Book Review: Gears of War Ascendance by Jason M. Hough

This was a rather odd choice of material to read but I was very curious about how a book based off of a video game would read. Can a story based off of a video game hold the same weight as a story bound only to literature? Different forms of media lend themselves to different forms of storytelling and I’m curious to see what that translates when one medium crosses into another. Gears of War Ascendance takes place after the events of Gears of War 4 so caution: SPOILERS AHEAD FOR GEARS OF WAR 4

Character Development
5/10

The main focus of Gears of War Ascension is with Kait Diaz and Delmont Walker as the Point of View characters. Kait, still reeling from the death of her mother and her people, is struggling with her place in the world. She’s torn between the COG government and the Outsider Settlement life she’s always known. Delmont Walker, however, is kind of just there as a character. His main concern is about the safety of his friends but aside from that there is no personal drive pushing him through the story. There’s no real conflict driving his story which is odd considering half the story is from his perspective. This isn’t to say that Kait Diaz’s character development is much better. There’s a very slight change to her from the beginning to end and a slight gradual change to her perspective. However her conflict is never resolved which could be the issue with video game novels. Her conflict carries over into the sequel so realistically it cannot be resolved during the novel. It leads for a rather disappointing conclusion.

Setting
5/10

World building is very slight as there’s an assumption the reader is already familiar with the Gears of War universe. There are a lot of names of weapons, places, and past events referenced that anyone who hasn’t played the previous games would be too lost. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing as it falls in line with any sequel to any other book. However what is worth criticizing is that there’s nothing added to the world building to expand on the universe. What you know about the Gears of War universe prior to Gears of War Ascendence is what you know coming out of it.

Plot
7/10

The plot, while simple and fun, feels rather irrelevant to what happened in Gears of War 4. The team is tasked with proving to First Minister Jinn that the Swarm threat is real while Kait is dealing with nightmare visions relating to her possible connection to the Swarm and the predecessor faction the Locust. It’s an odd choice considering that the events of Gears of War 4 made it seem like the threat was very real and that they would all have to confront it. But in Gears of War Ascendence they have to prove the threat is real. The inciting incident isn’t very earth shattering as it should have been because the characters view it with an almost clinical perspective. But what is worse, and probably the ultimate failing of books that serve as prequels, is that you know which characters survive to make it to the next story. It removes too much of the tension, especially when there’s no new characters introduced to be invested in. There are a couple here but they are shown to infrequently that the reader can’t really form an attachment of any kind.

Writing Style
6/10

The writing style is a rather mixed bag. While it is easy and quick to read, I can’t help but admit that I wanted to finish reading the book just to be finished with it. That characters (save for Kait Diaz and Marcus Fenix) lack any real character to them to make them endearing to the reader. It comes off as though the book relies too heavily on the previous game’s story to make the characters likeable so in written form they come off as wooden and stale. The word choice is simple and the depth of emotion and conflict is never really explored as deep as it could be.

What Writers can learn from the Book

If ever an author is tasked with writing a book in between two games, movies or really any story telling method, a lot of attention and effort is required to make the story have some dramatic tension to make the story feel more intense. This is one of those “easier said than done” situations similar to prequels. You, as both the author and the reader, know where the story has to end and getting there while still being a fun and exciting ride is incredibly difficult.

Verdict
5.75/10

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