The fallen Galactic Empire is at its most desperate and engaging in Star Wars: Victory's Price, the final book in Alexander Freed's Alphabet Squadron trilogy. In the book, published Tuesday, the ascendant New Republic is winning the war in the year after Return of the Jedi, and many of the surviving Imperials are out to wreak as much havoc as possible before their defeat.
It's an engaging setup, especially since Freed humanized the elite Imperial special forces group Shadow Wing and its leader Soran Keize in last year's Shadow Fall. That book also ended with Alphabet Squadron leader (and Imperial defector) Yrica Quell's stunning decision to abandon her New Republic allies and return to the Empire, adding more spice to the dish for this high-stakes trilogy-ender.
Quell remains an utterly fascinating character, as she works through guilt for the atrocities she took part in during her previous stint with the Empire and wrestles with divided loyalties. Her one-time mentor Keize is similarly compelling as the villain of the piece. He understands that the Empire was pretty monstrous and accepts that the war is lost, but still wants to do right by his troops.
After an early revelation about Quell's true allegiance, I was completely hooked on this side of the narrative due to its moral ambiguity. Her intense journey is intertwined with Keize's, and I felt a surge of excitement when I learned where it would bring them. Freed clearly set out to delight hardcore Star Wars fans with this final act.
On the New Republic side, the story is more of a mixed bag. General Hera Syndulla gets an expanded role compared with the previous two novels, and every moment with her is wonderful. She spends much of this story's 460 pages on a New Republic Star Destroyer (satisfyingly mirroring her time fleeing from such vessels in CGI animated series Rebels) as it hunts down Shadow Wing.
One area where Freed has shown growth are the deliciously tense space combat and dogfighting scenes. By humanizing the heroes and villains over the course of the trilogy, he's made the conflict feel more personal. I often forgot the overall objective as I got caught up in the moment-to-moment drama between the New Republic and Imperial squadrons.
However, as with the previous two books in the trilogy, I didn't find the other members of Alphabet Squadron nearly as intriguing as their former comrade Quell. Sensitive A-Wing pilot Wyl Lark struggles with his role in the war, temperamental B-Wing pilot Chass na Chadic is dealing with the emotional fallout of getting mixed up with a cult. And shady Y-Wing pilot Nath Tencent just wants to survive with his conscience intact.
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None of those characters ever fully clicked with me, even though Freed gives Chass and Wyl a rich inner life. (By comparison, Nath feels disappointingly flat.) They don't want to be part of this war, but I didn't get a sense that they'd be doing anything particularly riveting without it, so I couldn't fully invest in them.
Kairos, the squadron's enigmatic U-Wing pilot, is more enthralling than her squadmates due to her wonderfully alien nature. However, her story comes so sporadically that it feels more like a setup for a future tale.
After an uneven start, Freed's Alphabet Squadron series ultimately feels successful due to Quell's incredible journey and its nuanced take on a collapsing Empire. Victory's Price easily stands as the strongest of the three novels, with some incredible moments to round out the trilogy.