BOOK REVIEW: Inferno Squad, by Christie Golden

inferno.jpg

Publisher: Arrow

Series: Standalone

Genre: Space Opera/Military SF

Pages: 373

Publication Date: 27/07/2017

Verdict: 5/5

 

Inferno Squad are the Empire’s finest. But even they had to start somewhere.

Not a sequel to Battlefront: Twilight Company, but a prequel to Battlefront II’s campaign mode, Inferno Squad is by far the best direct game tie-in I’ve ever read. It follows the titular squad’s journey from its inception, through its early covert missions, right until the devastating choices that sow the seeds for the events of the game. The principal characters of Iden Versio, Del Meeko and Gideon Hask will be familiar to players of the game, but there is a wide supporting cast of original characters too.

I’ve always been more interested in the Empire than the Rebellion. While the films may paint the Galaxy in black and white (the truly excellent Rogue One being an exception), the literary side of the Star Wars universe has always been kinder to the people trapped in the Imperial machine. While the Emperor is a literal evil space-wizard, most of the lower-ranks of his Empire are just ordinary people trying to make the most of what the galaxy has to offer them. Inferno Squad shows the grim realities of the Galactic Civil War like never before.

Starting with the squad themselves, we have a likeable group of protagonists. Invested to varying degrees in the Imperial war machine, the quartet of black-ops soldiers have all the banter and charm of any other group of heroes. But there’s a cold, ruthless edge there too. A reminder that these are not people you would like to get on the wrong side of. Their early jobs put them against corrupt officials, a perfect illustration of the Empire’s internal politics that also sets the group up as heroic.

That changes when we get to the core of the novel. A longterm, undercover operation in a hardline rebel faction. Picking up on Saw Guererra’s faction from Rogue One, Golden gives us a side to the Rebellion that’s about as far from noble farmboys rescuing princesses as you can get. These are terrorists in every sense of the word,a nd proud of it too. From cold-blooded assassination to literal suicide bombing, this is the dirtier side of the war. It’s also the most interesting look at the rebellion I’ve seen in the Disney-era. As one character points out, ‘Rebellions aren’t built on hope. They’re built on hate.’

The problem with any prequel is that you have a strong idea of where it’s headed. The fate of Inferno Squad’s fourth member will be clear to anyone who has played Battlefront II, but otherwise the book is more background reading than an introduction to the story of the game. It’s the character development that shines through in the end. There are tough choices made by everyone, and the fallout is what drives future events. Seeing younger versions of the characters also goes a long way to explaining the morality of the Empire, and why events transpire the way they do.

Even if you’ve never played the game, this is a book that stands alone. But for those who have played it, it’s a chance to see the formative journey of some of the new canon’s most interesting characters.

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