Sometimes good books don’t get celebrated enough because of their timing. Elizabeth Wein’s Cobalt Squadron was released in and around the fanfare surrounding The Last Jedi and the assortment of books accompanied it. While this may have helped it in some respects other readers may have missed it amidst the other publications released around that time. If you have missed it then now is the time to check it out.
Cobalt Squadron was a highly gratifying book – one that I think will remain fixed in my mind for a long period of time. It gave insights into an area of Star Wars fiction I quite enjoy which is the saga as experienced from the front lines. It successfully conveys events from the perspective of those engaged with the nuts and bolts (literally in the case of Rose and her Baffler shielding device) of war as well as Cobalt Squadron. It is up there with Alexander Freed’s Twilight Company in its depiction of life on the front lines of the saga.
The distinction that this book has of course is that it tells of the activity of front line Resistance troops in the air. This was one of the most fascinating dimensions of the book for me. In the Acknowledgments section at the back of the book Wein references the research she has undertaken on the Lancaster Bombers in World War Two to inform the book’s writing. She has also noted in exchanges with this site that it was recommended that she watch 12 O’Clock High (one of Rian Johnson’s film choices for screening in the development stage of The Last Jedi) in devising the work.
I have to confess that the real world link to the Bombers used in World War Two has sent me scuttling off on a personal quest to research the real life Lancaster squadrons and the experiences they had. I’m increasingly obsessed with them now; and have attached some links of interest below for anyone else who may be interested. I’ve also been captivated by the mechanics of the Lancaster Bombers themselves (fun fact: the later models had a turret known as the Rose turret!) and the claustrophobic conditions onboard.
Cobalt Squadron really did a good job of conjuring up the terror of the working conditions on board, plus the strange vulnerability of these vessels despite their lethal power. I think they are an intriguing dimension to the saga, and an interesting environment in which to discover insights into our characters.
The central focus of the book is the Tico sisters, Rose and Paige. The closeness of the sisters depicted here lends an extra layer of depth to their later separation in The Last Jedi. We see here that Rose is initially unwilling even to serve in a separate capacity to her sister. We also find out that their fight against the First Order comes in response to the devastation of their Twin home worlds. This drives them and motivates them, and although they have natural fears, they will overcome them any way they can: the book reveals their steeliness of character. When it comes to taking the war to the First Order all their fear is side-lined in favour of the cause. They bring this to bear in their rescue mission, upon which most of the book rests.
Special mention at this point should also be made in relation to the leadership role within the Resistance as predicted in this book. Leia, Holdo and the formidable Fossil all are shown as sympathetic but also tough in their personnel decisions. The book gives a glimpse of the expectation that troops will follow orders and put the cause above personal feelings and preferences.
Another interesting dimension to the book is that when I initially started it I assumed (wrongly) that it was set quite a bit before the events of The Force Awakens. It was with some horror therefore when I realized gradually that an event the book was describing was actually the attack from Starkiller base that resulted in the Hosnian Cataclysm. At that point the proximity to the Sequel Trilogy hit home and the sense of urgency in the characters’ struggles became truly tangible. That coupled with Wein’s adept character depictions means that the book finishes with quite a flurry.
Finally a general note about the Star Wars books that fall into the Young Adult categorization. I would simply point out that for any hesitating in reading these books because they are not sure of whether they will be too simplistic, please let me assuage your fears. These books are very like a short novella, and but for the layout and presentation I find that they are pitched in a very similar fashion to the Del Rey series of novels. They have also been of a consistently high quality. Plus I happen to think the presentation of the books are pretty beautiful – this one was graced with Phil Noto art and a clear easy to read layout.
Links on Lancaster Bombers
BBC feature – http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/z23svcw
Bomber Command Museum Canada – http://www.bombercommandmuseum.ca/lancbomber.html
Editor’s Note: All images subject to copyright and can be removed upon request.