I have written before about my love of a novel based on games, and the Gears of War series is one of my particular favourites. With timelines ranging from before the Locust ever appeared, right the way back to the Pendulum Wars, and then up to the beginning of the new generation of heroes, there is plenty of background information that has been provided. There is now a new entry in the series, coming from the New York Times bestselling author Michael A. Stackpole, entitled Gears of War: Ephyra Rising. So, come with me on a journey into what may be one of the hardest battles in the long and distinguished career of one Sgt. Marcus Fenix…
Gears of War: Ephyra Rising is set in the lull between the events of Gears of War 3 and Gears of War 4. As we see at the end of the third game, Marcus has finally taken his do-rag off, Anya is still there to provide the love interest, and (Spoiler Alert!) Dom is still dead, having sacrificed himself to save the rest of the Delta Squad. So, with the threat of the Locust and Lambent seemingly defeated, what is a man who pretty much defines what it is to be a warrior going to do now?
Now, I obviously can’t talk about the story in anything but broad brushstrokes, as there are plenty of twists and turns in the narrative, but I’ll do my best not to ruin any surprises.
Basically, with the end of the war, the next struggle begins, that of rebuilding the fractured and splintered society into something that can work, that can bring the survivors together to begin to work for the common good. As you’d expect, this is where Anya excels, with her organisational skills she is much in demand to become part of the new government. This is in addition to trying to rebuild her family’s old estate with Marcus, in order to make it into their happy home. Of course, there is less demand for Marcus’s considerable skill set in this new world, and so he is reduced to spending his time at the house, rebuilding and trying to learn to make bread, of all things!
Of course, things don’t stay quiet for long, and with meeting new people and forming new friendships, Marcus comes to hear about reported sightings of Locust, and even of Locust attacks. What else can he do but drop everything, strap on the armour and go trotting off to find out what is going on? While he is off playing hide and seek with the Locust, Anya must stay behind, and try to work toward unifying all the separate colonies of survivors, who, I think it is fair to say, have some trust issues after all they have been through.
What follows is a story of two halves, expertly married up at the end in a very satisfying conclusion. It is truly interesting to see Anya as a shrewd political operator and organiser, rather than just another generic “Gear with Lancer”, and getting to see how her formidable mind works is very well depicted. The way she has to learn to operate in a new world to her, that of politics, which even if there are fewer bullets is certainly no less dangerous than the world she was used to. Meanwhile, she has the brilliance of the largest walking ego in the known universe, Damon Baird, to call on, and seeing the way that she builds a coalition of people is interesting indeed.
Of course, Marcus isn’t going to go it alone, and the journey he undertakes becomes almost an episode of getting the band back together, as he meets Cole Train, Carmine Clayton and even Sam from Gears 3, and soon has everyone onboard and ready to face whatever the new world can throw at them. And while there are certainly Locust to find, it isn’t quite what he thought when he set off, and soon he finds himself embroiled in a conspiracy that I shall say no more about!
What Michael A. Stackpole has created here is a different kind of Gears of War novel, and it’s a refreshing change from the likes of Gears of War: Ascendance and Gears of War: Bloodlines. Before it was all gunplay, peril and Locust; now the enemies are a lot more subtle, a lot more insidious, and to be honest, this comes as a nice change of pace. The steely side of Anya, the softer side of Marcus; these two complement each other perfectly and their relationship has been brought to life with a deal of care and attention. Seeing how their personalities get used to the new realities of life, and the journey they go on together is very heartwarming – and that’s not a sentence I ever thought I’d write about a Gears novel.
All in all, Gears of War: Ephyra Rising provides a compelling story, told with skill and sensitivity to the source material. If you have any interest in the wider Gears universe outside the games, then I recommend you give this a read.