Author Alexander Freed continues to establish himself as one of the best (if not the absolute best) writers contributing to the current Star Wars canon with his new novel Star Wars: Shadow Fall, the sequel to last year’s also-excellent Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron from Del Rey Books and Lucasfilm Publishing.

Star Wars: Shadow Fall – An Alphabet Squadron Novel picks up where the previous entry left off, with Lieutenant Yrica Quell and her ragtag band of New Republic Intelligence pilots still attempting to track down and capture the members of the elite Imperial splinter group Shadow Wing in the wake of the Battle of Endor.

Quell and her superiors Agent Caern Adan and General Hera Syndulla are engaged with a mission to retake the planet of Troithe in the Cerberon system from an Imperial remnant when they concoct a plan to mislead and then trap Shadow Wing using Troithe as bait. Freed (also writer of the Rogue One: A Star Wars Story novelization and Star Wars: Battlefront – Twilight Company) remains skilled at conveying the sheer unpredictability of war, and has things go wrong almost immediately for both sides. With Alphabet Squadron and Shadow Wing both stranded planetside without reinforcements, can either of them find a way to gain the upper hand?

Shadow Fall smartly borrows from The Empire Strikes Back— perhaps not coincidentally celebrating its 40th anniversary this year– by leaning into the middle-chapter darkness, separating and/or pairing off its main cast on divergent (and all equally captivating) adventures, all building toward a cliffhanger ending that will leave fans chomping at the bit to read the third installment in this promised Alphabet Squadron trilogy. We accompany the appealingly unpolished pilots Wyl Lark, Chass na Chadic, Nath Tensent, and Kairos as they infiltrate enemy territory, stumble into local cult activity, and generally fight to further the New Republic cause on Troithe and its surrounding planetoids. There’s also an extended side-quest interlude wherein Quell, Adan, and reprogrammed Imperial interrogation droid IT-O encounter an intriguingly enigmatic relic from the more mystical side of Star Wars’ vast and (mostly) unexplored past.

The villainous Soran Keize, leader of Shadow Wing (AKA the 204th Imperial Fighter Wing), proves to be a fascinating foil for our heroes in Alphabet Squadron, and Freed goes a long way to differentiate him from other notable Imperial officers in the expanded Star Wars canon. Keize is almost entirely self-serving and has no real allegiance to the Empire other than the quest for his own survival, in addition to the forces directly under his command. He’s not depicted as a tireless military genius and brilliant strategist like Grand Admiral Thrawn, but merely as a pragmatist willing to do anything so that he and his underlings will live to see another day. For that reason he stands out and becomes relatable as someone simply using his influence as a means to a personal end rather than furthering the galaxy-dominating cause championed by the late Emperor Palpatine.

Speaking of Palpatine, there’s a minor presence known as a Messenger or Sentinel Droid (established in other relatively recent stories like Star Wars: Shattered Empire and Star Wars: Aftermath – Empire’s End) that has evolved into an eerie specter haunting Keize, almost as a metaphor for the now-deceased emperor’s ghost– or the ghost of the Empire itself. Those kinds of details and character intricacies are a big part of what makes Star Wars: Shadow Fall – An Alphabet Squadron novel such a fun and engaging read, but on top of all that Alexander Freed is also supremely talented at writing action. The story’s space and ground battles immediately recall the breakneck editing and white-knuckle thrill of numerous sequences from the original Star Wars trilogy.

It all adds up to another high-water mark for Lucasfilm Publishing’s recent output and a reminder to follow Alexander Freed’s career wherever it may lead him. I predict he will eventually create enduring fictional universes of his own, but for the time being I’ll be happy to see him supplying quality content for the ever-growing Star Wars galaxy.

Star Wars: Shadow Fall – An Alphabet Squadron Novel will become available on Tuesday, June 23 wherever books are sold, and it is available right now for pre-order.