Author: Aaron Allston
Publisher: Del Rey
Release date: August 7, 2012
Pages: 398 (369 actual)
This review contains some spoilers for the first part of the book.
It’s probably no coincidence that Star Wars: X-Wing: Mercy Kill hits stores thirteen years and four days after the release of X-Wing: Starfighters of Adumar, the last entry in the fan-favorite series which ran from 1996 to 1999. Mercy Kill immediately picks up where the series left off in 13 ABY before fast-forwarding to 44 ABY, making it the first novel to take place after the galaxy-changing events of Fate of the Jedi: Apocalypse. As a result, many well-known characters – or their family members – return, but they’re much older than we remembered. Does Mercy Kill live up to the high standards set by the rest of the series, or is Wraith Squadron past its prime?
Rather than follow our traditional review format, we thought we’d try a back-and-forth discussion between two of EUCantina’s review experts, William Devereux and Stephen Rice, the hosts of the We Talk Clones podcast. Both of them have read and enjoyed the entire X-Wing series, but Stephen counts it among his all-time favorites. How did the long-awaited next chapter fare? Read on to find out.
William: Much of Mercy Kill is from the perspective of series regular Voort ”Piggy” saBinring, who left Wraith Squadron years earlier and has since become a professor of mathematics. This allows Allston to slowly ease the reader into the story and re-introduce characters we haven’t seen or heard from in more than a decade. Voort has changed, but so have the rest of the Wraiths, which include Bhindi Drayson, Garik ”Face” Loran, Jesmin Tainer (the daughter of former Wraiths Kell and Tyria Sarkin Tainer), Myri Antilles (the daughter of the famous Wedge Antilles), Trey Courser, Turman Durra (a Clawdite actor), and Viull ”Scut” Gorsat (a Yuuzan Vong who was raised by humans). Other current and former Wraiths, however, make appearances as well. This is a new Wraith Squadron – one that the Galactic Alliance has no official knowledge of. Its mission: to determine whether a respected general named Stavin Thaal had any involvement in the traitorous Lecersen Conspiracy.
Stephen: Allston’s choice to frame the novel from Voort’s perspective is interesting and, at times, distracting. It makes Mercy Kill one of the few Star Wars novels to tell a story from a non-human point of view. This leads to some very unique viewpoints but it also places the story’s main character one step further away from the reader. Furthermore, many of the new Wraith Squadron members don’t find their niche until the second half of the book, and some not even then. Though Face Loran, one of the other staples of the previous series, makes a solid appearance in the beginning, he quickly disappears into the background, much to my disappointment.
William: Face’s somewhat minor role in the book disappointed me as well, especially given how every scene he’s in is immediately more interesting. In typical Face fashion, Voort is launched into the middle of a mission with no knowledge of what’s going on. To make matters worse, he’s now dealing with a new generation of soldiers who use different tactics and are often times more accepting of people than Voort would be. He and Scut, for example, immediately form a rivalry based on an inherent distrust of all Yuuzhan Vong. This makes for an interesting dynamic in the squadron.
Stephen: The interactions between Voort and Scut were some of the strongest moments of the book, particularly because their disagreement is central to Voort’s character (series regulars will notice that William and I have oddly ignored the “Piggy” nickname, and for good reason). Much of the novel seems to mirror Voort’s state of mind; when he is having trouble adjusting to be being a Wraith again (as he does in the first half of the novel), the book seems to struggle, emphasizing his disillusionment. When Voort finally takes the leap, however, the plot and other characters make a similar leap into excellence. Whether this is intentional on Allston’s part or wishful thinking on mine I will leave up to the reader.
William: As Stephen notes, the first half of the book was by far the weakest. Part of this could be due to the pacing, which seemed to jump between scenes at a very rapid pace. I found it somewhat difficult to become invested in the story, especially with a somewhat forgettable “villain” and the introduction of a second Wraith Squadron (which Shelly Shapiro revealed over a year ago). This creates confusion for both the characters and the reader, since you suddenly have two people responding to each call sign. Their replacement call signs are better, but they seem somewhat childish and not very secretive. Readers unfamiliar with the characters – or those who may have forgotten about them – might have a difficult time remembering who’s who, especially when everyone has at least three different names. It would have been nice if call signs were also included in the dramatis personae (which, by the way, is missing many names; although this is most likely intentional). Thankfully, the last half of the book is much better, and it even includes a few emotional scenes.
Stephen: I will have to disagree with William on the second Wraith Squadron. I hadn’t seen Shapiro’s reveal so I found myself suitably surprised and the call sign confusion only adds to the moment. The code names that replaced the call signs (e.g. “Math Boy” for Voort) helped to distinguish the various characters in my mind and seemed to be a suitably Wraith idea. William is entirely correct on Thaal, however, which is a real shame. The first part of the book tries to avoid casting Thaal as the “definitive” villain as the Wraith’s attempt to uncover the truth. This leaves Thaal feeling undeveloped once his evilness comes out and even an interesting subplot involving his various mistresses fails to bring him up to par.
William: And that, I think, is the biggest problem I had with the book. Not every EU novel needs a galaxy-threatening problem like an unstoppable villain or a deadly superweapon, but Mercy Kill was almost too laid back. Thaal was supposedly involved in a galactic conspiracy, but at no point did he seem evil or dangerous. He was more of a thorn in the Wraiths’ side than anything else. In fact, if you ignore the reason for the Wraiths going after him in the first place, this story could have been set during any time period. I was also disappointed by the distinct lack of Wedge Antilles, Face, and – believe it or not – space battles.
Stephen: Wedge’s cameo lasts only a few pages and is certainly a miss on Allston’s part. Unfortunately, Myri doesn’t come across as strongly as I might have hoped either. She is vaguely reminiscent of her mother with a plethora of spy moves at her disposal but she really gets no more screen time than the rest of the new Wraiths. While some of the Allston staples appear to be missing, his humor is not. As with the older series, the Wraiths enjoy their work and revel in the ridiculous. The final scheme the Wraiths pull near the end of the book had me outright laughing at times. The interaction between old and new Wraiths only heightened the fun.
William: I went into Mercy Kill with high expectations, but maybe they were too high. The stunt the Wraiths pulled at the end was highly entertaining and quite ingenious, but most of the book is merely decent, not great. Thankfully, Allston has left the door open for another sequel. Now that the Wraiths – new and old – have once again gelled into a cohesive team, another X-Wing novel might give some of the more under-used characters their time to shine. Mercy Kill was a fun read, but it didn’t quite live up to the hype. Wraith Squadron deserves at least one more mission.
Stephen: I also went into Mercy Kill with some very high expectations and the hope that my favorite series in the Expanded Universe had been appropriately revived. While the book may not have succeeded as brilliantly as I had hoped, I can’t help but look back on it and smile. The book as a whole has its moments where it missteps or flounders but overall, it was a solid read and very entertaining. And as William noted, it does a wonderful job of setting up a new and active Wraith Squadron that I can only hope will show up in later books, be it X-Wing or elsewhere.
Reviewed by William Devereux and Stephen Rice. Advanced Review Copy (ARC) courtesy of Del Rey.
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