Iron Fist is my favorite novel of the Wraith Squadron trilogy, for many reasons. It’s funny, heartwarming, touching, and intriguing. The characters continue to be flawed, fascinating creatures, and you root for them to both survive and thrive. In the meantime, you know that this is war and not everyone will make it out unscathed, both physically and mentally.
This is book has one of my top moments of the entire Expanded Universe. And yes, I warn you now: there will be spoilers. If you’ve already read this book, I’m sure you can figure out what for.
Iron Fist is the second novel in the Wraith Squadron trilogy. The Wraiths are now a cohesive unit, with some new members filling in empty spots that were a result of casualties in Wraith Squadron. Right from the beginning, Allston’s books differ from Stackpole’s in that many more characters die. Remember my warning from the last review? Well, the book I was specifically referring to is Iron Fist, and those of you familiar with the book know exactly what I’m going to talk about: the death of Ton Phanan.
Sure, a lot of other things that happen in this novel, most of them great. To uncover Warlord Zsinj’s plans and stop him from joining the Empire, the Wraiths impersonate a band of pirates seeking to join his forces. In one battle, Ton Phanan is shot down and his friend Face Loran pursues him, both to save Ton’s life but also to keep their true identities from being found out. Face locates Ton, ties him to a speeder, and brings him back to Face’s ship. Along the way, they have a conversation about life, Ton writes out his last will and testament, and passes away with the Star Destroyer Iron Fist oribiting overhead.
I’m getting misty-eyed just thinking about it.
Ton and Face, up until this point, were the dynamic duo of the squadron. Their humor rivaled even Janson’s. But both Ton and Face were troubled: Ton because he felt he had no future, having an increasing number of prosthetics due to his bacta allergy and his subsequent withdrawl from society; Face because he wanted to punish himself for his childhood making holodramas for the Empire.
Ton’s death changes Face forever. He realizes that he must forgive that little boy, gets his trademark scar removed from his face, at Ton’s wishes, and finally moves on with his life.
You might wonder why I’m spending so much time talking about Face and Ton. If that’s the case, you’re probably not a huge fan of the series. Lots of other exciting things happen in the novel, but I’m not going to note them here. This story, like the others in the trilogy, is about the characters. That doesn’t mean the plot isn’t good, of course, but reading a recap of plot points just doesn’t explain how awesome Iron Fist is.
There’s Face and Ton, of course. Dia Passik, a Twi’lek who grew up as a slave, is a great addition to the cast. Gara Petothel – who’d previously worked for Admiral Trigit – joins the Wraiths as Lara Notsil in an undercover operation. Her downward spiral as she loses herself in her multiple identities is a wonderful arc of Iron Fist and Solo Command. Shalla Nelprin is sufficiently badass. Castin Donn – oh, Castin, you stupid human being. Wes continues to be hilarious, and Wedge’s struggles as squadron leader are fascinating to read. Have I mentioned General Melvar yet? I felt pangs of sympathy throughout the novel for Zsinj’s second-in-command. I love when I can feel sorry for the villains: it means that the author is doing a fabulous job! And Allston, as always, excels at writing these characters.
EFFECT ON THE EU:
Even today, fourteen years after Iron Fist was published, many fans still consider Ton Phanan’s death to be the best written in the entire Expanded Universe. I have to agree with them. It wasn’t epic like Ganner Rhysode’s, and it didn’t have as big effect as recent deaths in the EU. Ton’s death was quiet, understated, but perfect. It was about two friends saying goodbye, and one learning from the other’s death. Ton had nowhere to go, and he knew it. Death, in Ton’s case, was the only option both for the story and the character. Even today, I still get misty-eyed reading that scene. I hope that, above all else, new readers to the series will look at this scene and realize what death should mean to these characters we love so dearly.
Next time, Brian takes on Solo Command, the final book in the trilogy.