The third book in the Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron trilogy, Victory’s Price by Alexander Freed, wraps up the story of the mismatched group of starfighter pilots in the months following the events of Return of the Jedi. This book completes the journeys laid out in the first two books of the trilogy, Alphabet Squadron and Alphabet Squadron – Shadow Fall. Prior to this trilogy, the author Alexander Freed had also written the Rogue One novelization and the Battlefront tie-in novel, Battlefront: Twilight Squadron.
The Empire’s 204th Tie Fighter Squadron, better known as Shadow Wing, has been on the run for several months with the war having been dragged out for a full year since the events over Endor and the apparent demise of the Emperor. The pilots of Alphabet Squadron are scattered, with Yrica Quell, former leader of Alphabet Squadron having seemingly defected back to the Empire at the end of Shadow Fall under the command of her old commander, Colonel Soran Keize. The remaining pilots of Alphabet Squadron are a broken lot with Wyl Lark the A-Wing pilot who is now in command, Nath Tensent the Y-Wing pilot, Chass na Chadic the B-Wing pilot, and Kairos the U-Wing pilot. They are tasked, under the leadership of General Hera Syndulla, to track down the remnants of Shadow Wing after the events at Troithe in the previous book.
General Soran Keize, on the other hand, is just trying to figure out what the purpose of the Emperor’s messenger was. A droid with the face of the Emperor first seen in the Shattered Empire comic series, the droid relayed the Emperor’s final command: raze the Empire to the ground in an event known as Operation Cinder. But where did this droid come from, and how did it pick the commanders that it did? Those are the questions driving Keize to find the answers that could have a profound impact on the future of all of the Empire’s citizens.
The key players are the same for the final book in the trilogy, however the story has become much clearer. I am not sure if the writing style has changed or the book’s context is better laid out, but I now understand the characters better than I ever have in the first two installments. These characters are broken. All of the Alphabet pilots have been through hell, and are barely making it from day to day. They are done with the horrors of war and it shows. Not only has it been a year since the apparent defeat of the Empire at Endor and things are still dragging on, but it has been years that they have been rebelling against the Empire. They are tired and most of the them just want the war to end, regardless of the means.
This was a collection of characters I did not like at first. Many of them were downright intolerable and unlikable. However, now they are at least understandable. Are they likeable? Probably not, but I understand their personalities and how their unlikability is related to their coping mechanisms. Wyl tries to understand everything and get everyone to like him. Nath is an arrogant blowhard intent on keeping everyone at arms length. Chass is angry and loud, hating the world around her but not quite sure where her place in everything is. Kairos is an alien in a human world, surrounded by people who don’t understand her, nor understand her customs, and she tries prevent being tainted by the outside world. And Yrica assumes that everyone in the Rebellion hates her, no one in the Empire trusts her, and she is hellbent on giving the Rebellion the one thing it can’t obtain: Shadow Wing.
Victory’s Price is easily the best book of the trilogy. There was a turning point about a third of the way through the second book, Shadow Fall, where the writing style changed and the narrative became much, much easier to follow. That easier narrative continues throughout this entire book. The author, Freed, still has a tendency to use a lot of words and long sentences to convey his ideas, but with a tighter focused storyline it is easier to follow. Freed is also obviously someone who loves long words and how they sound because several of his chapter titles, although not critical to the storyline, have a tendency to sound haughty and imposing, such as “Elimination of Inconvenient Variables” or “Obfuscation of Undesirable Results”.
The most notable event surrounding the story though, is the Battle of Jakku. Taking place one year after the Battle of Endor and first seen in the Aftermath trilogy, the Battle of Jakku was the pivotal event marking the final defeat of the Empire and the true birth of the New Republic. The Aftermath trilogy initially built up to the battle through the first year of war after Endor and now the Alphabet Squadron trilogy has followed suit. Teases are dropped throughout the first two-thirds of Victory’s Price that there is a build up of arms at Jakku for the Empire, culminating in the battle taking place during most of the final third of the book. And although we have seen several perspectives of the battle before, this presents a new perspective, focusing mostly on the outskirts of the war where Alphabet Squadron was performing their operation. It is an interesting perspective and one that I loved because it gave us a wider view of everything happening during this pivotal event.
Alphabet Squadron was mostly broken up into smaller groups for the majority of the book. Wyl and Nath went off together and worked through their leadership qualms, such as nobody wants to be the leader but somebody has to do it. Kairos and Chass went off on their own mission together, trying to apprehend the fugitive Yrica. And this team up gave us something that was desperately needed in the previous books: a closer look at Kairos. This book could almost be seen as a Kairos book with how much she was the focus of attention. As an alien species that we had never seen before, her people are a mysterious group who tends to shun outsiders or ever leave their planet. This makes Kairos an outsider to not only everyone else she meets but also to her own people. She’s a complicated character and one I very much relished getting to know better. If this was Kairos’ book, then the last book was Chass’, where here we see the aftermath of her time with the cult and how that has impacted her mental state. We see how she has dealt with those hardships and eventually comes to grip with her divided loyalties.
The final team up is Yrica and Keize, who are playing the same game from opposite sides trying to figure out the Emperor’s Messenger. This is a game that eventually forces them to confront each other in a battle where master and pupil no longer can see eye to eye, and stands must be taken. This is definitely one of the most interesting storylines throughout the series. With small tidbits in the previous two books, we are led on a full-on investigation of the Emperor’s Messenger and where it came from and how it works here. This is the kind of stuff that I absolutely love, diving into the mysteries of the universe and picking apart how things work. And by the end of the story I am not disappointed. This is easily a more important storyline than even the Battle of Jakku in this book, with perhaps even a wider-ranging impact on the galaxy at-large.
The biggest surprise of the book is how much Hera factors into the plot. Nonexistent in the first book, and only in a small part of the second book, this book could almost be seen as Hera’s book. She was the Rebellion’s counterpart to the Empire’s Keize and we see both sides of the equation. A friend of mine had commented that this book could almost have been advertised as a Hera book, however without her in much of the previous two books that is a long walk to get to.
The audiobook this time was narrated by January LaVoy, who has narrated quite a few books before and did an absolutely fantastic job with this book. My only question here was that a different person had read each of the three books in the trilogy. Typically the same person does all three books, so I am wondering why switch up the reader each time. Regardless, January probably did the best out of the three. I had no problems whatsoever understanding her and her different character voices sounded fantastic so that it made following the plot line that much easier.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed Victory’s Price. This book provided the closure on all of the characters that we, as readers, needed in the story. The writing style was much cleaner than the previous books, with the narrative being a lot easier to keep track of and I felt like I understood the character better this time around. We are also dealing with an event that many readers, myself included, are starting to get more and more familiar with. So seeing another perspective on this pivotal event helps to sweeten the pot. If I could recommend this book alone, I definitely would, however, the first two books are needed to understand where these characters had gone and how they got there. Without the first two books I can’t image a reader would be as invested in the characters as someone who has been on this journey through the whole series has. So overall the series had a rather rough start but definitely a solid finish.
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