X-wing: Mercy Kill by Aaron Allston (Book Review)
Just a few short days ago passed the man who brought me into the Star Wars universe with my first ever novel in the setting, X-wing: Starfighters of Adumar. The writer was Aaron Allston, a man who has given me some great reading experiences with his X-wing novels over the years, and is someone I can pick up unreservedly and know that I’m in for a good time. I wrote about his passing and the passion he inspired in me to get stuck into the Star Wars universe in a post here. If you’ve never read a Star Wars novel before, and only know the broad basics, then I’d say Starfighters of Adumar is a great place to start. It mixes in a cameo character from the original movie trilogy with lots of new characters and presents a very interesting world.
Mercy Kill came out a year and a half ago to great fanfare and great anticipation. The X-wing novels have a great pedigree, first shepherded by Mike Stackpole with his Rogue Squadron-centric novels, and then with Aaron as he began with the Wraith Squadron. I’ve read them all, pretty much, and each of them has been quite satisfying. Among the best tie-in novels I’ve read. Mercy Kill, Aaron’s last fanfare with this universe, proves that it deserves to stand there with the best, whether we talk about Rogue Squadron or Wraith Squadron. It really is a wonderful novel that takes a lot of chances and comes out the better for it.
One of the things that made the X-wing novels as great as they were was that it took some of the characters from the original movies, such as Wedge Antilles and Derek “Hobbie” Klivian, and mixed them in with entirely new characters to create a true space opera epic spanning something like a dozen novels. The series resulted in one of the most enduring characters of the entire SWEU, Corran Horn, the X-wing jock from Corellia who eventually became a Jedi Master. And along the way we also met many new characters, characters who gained a similar kind of momentum to Corran. With the Wraith Squadron novels, the focus shifted to X-wing missions where the approach wasn’t starfighter combat, but special ops intelligence missions as well. As Wedge Antilles himself put to Admiral Ackbar when forming the new squadron, Rogue Squadron was the Republic’s lightsaber and with the Wraiths he wanted to create the Republic’s vibroblade.
It is an experiment that worked out beautifully, as far as I’m concerned, because the resulting stories were some of the best I’ve read, as I said above. Mercy Kill continues in that same tradition. The only original Wraith we see in the novel for an extended amount of time is Piggy, or as he officially now calls himself, Voort saBinring. He is a genetically-modified Gamorrean, a math genius. Utterly at odds with the rest of his species, members of which are commonly found throughout the galaxy far far away as bouncers and hired bodyguards. The Hutts are especially partial to them. He is our primary protagonist in this novel and I have to say that I loved that approach. He was rarely a prominent member of the group back in the original novels, if I recall correctly, and in this novel Aaron builds on his character and his motivations very nicely.
With everything that the galaxy has gone through, it is no surprise that some of the familiar characters like Voort have suffered as well. The most devastating recent experience has of course been the Yuuzhan Vong war, and that long war is the fulcrum around which Voort’s life changed. A mission went bad and some of his friends, fellow Wraiths, died. The novel spends a significant amount of time with Voort dealing with that incident, and Aaron brings in a rather surprising character to “help” Voort in that. Scut, being an original character, was fresh out of Writer’s Brain college and he provided a perfect contrast to Voort, and the rivalry between the two of them was fascinating. It provided a lot of dramatic tension throughout and the resolution was rewarding as well.
But that’s not all of course. Over the years, the Wraiths have slowly become an intelligence special ops team first and foremost rather than being a multi-specialty team that is also proficient in starfighter combat. In fact, the Wraith team formed by Garik Loran in this novel gets inside the cockpit maybe like twice, and only for a brief amount of time, and only for two or three of the characters. Which isn’t all that much. I loved that switch. It shows how the team has changed over the years, especially with all the new blood that has joined in. Such as Myri, Wedge’s daughter, and Jesmin, the daughter of Kell Tainer, another original Wraith. I look at Mercy Kill in the same way that I look at the Young Jedi Knight novels: they are a passing of the torch. In the case of this novel, that is a much more subtle concept of course, but intriguing and enjoyable nonetheless.
The generation switch also provides for a lot of gags as Voort learns to adapt to his new team, compounded by the fact that he has spent the last several years as a maths professor on an out-of-the-way world. Much like this reader, Voort is learning to get back in the Wraith Squadron groove and Mercy Kill made for a perfect return to SWEU in that respect.
The villain in the novel isn’t as interesting as some of the others we have seen, such as Warlord Zsinj or Ysanne Isard. In fact, I’d say that the villain is the weakest link in the novel. I would have liked to see more of his character, and seen what makes him tick. He just wasn’t any good, sadly. I mean, he is competent and Aaron avoids either over-exaggerating or under-exaggerating his abilities, or making him out to be a caricature. But still, his characterisation was thin on the ground.
And when all is said and done, Mercy Kill ends up being a near-perfect Wraith Squadron novel. Why? Because the Wraiths are all about the flashy missions, and coming up with some really creative solutions to their problems. They do exactly that here. This novel shows them as being part A-Team, part Leverage, and even, part Ocean’s Eleven. Or whatever other heist drama that you can think of. Wraith Squadron is a team of military intelligence experts who are adept at sourcing whatever assets they need locally rather than depending on a supply chain like the Rogues are. That’s what makes them so awesome. And in Mercy Kill Aaron gives them the perfect stage.
Overall, Mercy Kill is one of the most fun novels that I’ve read in a while. Last December’s Kenobi (review) was pretty fantastic yeah, but the other two Star Wars novels I’ve read since then, The Joiner King and Maul: Lockdown, have been very subpar. So its nice to read something as enjoyable as this one. I certainly recommend it! Aaron Allston, good sir, you went out with a big bang on this one. Thank you for this experience, the last of your greatness that we will ever see.
Posted on March 14, 2014, in Book Reviews, Review Central and tagged Aaron Allston, Aliens, Bhindi Drayson, Book Review, Espionage, Galactic Alliance, Garik Loran, Intelligence, Jedi, Jesmin Tainer, Kell Tainer, Mercy Kill, Military SF, Myri Antilles, Review, Review Central, Science Fiction, Sharr Latt, Space Opera, Special Ops, Star Wars, Star Wars Expanded Universe, Star Wars: X-wing, Starfighters, SWEU, Voort saBinring, Wedge Antilles, Wraith Squadron, X-wing. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.