With Inferno Squad, Christie Golden has delivered a Star Wars novel that splits fairly evenly into two clear parts. The first part sees the formation and bonding of a new crack anti-Rebellion Unit called the Inferno Squad. The second part sees that Squad being placed into action undercover amidst the hard-core cell constructed from the remnants of Saw Gerrera’s Partisans, a group that we know well here in the Partisan Cantina.
The opening half of the book centres on Iden Versio, an exciting addition to the roster of Star Wars characters and an Imperial of significant pedigree. The daughter of Admiral Garrick Versio and his estranged propaganda artist wife Zeehay, Iden is Imperial to the core. She has made no deference to nepotism to advance her career and has stealthily made her way up the military structures through raw ability and discipline. Sufficiently impressing her stoic father, he selects her for part of a crack team called the Inferno Squad alongside fellow stand-out Imperials Seyn Marana, Del Meeko and Gideon Hask. After a gruelling period of initiation Iden comes up tops and is selected as Commander of the Squad. Their first exercises are deemed successful, and the suspense is rendered well by Golden.
The action then heats up further in the second half of the book which sees the team tasked with filtrating The Dreamers, formed from what was left of Saw Gerrera’s Partisan movement after Jedha and the extreme wing of those fighting against the Empire. The group weave their way in successfully and walk a fine line between continuing covert service to the Empire and casting a believable impression upon The Dreamers led by the suspicious and zealous Staven (see Rebel Rising) and the mysterious figure of The Mentor. Eventually tensions within the Partisans are seized upon by Iden to divide and conquer, but the successful operation comes at some loss to the Inferno Squad and stretches its members to their limits.
Inferno Squad is the second Battlefront book released, and as with Battlefront: Twilight Company it’s strengths lie in expanding the vision of the saga to give us a range of new characters. In particular readers will find themselves drawn to the inner mechanics of the Empire and the extremes beyond the Rebel Alliance depicted in the book; it remains of interest to see how the large scale events depicted in the films cascade down to affect the lives of ordinary people. The new characters are diverse and interesting, and Golden establishes a plausible feeling of tension.
There are two drawbacks to the book. The first is the believability of the process by which the entire Inferno Squad has been able to successfully infiltrate the Partisan movement in the second half of the book. We are told that this movement is comprised of the remnants of Saw Gerrera’s band of anti-Imperial crusaders who fall well outside the operating modes of the Rebel Alliance. They are therefore at the absolute extremes of the anti-Imperial movement. Rogue One depicted how difficult it was for Bodhi Rook, even Jyn Erso and her new found companions, to even get into contact with the leadership of those cells let alone gain their trust.
This book, for expediency, accelerates that process and that casts some doubt on its premise. To rectify that it may have been better had the book jettisoned the first part and commenced at the start of the process of infiltration.
The second is that the book shies away from making a tough call in the last third. That relates to a planned Partisan sabotage of an Imperial event at which many children will be present. The original plan is for the cell to trigger planned detonations to go off while many young Imperial cadets are present. This causes conflict and self-doubt among members of the Squad. Operating under deep cover their options are to proceed with the agreed plan, or to expose their cover and foil the operation.
In the end a plot twist lets the Inferno Squad off the hook. We are constantly told about the grit and real-life political parallels associated with this new Star Wars continuity. It would have been more true to life to have made the Inferno Squad endure the reality of operating under deep cover, and the stomach churning experience of having to stand idle while they facilitated an atrocity to protect their covert activities for the greater good. As it stands the plot twist helped them avoid any Utilitarian debate of the conscience.
Those reservations aside though, I enjoyed the book. The characters where strong, we gained insight into the dynamics and tensions at play within both the Imperial forces and the Partisan movement. Likewise the plot of the book moves along at a strong and steady pace propelling readers towards its conclusion.
An enjoyable addition to the new continuity despite the significant reservations noted above.
Battlefront II: Inferno Squad by Christie Golden is available now in the U.K. from Century Books.
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