X-wing: Wedge’s Gamble by Michael Stackpole (Book Review)

The original review can be found at The Founding Fields, here. This is the second novel in the X-wing series, originally published by Bantam Books.

Shadowhawk reviews the second Star Wars X-wing novel featuring the infamous Rogue Squadron by the talented Michael Stackpole.

“A promising novel in concept that regrettably suffers in the execution of that idea.” ~Shadowhawk, The Founding Fields

Like I mentioned earlier, the X-wing novels are some of my favourite novels in the Star Wars Expanded Universe (SWEU). However, as is common for any series, there are some good ones and some bad ones and a few average ones. The first novel in the series, Rogue Squadron is about as good as they come and is one of the best in the entire series, start to finish. Wedge’s Gamble, the second novel in the series, however is nowhere near as good and is more in the average range. For a variety of reasons too.

What made Rogue Squadron so great and Wedge’s Gamble merely average is that the latter, while it is about the elite Rogue Squadron as it should be, is not so much about thrilling, tension-ridden starfighter combat. In space. Given the events of the previous novel, the Alliance forces now have the job of going for Coruscant itself, Imperial Center. And as such, Rogue Squadron gets the unenviable job of going in all black ops style to set up the way for the rest of the fleet. Concept-wise it is a great idea and the strengths of some of the members of the squadron are played up in their latest mission, but given the name of the series – X-wing – it doesn’t work as well for me. This has to do with the very few starfighter combats in the novel. And X-wings don’t feature in the novel that much either, at least not in any significant combat roles.

And that’s really what does it for me.

The name of the series and the characters the series is about pretty much says it all and together, those two things inform my expectations of every novel in the series. There is a very distinct lack of pure starfighter combat in the novel and what there is, is rather straightforward and unexciting. I went in expecting a novel about what Rogue Squadron does best, flying space superiority starfighters and NOT being pseudo-commandos in the most heavily defended planet in the galaxy. As such, the novel suffers greatly all through to the end and even the eventual build-up of the climax is (unintentionally) downplayed to a great degree.

This is rather surprising since in Rogue Squadron, Michael Stackpole had a really good handle on portraying his starfighter dogfights very vividly and hooking the reader right into the heavily militaristic feel of his novel. Most of that is lost here because the action almost always happens on the ground and not in space. What little starfighter combat there is, is primarily atmospheric.

Therefore, most of the excitement of the reading experience itself and the novel is just lost on me.

Wedge’s Gamble is also quite different to its predecessor in a lot of ways. Most alarmingly, the characters dissect their situations too much. Corran Horn is a particular example of this since he is continually portrayed throughout the novel as someone who does a lot of his talking through monologues in which he over-analyses his feelings and the events around him. It makes for a really tiring read. This could have been really toned down to a great degree because the approach just gives the relevant scenes the feel of being info-dumps. Info-dumps are not fun to read, especially when they are so analytical. At times I just wanted to pick up a hydrospanner and smack Corran and a couple others on the head with it a few times.

Another thing is that the plot itself lacks any kind of dynamism and realism. Things are way too fantastical and events play out almost by the numbers. There just isn’t much of a twist to any of it. Except for the ending. That scared the living daylights out of me. That was pure brilliance but it doesn’t make up for the rest of the novel. Part of this is the whole sub-plot regarding an apparent traitor in the squadron. The whole mystery of it is hyped too much and there are almost no breadcrumbs for people to pick up and try to figure out who the traitor is.

It also doesn’t help that the narrative gets bogged down occasionally when the events play out on Coruscant. Too many side-plots regarding uninteresting characters and situations, especially xenophobia, mostly ruin the novel for me. I get that this is all to make the novel more relative and all, but it just doesn’t work for me. I actually skipped a lot of the scenes because they were nothing more than reader-fodder for me.

Additionally, the novel is titled Wedge’s Gamble, but it is never really clear just what this gamble really is. It could refer to at least three-four separate instances in the narrative but none of them are really that spectacular or anything. I might just be splitting hairs but this was one of the downsides for me and one I feel rates a mention.

I am also not getting much of a vibe from Kirtan Loor who is being set up as Corran’s big nemesis. He doesn’t seem to be doing much other than just offering one excuse after another to Ysanne Isard, the new “ruler” of the Empire. He lacks a certain panache, a sophistication that he IS a major threat to the series’ main protagonist. Its like he is just so much filler content rather than something truly credible. There are also too many callbacks to his ineptitude when he worked with the Corellian Security Forces for my liking. More a paper-tiger than anything, Loor has so far been a wasted opportunity which is somewhat tragic since he actually has a lot of potential to be a major threat to Rogue Squadron, especially since he is essentially the second man in the Empire with Isard in control.

The final thing is that the female characters, bar none, are all some of the most undeveloped characters ever. Most of them are now in their second novel and we have yet to see any of them be anything other than simplistic foils to the male characters or just be stereotypical in their dialogue and mannerisms and everything else. Isard comes across as a little more threatening than Loor but not by much. Iella Wessiri shows some promise and has quite the interesting backstory but she is left entirely to the sidelines. Mirax Terrik is once again a savior of sorts like she was in Rogue Squadron but she appears to be nothing more than a plot device to get the narrative moving forward. As Corran’s potential love interest, she is squandered potential. And finally Erisi, still the starstruck and apparently-miffed lover who is even more wasted than Mirax!

All in all, none of the female characters have stepped up from Rogue Squadron which is a real shame.

So far in this review, I have mostly ranted about the weaknesses and flaws in the novel, of which there are many. I’d really like to do a more favourable review of the novel but its just that the flaws and weaknesses really bring it down and it all makes Wedge’s Gamble a real slog to get through.

I’ve already mentioned the ending of the novel, which I think was really well-done and there are some other good points in the narrative that make it a bit more palatable than it actually is. One of these was seeing Gavin and Tycho get a bit more relevant screen-time in character growth. These two definitely deserve it and along with Wedge, they are both among my favourite pilots ever. Given the ending of the novel, Tycho is also about to become more of a major character in the series, which is smashing and quite welcome.

We get some brief screen-time with Leia Organa, which was quite delightful indeed. As one of the original characters of the whole franchise, I do have a soft spot for the princess and it was nice to see her make a brief cameo in the novel. And its a good thing that it was just a cameo and not a full-on appearance because that would take away the charm of the series itself, that being that these novels are focused on secondary and unknown characters of the franchise rather than any of the big names.

And well, the cover is good though! I like it more than the cover for the previous novel!

Now I’m struggling to name any other upsides of the novel so I guess that means that’s it for the review. Overall, I wouldn’t really recommend this novel to readers, but it does have a critical point in the series so it is worth a read at least. Just be prepared to complete it in a LOT of sittings. Its not an easy book to get through so it will take time.

Rating: 4/10

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