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[ Star Wars Books & Comics ]
Staff Review.

[Battlefront: Twilight Company]

Battlefront: Twilight Company
Author: Alexander Freed
Published: 2015

Reviewer: Ewan, Star Wars Books & Comics
Reviewed: 2015
Review rating: 4.5 / 5

Spoilers are kept to minimum however cannot guarantee spoiler-free.

Although publisher supplied copy for review purposes, all opinions are those of reviewer.

Publisher's Summary:
The bravest soldiers. The toughest warriors. The ultimate survivors.
Among the stars and across the vast expanses of space, the Galactic Civil War rages. On the battlefields of multiple worlds in the Mid Rim, legions of ruthless stormtroopers—bent on crushing resistance to the Empire wherever it arises—are waging close and brutal combat against an armada of freedom fighters. In the streets and alleys of ravaged cities, the front-line forces of the Rebel Alliance are taking the fight to the enemy, pushing deeper into Imperial territory and grappling with the savage flesh-and-blood realities of war on the ground.
Leading the charge are the soldiers—men and women, human and nonhuman—of the Sixty-First Mobile Infantry, better known as Twilight Company. Hard-bitten, war-weary, and ferociously loyal to one another, the members of this renegade outfit doggedly survive where others perish, and defiance is their most powerful weapon against the deadliest odds. When orders come down for the rebels to fall back in the face of superior opposition numbers and firepower, Twilight reluctantly complies. Then an unlikely ally radically changes the strategic equation—and gives the Alliance’s hardest-fighting warriors a crucial chance to turn retreat into resurgence.
Orders or not, alone and outgunned but unbowed, Twilight Company locks, loads, and prepares to make its boldest maneuver—trading down-and-dirty battle in the trenches for a game-changing strike at the ultimate target: the very heart of the Empire’s military machine.

In  his first full prose novel Alexander Freed has created a compelling and realistic story in which our heroes, a small squad of Rebel fighters, are fuelled not by the worthy cause of freedom from tyranny, but rather the truth of soldiering and war: one of survival. It is their determination and comradeship to survive the next battle, and the next, and the one after that, that is their cause. Never more so in a war that appears to have no end in sight.
Focusing on a small four-to-five person squad rather than the full compliment of a company, Freed is able to create tight, close-knit relationships amongst his core characters. The reader journeys, fights, survives or, ultimately in some cases, dies, with this group. And when a new member is recruited the reader empathises with the squad leader in asking whether the new recruit is capable of fighting or will be a hindrance who gets others killed or will they, ultimately, betray the very group they have been selected to serve alongside. This is the strength of Battlefront: Twilight Company, it is a character-driven story with each character having multiple layers that are slowly peeled away as the story progresses from battle to battle. The lead character, Hazram Namir is a veteran of combat having fought for warlords on his home planet from a young age, he is the most cynical of fighting for "causes" and understands the most the realities of war. Brand, the sharp-shooter, is an ex-bounty hunter with a past she is unwilling to reveal; Gadren, a Basilisk, is the squad's muscle and as an alien amongst humans it is he who believes the most in the Alliance's cause; and Roach, the fresh-meat who must prove herself in combat to the rest of the squad but carries with her a dark secret that could destroy the squad. Finally, the company's commander, "Howl", is the most pragmatic of the lot: fully aware that with every mission he is sending troops to their deaths but for him the drug of war is that the Company will live on, regardless.
Set prior to, during and after the events of Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, the Rebel Alliance find themselves on the back foot as the Empire retakes many territories lost to the Alliance over the past three years. As Alliance leadership tries to maintain an orderly retreat amidst the chaos of overwhelming Imperial force, Freed creates a gritty and realistic portrayal of soldiering where for many Rebel combatants the famous victory at Yavin is nothing more than a reminder of past, and now lost, successes. This type of storytelling has not been seen in Star Wars since Karen Traviss's Republic Commando series but while Traviss focused on elite Republic clone troopers, Freed's point-of-view is of the ordinary front-line soldiers' perspective - they don't have specialised military training and there are no Jedi Knights with Force wielding abilities to save Freed's heroes - they must survive on their own skills and merits. Nowhere is this brought home than in Freed's re-imagining of the iconic Battle of Hoth as witnessed by the squad. On that snow-covered planet our heroes literally face head-on the might of Imperial land power, the terrifing AT-AT. While Luke Skywalker and Wedge Antilles's attempts to bring down these gigantic war-machines are off-screen, Freed's small band of soldiers assist fellow Rebel soldiers in attempting to stop these Imperial juggernauts with just cannons, blasters and grenades. Then in one memorable moment Namir encounters Darth Vader within the crumbling ruins of Echo Base. It was nice to see that the myth of Vader as an unstoppable force where survival against this dark monster was remote, as highlighted in Paul S. Kemp's Lords of the Sith novel, endures amongst the rank-and-file.
As the survival of the Alliance hangs in the balance, hope presents itself in the unusual form of an Imperial administrator, Chalis, wishing to defect. Claiming that her intimate knowledge of Imperial logistics and its inter-connected web of supply lines will give the Alliance the upper hand in the war, Chalis, just like Namir's squad, desires only survival. Especially once she learns that the Emperor has dispatched a small task-force to hunt her down. Freed successfully manages to explore the fuelling desires of all parties concerned: from Chalis's determination to survive, at any cost; through Namir's duty to protect all those under his command; to the near-retirement Imperial captain's fears that he will be lucky to survive the orders of the young charge-hand whose unwavering loyalty to the Emperor will bring about his own destruction.

While many may find that the lack of classic Star Wars characters such as Luke, Leia and Han in this book a potential drawback, especially at a critical time for the Rebel Alliance, Battlefront: Twilight Company has a truth of realism and purpose for its characters not seen often enough in the Star Wars galaxy.

Star Wars Battlefront: Twilight Company by Alexander Freed is available now in hardback and e-Book from Century in the UK and Del Rey in the US.


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