Book Review: Victory's Price
To wrap up my readings of the Alphabet Squadron trilogy, I finished the recently released Victory's Price. In a short word- it was awesome!
In some longer, but still spoiler-free words, Victory's Price was the perfect end to the trilogy. It continues the previous books' trend of exploring the humanity of war and ethical questions that the New Republic has to face, it gives us satisfying conclusions to the arcs and relationships of our favorite Alphabet pilots, and of course more amazing Hera Syndulla content. I've felt that the Aftermath trilogy is a must-read for people wanting to learn about the fall of the Empire after Return of the Jedi, and now I think that the Alphabet Squadron trilogy is too.
If you'd like to listen to something about this book, make sure to check out the podcast I recorded with Sal Perales of the Rogue Rebels.
Spoilers ahead for Victory's Price: An Alphabet Squadron Novel by Alexander Freed!
Victory's Price falls after the events of Shadow Fall, however we've jumped in time a little bit. While the first book in the trilogy started only a few months after the Battle of Endor, but now we've jumped ahead to nearly a year- and if you recall from other media like the Aftermath books, Battlefront II, Lost Stars, and probably others, that's when the Battle of Jakku- the true end of the war- takes place. So, much of the book is spent building to that as we follow both sides of the 204th (Shadow Wing) and Alphabet Squadron.
Since Shadow Fall, Hera has focused more on Alphabet Squadron's mission of destroying the 204th. They, along with other squadrons like Hail, Flare, and Wild, have taken residence in a captured Star Destroyer called the Deliverance. While all of the other Imperial forces have gathered at Jakku for their final stand, the 204th is destroying different worlds as punishment to citizens who "betrayed" the Empire, and the Deliverance is trying to catch and stop them.
Yrica Quell is initially believed dead by her squadmates, but as we know from the end of Shadow Fall, she's rejoined the 204th. However, I was very relieved to learn that Yrica's loyalties had not swayed. She is working with the 204th, sure, but she's actually been sending secret transmissions to the New Republic that have helped guide the Deliverance in finding them several times over. Yrica's presence with the 204th is revealed to her squadmates, sparking anger- especially in Chass na Chadic and Kairos, her hunt her on a distant planet when Yrica goes to have the ghostly Emperor's Messenger (which she destroyed) examined to figure out how the commanders of Operation Cinder were selected. The three Alphabet women end up crashing together on Kairos homeworld, where Kairos reveals her past of being experimented on by the Empire, and how because she has been seen by others she can not return to her people, and must evolve. They help her make a makeshift grave for her old self before going back to the Deliverance.
Meanwhile Wyl Lark has taken command of Alphabet Squadron, and he's been leading the other squadrons onboard the Deliverance has well. He's cracking under the pressure, especially after learning that he's the only one of the pilots from his homeworld that hasn't returned from the war. He's taken a lot of guidance from Nath Tensent, who also once led a squadron but is reluctant to do it now. Wyl actually duels Soran Keize, Yrica's old mentor from the 204th, and is shot down- though thankfully survives. However, by the end Wyl has grown tired of violence and decides not to lead his ships in the Battle of Jakku, wanting to hang back and support the crew and medics rather than taking part in the battle himself, so Nath takes the lead of the other pilots (including Chass) in the air in a tense battle where they destroy the Empire once and for all. For Wyl, his choice leads to a confrontation with an ex-Shadow Wing pilot who joined the ship's crew undetected- who turns out to be "Blink," a TIE pilot who Wyl had both fought and communicated with over comms. She bombs the ship despite Wyl's attempts to stop her, but thankfully he's able to escape before the ship goes down, and the battle is eventually won by the New Republic.
