X-wing: Starfighters of Adumar by Aaron Allston (1999, Bantam)
Starfighters of Adumar is the ninth book in the X-wing series, and Aaron Allston’s fourth book therein. Unlike his other X-wing novels, this one doesn’t chronicle the adventures of Wraith Squadron. In fact, despite its being labeled as the ninth book in a series, it is a stand-alone novel that a reader with little to no knowledge of the expanded universe would have no trouble with.
When the planet Adumar is discovered after years of isolation from the galaxy at large, Wedge Antilles, of all people, is sent to oversee the New Republic’s diplomatic relations there. The reason for this is that Adumari culture honors starfighter pilots over people of any other profession. Honor, in fact, is very important in Adumari society—after a fashion. The Adumari are fond of dueling to the death, either in aerial dogfights or the through use of rather impractical weapons called “blastswords,” in order to accumulate prestige.
Wedge and his companions—Tycho Celchu, Wes Janson, “Hobbie” Klivian, and a documentarian named Hallis Saper, who wears a camera-equipped 3PO head on her shoulder—arrive on Adumar without having been briefed on any of this. Furthermore, Adumar is not a planetary government, but is rather comprised of many nations with contentious relationships. To top it all off, four pilots of the 181st Imperial Fighter Wing have already arrived, with aspirations to bring Adumar into what remains of the Empire.
As good as the resulting political maneuvering and moral dilemmas are, Starfighters of Adumar is further enhanced by the resolution of long-standing romantic tension between Wedge and New Republic Intelligence agent Iella Wessiri.
Iella first appeared in Michael A. Stackpole’s X-wing books, where, after the death of her husband, she and Wedge were established as potential love interests. The way in which Allston deals with Wedge’s existing relationship with Death Star scientist Qwi Xux is a little abrupt and smacks of a desire to just get her out of the way, but to be fair, that relationship, as developed in Kevin J. Anderson’s Jedi Academy Trilogy, isn’t entirely convincing (I was way too kind about it in my previous reviews). Allston does a far better job of writing romance that brings a cheesy grin to my face, rather than, as in the Jedi Academy books, a grimace at the cheesiness.
The Wedge/Iella relationship is just one example of Allston’s well-developed character dynamics. The friendship, teamwork, and banter of Wedge and his pilots is something at which Allston has always excelled. His use of dry humor throughout this book elicited many a smirk and chuckle from me.
Strong character work, dialogue, and plotting, as well as a massive air/space-battle climax, add up to make Starfighters of Adumar a great read. Many other reviews, message board comments, and the like that I’ve read about this book rate it as the best Star Wars novel. I wouldn’t necessarily go that far, but I won’t be surprised if, when all is said and done, it makes my top ten.