Audiobook Review: Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron by Alexander Freed
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Media Tie-In
Publisher: Random House Audio (June 11, 2019)
Length: 13 hrs and 50 mins
Narrator: Saskia Maarleveld
One of benefits and one of the things I appreciate most about reading the Star Wars tie-in novels is the way they bring attention to other happenings in the galaxy, away from the main story of the movies. There’s also been the recent trend of books exploring the conflict from all sides, because whether you are rebel or imperial, war is something everyone must confront. This is a prominent theme in Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron, which focuses on the journey of a recently defected TIE fighter pilot who finds herself leading a New Republic squadron to hunt down her former compatriots.
The Emperor is dead. The Empire is in shambles. But no surprise, following the chaos at the Battle of Endor, the nascent New Republic is in pretty rough shape too, with most of its efforts centered on regrouping and rebuilding, though in some cases, revenge. Too many good Rebel lives had been lost, many of them to Shadow Wing, a particularly nasty TIE fighter squadron that is still out there, in hiding. This has led Hera Syndulla of Star Wars Rebels fame, now a general, to put together a ragtag team of pilots to take care of the problem.
Called Alphabet Squadron, this group is led by Yrica Quell, a former Imperial with intimate knowledge of Shadow Wing—because she used to be one of them. She has a lot to learn when it comes to commanding Republic pilots, so different than the strictly regimented and highly organized troops of the Empire. It doesn’t help that her teammates don’t trust her, or that no one expects them to succeed.
From the get-go, it’s clear that in some ways this book was meant to fill the void left by Rogue Squadron, now made Legends and non-canonical. Star Wars needs another starfighter series, and today’s audience also demands something darker and edgier, so in that sense the premise behind Alphabet Squadron is perfect. Fans love grey characters, tragedy, long odds and underdogs, all of which this novel has in spades. I really don’t think anyone can fault its overall concept, which was a stroke of brilliance, and the idea of a disparate crew of misfits and rejects coming together to defeat evil is something I think that most of us can get behind.
Unfortunately, where the book falters is the writing style and pacing. I get how important it is, especially for a story like this, to throw readers straight into the action. That said, it shouldn’t be done without establishing your core characters first. I never felt much of a connection to any of the five pilots of Alphabet Squadron, and I think it’s because we were missing this crucial first step. This throws off the overall balance of the story, which then takes too long trying to recover. I wanted to care about the characters and their relationships, but it’s difficult to form that emotional link when you’re starting from behind, so to speak.
A part of the problem is also Quell herself, who is a rather flat protagonist. A stiff and strait-laced ex-Imperial, she had nothing that resembled charisma, and so it made reading about her very dry, even though the writing itself was fantastic. I’ve enjoyed Alexander Freed’s Star Wars books in the past, but I just think he has a lot less to work with in Quell, and the ideas and themes the story was supposed to convey were perhaps too ambitious.
In sum, I had expected a lot more fun out of Alphabet Squadron, based on the book’s description and my hopes that it would be a more suspenseful, adventurous game of cat-and-mouse. Instead, it was bogged down by too much drama and not enough meaningful character development. To the book’s credit, it has some incredible scenes of dogfighting and epic space battles, which is a relief since I imagine those are the main selling points, so at least we’re covered on that front. As the first volume of a planned trilogy, I think this one shows a lot of promise, but I’m hoping that the next book won’t take as long to get revved up. Since we’ve already established the origins and characters of Alphabet Squadron here though, I’m feeling quite optimistic about it and will be looking forward to read more.
Audiobook Comments: Saskia Maarleveld did a fantastic job narrating the book, and honestly, I would imagine bringing a character like Quell to life was no easy feat. They always get the best voice actors and actresses for Star Wars audiobooks though, so this was still a great listen despite some of my issues with the story and writing, and usual, the music and sound effects made the experience even more immersive.