Meanwhile, Yrica goes to Coruscant in her X-Wing, followed by Kairos, to confront Keize, her old mentor. He has broken off from the fleets on Jakku to try and destroy a database containing all of the crimes of everybody involved in the Empire, with the hope that without that data the New Republic won't be able to know the atrocities everyone was complicit in and to what degree. Yrica is able to stop him after a tense firefight with the help of Kairos, and they both get out of her ships at the end and he dies in her arms. Shortly after, Kairos and Yrica meet up again, Kairos says goodbye to Yrica, saying she forgives her and calling her sister, before disappearing into the dense city of Coruscant.
We get an epilogue at the end of the story. Yrica, due to her crimes when she was with the Empire, faces some provisions, but Hera and Mothma agree that rehabilitation and chances at hope outweigh a need for cruel justice, so she doesn't get a harsh prison sentence. She's able to settle down and found a business (and relationship) with Chass na Chadic. Wyl returned Home, and enjoyed his time there. Due to his experience with the galaxy with his love of Home, he's elected to represent their planet politically to the New Republic, and he is part of the reconciliation project to help mend the divide in the galaxy. Nath started a little gang of characters, which we don't hear much about, but presumably he's gone back to... less than legal activities now that the fighting is done. What's become of Kairos is much more mysterious, and maybe we'll hear more about her someday. Maybe we won't- I find a mysterious but hopeful ending fitting and satisfying for her character.
Believe it or not, that's a pretty bare-bones summary (there's a lot that happens in this book), and I'll touch on more details as I go forward with my thoughts.
Some of my favorite moments of the book were of course, the Hera Syndulla ones. Reading about Hera, especially the bits from Hera's perspective, were a highlight of this trilogy from me, and this book delivers more than even the first two combined. We get mentions (though pretty few, and fairly vague) references to her son Jacen, and even of her father. My absolute favorite moment in the book too was Hera's escape from the falling Deliverance over Jakku. Hera, being the amazing woman she is, insists on making sure every other person aboard is safely off until she leaves. It's only when everyone else has fled and the ship is filling with smoke that Hera finally departs. But she doesn't take an escape pod, no- Hera is too awesome for that. Hera has stowed the Ghost away in the bowels of the ship, and flies through Jakku in that- even, sadly, without her family.
But Hera isn't responsible for the only amazing moments in Victory's Price. Another thing that I loved about the books were the moments where the pilots all communicated with each other, on both sides. Beginning with Wyl Lark opening a comm channel between both the New Republic and the Imperials over the contested world of Chadawa, before the battle they have a lot of communications. They talk, tell stories about themselves, play games, and sing together. It's a really touching thing to see going on between both sides of the war, moments before the battle, and reminded me of the real life story of the Christmas Truce in World War I, which I'd definitely recommend reading about if you're interested in history. However, another similar moment comes later- when the pilots are fighting over Jakku. Because of some signal jamming, all of the pilots are once again on the same channel, while fighting the war. There's some expected snarky comments made, and anger expressed, but the pilots from both sides start doing a beautiful and haunting thing- they start naming the dead from their sides. And as the fight over Jakku goes on, they continue to just throw out the names of those they've lost in the war, those that the others have killed. It's such an interesting part of the book that really struck a chord with me while reading, and it's one of those Star Wars moments I think I'll remember for a long time.
One interesting thing about all of the Alphabet Squadron books, ever since the first one, is how it raises moral questions. The galaxy is entering an extreme transitional period due to the fall of the Empire and rise of the New Republic, and a lot of things are up in the air. Victory's Price lets us see both sides of many issues- how the balance between justice for the Imperials that committed atrocities with rehabilitation for them should be found is the biggest one. The idea of complicity also plays a big role here- specifically, with how the Empire was structured in such a way that even the lowest-level employees, people who may haven't really had a choice in what their job was, wound up complicit in some form of atrocity, and had to live with that guilt. These are all issues, I think, that are becoming more and more relevant in our world today, so I think it made the themes of Victory's Price hit close to home.
