Star Wars:

Battlefront II: Inferno Squad

                                 review by Michael Fraley

Since Disney took over the Star Wars Universe in 2014, there has possibly been nothing as divisive as their decision to end the Extended Universe (EU) and de-canonize everything in it.  Though there were a few novels and games before, as well as a long running Marvel comic book series, the EU really got going in the early 90s with Timothy Zahn's Thrawn Trilogy and Dark Horse's Dark Empire comic mini-series.  Since then, dozens upon dozens of comics and books have been written spanning from the dawn of the Jedi to over 130 years past the event of Return of the Jedi. 

With so much data to sift through, it's was understandable why Disney, with plans on relaunching the film franchise, would want to clear the slate and offer it's new writers and directors a fresh galaxy to play in.  Beginning with John Jackson Miller's A New Dawn and moving us past the Original Trilogy with Claudia Gray's Lost Stars and Chuck Windig's Aftermath trilogy, Disney did just that.  Since then we've seen several new books and comic series created to bring together Disney's cohesive vision of the new Star Wars Universe.  We've seen fan favorites, like Thrawn, reintroduced into the new EU, as well as loads of new characters that we will watch grow as the books continue.  Love it or hate it, Disney's new Extended Universe is here to stay and will continue to expand our beloved galaxy, far, far away.

The most recent addition to the Lexicon is Christie Golden's Battlefront II:  Inferno Squad.  Like it's predecessor, Alexander Freed's Battlefront:  Twilight Company, it is a tie-in to the Battlefront video game series released by Electronic Arts.  Instead of focusing on the characters we all know and love, the series focuses on the, until now, faceless grunts that are on the front line, doing the actual fighting.  This novel follows Inferno Squad, the Empire's elite fighters, as they go after the remnants of Saw Gerrera's Partisans following the events of Rogue One.

The novel's premise is simple.  A team of the best of the best is put together: a leader, a pilot, a technican/mechanic, and a hacker, and are sent out on dangerous undercover missions to root out threats to the Empire.  It plays out more like Mission: Impossible than one might expect a novel based on a First Person Shooter, but it works within the medium and doesn't lack for action.

We first meet Iden Versio as a TIE Pilot defending the Death Star from the attacking Rebel scum.  After it's, spoiler alert, destruction, she crash lands on Yavin 4, steals a ship and escapes back into Imperial space.  The destruction of the Death Star and knowledge that one of their own, Galen Erso, was responsible for it, sends shockwaves throughout the Empire.  Imperial Security Bureau Admiral, and Iden's father, Garrick Versio decides to create Inferno Squad to gather information and "clean" out any more potential internal threats to the Empire.  Iden along with her long time "friend" Gideon Hask, Star Destroyer engineer Del Meeko, and Naval Intelligence Analyst Seyn Marana are brought together to be this team.

Where this novel excels and differentiates itself from other recent Star Wars novels is that this isn't a story of hope and redemption.  These four are Imperial all the way.  They have a mission, and they are out to accomplish it regardless of what lives are taken.  If one Imperial must die so that the Galaxy can be saved by the Emperor, then so be it.  Each member plays their part, and while at times they let their emotions begin to surface, they quickly push them aside and move ahead in their task.  There is no budding romance amongst the team.  There is genuine comraderie and respect for each other.  They each grew up as Imperials,and their lives' goals are to serve the Empire as best as they can.

It works, then, that their biggest mission has them infiltrate a group that also holds nothing back in its pursuit for freedom, the Dreamers, the final remnants of Saw Gerrera's Partisans. Now led by the fiery Staven and a man known only as the Mentor.  This group kills everyone that gets in their way and is not opposed to suicide bombing as a way to destroy the Empire.  The meshing of the two groups is interesting in that it has our Imperial team take a hard look at themselves as the Empire that they all love is almost mirrored in this group of extremists.  It also makes it hard for the reader to know who to cheer for because neither side really seems like the "good" side.

As they further ingrain themselves in the Rebel group, Inferno Squad is given more responsibility and sent on more missions.  Though their goal is simply finding out how the Dreamers get information on their targeted events, the Squad finds themselves getting pulled further in personally and emotionally than any of them expected possible.  Will their Imperial training be enough to see them through, or will being confronted by a team as bloodthirsty as the Empire they survive spell out the Squad's ultimate failure.

Like most Star Wars novels, this a quick and easy read.  The characters are all well written and grow as the book moves along.  Each one brings in particular demons they must deal with that will resonate with many readers. The story is smart and has some twists you might not see coming.  There are a couple of story threads that don't really seem to fit in, one involving some statues that has, at least I felt, a ridiculous payoff, but overall it's an interesting look into the lives of an Elite Imperial team.  Christie Golden is not new to the Star Wars Universe, having written Dark Disciple in the new EU and three books in the now Legend's Fate of the Jedi storyline, and her comfort in the Galaxy shows.

It's easy to recommend this novel, but I don't think it will make it to the top of anyone's favorites list.  Of course, seeing these guys in action when the Battlefront II game comes out might make them more endearing and lend more gravitas to the events in the novel.  As it lays now, I give it a solid 3 out of 4 stars.

Star Wars Battlefront II:  Inferno Squad is written by Christe Golden and published by Del Rey.  It is available at your favorite bookstore now.

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