We open with the impossible destruction of the galaxy's symbol of command and order- The Death Star. Iden Versio, Tie Pilot and top of the line combat soldier falls to her doom on the moon of Yavin IV. Against all odds she survives and faces her father, the proud pedantic Admiral Versio who assigns her to a task force with the explicit mission of hunting down the Partisans and similar Extremist rebel cells, as well as Imperials who would undermine the empire (like Garen Erso). This task force is called Inferno Squad.
The members of the Inferno Squad are easy to love and admire for their unique skills. Lieutenant Iden Versio, though she had to prove her mettle to gain the title, is the leader of the squad, holding the the record for most verified kills in battle. Del Meeko, the aesthetic-minded engineering specialist and repair artist of the group made his way from being a stormtrooper, shoretrooper, and then TIE pilot. Seyn Marana, a young woman with an eidetic memory, knowledge of twenty-nine languages, is a master cryptologist and a crackshot sniper. And then Gideon Hask, who was first in his class at the Coruscant Imperial University, and had gained a Crimson Star medal for exceptional performance. The Admiral saw them as the best the empire had to offer.
The book leads them into missions in which their effectiveness and professionalism is observed. Each member proves their right to the position they hold. When they are given the mission that will end the last of Saw Gererra's survivors, known as The Dreamers, their skills are put the ultimate test. They infiltrate the team through different avenues, Iden even going as far as pretending to publicly defect from the Empire in order to get her job done. The extremes they go to are required for the sake of the task they need to complete. Not only must they be physically and mentally prepared, success relies also on how well they can keep a grip on their emotions.
As the primary protagonist, we quickly understand that Iden Versio is Imperial down to her very soul. There was never a time where I thought she may actual defect. It's for this reason that her character and the plot, with reference to how readers think in terms of "good" and "bad," are so complex. The black and white isn't so easily defined here. Iden is a good person. She's scarred with daddy issues, and as a soldier her hands have been well immersed in the blood of others, but she truly believes that what she's doing is right. While Star Wars fans may see the Empire as inherently evil and tyrannical, she sees order and potential peace for the galaxy. She is staunch in her loyalties will do whatever is necessary to complete the mission.
Whatever is necessary is hardly ever easy. Posing as new members to The Dreamers, Inferno Squad joins the team, Iden being the only one of them known to the extremist group, who they (warily) think has defected. The interesting dynamic here is how people (though not all of them) on both sides of this conflict, are genuinely good. While at the core the Dreamers are technically terrorists (people like Staven ordering the killing of children) the same could be said of the Empire after the destruction of Alderaan. The moment that resonates with me the most and strikes the chords of my emotions, is near the end, when Iden says after she returns to find that the rest of the team had killed the Dreamers.
It was a difficult scene to read after everything that transpired, because Christie makes the characters on both sides easy to love, but there was never a way that they would both have victory in the end. This was the most interesting thing about Inferno Squad. Fighting a battle and killing an enemy is one thing... but to deal with the emotion of killing people you lived with, laughed with, and ate with? That's something entirely different there. In fact, I believe at its core, that's what killed Seyn Marana. She could not emotionally deal with the death of Sadori when it was basically her fault that he died.
I must also applaud Christie Golden and Star Wars for the diversity we see in this book with both real and alien species. Iden Versio and Seyn Marana are both women of color. To have such skilled and powerful woman in this day in age in not only Sci-Fi, but something as expansive as Star Wars, is a treat. I'm late writing this review, but seeing Star Wars aficionado, and woman of color @ChaosBria of Tosche Station able to play a character she loves in Star Wars, who she genuinely looks exactly like, is absolutely astounding to me. Furthermore, in the fantasy realm, the Dreamers are made up of a multitude of alien races, that are admittedly rather difficult to keep track of when reading from time to time, but still lovely to see.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Full of action, espionage and emotion, the writing took me down yet another path of Star Wars' universe from yet another perspective. There isn't much that I can say in the way of dislike for this book, other than a more definitive character arch for Gideon Hask. I don't feel like a received an eventful enough change for him, and by the end he seemed to be the same as when he started. Aside from that, I have no issues. Getting a full-fledged imperial story with this level of complexity was unexpected and can honestly say that it was a pleasant surprise.