Book Review: Mass Effect: Initiation by N.K. Jemisin & Mac Walters
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Media Tie-In
Series: Book 2 of Mass Effect: Andromeda
Publisher: Titan Books (November 28, 2017)
Length: 304 pages
I’ve been on a tie-in kick lately, with Mass Effect: Initiation being my latest foray into the world of one of my favorite video game series. The fact that they also got Hugo Award winning author N.K. Jemisin to lend her writing chops to this project certainly didn’t hurt. Co-written by Bioware creative director Mac Walters, Initiation is the second prequel novel to Mass Effect: Andromeda, focusing on the events that take place in the months before the game starts. However, no knowledge or experience with the games (or any of the previous books) in the Mass Effect series is required to enjoy this story.
It is 2185, approximately half a year before the start of Mass Effect: Andromeda. Lieutenant Cora Harper, formerly of the Systems Alliance military, is returning to human territory after four years spent with Talein’s Daughters, an elite Asari commando squad, as part of an interspecies training program. Now one of humanity’s most powerful biotics, Cora is recommended for Alec Ryder’s Andromeda Initiative, a civilian-backed multi-species project to settle colonists in the Andromeda Galaxy. Called the Pathfinder, Alec is initially skeptical of Cora’s motivations (or rather, the lack of them) but nevertheless agrees to take her on, giving her what was supposed to be a straightforward assignment to recover some stolen data.
However, the mission ends in spectacular failure, with Cora barely escaping with her life. Clearly, there is more to the stolen property that Alec Ryder had tasked her to retrieve, and Cora intends to find some answers. But the more she digs, the more she discovers too many secrets, and Alec’s tight-lipped refusal to let her in on the truth means that it is up to Cora to protect the Andromeda Initiative against the incoming threat.
For a sci-fi action novel, Initiation is well-written and solid. For a media tie-in, I found it exceptional. Either way, you can’t lose. Jemisin and Walters have written a fast-paced and adrenaline-fueled adventure that packs all the entertainment and thrills expected from a Mass Effect story. If you’ve played the Andromeda, Cora Harper is one of your game-controlled squad mates, but her role as lead protagonist here gives us a lot more insight into the history and personality of the character. She comes across as genuine and real. A tough and seasoned soldier, Cora is nonetheless in a vulnerable position when we first meet her upon her return from Asari space, feeling like the odd woman out in a world that no longer feels familiar to her. She also has no idea how to deal with pushy reporters getting into her face, or the toxic, xenophobic attitudes directed at her for “betraying” humanity just because she worked with aliens. We get this sense of a lost and confused woman, cast adrift now that she feels she is no longer needed.
Fortunately, the Andromeda Initiative gives Cora the new motivational drive she’s been looking for—that, and trying to find out who’s trying to kill her. As her professionalism and tactical skills begin to shine though, we are treated to the “real” Cora—the one who possesses a fierce and unbending loyalty, impeccable discipline, and a wry sense of humor (which frequently reveals itself when she interacts with SAM-E, the experimental “virtual intelligence” she was implanted with when she first joined the Initiative). Cora is also a goals-oriented individual who is in her element when given something to fight for, and I liked that the authors took the time to highlight her bravery and tenacity.
The story was fun, very different from what I’ve seen from Jemisin so far with her work in the fantasy genre—but I sure hope she’ll continue writing more like this. I loved the exciting and intense action, which kept the book’s pacing rapid and engaging. At the same time, we got a level of character exploration not typically seen in a lot of media tie-in novels, and here, I have no doubt we have Jemisin’s influence to thank. When it comes to developing character personalities and backgrounds, she’s one of the best.
I must admit though, despite Jemisin’s name attached to this novel, I wasn’t expecting much from Mass Effect: Initiation when I first picked it up. Needless to say, I was quickly disabused of that notion within the first few pages. This was a great book, with lots of fun and lots of thrills. It just goes to show the bias against media tie-ins still runs deep, even for someone like me, who reads almost one a month. However, as more books like Initiation prove that books based on video games can be just as engaging, well-written, and worth reading, hopefully those perceptions won’t linger for long.
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Wendy’s Review of Mass Effect: Nexus Uprising (Book 1)
Tiara’s Review of Mass Effect: Nexus Uprising (Book 1)