X-wing: Iron Fist by Aaron Allston (1998, Bantam)
Iron Fist, the sixth book in the X-wing series and the second by Aaron Allston featuring Wraith Squadron, picks up events shortly after Wraith Squadron’s first big success, the destruction of the Imperial Star Destroyer Implacable, in the last book. In this volume, the Wraiths continue their campaign against Warlord Zsinj.
Because the warlord is a rogue element in the galaxy (ironically similar to how the Rebel Alliance was prior to Palpatine’s death and the later capture of Coruscant), he often hires space pirates and mercenaries to help fill out his forces and do his bidding. The “A” plot of this novel deals with the Wraiths forming a pirate band called the “Hawk-bats” as a means to infiltrate Zsinj’s forces and find a way to sabotage the warlord’s flagship—the Super Star Destroyer Iron Fist.
The stakes are not all that have increased in this novel. Allston also ups the ante in terms of characters and character moments. The Wraiths introduced in the previous book continue to endear themselves to me.
Garik “Face” Loran and Ton Phanan have a prankster/goofball dynamic that I found delightfully reminiscent of the chemistry between “Hawkeye” Pierce and Trapper John from M*A*S*H. This, of course, also puts them in great company with the squadron’s other court jester, Wes Janson. As I said in Monday’s review, it took me a little longer to warm up to the Wraiths than it did the Rogues, but by the time this novel began, Allston had sold them to me as fully realized characters that I wished I could spend time with myself.
Also of interest is the primary villain of this three-book cycle, Warlord Zsinj.
Zsinj first appeared in Dave Wolverton’s 1994 novel, The Courtship of Princess Leia. That novel takes place chronologically after the seventh X-wing book, and features Zsinj as a secondary antagonist. While Zsinj’s presence is felt throughout that novel, he only appears on the page once or twice, and not much is revealed about his personality.
Allston writes Zsinj as a practical and ruthless man who hides behind a superficial and flamboyant mask in an effort to trick his enemies into underestimating him. Despite repeated setbacks, he seems to maintain a detached, reasonable perspective. These traits make him a great foil for Wedge and, in the next book, for Han. The characters share practicality and determination in common, but Zsinj’s affectations and craving for power sharply contrast with the down-to-earth nature of the other two men.
I found the most intriguing character in this one to be Gara Petothel/Lara Notsil.
Petothel was on the crew of the Implacable and escaped before it blew. She subsequently hides behind a false identity on Coruscant until she can contact Zsinj’s fleet. Petothel eventually finds herself in Wraith Squadron as Zinj’s operative, but has a drastic change of heart and mind. Her struggle to become one of the Wraiths while simultaneously hiding her dark secret from them was the most fascinating element of this book for me.
There’s a good deal of death in this one, including the demise of one of my favorites mentioned above (an excellent scene that almost made me tear up). Allston keeps this balanced, though, with great moments like silly-looking horse person Hohass Ekwesh organizing a formal dance for the squadron.
Iron Fist easily contains some of the best moments of the entire X-wing series—and that includes the Rogue Squadron books, which I generally prefer to the Wraith novels. In my estimation, this one alone would make books five through seven worth checking out.
Check back here on Friday for my review of Solo Command.