WARNING: The following review contains spoilers for the novel in question.
It has been one year since Tarsonis’ fall, an event that sealed Arcturus Mengsk’s rise to power and led to the formation of his Dominion over the toppled Confederacy of Man. As anniversary celebrations are held across the Sector, messages of solidarity and unity are broadcast by the UNN. Tarsonis - the Confederate Capital world devastated by the arrival of the Zerg, called and manipulated by Mengsk’s Psi Emitters - is now remembered as a tragic loss, whose destruction was perpetrated by the evil alien Zerg.
At the Ghost Academy, Delta Emblock, a member of the Blue Team, awakens from a nightmare; it is a vision of carnage, Zerg, and betrayal on a blasted world littered with broken machinery. Before she can reflect and fully explore the significance of the dream, a monumental day begins. Ghost Teams Red and Blue are officially dissolved and a unified Team Purple is formed. The members are forced to put aside their differences, turn a blind eye to the past, and forge ahead with shared goals. As part of their final training assignment, the Team is to be escorted to the fifth world of the Baker's Dozen by means of a Battlecruiser - the Cyrus. Despite being Ghosts, they are treated with disrespect and indignation by the crew of the Cyrus, relegated to a small collection of isolated cabins with standing orders to stay put.
Ghost cadets Kath Toom and the brooding Andie Dessai speculate as to the true nature of their mission; their conspiracy theories are supported by Aal Cistler, who reveals that the Cyrus’ crew wear a mark of shame, a yellow slash across their emblem, for abandoning their post at the Battle of Tarsonis. Lio Travski, the scatter-brained technopath, thoroughly reinvigorated after his resocialization in Volume II, ignores orders and alerts the Cyrus’ resentful commander, Commodore Georg Darabont, to messages he is receiving through the ship itself - there are Zerg in the system and there are survivors. Though a skeptic of telepaths and Ghosts in general, the gruff Darabont nevertheless listens to what Lio has to say and is swayed by by the chance of redemption. Shortly thereafter, the claims are confirmed by a communications officer: a distress call is emanating from the world of Shi - a world besieged by the Zerg. Desperate to reclaim his honor and respect, Darabont puts aside his misgivings and immediately sets course for Shi.
Under the supervision of Preceptor Lagdamen, Nova was dispatched to target a Zerg Hatchery for nuclear barrage while Dyllana and Cistler launch the salvo from the Cyrus, paralleling events from Delta Emblock's nightmare. However, the operation succeeded without a hitch, much to Delta's relief.
The remainder of the trainees were outfitted with Ghost equipment and military hardware and sent to the surface. However, their Hostile Environment Suits were linked directly to Lagdamen; since this was only supposed to be a training mission only she could manually activate the cloaking features of each suit. This small but crucial detail revealed Darabont's single-minded obsession with reclaiming honor - he was willing to sacrifice the trainees and their mission. To illustrate further, the Cyrus was unable to reestablish contact with Lagdamen after the nuclear barrage, a fact to which Darabont was apathetic.
As the trainees investigated the ruins of the dead colony, they were nearly overwhelmed by superior Zerg numbers; a second hidden Hive Cluster still thrived. Still unable to make contact with Lagdamen or Nova, it fell upon Lio Travski and his unique technopath abilities to "persuade" the traniees suits to cloak the team. Team Purple pressed their advantage and eventually discovered Morgan Calabas and Antonia Tygore alive and well. Elsewhere, Lagdamen and Nova uncovered the Kusinis twins, and would eventually rejoin the others at the extraction point - uniting the last of the old family scions with the Ghost rescuers.
However, a wave of Zerg destroyed the Dropships and Andie Dessai was killed in the assault. Meanwhile, Darabont's single-mindedness began to reveal a seed of insanity, directing the Cyrus directly towards the second Hive Cluster. Undermanned and outgunned, the Cyrus was quickly routed by the Zerg. Zerg ground forces overwhelmed the downed Battlecruiser, devouring Darabont and the rest of the skeleton crew.
As war raged and blood flowed on the distant world of Shi, the Ghost Academy, back on Ursa, had to deal with its own problems. Director Kevin Bick and Superintendent Angelini Sarco prepared themselves for the imminent arrival of the Ghostmaster General who was there to evaluate their progress with the psychic prodigy Colin Phash. The boy was tasked with finding a collection of holographs placed across the campus to display his astral projection. However, for fear of the bleak future he would have under the Ghostmaster General, Colin intentionally failed the test, humiliating Bick in the process. As a result -- and to the relief of Phash, Angelini and Bick -- he remained at the Academy to continue his training.
