There are three short flashback sequences throughout the book that explain the main subplot of our main character, so I will explain them first (in chronological order) before delving into the story itself.
Flashback Sequence One (13 Years After Yavin):
Wraith Squadron tricks an Imperial admiral in taking back an explosive device to his most secure facility, allowing for the bomb to detonate and take out a series of biological warfare agents. In the process, the admiral’s personal specialist on gemstones—a civilian prisoner—is rescued from his captivity and helps the unit finance local resistance movements through his appraisal talents.
Flashback Sequence Two (19 Years After Yavin):
The Wraiths infiltrate an Imperial base and blow it up. This is the last mission for at least one of the operatives, choosing to retire and raise a family.
Flashback Sequence Three (29 Years After Yavin):
The Wraiths infiltrate a Yuuzhan Vong facility to bring back important intelligence concerning the war effort. In the process, one of the Wraiths is killed and another severely injured beyond all hope of recovery. In an effort to let his friend die with some dignity, Piggy shoots his friend and comrade in the head—a mercy kill—and returns to his leader, Face, to quit being a spy and settle down, his thoughts plagued by what he’s done.
Main Story (Years After Yavin):
Following the events of the Fate of the Jedi series, Garik “Face” Loran is recruited by the new head of Galactic Alliance Security to investigate General Stavin Thaal, the Army Chief of Staff, to see if he was part of the known conspiracy. For his investigation, Face reactivates Wraith Squadron in an unofficial capacity, bringing in former colleagues and new talent to find out what’s going on. Initially, the Wraiths use various intelligence gathering methods to find out about the questionable—and illegal—activities of Thaal before openly infiltrating one of his suspected facilities; however, during the infiltration, the Wraiths find themselves face-to-face with yet another Intelligence unit calling themselves Wraith Squadron, who were also recruited by Face (now believed to have been killed on Coruscant) to investigate Thaal’s activities, led by another former Wraith along with some more new talent. The double-infiltration raises a lot of red flags for the facility’s security monitors, and the two teams extract through an intense measure of blaster-fire and artillery, resulting in the death of the first team’s leader.
The two units are saved by the shuttle services of none other than Kirney Slane, being escorted by X-Wings piloted by Wedge Antilles and Tycho Celchu. Piggy takes command of the operation following the death of his team’s leader, joining both teams into one, and sets out to bring Thaal down for good. The operation results in a very convoluted plan to get Thaal to incriminate himself before he decides to cuts ties with the Galactic Alliance and run, as well as placing him in such a situation that it would be impossible for him to talk his way out of it. The operation is successful, and Thaal is remanded to Galactic Alliance Security’s custody, but then escapes, thanks to the help of the head of GAS. Face—still alive, having faked his death to continue his investigation in secret—confronts the head of the GAS, using one of his own agents as backup to entrap the traitor. In the end, Face is made the new head of GAS and wishes to continue using the Wraiths for operations . . . in an “unofficial” capacity, so they are always kept in secret.
Personal Observations & Reactions
One of the things that I’ve always liked about stories involving Wraith Squadron is the ease that the characters have with one another during operations and planning stages. The Rogues were friendly and professional with one another, but the Wraiths were more able to relax and have fun with each other—sometimes at the expense of another in the squadron. The faces have changed, with the exception of a couple, but the overall attitude that the characters have to one another is very much the same. I would have attributed this to Allston’s writing style, except that in previous novels of his in which the Wraiths play little-to-no roles at all, the friendly banter that these spies utilize isn’t prevalent. And, in all honestly, that’s a good thing; it would be rather boring and predictable if Allston wrote all of his characters the same way.
A bit of a shock for me was the intense focus being spent on one character specifically, Voort “Piggy” saBinring, who has been a supporting character in most of the other novels dealing with the Wraiths. Most of the story was about his struggle to return from a dark place in his mind due to experiences he had during the Yuuzhan Vong War in order to find peace with himself and effectively lead the his comrades into battle. This isn’t the first time Allston has focused so intently on a single character that all other experiences are observed through that character—the previous book in the X-Wing series, Starfighters of Adumar, focused all of its attention on Wedge Antilles and his personal and professional life; however, it’s the first time I have seen him use such a secondary character to fill out a main role.
There were certainly some surprises—such as the discontinuity revelation that Lara Notsil (previously known as Gara Petothel while an Imperial agent, and now known as Kirney Slane in retirement) is still alive and kicking on Corellia. Lara was always one of my favorite characters from the original Wraith Squadron Trilogy, and I’ve often wondered what happened after she left for Corellia; I’m glad that she’s still alive more than 30 years later, but I wish her appearance had been longer and more involved. There are plot reasons why she couldn’t be, but as a personal fan of hers, I’d like to see those plot elements taken on.
Likewise, the fact that Face had two separate Wraith units operating in conjunction without any cross-knowledge between them was well played and clever, something I wouldn’t have thought of—including the fact that he was utilized a third factious unit in order to entrap his target. But, then again, I should expect some clever antics from Face.
And, speaking of clever antics, I was in no way surprised about Face’s “death.” It was too convenient for him to die, and I expect any seasoned X-Wing reader to have picked up the situation, as well. What’s more, I was rather disappointed in the lack of starfighter combat in this novel; there was some, but not much, so to me it didn’t really feel as though it should have been a part of the X-Wing series.
The biggest disappointment of the book to me was the lack of competence on the part of the “Pop-Dogs.” This is supposed to be an elite Special Forces division within the army, and a handful of out-of-date and minty-fresh Intelligence operatives put them to shame with no real effort on their part. Surely these Special Forces personnel have experience and training that should rival, even surpass, those of an unofficial unit. The Wraiths had a much harder time when they were fighting Zsinj’s forces in their original introduction and incarnation, and I would have loved to have seen that level of interaction and interest in this book.
As I stated above, I’m not sure this should really be a part of the overall X-Wing series given its very loose connection to starfighter combat and other elements. I am aware of wanting to keep characters together in what they’re known best for, but it isn’t as though those same characters—or Wraith in general—haven’t been used in non-X-Wing stories. Whatever the case, I do hope there will be more story to these characters, especially with Face now as the head of Galactic Alliance Security. Also, it is refreshing to read stories in which the Jedi are not a central focus—another reason l enjoyed the original Wraith Squadron books. It’s not that I dislike the Jedi—I’m a Star Wars fan; if I didn’t like Jedi/Sith interactions, then I’d be bored most of the time—but I personally have always enjoyed the stories about pilots the most. Even within the original 4-book X-Wing series that Stackpole wrote, the inclusion of Jedi started to become very present during the end.
I’m not sure if there will be another X-Wing book, and, if so, who it would be about? I wouldn’t mind finding out about the newest incarnation of Rogue Squadron following the Second Galactic Civil War, but I highly doubt any of the original Rogues from the books would be present. Perhaps a new series, X-Wing: The Next Generation, though that might have some licensing problems. Regardless, I would certainly recommend this book to most Star Wars fans, as well as picking up books 5 through 7 of the X-Wing series as a relook. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.