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Book Review - Mass Effect: Revelation

You could safely say that I wasn’t expecting much out of Mass Effect: Revelation.

I don’t even remember buying the book. It’s been sitting on my shelf for something like two years now.

I don’t remember what was going through my mind when I bought it, other than, “Hey, Mass Effect is a decent game, let’s see what this hack writer managed to do with it,” not realizing that said hack writer was, in fact, Drew, Karpyshyn, the writer/designer for Bioware, who worked on not only the story of Mass Effect itself, but also on Knights of the Old Republic.

So Mr. Author was not exactly a hack.

Still, I think I could be forgiven for my assumptions. It is a book based off of a video game property.

How could that possibly end well?

Sure the video game property it’s based on has one of the better stories seen in modern gaming. Sure the author of the novel is working on the game itself.

But let’s face it, these cross media transitions rarely result in products digestible by your average human.

I don’t know why I decided to finally start reading it the other day, but whatever the reason, you could say I was a bit surprised that the thing wasn’t utter crap.

Mass Effect: Revelation will not usher in a new era of sci-fi storytelling. It will not go down as a hallmark classic in the genre. It probably won’t even be remembered as a stunningly written example of science fiction.

And for good reason. It’s not any of those things.

The story isn’t original. The writing style doesn’t jump out at you. Some of the plot devices are awkward and forced.

But what the reader is left with is a perfectly enjoyable piece of fiction.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Mass Effect: Revelation is related to the reason it exists in the first place. The reason the book was written was to provide an introduction to the massive universe of Mass Effect in the form of a book. It was essentially a peek into the world of the upcoming game prior to its release.

It would be easy to assume that such a work would be more concerned with introducing races and worlds and historical elements than with telling a unique tale that stands on its own.

Indeed, exposition does sometimes get in the way and make the book feel a little clunkier than it might have otherwise. On the whole though, it’s impressive how little it obstructs the flow of the story. I came away feeling that the book was no less clunky than most other average science fiction novels. Considering the burden placed upon this particular title in terms of positioning and marketing, this is a fairly impressive achievement.

The thing that bothered me the most about Mass Effect: Revelation had relatively little to do with the marketing aspects of the novel. The most troubling element of the book’s construction to me is that the author has a rather annoying tendency to spastically jump from one character’s perspective to another.

In a longer novel this might have been acceptable, but a novel of only just over 300 pages does not feel substantial enough to support the number of viewpoint characters that this book asks the reader to follow. Having four or five viewpoint characters in such a small novel felt erratic - as if the author were using this technique as a crutch to deliver information he had no other way of getting across.

While the story as a whole is reasonably interesting in an “average science fiction/action romp” kind of way, none of the characters are interesting or unique enough on their own to support the book. You really do have to be hooked in by the Mass Effect universe for this book to hook you.

With that said, it’s possible that this book alone might fulfill its intended purpose and suck you into the universe and make you want to experience more of it.

The erratic multiple character perspective may be a detriment to the book’s attempt at storytelling, but it does allow for a more in-depth look at aspects of the universe that we wouldn’t have gotten to see any other way.

Another fear I had when picking up Mass Effect: Revelation is that it would feel outdated and unnecessary by this point in time since the actual game has now been released. I guess I expected it to be a giant, redundant tutorial for the universe.

Thankfully, I do not feel that this was the case. There was plenty of material shared between book and game, but the book did not spend so much of its time on any of these elements that it became annoying. Some of the material was presented from a fresh perspective that made it interesting all over again, and there were plenty of details about the universe I learned only from the book.

Keep in mind that this is all coming from the perspective of someone who hasn’t played the game in many a long month and, in fact, never finished it in the first place, so perhaps I do not represent your average reader of Mass Effect: Revelation.

The novel does tie nicely into the game’s story line, but in an enjoyable fashion that I didn’t think was jarring It tells an unrelated side story that sets up some key elements for the game to come while at the same time acceptably wrapping up its own plot arc.

Not every book needs to be the second coming of its genre. Mass Effect Revelation is a book I could nitpick to death if I tried, but I won’t because that would be missing the point.

This is a short, somewhat forgettable book, but I had a good time reading it, it presented the wonderfully compelling Mass Effect universe from a different perspective than that given to us in the games, and it provided a decent story of its own. It was a little erratic and told from one too many viewpoints, but was compelling enough to see the book through to the end while giving us a look at how the events in the game came to be.

If I do manage to finish the game, I would have no hesitation in picking up the second Mass Effect novel and seeing where it takes me. From someone who went into the book expecting a cheap marketing gimmick, I’d say that’s decent enough praise.

Mass Effect Revelation makes me curious to see how well it stacks up against other video game to book adaptations. Maybe I’ll do a little exploring and see whether it gets any better than this.

If you are into both books and video games, or have any sort of interest in sci-fi or the Mass Effect universe at all, I’d recommend giving Revelation a shot. It won’t blow you out of the water, but it will likely keep you entertained for the short time it’ll take you to read it and give you a great excuse to spend more time in the world of Mass Effect.

It’s a bit clunky, a bit unwieldy, a bit forgettable, and a bit predictable, but it’s fun. In this case, I think that’s good enough to warrant a recommendation.

Even from a hardened critic like myself.

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