Todd the Jedi

    Todd the Jedi Mod and Loving Tyrant of SWTV, Lit, & Collecting star 6 Staff Member Manager

    Oct 16, 2008
    After a bit of a rocky start, the ramshackle group of pilots known as Alphabet Squadron have begun to come together as a cohesive unit, and as such they decide now is the time to deal with their nemeses in Shadow Wing once and for all. But much like the OT, the Alphabet Squadron trilogy’s middle installment finds its heroes separated and on the run from their foes, and some of them have to face difficult truths about their place in the squadron, and indeed their place in a quickly changing galaxy.

    Since Freed got introductions and basic character molds for the main cast out of the way in the first book, he take the opportunity in this book to throw those characters out of their element, often placing them in situations where their convictions are gravely tested. It’s an interesting choice to keep the squadron split up, since it allows each member to either grow or regress on their own, and how they develop individually will impact how they behave once the squadron joins back up by the end. Other than Kairos who’s out of commission for the majority of the novel and Tensent who’s characterization remains the most unchanged of the squadron, each squad member has their own unique battle to face. Wyl continues his struggle with keeping his idealism, Chass continues her struggle with nihilism and balancing her enjoyment of life with a search for purpose, and Yrica continues her struggle with choosing the right cause to fight for. Each of them is brought pretty low in the second half of the novel, where they are thrown into very difficult positions and have to struggle to get past them. And yet all of their experiences strengthen their abilities to function better within the squadron, as they overcome their inhibitions and obtain a much clearer vision of their role in the squadron. Even Yrica’s decision to rejoin Shadow Wing is her realizing she can do more good from the enemy’s side; her re-defection may or may not be sincere, but it nonetheless removes her as a distraction from Alphabet’s minds. The squadron is exactly in the position it needs to be to really finish the fight with Shadow Wing once and for all. It’s a strength of Freed’s that he could fill this book with more character development than action scenes and still keep the reader fully engaged throughout. Shadow Fall is a very dense book and yet there is no wasted space, because things still happen while the characters go on their personal journeys.

    In general I liked the directions Freed took with each squadron member. And even though his characterization remained fairly static, I did enjoy Tensent here, especially in how he subverted the mentor role for Wyl and pushed Wyl to develop on his own. I would have liked to see more of Kairos, despite her having the least characterization of the five, though her reappearance at the end does suggest she’s pissed off and ready to unleash her fury in the final book. I really liked Yrica’s trek after being shot down, and how it forced her to face reckoning not only with Adan, but also with herself, and how the combined influence of IT-O and the mysterious dark edifice helped her accept her past failings so that she could finally move past them and gain new purchase on life. And though Adan’s story came to an end, Freed avoided the easy route of making him a model New Republic agent and opted to make him a much more gray character who nonetheless had the New Republic’s interests at heart. He knows his actions directly led to Yrica’s ostracizing from the squadron, yet he has no regrets in his dying moments as he knew the lies were tearing Yrica apart, and at least now she’s been lifted of this one burden, regardless of what steps she takes afterward.

    Other than the main story there were some other good bits here. I liked the inclusion of Twilight Company, giving some of those characters another chance to join the fight. I also liked the ties into other media, with the plot here being subtly affected by the plots of Aftermath and Squadrons. Being called away to deal with the plot of Squadrons was a good catalyst for Hera’s Big Damn Heroes moment at the end. And though he’s mostly there to serve as a mouthpiece for the antagonists, I enjoyed Keize’s story here, providing an interesting contrast to Colonel Nuress’ perspective in the first book. Like Yrica, he’s inexorably drawn to a cause he doesn’t fully believe in, simply because there’s no other role for him in this life. It’s tragic in a way, as he’s the captain who knows his ship is going down, but hell if he won’t give that ship a memorable demise.

    I give Shadow Fall a 9.2 out of 10 for a greatly expanding the characterizations of the members of Alphabet Squadron, while also presenting another unique and exciting military campaign.
  5. Jedi Ben

    Jedi Ben Chosen One star 9

    Jul 19, 1999
    This feels like the expected, darker ESB-style second book. Is that a bad thing? No, but it does make this volume less surprising than its predecessor.

    One weakness for me is it does the "let's split everyone up" technique, which I'm finding I respond more badly to as it's more interesting seeing the character interactions. That said it all flows neatly and feels like things happen in the right way, not at the behest of the author.

    Freed isn't afraid to kill off characters either. And those ends feel right too, which is very difficult to pull off. The other surprise here is a section on a planetoid with a Sith shrine that Freed manages to render as being even more malevolent than anything seen previously of the Sith. A gate that reads not only who but also disposition and mood and requires a certain emotional and physical combination to open. It is very messed up, but very, very Sith.

    Overall? Let's go with 8 out of 10.
  6. Sarge

    Sarge Chosen One star 10

    Oct 4, 1998
    I thought the first book was a long slog with mostly unlikeable characters and no sense of fun. This was more of the same. Honestly, I don't know if I'll bother reading the conclusion or not.
  7. Daneira

    Daneira Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Jun 30, 2016
    Yeah, these books definitely aren't "fun" in any sense.
    Sarge likes this.
  8. Jedi Ben

    Jedi Ben Chosen One star 9

    Jul 19, 1999
    War is a serious business, these be serious books.

    Playing aside though, while I think the series works very well in terms of how it examines the galactic civil war in micro and macro aspects, it doesn't do likeable characters, interesting yes, but not likeable; Hera is as close as the series gets to full on hero.
    Iron_lord, Daneira and Sarge like this.