Meanwhile, isolated and with options running low, the survivors on Shi hunkered down and planned a risky operation, for which Nova is the lynch pin. While the survivors evacuated to the downed Cyrus, which would be repaied by Lio Travski, Nova and Tosh diverted the Zerg's attention to their hatchery where Nova was to wipe them out with a psychic blast. Though she was succesful, Tosh was caught in the blast and knocked unconscious. In desperation, Nova channeled her power into Tosh to sustain him. Just as the two were almost overcome by reinforcing Zerg, a repaired Cyrus arrived at the scene to blast the Zerg.
As the trainees returned to the Ghost Academy, Director Bick received a personal communique from Emperor Mengsk. Completely ignoring the incident with Colin Phash, Mengsk ordered the Ghosts' memories wiped of all events on Shi, and the Old Family heirs turned over directly to Dominion forces. Bick obliged him gratefully.
With all memory of the preceding few days erased, the trainees were informed their final examination was, in fact, cancelled; that Andie Dessai had washed out of the program; and Gabriel Tosh was suffering delusions following a freak accident, while in reality his brain washing was precluded by injuries sustained at Shi. Moreover, news reports revealed "evidence" that Morgan Calabas, Antonia Tygore, and Rakham and Bess Kusinis had died one year before, along with the rest of Korhal. Believing her childhood friends now dead, a naive and sickened Nova visited Tosh the in infirmary, whose memories had <em>not</em> been erased. The effects of this new rift and the distinct realities each perceives quickly emerged and expanded, troubling both greatly.
Volume III is the action-packed conclusion to the Ghost Academy series, fulfilling any want for blood, carnage, and that classic StarCraft action for readers of the series. Teams Red and Blue are dissolved in favor of a unified team, fulfilling the classic trope of mortal enemies becoming the strongest of allies. David Gerrold's intense finale is facilitated by the frenetic artwork of Fernando Furukawa.
Compared to its immediate predecessor, Volume III is a bare-bones narrative, relying heavily on action to drive the plot. In some ways, this distances it from Volume II. Much of the character evolution in the previous volume is absent; those developments are referred to only obliquely, but never truly revisited or explored. In this way, Volume III doesn't entirely feel like a true sequel; only Lio Travski's resocialization provides any real impact in this sequel. The balance of intrigue, romance and character development is exchanged for a single tone - action. This is especially disappointing when one considers the broad potential for friction from unifying the two opposed teams. Instead of betrayal, petty revenge or even a fist fight, Tosh succeeds -- almost too easily -- at forging cooperation in the Ghosts.
Ghost Academy pays oblique homage to the StarCraft comic series; though never explicitly stated, it is implied that the Ghostmaster General that visits the Academy is Leonid Celsus, who would later go on to interact with the War Pigs. Gerrold and Furukawa also pay respect to the Terran propaganda cinematics of the original StarCraft and Brood War in the prologue. The reader can almost hear the over-the-top dialog of the UNN host E. B. James as he narrates over images of Terran loss and victory.
While a slew of characters were revealed as a part of Red Team, these characters are largely left in the background when coming into Purple Team. Besides Aal Cistler's insights, only Andie Dessai, the large Ghost wearing Ocular Implants, is given appreciable focus, and only in his death at that. Much more attention is given to Blue Team members Nova, Tosh, Travski and Toom, the latter of whom displayed remarkable aptitude at being a sniper and marksman.
As the last in the Ghost Academy series, Volume III definitely leaves its audience wanting. What is to happen to the hapless Colin Phash, whose prodigal astral projection ability is rivaled only by Nova's raw and savage power? Politics and circumstance force something of an uneasy alliance between the child and his overseers, Bick and Angelini, though it remains to be seen what they can make of him. Moreover, the conspiracy behind the infestation of the Baker's Dozen remains shrouded in mystery. Was it simply an attempt on Mengsk's part to assassinate the heirs of the Old Families? If so, the heavy handed method is not necessarily outside the realm of possibility, given that such roundabout methods have been the focus of many a StarCraft plots, including the core games themselves.
Power, strength and agency were core themes for Ghost Academy II; if there is a theme for its successor, it would be based in teamwork and trust. Teams Red and Blue are no more; from them is born the more powerful Team Purple, itself a cohesive weapon forged by Gabriel Tosh's leadership. All rivalry and friction are (with seemingly ease) smoothed over, resulting in an efficient crew of assassins. But trust is not always so easily forged -- or maintained. By story's conclusion, Tosh's trust is crippled, possibly destroyed, as he begins to discover the darker reality of his Dominion masters and their machinations. This itself creates a distance between himself and Nova; given that these two characters form the core of the Ghost teams, this is a chasm that promises to yawn wide. This reality is reinforced by the betrayal of Darabont and his crew over Tarsonis. In an otherwise bare bones narrative, these realizations provide subtle reminder -- and promise -- of deception that permeates a galaxy where the only allies are enemies, and the only choice is war.