Sunday, August 16, 2009

Gears of War: Jacinto's Remnant Review

For a game not known for having much of a story, Karen Traviss sure knows how to pull out the substance. The Gears of War franchise focuses on the genocidal war between what remains of humanity and the Locust Horde, monsters from below the surface of the plant Sera who've all but wiped humanity out over the last 15 years. The only thing that stands in the Horde's destructive path is the Coalition of Ordered Governments and their Gears (soldiers). One squad of Gears is Delta Squad, the focus of the games and subsequently, the novels.

Gears of War: Jacinto's Remnant is Karen Traviss' second foray into the Gears of War universe, and it's a direct sequel to Gears of War 2. For this reason, there will be HEAVY SPOILERS in the below review from Gear of War 2. So if you haven't completed the game's Campaign and want to avoid things being ruined for you, stop reading now. You've been warned.

Jacinto is sinking, and the COG is pulling out. The novel begins right where the game ends off, with Cole staring out of the crew bay of the King Raven he, Hoffman, and Anya are on. With comms down, he watches Jacinto fall, and is quite relieved to find Marcus, Dom, and Baird alive and well on another King Raven. Then he learns about Dom's wife.

Like with all her other military sci-fi, Traviss excels at injecting the fiction with raw human spirit and emotion. She digs deep into the inner workings of her characters, really showing us what makes them tick. She did this in the previous novel, really developing Hoffman, Cole, and the overall history of the Pendulum Wars, and she does it here again. Not only has Dom lost Maria, but he's the guy who had to pull the trigger. To murder one's own wife, even to put her out of that kind of misery, well, now that the war appears to really be over, the man is barely holding it together.

Humanity evacuates to the nearest relative-safe harbour, and Delta Squad and the rest of the Gears will have their hands full maintaining order. Without a common enemy, humanity does what it does best: Finding something and someone else to call an enemy, and the ties that bound the COG together are fading. Turns out flooding and sinking Jacinto really did a number on the Locust, and humanity might actually have them beat, but at an extreme cost. Jacinto was the COG's last bastion of hope, and with it gone, the COG are nothing but refugees, encroaching on Stranded turf.

Think the stranded are all a bunch of bums like we've seen in the games? Think again. To survive on Locust turf, pretty much anywhere non-Jacinto, you had to be tough. You had to be organized. You had to be brutal. And that's what the real Stranded are. The world has, once again, been changed forever and nothing will ever be the same. When did something this drastic happen before? E-Day? Close, but no. One year after E-Day, when the COG unleashed it's newly acquired satellite weapon, the Hammer of Dawn, upon the entire world of Sera.

Like Gears of War: Aspho Fields, Traviss relies on flashback chapters to contrast past and present events. Gears of War: Jacinto's Remnant not only details the challenges the COG must now face in becoming refugees, in trying to rebuild civilization, but also show us the horror of when the sky rained fire.

One year after E-Day, the Horde has been so successful at exterminating humanity that entire nations are beginning to crumble, prepping for a last stand as the Grubs rip them apart. The COG itself is fragmenting and the world leaders refuse to cooperate with the young new chairman, Richard Prescott. So what choice does he have? What choice does he ask of his senior command, such as Hoffman. So much of the flashbacks are played out between these two, such a mirror of their current tense relationship, that you really get to understand what motivates Prescott, and I find myself even more sympathetic to Hoffman and all he must endure.

So many questions are answered in this novel, and so many relationships expanded, and some excellent novel-only characters, such as Mataki, Michaelson, and Pad make a return. Want to know what happened to Dizzy after he and Tai took on Scourge in Gears of War 2? You'll find it here. Want to know how the Chainsaw bayonet came to be conceived? Yup, you'll find that here to. Want to know more about the hinted at relationship between Marcus and Anya? See previous answer.

Substance, depth, and soul, that's what Traviss does with her characters, and that's what she brings to the Gears of War universe; traits that are strongly needed. If you're a fan of Gears of War, you owe it to yourself to pick up this novel. Not only does Traviss expand upon what we already know, but she takes the universe in a very startling direction, one that I won't ruin here. Gears of War: Jacinto's Remnant contrasts the desperate times of the past with the uncertainty of the future, and it does it so well that you'll find it hard to put the novel down. So go read a book kids, and expand your mind while learning how to clean carcasses, police refugee camps, and deal with a smart ass like Baird.

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