Waru Express: Wraith Squadron

Only books I adore get sticky-noted like this

I love Wraith Squadron.  There are not enough words in any of the languages I know to properly express how much I love the Wraiths and these three books.  Reading these has never been anything less than a joy and I have strong emotional attachments to these characters.  Heads up, there’s going to be a lot of gushing in this post.  There are also going to be a lot of rambling emotions in this post.  If you want proper reviews of the X-Wing books, go read the retrospectives the rest of the Tosche Station staff wrote last year.  Yes, there will be more flailing and emotions than in the Shatterpoint and Revenge of the Sith reviews.  Brace yourselves.

Wraith Squadron
Rogue Squadron has officially rejoined the New Republic and Wedge Antilles, not content with the stack of medals and accolades he already has, is going to create a brand new squadron that will totally kick some Imperial butt but in their own distinctive way.

It’s actually Wedge himself who iterates why I love the Wraiths so much, even more than the Rogues.  Wedge assembles the Wraiths from the pilots in Starfighter Command who appear to be chronic screw-ups and are dangerously close to washing out.  He finds the men and women who are good to decent pilots and also have skills to offer the New Republic but who’ve just had trouble making it.  In contrast, the Rogues were mostly from backgrounds that were quite the opposite.  Wedge specifically cites Corran’s CorSec and Bror’s Bacta Prince roots.  Not everyone can relate to something like that.  On the other hand, the Wraiths and their backgrounds make it a lot easier for the everyday person, including myself, to relate to them.  Allston lets us watch throughout these three books as these characters not only overcome their personal issues but also as they becomes heroes.

I enjoy both the plot and the characters development in Wraith Squadron equally.  It never feels like one is dragging the other along but rather that they go hand in hand which is absolutely how a novel should be.  It’s easy to become invested in how quickly this unit goes from not even being operational to capturing spaceships and doing some serious damage to Warlord Zsinj.  Plus, as Wedge and Wes both note, the Wraiths have a tendency to look at a problem and jump outside of the box that the main box is inside of and come at it from a completely different angle.  It’s what makes them dangerous and it’s why I love them.

Obviously, this is Kell Tainer’s book and wow does he have a lot of character development to go through.  In a lot of ways, he’s Corran Horn’s opposite.  Both of them are naturally gifted pilots with dead fathers but that’s where the direct similarities stop.  Kell knows that he’s a good pilot, gifted with demolitions, and a more than competent mechanic but he is plagued with the biggest case of self-doubt and fear of screwing up and letting others down.  It’s rather neat getting to watch him slowly get over both his fear of Janson and his fear of being a failure.  It doesn’t happen over night and it doesn’t happen without some encouragement from his friends but it happens.

The other thing that I really like about the Wraith books is that I feel that the readers actually get to know the entire squadron instead of just the leads and a few others.  Kell and Face may battle it out all the time for who’s my favorite Wraith but it just wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t finish the book feeling like I knew who each of the Wraiths was.  As a comparison, I can name every single member of Wraith Squadron in these three books but I don’t think I can say the same about all the Rogues in the X-Wing books.  (Peshk who?)

Okay, I think that’s enough emotions about the first book for now.  I have to save some for what’s coming next.  You know what’s about to happen.  And if you don’t, please go read these three books before reading the rest of this review.

Iron Fist
This book is simultaneously brilliant and heartbreaking.  While there may be some deaths like a certain one in Traitor that get the title of “Best Death” from me, there are very few single deaths more heartbreaking than the one Aaron Allston wrote here and the closest contender I can think of is another Allston death.  But let’s start with the good things before I have another one of those patented ‘Bria’s Star Wars Related Emotional Breakdowns’.

Just like the first book was Kell’s book, Iron Fist is definitely Face Loran’s book and the series as a whole benefits from the changing character focus.  (Garik Loran?  The Face?  I think I’m going to swoon!)  While Kell still has plenty of story left to tell, he’s overcome his huge roadblock.  As Face (and Ton) make pretty clear, Face has been carrying around a lot of emotional guilt over the actions of his childhood self.  That’s a ton of guilt for something that a small child did especially since he likely didn’t realize exactly what his acting was doing for the Empire at the time.  I think that Face will always carry around some of that emotional baggage but in this book he, with the help of some friends, manages to work through it to a point where he can stand tall again or rather, have a certain scar removed.

Okay.  Time for the bantha in the room.  I can’t avoid it anymore.  Ton Phanan’s death is easily one of the most heartbreaking ones in the Expanded Universe and I get emotional every time I read it.  The worst part is that Ton reaches his lowest point before his final mission and it feels like he’s just given up.  Even though he’s dying, he manages to write one final letter to Face.  Ton realizes that even though he’s given up and he has almost no chance of surviving, he wants to do what he can to help his best friend move on so that Face doesn’t in turn become bitter towards the galaxy.  It’s selfless and—oh nope.  Here’s come the emotions.

I’m sorry, I’ll just be over here mourning the loss of the best bromance in the Expanded Universe.  I take comfort knowing that Mr. Allston also cried while writing this.