Yrica, as I've already mentioned, has a really interesting story arc. She always does, making her my favorite of the original characters in this trilogy, but this book's was the strongest in my opinion. Yrica is trying to balance herself between her two worlds- her time with the 204th, and with Alphabet Squadron. She finds herself longing for an end with all lives saved, even if that isn't possible. Yrica also has to grapple with the fact that she's no different from the other members of the 204th. She'd found it easier to separate herself from them, thinking her to be at least a little more virtuous than they are since she left, but she realizes that's not true, especially as some express their guilt over Operation Cinder. Yrica comes to many hard realizations in this book, and it's gut-wrenchingly fascinating to read.
Another area in which Yrica's arc was compelling was in comparison to Kairos' arc. Kairos' arc is mostly about evolving overtime and different phases of life, and trying to find a place where she belongs- because she doesn't feel that she truly belongs anywhere. While this is much more literal for Kairos than it is for Yrica- her species literally molts, she has different names for different periods in her life, and she proclaims her desire to go on a journey for a place that she fits into- I think it's a really beautiful metaphor for what Yrica is going through. Yrica feels like she's being mentally pulled back and forth between the two factions. She's a traitor to both the New Republic and the 204th for much of the book, and doesn't know any other type of life. She feels a sense of loyalty to people she knows on both sides, even if not both ideologies. Like Kairos, she feels like she just doesn't truly belong on either side- too rebellious for the Imperials, too Imperial for the New Republic. Like Kairos, Yrica's life and sense of self can be divided into different periods- her time at home, her first time with the Empire, her time at Traitor's Remorse and with the New Republic, and then the time after that. And finally, like Kairos, Yrica evolves. She learns, grows, gets beaten (a lot) and is healed. Over and over again- just like how Kairos sheds her skin.
Chass na Chadic also has an interesting story arc. We still see her struggling with the aftermath of her time in the cult in Shadow Fall. The cult stole her stash of music and replaced it with recordings of the cult lessons and prayers, so Chass finds herself listening to those, being sucked back into the cult. Not totally unlike Yrica and Kairos, Chass also struggles with a sense of belonging in the New Republic. Her fears, however, are rooted in insecurity- she reads stories about the great heroes, the great martyrs like Jyn Erso, and longs to be like them too. Nath does some research and reveals to Chass that the leader of the cult is a renowned scam artist, which shakes Chass free of those beliefs. However, in turn she does go back to her old, semi-suicidal state of wanting to die a hero in battle, fearing that she'll be forgotten and alone with no purpose during peacetime. It's not until the battle of Jakku, where Chass is making a run in her B-Wing that could easily make her a martyred hero like Jyn Erso was, but decides at the last minute that she wants to live, even if that future is uncertain for her. It's a climactic moment for her character, and though she pulls away from her sacrifice a little too late and ends up crashing, she does survive and is rescued to thankfully live another day. I was really happy to see Chass come to this conclusion, and get over her fear of an uncertain future- something I could definitely learn from.
Wyl and Nath also have strong arcs in this story. Wyl is still learning how to be a leader, though he's growing increasingly uncomfortable with war. He facilitates communication between both sides, and is against the Battle of Jakku because he thinks that if the Empire isn't hurting anyone on the planet, why bother? A misguided position, in my mind, but a fair one. Wyl's homesickness permeates his character through the book, and as he shoulders more and more responsibility it only increases. Nath is different from Wyl, though. Nath finds himself in the position he was insistent about not finding again- a leader of the squadron. While he's not technically in command again (at least not until the Battle of Jakku), he's still the one facilitating things, checking up on all of his squadmates and trying to make sure everyone is okay. At the end of the book he realizes how similar this is to the first squadron he ran. I think going back to this frightening, traumatic familiarity for him is why Nath takes such a hard turn back into illegal activities. It's kind of sad, but Nath doesn't seem too upset about this choice.
All in all, this book ends on a really hopeful note. The galaxy has entered a long-needed state of peace, and things are looking up as the New Republic finds its footing. It was the perfect end to the Alphabet Squadron trilogy, and I think bumps these books up to the essential reading list for fans interested in Star Wars books.