I love a gaming novel, and the best ones are those in which an author takes a source material, then processes it through the engine of their imagination and comes up with something special. Something that not only fills in some of the omissions in the story, but also helps to flesh out the background – the rich tapestry that is the way that multiple characters’ timelines all weave together. One of the best sources of stories, at least in my mind, is the Gears of War games, as they have a very long timeline to play with.
For those of you who aren’t as familiar with the overarching timeline of the Gears series, here’s how it goes: the Pendulum Wars last nigh on 100 years, before the COG manages to get the Hammer of Dawn to work and forces the “Indies” to surrender. Then, come E-Day, the Locust erupt onto the surface and devastate mankind, but not before mankind devastates itself by using the Hammer on their own cities, killing most of the people in the world who couldn’t get to Jacinto in time. Once the Locust and the Lambent are finally defeated, thanks mainly to the four guys in Delta Squad, the resulting corpses are buried and forgotten about. However, the Locust have mutated down in the dark into the Swarm, and are now set to ruin the world again.
So, as you can see, there is a lot of history to go at, and the beauty of it all is that there are a lot of gaps, a lot of space and time, to insert a narrative that helps to drive the story forward, while also reflecting well on today’s protagonists. You see, with the last two Gears games – Gears of War 4 and Gears 5 – a new generation of hero has started to emerge, with the likes of Kait, JD and Del (depending on which choice you made in Gears 5, of course) taking over from Marcus, Cole and Baird. And this is where Jason M. Hough, author of the Gears of War books like Ascendance, comes in, and where he is becoming increasingly comfortable, judging by the way his Gears storytelling is coming along.
The latest book to flow from Mr Hough’s pen (or typewriter, word processor, whatever) is Titans’ Gears of War: Bloodlines, a tale that deals with Kait and her father, a man called Gabriel Diaz. Now, throughout Kait’s story arc in the games, the focus has been very much on her mother, Reyna, and so to see the other side of the coin is a welcome change. And it turns out Gabriel had told his young daughter that he was a lowly mechanic in a motor pool. However, the truth is somewhat different, and after a chance meeting with Victor Hoffman, stalwart of the series, Kait comes into possession of her fathers top secret personnel file. It is nice to see Hoffman still kicking about, to be honest, as he has long been a favourite character of mine. It was something of a shock to see how much he’d aged though, but it makes sense given that Marcus is fast reaching his later years. So, the majority of this novel takes place as an extended flashback as Kait reads through her father’s file, discovering in the process what kind of a man he was. Suffice it to say that he didn’t spend most of his service career fixing trucks…
Lieutenant-Colonel Gabriel Diaz had a reputation as a tactical genius, often winning seemingly unwinnable battles despite overwhelming odds. However, the constant loss of Gears under his command, good men and women dying because of decisions he made, has taken its toll on Gabriel, and suffering from burnout he is given a posting to Vectes – a COG naval base on a tropical island – as a kind of reward. Here, Gabriel hopes to find some peace, a refuge from the horrors of war, as the group of islands that Vectes is part of is a long way from the war. The COG holds an island in the South, the Indies, an island in the North, and the rest of the islands have an indigenous population that has no interest in taking sides, and aren’t rich enough in resources to be worth fighting over. A kind of unofficial truce is in place, and that’s just the way the commander of the naval base likes it. However, all that is about to change.
Gabriel has two brothers, only one of whom is biologically related, being Kait’s Uncle Oscar. The other brother was kind of adopted as they all grew up together in an orphanage; a skinny little kid named Wyatt. When they all came of age, they enlisted in the COG, and went their separate ways. Wyatt went to commando school, it appears, and turns up on Vectes at the head of a group called Ghosts, COG special forces, and they have a mission on Knifspire, a barren lump of rock in the sea near to the Indies’ territory. Of course, it doesn’t go smoothly, and Gabriel is sent in to rescue the team with a small force of his own, and from there its pretty much a roller coaster of action all the way to the end of the book.
Saving Wyatt is only the start of Gabriel’s mission, and it then turns into an sabotage mission, and then into a mission to gather resources that come to light when the island is shelled by the Indie Navy. In the course of the narrative, Gabriel will need to use all of his tactical skills – all of his experience – to make sure that the Gears under his command have a chance at survival. Of course, not everyone is going to make it, and the way that Jason M. Hough is able to not only deal with the pulse pounding action and the fear that is generated, but is still able to show the internal struggle that Gabriel has, being the man on the spot where not taking action would be worse than almost any choice that he could make, is very good indeed. This is a proper page turner, and the way that the author makes you almost smell the smoke and blood, and feel the bullets whizzing through the undergrowth, certainly transported me.
By contrast, the sections of the book dealing with present day Kait are almost an anticlimax, although there is a great action sequence involving Cole Train driving one of the giant mechs from the end of Gears 4. The way the narrative stitches itself neatly into the start of Gears 5, leaving off at the point where Kait is going to visit her Uncle Oscar in Riftworm village, but filling in the reasons why she decided to become a COG soldier, is very nicely explained. Also, JD’s injuries, the introduction of Fahz, and the part that Del comes to play are all tied up very neatly, and the overall feeling is one of satisfaction that lets you now understand a little better where Kait is coming from and why she is doing what she is doing. Kait’s struggles with her identity are explored quite nicely as well, and the whole book just works.
With the door left open for Hoffman to play a more active role in the games, I for one cannot wait to see what happens next, and hope that Mr Hough will continue to write these novels. If you have any interest in how the Gears universe works, then you owe it to yourself to read Gears of War: Bloodlines from Titan Books.
As always, huge thanks go out to Titan Books for giving us the opportunity to review this book. If you wish to pick up a copy for yourself, head on over to Titan Books direct. If you wish to hear more from the author – Jason M. Hough – then make sure you check out our interview.
You’ll also find the book available from Amazon.