But we do get some pretty wonderful characters to replace those valiant Wraiths we lost in the first book.  Well, Castin doesn’t make it very far but I mostly like him because we used to make fun of him all the time in the Starfighter Draft.  On the other hand, we do get Shalla, Dia, and Lara, all members of the Very Competent Ladies Club.  I’ll wax poetic about Lara in the next book review but wow is she a fantastic addition to the Wraiths.  I’m also a huge fan of Shalla because I love her attitude towards life and towards her job.   And then there’s Dia.  She doesn’t rank quite as high on my list of favorite Wraiths but I love her anyways because I love all my broken and damaged Wraiths who find a way to carry on.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the triumphant return of Lieutenant Kettch.  Did you know it’s a felony to impersonate an ewok on some worlds?  It’s a running gag that could have ended up being ridiculous especially once you factor in Wedge disguising himself as an ewok pilot but Allston manages to make it work.  Yub yub, good sir!

I would be even more remiss if I didn’t take a minute to talk about how Allston really gets the character of Wedge Antilles.  Clearly he writes a great Wedge in general but there’s one bit in this book that really stands out to me.  Wedge sees Kell and Tyria kiss and realizes that a part of him is jealous, not because he harbors feelings for Tyria but rather because he feels alone.  Sure he has some really good friends but he doesn’t have a family anymore.  It’s really just a lovely couple of pages that show Wedge on a level we don’t often see which makes the scene all the better.  (Just go kiss Iella already, Wedge.  Honestly.)

And wow.  I haven’t even started to talk about the plot yet!  I think that this book actually has my favorite plotline out of the three Wraith books.  The Wraiths are good at being pirates.  I mean, really good.  The Wraiths are tasked with splitting into teams to try and predict what Zsinj’s next move might be and it turns out that the best way for them to try and counter his plans is to become the Hawkbats: pirates and fighters extraordinaire who steal starfighters, board ships and steal their cargo, and rob banks just for kicks.  That’s a pretty impressive display of trust from New Republic command for a brand new squadron even one commanded by Wedge Antilles.  Despite the deaths and emotional trauma, the storyline is exciting and I loved following all the twists and turns as the Wraiths move closer to taking down Zsinj.

Solo Command
I may love every one of the X-Wing books but my love knows no bounds for this particular book.  I’ll go as far as to say that this easily makes my Top Five Expanded Universe books. (Editor’s Note: This may not actually be true but it’s Top 10.)

Let’s stick with the theme and talk about how this is Lara’s book and also, to some extent, the final chapter in Myn Donos’s book.  Both of them have gone through a lot over the course of these three books.  Poor Myn had his entire squadron destroyed (thanks to Lara) and regaining his mental health has been a very slow progress over the books.  He’s finally reached a good place (good enough to start a relationship with Lara) and then it all goes to hell.  On the other hand, you have Lara who has undergone a complete mental change over the past couple months so now she no longer thinks of herself as an Imperial but instead as one of the Wraiths.  She just wants to be Lara Notsil and then Face gets a little too curious and discovers her secret.  The poor woman just needs a hug but I guess helping put a huge dent in Zsinj’s operation will also work even though she can never return to the New Republic.  I’m just glad that all the important people know she never betrayed them.  And also that Allston gives Myn and Lara, excuse me, Kirney a happy ending.

You know by now that I love all the Wraiths.  In particular, I wanted to mention that I love the Janson we see in this book.  Not only do we get to see the prankster and easy going Janson but we also get to see what I’ll call the cockpit Janson who is a serious and efficient fighter.  I also love how Tyria Sarkin has had her own character progression in the background.  By Solo Command, she’s more sure of herself and even uses the Force to the Wraiths’ advantage multiple times during missions.  Honestly, there’s no one in the Wraiths that I don’t love to pieces because even when they screw up, they learn from their mistakes and become such a kick-butt team that General Cracken poaches them from Starfighter Command to Intelligence.  That’s how you know you’re good.

I’m actually a bit ashamed that it’s taken me until now to write about Warlord Zsinj and General Melvar.  Both of these men are little more then cardboard cut-out stereotype villains in Courtship of Princess Leia but Allston manages to make them into utterly delightful characters who you love to hate.  The exchange where Zsinj shudders over the name ‘New Oldtown’ in Iron Fist never fails to make me grin.  Allston doesn’t so much destroy the “characterization” for Zsinj and Melvar from the other book as much as he expands upon it and twists it so that both of them are bad guys to be reckoned with and certainly worth of all the time and effort put into stopping them.

And we have to talk about the end to the saga of Lieutenant Kettch.  Yub yub, Janson.  The moral of the story?  Don’t prank Wedge Antilles too much because he will eventually get revenge and let the entire fleet know that you do indeed have a very nice rear end.  The flip side of this is Kolot who, like Lara, was a lie that eventually became the truth.  It’s really just the icing on the cake.

Honestly, I just adore everything about this book.  We’ll be here all year and another thousand words if I try to talk about everything.  Instead, I’ll just mention what’s one of my favorite moments in any Star Wars book: the Saffalore mission.  Everything’s just gone wrong, most of the Wraiths are injured due to almost being incinerated by Zsinj’s forces, and they barely made it out.  Face just looks at the squad and tells them “Wraiths, no rules.  No mercy.  Take out anything that gets between us and home.”  It gives me chills every time I read it.

Oh man.  Well, that’s it for the Wraith books… for now.  These books have never been anything but a pleasure to read and I adore them even when they give me ridiculous emotions about the characters.  We’re switching gears with the next set of books as the Hunt for Zsinj continues but… uhh… yeah, it’s basically the Han and Leia Love Boat next.  (Editor’s Note: Not many editor’s notes this time because, well, I kinda word vomited all of it the first time around and this all still holds true.)

Originally posted to Tosche Station on February 11, 2013.

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