Oct 29, 2013

[Books] Star Wars: X-Wing - Mercy Kill

The one book series that really got me into the Star Wars Expanded Universe were the Star Wars: X-Wing novels, started by Michael A. Stackpole. I had been a big fan of Stackpole's work on the Battletech series and so I was eager to see how he'd handle things in the Star Wars universe.

Interestingly enough, the Star Wars: X-Wing series was eventually endorsed to a second author, Aaron Allston, who introduced the commando team Wraith Squadron, to act as a sort of complimentary force to Rogue Squadron (who were the initial focus of the series). While the Rogues were some of the best pilots around, the Wraiths had a more diverse skill set outside of their ships. Their missions were less than noble at times and they were a group more suited to espionage and even black ops work. It was a most interesting turn for the series and added a nice new flavor to the Star Wars universe.

It was quite a surprise to me when Mercy Kill was announced given the last X-Wing novel, Starfighters of Adumar, had been released all the way back in 1999. Apart from a few of the Wraiths appearing among the New Jedi Order novels covering the Yuuzhan Vong invasion, we had really seen very little of them. So it was pretty nice to have them featured in their own novel once again.

Synopsis: Mercy Kill is the tenth novel in the Star Wars: X-Wing series of novels. It was written by Aaron Allston and is set around the same time of the events of Star Wars: Apocalypse, the last novel in the Fate of the Jedi series (which I have yet to read, I must admit).

Our more or less central character in this book is Voort "Piggy" saBinring, the Gamorrean founding member of Wraith Squadron. We periodically flashback to Piggy's life back at the peak of the squadron together with the likes of Face Loran, Ellasar Targon, Kell Tainer, and Run Ekwesh to name a few. The flashbacks slowly make their way forward to the present and we find out what had happened to him when Wraith Squadron went underground, so to speak.

In the present, Voort is now retired from military service and now works as a mathematics professor when he is approached by Face again. He's putting Wraith Squadron back together in order to prove that Galactic Alliance General Stavin Thaal is part of the Lecersen Conspiracy. Face immediately has Voort join new Wraiths Myri Antilles and Trey Courser on Coruscant for a mission that is already in-progress. From there he meets the rest of the Wraiths as led by Bhindi Drayson. However their ranks also include Scut, who is actually a Yuuzhan Vong Shamed One.

The initial missions that the new Wraiths go on are delightfully intricate capers. But in typical Wraith fashion, there's little to know information about what the missions are initially for and the group relies on classic cell methodology to keep all information on an absolutely need-to-know basis. And the most mysterious agenda may involve that of Face Loran himself, who continues to operate independently of the Wraiths.

I was somewhat surprised by the choice of using Voort as a focus for the story, but in the long run I suppose it made sense. Instead of just taking a more "command" view of things and following the missions, this book made us follow Voort's personal journey of sorts through all this given all that he had seen with the Wraiths of past and present. In the same way that this book potentially marks a new chapter for Wraith Squadron in Star Wars fiction, Voort becomes the actual personification of the transition between old and new. And while the metaphor was a bit heavy-handed at times, it still made sense.

I feel that Allston's feel for caper-crafting as I like to call it has gotten a lot better. Instead of straight-forward commando missions, we had the Wraiths being really creative in this book as they constantly adapted plans to enemy movements or came up with entirely new ones from scratch to take advantage of limited windows of opportunity. And you could say that has always been part of Wraith Squadron's mandate, this book made sure to execute or describe such actions in a much more fluid manner. And Allston deserves credit for that, certainly.

Mercy Kill was a nicely new experience for Wraith Squadron fans and yet also quite familiar at the same time. I enjoyed it a lot and I hope we see more X-Wing novels in the future, despite the shake-up in Lucasfilm ownership. Thus the book rates a fun 4.5 embarrassing roles that the Wraiths make Voort portray out of a possible 5.

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