Review: Star Wars: Battlefront II: Inferno Squad by Christie Golden

EA will be delivering the hotly anticipated video game Battlefront II in November of 2017 featuring a new single-player campaign mode. The single-player mode of the game will center on the character of Iden Versio who as an Imperial special forces officer and her adventures between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens.

Introducing Iden Versio and other characters who will appear in the game is the new novel, Battlefront II: Inferno Squad by Christie Golden. This is the second video game tie-in novel based on EA’s Battlefront series, the previous entry was Battlefront: Twilight Company which was written by Alexander Freed and released in 2015.

These two Battlefront tie-in novels aren’t directly related, the first novel focused on a Rebel group while Golden’s novel focuses on an Imperial group.

Inferno Squad is composed of four elite Imperials officers, TIE pilot Iden Versio, Iden’s friend and rival TIE pilot Gideon Hask, Imperial intelligence prodigy Seyn Marana, and Stormtrooper turned engineer Del Meeko. This group of four is assembled by Iden’s father Garrick Versio who begins the story as Inspector General of the Imperial Security Bureau (ISB) but later attains promotion to the rank of Admiral.

This is a small unit created in the wake of the destruction of the first Death Star at the Battle of Yavin and designed to recover or eliminate information and individuals who pose a threat to the Empire.

Publisher’s Summary:

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Set in the aftermath of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, this action-packed prequel to the hotly anticipated videogame Battlefront II introduces the Empire’s elite force: Inferno Squad.

After the humiliating theft of the Death Star plans and the destruction of the battle station, the Empire is on the defensive. But not for long. In retaliation, the elite Imperial soldiers of Inferno Squad have been called in for the crucial mission of infiltrating and eliminating the Partisans—the rebel faction once led by notorious Republic freedom fighter Saw Gerrera.

Following the death of their leader, the Partisans have carried on his extremist legacy, determined to thwart the Empire—no matter the cost. Now Inferno Squad must prove its status as the best of the best and take down the Partisans from within. But the growing threat of being discovered in their enemy’s midst turns an already dangerous operation into a do-or-die acid test they dare not fail. To protect and preserve the Empire, to what lengths will Inferno Squad go . . . and how far beyond them?

The Rebellion may have heroes like Jyn Erso and Luke Skywalker. But the Empire has Inferno Squad.

The book follows a fairly standard formula for this sort of new team story. We get a little back story for our characters, see how and why they are brought together, some early missions that test them and bind them together and then the bulk of the novel is spent on their main major mission to infiltrate a Rebel group find out where that group is getting its information and eliminate the threat.

We have seen these sort of small unit military books in Star Wars before, Legends had multiple books with similarities but the closest are probably Timothy Zahn’s Choices of One and Allegiance which follow the adventures of a group of five Imperial Stormtroopers who face the horrors of what the Empire is really doing, attempts to find their own way to right wrongs in the galaxy. There are also echoes of Karen Traviss’ Republic/Imperial Commando series of novels in these books because of the small unit focus, but also because of the elite skill level of the members of the unit. This Inferno squad is very much a special forces unit that is a cut above your common Imperial soldier.

What differentiates this book from those others is that while we have a group of four protagonists we don’t have any heroes who we follow. Iden Versio is the main character and we get to spend the most time exploring her thoughts and feelings regarding the Empire, the military and the effect that both have on the galaxy. While it is fair to say Iden does not revel in senseless violence, killing or destruction, the novel makes clear that she is still a villain.

Since we are following a group of bad guys as our protagonists, even if they are at times sympathetic bad guys, the story only would work with other bad guys as the antagonists. In this case Golden brings in an off-shoot of Saw Gerrera’s Partisans known as “The Dreamers.” This is a diverse group of Rebel fighters who operate outside Rebel Alliance command and engage in guerrilla and terrorist tactics to accomplish their goals.

The Dreamers are led by a bitter and violent man known as Staven, but there is a unique relationship between Staven and an adviser to the group known as “The Mentor.” The Mentor provides advice and the occasional push towards a more moral approach to fighting the Empire, but does not have final say over how the group acts.

The novel finds the Inferno squad deep undercover with the Dreamers for the bulk of the story and deals with not only how the group seeks to accomplish its mission but also how the exposure of each individual member to the Dreamers affects their believes and test all of their skills.

The book plays out largely as you would expect it with one interesting head-fake early on involving Iden, a surprising death later on, and a big reveal. Now without spoiling the reveal, the character of the Mentor is someone who fans may be familiar with already. Casual fans may not be able to figure out who this person is at first, but it was clear who this character was once we got the tiniest amount of information about him in the novel. Knowing this reveal for most of the novel didn’t ruin my enjoyment though it did make me rather impatient for a reveal that felt like it took forever to get to.

The best thing about Inferno Squad is Golden’s easily digestible writing style. We have a variety of styles in Star Wars authors some of which appeal and turn off certain readers, there is someone like James Luceno who is very technical and fact heavy in his writing and someone like Chuck Wendig who is unconventional and sometimes odd in his prose. Golden is a veteran author both inside and outside the Star Wars universe, but her experience and her familiarity with the galaxy of Star Wars shines through in a book that was a delight to read.

Golden deftly connects this book to the events of the films including Rogue One, the animates series, and other books by incorporating characters, planets, and species we have seen before along with some new ones. While the vast majority of the characters in the book are new, Golden spends enough time with each so that we can differentiate them, know who they are, what there motivations are and have some emotional response to them.

I found myself most drawn to the character of Seyn Marana in the story. A hyper-intelligent young woman who possesses a eidetic memory, more often referred to as a photographic memory.  She also speaks almost 30 languages and is often underestimated because of her youthful appearance. Before she is drawn into Inferno squad her life is lived behind a plethora of computer screens within the Imperial intelligence apparatus. Though her role is important and she is highly skilled it is not a hands on job. She has the least experience in many of the situations that the squad will face but she is a quick learner.

The most interesting aspect of the book is seeing character growth and development particularly in Iden. Given that she is our protagonist, you would hope that she would eventually realize the evils of the Empire and turn away from it. I don’t think it is a spoiler to say that based on the trailer for the video game this does not appear to be the case. On this point I am a bit conflicted the moral and storytelling trajectory I feel like the book is setting the character on is not the one I think we are going to get based on the video game.

In the crawl for Revenge of the Sith, it says “There are heroes on both sides. Evil is everywhere.” This book flips that and says there are villains on both sides. Evil is everywhere. But just because there is evil on both sides doesn’t mean in this case there are heroes on both sides, the conflict between the Separatists and the Republic is different from the conflict between the Empire and the Rebels, while there are Rebels that act evil and are certainly villains, the Empire is unquestionably evil and collaborating with it is different from supporting the Separatists or the Republic.

The members of Inferno squad may be heroes to the Empire but they are still villains and whether they can face this truth and stand up against the machine they are part of is for a future story to tell.

I would be remiss if I didn’t note that the audiobook for the novel is read by Janina Gavankar (@Janina) whom is the actor who portrays Iden in the video game. So if audiobooks are your preferred way to consume Star Wars novels this is one you don’t want to miss.

I highly recommend Inferno Squad by Christie Golden as great space thriller to read this summer full of action, drama and character.

Star Wars: Battlefront II: Inferno Squad is on sale now in hardcover, ebook and audiobook formats. For more information and to read an excerpt visit Penguin Random House.


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