Continuing into part two of our ongoing retrospective on the illustrious X-Wing series, we move past the introduction to the series Rogue Squadron and into Wedge’s Gamble. The second book of the series is less about letting the readers slip into the military pilot perspective instead of the farmboy, Jedi or smuggler, and more about exploring the characters and their relationships with each other.
On that note, there really isn’t even that much in the way of dogfights in this book. Whereas in Rogue Squadron there were at least three different blood-pumping, heart-pounding battles where the readers felt like they might lose the characters who they’re just starting to care about, we’re given the opportunity to fear for them in much different ways.
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Like I’ve already said, this book isn’t about fighter battles, although a few are present. Instead, it’s about the Rogues being outside of their element. Instead of flying into the pages of history, everyone’s favorite pilots are instead playing the part of commandos, although it’s fair to say that this wasn’t really the original plan.
Spoilers start here, if you somehow haven’t read this book in the past sixteen years.
The Rogues are just coming off the high of taking Borleias, also known to the readers and pilots by its Alliance codename, ‘Blackmoon.’ Their actions in the previous book allowed the Rebellion to establish the planet as a staging ground for their next great adventure. They’re moving to take the seat of power, Imperial Center, or as it’s known to the rest of the universe, Coruscant. By wresting control away from Ysanne Isard, the leadership of the Alliance believes that they will finally have the legitimacy that they have always wanted.
Isard has recruited the two primary antagonists of the last book, Kirtan Loor and General Derricote, into a secret mission for the oncoming Rebel Assault. Throughout history, when two forces have been in conflict with each other, there’s always been the knowledge that injuring your opponents and leaving injured casualties instead of dead will quickly drain the resources of your enemies and slow them significantly. In addition, attacking civilian targets of production will always slow the opponent down, as well as destroying morale.
World War I provides a number of excellent examples of these ideas. At the top of the list is the three sided knife. To clarify what I mean by that, when you think of what a knife is, it’s a thin blade used for slashing or stabbing. A three sided knife resembles a very elongated pyramid that is designed only for stabbing. This kind of weapon didn’t make clean slits in opponents which would normally heal fairly easily. Instead, it poked bloody great holes in them that don’t heal. Or on another front, mustard gas or other primitive chemical weapons did much the same thing. Chemical weapons would rarely kill their targets, but they’d often maim or cripple them. For those of you keeping score at home, you might not know that these kinds of weapons are now banned by the Geneva Convention.
But the GFFA doesn’t have a Geneva Convention, so Director Isard is utilizing a very similar idea to attack the Rebellion. She seems to be aware that the assault from the Alliance could be defeated, although all things considered, it might not be the easiest thing to do, especially since we find that, later on, the Rebellion attacks with two Imperial Star Destroyers, Home One, a pair of Mon Calamari light cruisers and a plethora of smaller frigates, cruisers and modified freighters and all the fighters that they could muster.
With the stationary defenses of the planet, planetary shields, ground based fighter squadrons, and a pair of Victory-Class Star Destroyer, Isard might have been able to defeat the Rebel forces as they came. That would, however, leave her defenses in tatters if her other opponent, Warlord Zsinj, decided to assault the planet with Iron Fist, his Super Star Destroyer, which would have little problem breaching the planetary shields.
Isard’s tactics instead work toward delivering a crippling blow to the Alliance that ought to rend it asunder from within. General Derricote is hip deep in the development of the Krytos Virus, a biological weapon in the form of a fluid transmissible disease that would only effect non-human races. On its surface, you might ask why that would be the case and why wouldn’t they make it a blanket effect. To put it simply, the Empire doesn’t care much about non-humans and the Alliance does. As long as the Rebellion does care, then it is obligated to fight the disease in any way that they can.
Luckily, the disease is designed to be treatable with bacta, a fact that will make the disease treatable. On the down side of that, there are only limited quantities of the fluid and it’s quite expensive. Isard’s plan is to bankrupt the Rebellion and create an uprising from within the member races of the Alliance.
