Book Reviews

  • Mass Effect: Redemption

    Mass Effect Redemption CoverIn Mass Effect 2’s opening minutes, Commander Shepard’s ship is destroyed and our hero is tossed lifeless to a desolate planet. After a quick title sequence, Shepard is revived in a state-of-the-art facility and the game kicks off properly. The period of Shepard apparently burning up in the planet’s upper atmosphere and then looking as good as new is quickly brushed upon but there are bigger aliens to fry in the galaxy.

    For the curious fan trying to put the pieces together, or just experience everything BioWare has to offer, a series of comics were released by Dark Horse. Mass Effect: Redemption details Liara’s rescue of Shepard’s body from the Collectors and the Shadow Broker, and its delivery to the Illusive Man at Cerberus.

    Published as a set of four and kicking off in early January 2010 before Mass Effect 2 was released, Redemption also serves as what is, at this time, a series of six comic books covering a wide range of characters and locations in the universe. I plan to cover them all before the release of Mass Effect 3, but let’s start with the first one.

  • Mass Effect: Retribution

    Mass Effect Retribution CoverYou may be surprised to find out the Mass Effect novels are not about Commander Shepard, or any of his squadmates, or feature any of the major events that take place during the games. BioWare and author Drew Karpyshyn have been very careful in not allowing any kind of canon Shepard to be declared. An individual’s Mass Effect experience is heavily influenced by the decisions they make, and the writers don’t want any outside influence to indicate someone is doing it right or wrong.

    But the novels have successfully created their own small cast of characters and locations. Mass Effect: Revelation served as a prequel to the series, and while it introduced us to Captain Anderson and Saren, Kahlee Sanders quickly became the character to identify with. Ascension follows Sanders through her run in with Cerberus and training of human biotics, but also teases at some of the locations we would see in Mass Effect 2.

    Now with Mass Effect: Retribution, we continue to follow Kahlee, but seemingly brush up against the world of the games a little closer. In most ways, Retribution doesn’t feel as much like a prequel to Mass Effect 3 as Ascension did to 2, but some groundwork is laid.

    Here is my review of Mass Effect: Retribution, written by Drew Karpyshyn and released in July 2010.

  • Mass Effect: Revelation

    Mass Effect Revelation CoverMass Effect began here, with its first novel, Mass Effect: Revelation. Released in mid-2007, a half-year before Mass Effect proper was unleashed on the Xbox 360 and Windows, Revelation was meant to not only start the hype for what would become BioWare’s flagship series but also begin laying down the structure of the series’ large universe.

    Authored by Mass Effect writer Drew Karpyshyn, Revelation follows the video game’s background hero Captain Anderson about 20 years before the events of the first game. We also meet a few of the series’ alien races along with the Citadel Council and first game villain, Saren. An Alliance scientist, Kahlee Sanders, is also introduced and she has served as the main link between the Mass Effect tie-in novels.

    I first read Revelation when it was released in 2007, and have since read the second book, Mass Effect: Ascension, which I wrote a review on afterwards. Ascension takes place between the first two games and did an excellent job hinting at what was to come for Shepard and the gang in the second game. I recently received the first three novels (Retribution was released last year) as a gift so I decided to re-read Revelation and write a review on it, enjoy.

  • RuneScape: Return to Canifis

    Runescape Return to Canifis CoverI read RuneScape: Betrayal at Falador a few months ago and enjoyed it for what it was: light-fantasy action with a pretty decent cast of characters in a world I was totally unfamiliar with. T.S. Church managed to bring me up to speed quickly on a large, established world filled with kingdoms, monarchs, and gods.

    Church has readied RuneScape: Return to Canifis for release next week, and it is not only a better book than its predecessor, it actually makes for a pretty darn good fantasy read. Here is my review of T.S. Church’s new novel, RuneScape: Return to Canifis.

    RuneScape: Return to Canifis was provided to me by the publisher, Titan Books.

  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Official Casebook: Vol. 1: The Phoenix Wright Files

    Phoenix Wright Files ace Attorney Casebook 1 CoverMany video game series get their own novelizations now, they range from mindless junk to interesting filler in between games, but for the devoted fan of a series they can be a nice escape to revisit their favorite world. With the influx of manga reaching our shores, we've also received a small sampling of the popular Japanese style comic. I always like to think that the more content the better, at least that indicates that someone who makes decisions cares, or at least thinks they can make more money on the franchise.

    Enter the Ace Attorney series, probably more well known as the Phoenix Wright vehicle, though he's become less and less the focus as the games tumble by. I've played all five games in the series, but North America received the great Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective last month instead of the newest Miles Edgeworth game which was released February 3rd in Japan. It may be until later this year until we see that localized.

    But we do have official Phoenix Wright manga to tide us over until then! I received Official Casebook Vol. 1 for Christmas and read it over the past week or so. While thicker than most mangas, it is still a quick read. Here's my short review of The Phoenix Wright Files.

  • RuneScape: Betrayal at Falador

    Runescape Betrayal at Falador CoverI’m one of those people who enjoys reading novels set in familiar video game worlds. Growing up, I read Castlevania books starring some flavor of Belmont, and even remember finishing a Bionic Commando novella at some point (which, undoubtedly, did not end in Hitler’s head exploding). More recently, I’ve been enjoying the Mass Effect fiction that does a tremendous job adding to the already rich universe found in the video games.

