Read: June – July 2014
Author: Drew Karpyshyn
Published: 2007 – 2010
Selected By: Elle Tea
“The Mass Effect series of novels serves to fill in much of the background details of the games, such as locations and the internal politics of the Council’s races, as well as characters. A considerable amount of the plot revolves around the galaxy’s views on AI, a major plot point in the games.
“Revelation is a prequel to ME1 and involves David Anderson and Saren Arterius‘s investigation into an attack on a human research station. Ascension is set between ME 1 and ME 2 and concerns Cerberus‘ pursuit of a young biotic prodigy. Retribution is set a full year after the events of ME 2 and focuses on Cerberus and their investigation of Reaper technology.” – adapted from the ME Wikia summaries.
This is a general review of the series of books associated with the Mass Effect video game franchise; the book series also technically includes a fourth novel, Deception, which was written by William C. Dietz but received such abysmal reviews regarding continuity and facts about the universe that I didn’t bother to read it. Thus, my review is for the following three Mass Effect novels:
Hi. My name is Elle, and I am a Drew Karpyshyn junkie. Now, not to say I think the man can do no wrong (for example, I’m not a fan of Revan – I still think old Revvie deserved a history that was a bit more… epic), but whenever I see his name associated with a franchise I like, I tend to breathe a sigh of relief and think, “Ah, well, nothing to worry about, then.” I am a fan of his Darth Bane Trilogy, not to mention that he was a writer for some of my very favoritest video games of all times (Neverwinter Nights, Mass Effect 1 and 2, Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic, and Jade Empire… plus Star Wars the Old Republic MMO, which isn’t one of my faves but bears a mention in his list of creds nonetheless).
The Good: Since the author of these three Mass Effect novels was also a lead writer for the two Mass Effect games within the timeline in which said novels fall, you should already know that continuity and the “feeling” of the world is soooo not a problem here. There’s also the superduper nerdfun of knowing that ME 3 (which I happened to like quite a lot, unlike a lot of very vocal fans of the video game series) gives a nod to many of the characters and plots involved in these three novels; in fact, the story arcs in the games concerning Cerberus wouldn’t be possible without the occurrences outlined within these novels. Revelation includes information that is merely touched upon in ME 1 (such as the beginning of Anderson’s affiliation with the Spectres and the background of his volatile relationship with Saren), while Ascension and Retribution contain new content that seems to have little to do with LCdr Shepard on the surface; however, you’ll soon realize all those tiny threads have a purpose – everything that happens around Shepard in the games has roots that are discussed within the novels, from the introduction of Kai Leng to the elaborate and tangled history of the Quarians and Geth.
The Bad: The only truly “bad” thing I can say about this series is that they aren’t as “involved” as the games, and this isn’t even specific to this series – in my opinion, video games typically just don’t translate flawlessly into any passive art form. The draw of video games is that they immerse you in complete escapism; rather than sitting back and watching a movie or reading a book, a story unfolds before you in which you can actually take part – and in the case of Mass Effect, not only are you involved in the story, but the choices you make and conversations you have, the people you save and those you sacrifice, all affect the direction in which your story progresses, so Commander Shepard’s story becomes your story. Books simply can’t do that for us, not to the same degree, anyway (massive nod to the Choose Your Own Adventure books that were so awesome when I was a wee Tea), so, with all things being relative, I’ll say this: the novels are merely passable by sci-fi standards, but as video game novels go they are great. (Attention fellow gamers: another series of novels with video game tie-ins that actually work is yet another BioWare gem: Dragon Age. The Stolen Throne, The Calling, and Asunder were all quite good; to date, I have not yet read The Masked Empire, and Last Flight is set to be released in a few months.)
Is it necessary to read these books in order to enjoy the three ME games? Absolutely not. I didn’t; I played the games as they were released but only just now, two years after the release of the final installment of the Shepard-related Mass Effect games, did I get around to finally reading these novels. I enjoyed all three of the games immensely, but I do regret not having read these as the games were being released.
Ah well. Now, that my head is stuffed with tons of information that is useless in the real world, I must ask that you please excuse me so I may create yet another Commander Shepard and prepare to undertake my five-thousandth voyage aboard the SSV Normandy.
Elle read the Amazon Kindle versions of these books.