The second book in the Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron trilogy, Shadow Fall by Alexander Freed, continues the story of the New Republic squadron of starfighter pilots as they fight against the Empire in the months after the Battle of Endor. Besides the first Alphabet Squadron book, Freed had also written the Rogue One Novelization and the first Battlefront tie-in novel, Battlefront: Twilight Squadron.
Set six months after the Battle of Endor, the New Republic is still in the process of consolidating its power. And that means taking star systems, one by one, with sometimes long, drawn out battles along the way. The Battle of Jakuu, which marks the official end of the Empire, is still six months away, and there continues to be life and death conflicts taking place all over the galaxy.
Shadow Fall takes place about a month or two after the first Alphabet Squadron book, with the Alphabet Squadron still on the hunt for the 204th Imperial Fighter Wing, better known as Shadow Wing. There has been no trace of Shadow Wing since the horrible events of Pandem Nai, and Alphabet Squadron is itchin’ for a fight.
The makeup of Alphabet Squadron covers the gamut of starfighter letters, with all the Rebellion fighters accounted for with Yrica Quell flying the X-wing, Chass na Chadic in the B-wing, Kairos in the U-wing, Wyl Lark in the A-wing, and Nath Tensent in the Y-wing. The squadron is all led by Caern Adan. Shadow Fall, on the other hand, is made up of a series of TIE Fighter pilots, who often go unnamed or barely make impressions upon the story. The principle Imperial within Shadow Wing is Soran Keize, and he is the only one within the story whose point of view we get.
The story of Shadow Fall bounces around, giving the reader all of the pilots’ perspectives within Alphabet Squadron. This allows us, the reader, to get much better acquainted with Alphabet Squadron than we ever were able to in the first book. While the first book focused on many of the pilots’ backstories, the story was mainly focused on Quell, which was deserving for that particular story but it left the other pilots high and dry without enough depth to really like them. Shadow Fall is much more evenly divided among Quell, Chass, Wyl, and Nath (still leaving out Kairos for large chunks of the story).
This helped tremendously for me as a reader to get behind the characters. Although I like Quell and Chass in the first book, I absolutely loathed Wyl and Nath. This book turned me around on them. By the end of the story I was rather enjoying them as characters, with their winning over of my attitude towards them feeling earned. Kairos on the other hand was a blank slate with no real info in the first book, and while we learn a good deal more about her in this book, she was still barely there. It seems that she was set up at the end of this book to play a more pivotal role in the third book of the series — at least I hope so.
Within the story, Shadow Wing had essentially gone into hiding since the last book. They are working on rebuilding their squadron under command of their “new” commander Soran Keize, who had abandoned the squadron earlier and was brought back in to try and save it. Alphabet Squadron however is getting tired of trying to find Shadow Wing without any leads on where they could be, and so they devise a trap to lure them out into the open. Such is the kickoff to the novel, where Alphabet Squadron ends up not only fighting with Shadow Wing, but also fighting within itself, especially once secrets are revealed.
Like the first book, this book is less about the battles during the war, and more about the pilots fighting those battles. They are fighting the Empire, they are fighting each other, and they are fighting themselves. And by the end of the book I’m fighting alongside them. I love the characters of Alphabet Squadron now, far more than I did at the end of the first book. The pilots of the Empire, on the other hand, remain faceless and evil — they often lack any real motivations, outside of Soren Keize, who we learn quite a bit about. We had the TIE Fighter comic series which was supposed to give the readers the Empire’s side of the story during these novels, but after the first story arc we have seen nothing since.
But this book was not smooth sailing the whole way for me. I listened to this as an audiobook, and after 3.5 hours of listening (about 25% into the book) I had to stop the book altogether. I had no clue as to what was going on. I could not tell you any of the plot, nor who was doing what. I could either restart the audiobook or start reading the physical book (of which I also owned).
I decided to restart the audiobook. And after the 3.5 hour mark, I still was having a hard time understanding what was happening. And it had to do with the writing style. The writing style, at least in the beginning of the book, was overly wordy and flowery — a complaint I had about the first book as well. The problem with overly flowery prose is that the reader has a tendency to get lost in the words and lose the plot of the narrative, which is exactly what happened to me. However, the remaining 75% of the book I had no issues at all. The plot cleared up for me and I was able to follow along easily. It feels as if the writing style smoothed out along the way, making for a much more enjoyable experience.
One of the more enjoyable aspects of the story was the intertwining of this book with the Squadrons video game, which was released back in October. The main tie was General Syndulla, who bounces back and forth between this story and the game, as well as several mentions of Vanguard Squadron, of which you, as the player, are a part of. With the stories taking place concurrently, you get a feeling about what else is happening in the galaxy outside of this small setting of the book.
The audiobook was narrated by Carol Monda, who has participated as a voice actress in other Star Wars audiobooks, but I don’t believe has read a full Star Wars book by herself. She has, however, narrated a good number of books within other genres, and she did an excellent job here. By the end of the book I rather enjoyed listening to her tone of voice and cadence.
Overall, I would say that Shadow Fall was a better book than the original. Problems I had with the writing style of the first book continued into the first quarter of this book, but eventually sorted themselves out. The last three-quarters of Shadow Fall were by far the most entertained I had been in this series to date and it actually makes me look forward to the third book in the series. The increased focus on all of the Alphabet pilots was great and allowed me to get more invested in them, but the continued lack of attention on really any of the TIE pilots still left them mostly as faceless villains.
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