But first, the Rebels have to take the planet. In order to accomplish that goal, the pilots known for doing the impossible, Rogue Squadron are setting off for the planet. Their mission is initially simple: canvas the planet, get an idea of how the local populace, human and nonhuman, feels about the Empire, and how the rest of the galaxy is trading with the capitol, based on the prices of off-planet goods and the like.
In order to help make their job simpler, the Rogues free a number of criminals from Kessel in order to disrupt things on Coruscant. These criminal include several former Black Sun leaders including Zekka ‘Patches’ Thyne, a criminal that Corran locked up on Corellia, and Fliry Vorru, a former Imperial Moff that had been framed by Prince Xizor. Along with Thyne came his right hand and assistant, Inyri Forge, the sister of the late Rogue Squadron member Lujayne Forge, although she’s not nearly as receptive to the cause.
The team is inserted in isolated cells, pairs of Wedge and Pash Cracken, the newly introduced son of Airen Cracken, the head of Alliance intelligence, Shiel and Gavin, Rhysati Ynr and Nawara Ven, and Corran and Erisis Dlarit. Ooryl Qrygg and Aril Nunb are also inserted, although I’m not quite certain how. Mirrax Terrik assists in the insertion under an alias for both herself and the Pulsar Skate.
Erisi and Corran’s cover gives them an excuse to develop their romance, and it does tend to get a bit steamy at times. Corran is still quite uncomfortable with the prospect, however, and tells Erisi as much. She accepts it and they move on with their mission when they are introduced to their intelligence contact on the planet, Winter.
Gavin, Shiel, Nawara and Rhysati meet up in a bar in the alien section of the planet, Invisec. After a near scare with a squad of Stormtroopers, we have our first introduction to a Bothan woman, Asyr. Asyr and an empathic alien accuse Gavin of being a bigot for refusing to dance with her and take the whole party at gunpoint to an alien leader who decides to lynch him as a message to the Imperial community.
At the same time, Corran has slipped away from his escort to have a drink. While he’s at a bar called the Headquarters, he spots Tycho meeting with Kirtan Loor. In his zeal to inform someone about his discovery, he rushes out and is spotted by Zekka Thyne, who sends a swoop gang after him. The ensuing bike chase takes him to the same location where the aliens have taken Gavin.
As the aliens prepare to pass sentence on Gavin, an Imperial hover fortress blasts into the meeting place and seeks to break up the assembly and detain any aliens that might be useful to the Krytos project. The fight is then joined by the swoop gang on Corran’s tail.
In the process of all of this happening, Zekka Thyne is captured by Kirtan Loor and given a set of orders that he must follow or be killed. The rebels also receive orders that their mission has ceased to be a recon one and is now a mission to drop the planetary shields. In the meantime, Pash and Wedge have been working with their own intelligence contact, Iella Wessiri, Corran’s old partner from Corsec.
With the entire squadron now brought together, Wedge and company make a plan to drop the shields with an assault on the main computer system that controls the shielding system in conjunction with Thyne’s forces as lookouts. It quickly becomes evident that they’ve been betrayed when they’re assaulted once more. Tycho appears with a Z-95 headhunter just in time to save the group. The betrayal leads to Corran and Inyri fleeing to Thyne, who intends to kill Corran, only to be killed by Inyri instead.
A new plan is quickly assembled, using a large construction and recycling droid, an orbital mirror, a water reservoir and a half dozen headhunters. Only a few catches show up during the course of the assault, but sadly, one of them results in the apparent death, but actual capture of Corran Horn by Isard.
All told, the book takes what we learned from the first book and introduces us to some new features of the cast. Readers are given the relationship development that they want as Corran and Mirrax deciding to begin dating after the assault. Other characters are lent the spotlight for this book, also. While we focused on Corran and Wedge in the first book, this book gravitates away from Wedge and toward Gavin. Gavin really serves as a tremendous audience proxy since he’s as new to Coruscant as many readers are, being just seventeen and having just left Tatooine. He’s a bumpkin with as much wonder about his circumstances as we might have in the same situation.
That’s Wedge’s Gamble. I’ve really enjoyed coming back this series and giving it something of a more in depth look at it then I ever have. The next book will be handed off to Brian, who will likely give you a much different perspective on the next novel and the whole series. Stay tuned for The Krytos Trap.