    But when I was asked to read a RuneScape novel, I wondered if maybe I was crossing the line of reading video game books. I’ve never played RuneScape, I’ve never even thought about playing RuneScape, and before I did some research, I found that everything I thought I knew about RuneScape was wrong.

    I tried to limit my research though to just the facts about the game itself, and not the game world. If RuneScape: Betrayal at Falador was meant to be read by both fans of the game and readers who might not be familiar with the series, then it should serve as both fan-service and as a great introduction to the RuneScape universe. But really, there have been over 130 MILLION registered RuneScape players, there’s apparently no lack of market.

  • The Ninja, The Miko, and White Ninja

    Ninja Eric Van Lustbader

    We were obsessed with ninjas in the '80s: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Ninja Gaiden, and hundreds of campy ninja films. In 1985, we were also introduced to The Ninja, a crime thriller novel by Eric Van Lustbader, and what I believe to be the single best ninja fiction available. Lustbader wrote five more novels in the series, all centered on Nicholas Linnear, a half-Western, half-Chinese, raised in Japan ninja. I just finished the third novel, White Ninja, and couldn't help but think about the video game possibilities for the series while reading.

    I originally found The Ninja while my wife and I were traveling in Ireland. It was by a fireplace in a small Bed and Breakfast in a "take a book, leave a book" box. I didn't have any books to leave, so I guess I broke the rule by taking one. Either way, it was the most interesting book in the box, and I figured I needed to do something with my East Asian Studies major. I had the 500+ page novel finished by the time we landed back in the States.

    What makes Lustbader's Ninja series so great is its well written action scenes and devotion to building a believable Eastern mysticism. Unlike what Brandon Sanderson did with the Mistborn trilogy, The Ninja's world ninjutsu feels like it could be real (not ripping on Mistborn, but I suspend my belief at swallowing metals). The lines are often completely blurred between what's actually possible with martial arts, and what's simply just Japanese ninja legend or Lustbader making up (and honestly, even now, I really have no idea where the line would be drawn if you forced me to). It's believable because there is a believable world constructed around our heroes and villains.

  • Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne

    Dragon Age Stolen Throne Cover

    With BioWare's new epic, Dragon Age: Origins, only about a week away from release, it was about high time to finish the prequel novel I had sitting on my coffee table, Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne. BioWare is doing some massive world-building for the series and The Stolen Throne is about a major political event that happened about thirty years before the events of the first game. It follows three heroes: Maric, Loghain, and Rowan, and their tireless quest to overthrow the usurper that has stolen the throne from the rightful family. And as the book opens with the death of Maric's mother, the Rebel Queen Moira, the role of rightful king falls right onto Maric's soldiers.

    The Stolen Throne spans a few years of time from the death of the Rebel Queen to its climax. It spends its pages not only trying to establish a few corners of Ferelden, but also to characterize the young heroes. We watch them all grow up, especially Maric, who starts out as a foolish prince and ends as a man who would make for a fine king. And since our heroic trio seem to be in that hormone-raging age of the late teen years, there's no lack of love triangles (or even quadrangles?). This is by no means a romance novel though, but more of A Game of the Thrones-lite.

    Here's my review of Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne, the prequel novel to the video game Dragon Age: Origins.

  • Mistborn Trilogy and Video Games

    Mistborn Final Empire Cover

    A few weeks ago I finished a great fantasy title by Brandon Sanderson called Mistborn: The Final Empire. I began writing a book review about it, even though it has no video game counterpart or even one in the works as far as I know, so it eventually turned into an editorial about how to make a game from book or film. Well, in the time since then I've finished the entire Mistborn trilogy and now I'm back to write a review on the whole series. Well, maybe not a real review, there are plenty of legitimate fantasy book sites that can do a lot better job than me at that, but more of an examination on how a series like Mistborn could be translated into an awesome video game.

    I'll admit, the only reason I was even attracted to the series is because Brandon Sanderson is now finishing off the late Robert Jordan's epic, The Wheel of Time. While that fantasy shelf-warping series definitely started to fade as it resisted to wrap up, I'm still excited to see how it ends. And what better way to understand that than to read the books that the chosen author has already written? The Mistborn series seemed like a great place to start, so here's my review/plea-to-make-this-into-a-great-game.

  • Mass Effect: Ascension

    Mass Effect Ascension CoverMass Effect: Ascension is a novel written by Drew Karpyshyn. It is the sequel novel to Mass Effect: Revelation, and also a sequel to Mass Effect, the Xbox 360 game. The book takes place about two months after the events in Mass Effect, but because of the game's different endings, it has to be pretty vague about things. Reading Ascension before playing the game won't spoil much of anything... but chances are you aren't reading these books unless you've played the game.

    I originally read Revelation in late 2007 and then played Mass Effect in early 2008. Ascension was released in July of last year and I finally got around to reading it a few weeks ago. I'm not going to do any formal reviewing, just talk about a few things that jumped out at me.

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