Book Review: Mass Effect: Annihilation by Catherynne M. Valente

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Mass Effect: Annihilation by Catherynne M. Valente

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction, Media Tie-In

Series: Book 3 of Mass Effect: Andromeda

Publisher: Titan Books (November 6, 2018)

Length: 336 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Although we’re here to talk about a book, no discussion about Mass Effect: Andromeda: Annihilation would be possible without at least acknowledging the fan response to the game it was based on, which many found unremarkable, if not disappointing. Speaking as someone who adores the Mass Effect franchise, even I have to admit that Andromeda—while arguably not as terrible as everyone says it is—was still probably the weakest in the series, failing to meet the high expectations set by the original trilogy in terms of both storytelling and character development. Furthermore, by the end of the game, there were many plot threads left hanging and questions unanswered, and sadly, it has been announced there will be no more downloadable content to follow up on any of this, at least for the foreseeable future.

Luckily, this is where the tie-in novels come in. Mass Effect: Annihilation finally addresses one of the game’s biggest mysteries, and not only that, they’ve tapped an incredible author to do the honors. And if Catherynne M. Valente’s name being attached to the project isn’t enough to get you excited, then surely the prospect of finding out the fate of Quarian ark will, for this story takes us aboard the Keelah Si’yah, a colony ship carrying twenty thousand souls, all cryogenically frozen, on their way to their new home in the Andromeda galaxy. Though the vessel is of Quarian origin, on board are colonists from many of the other non-council races, including the Drell, Elcor, Hanar, Volus and Batarians. With still a long way to go before they reach their destination, however, a Sleepwalker team is alerted by the ship’s AI to strange readings on many of the Drell cryopods. To their horror, they find the pods’ occupants dead, infected by some unknown virus.

Before long, it is determined the deaths are no accident. The pathogen begins to jump species, affecting colonists that are not Drell. Then, many of the ship’s systems start to fail. Someone aboard the Keelah Si’yah is sabotaging their mission on purpose, and what’s more, this killer seems to know their way around the ship. With the situation becoming more desperate, the Sleepwalker team must put their differences aside and work together before time runs out.

In general, tie-in novels are tough to review, but I will say this: those who enjoyed playing Andromeda and wanted to spend more time in the game’s world will likely be happy with Mass Effect: Annihilation. However, those who aren’t familiar with the Mass Effect universe will probably be left unsatisfied. While all the books in the series have been standalone so far, my feeling is that at least some background knowledge of the games is required, or else this one is going to be very confusing.

To her credit, Valente clearly knows her way around the Mass Effect universe, but she is also writing with the assumption that the reader has played Andromeda and is already aware of much of the game lore. For one thing, the characters in this novel are aliens. Mass Effect features some of the best aliens in any science fiction franchise, but the truth of the matter is, you can’t fully appreciate them unless you have played some of the games. Sure, each species has a unique charm and their own personality quirks, but admittedly none of these would be all that entertaining or helpful, if what you’re seeking is a deeper connection to the characters. A lot of books starring non-human protagonists will feature lots of character development to compensate, but this one relies on the reader having that prior knowledge.

Where Annihilation really excels though, is its mystery plot. As circumstances get increasingly more desperate for the Sleepwalker crew, we see each character step up and lend their particular skills and talents to the problem. Like any good investigative team, they’ve delegated their tasks to make the situation more manageable, so that they can attack the three most pressing issues all at once, which is find the killer, cure the disease, and repair the failing ship systems. The result is that the story ends up being one-part murder mystery, one-part medical suspense, and one-part tech thriller—in other words, not a bad combination at all. My only complaint is the lack of action. Previous novels in the franchise have done a better job capturing at the action-adventure and combat feel of the games, but that’s just my personal impression. We get some action short bursts here and there, but the bulk of the book is brainstorming and discussion, and lots of it. Some of this provided great build-up and intrigue for the mystery, but again, those new to Mass Effect might find the lengthy scenes of deliberation and dialogue tedious.

In spite of everything though, I really enjoyed this book. Annihilation is another great addition to the Mass Effect novel series, featuring quality writing and storytelling that proves once more how far the media tie-in, as a genre, has come. Unless you know the Mass Effect universe or are a mega-fan of Catherynne M. Valente, I don’t know how much you’re going to get out of it, but it’s definitely a must-read if you love the games.


More on The BiblioSanctum:
Wendy’s Review of Mass Effect: Nexus Uprising (Book 1)
Tiara’s Review of Mass Effect: Nexus Uprising (Book 1)
Mogsy’s Review of Mass Effect: Initiation (Book 2)

26 Comments on “Book Review: Mass Effect: Annihilation by Catherynne M. Valente”

  1. Heck, I don’t even like the tie in novels with Magic the gathering and I love the card game. So this’ll be a no-go for me.

    However, since you seem to be one of the rare people who read AND game (pretty regularly), do you find these kind of tie-in books in any way effective in reaching those who tend to game more and read less than you do?


    • Good question, I would say no, I don’t see tie-in novels being all that effective in drawing non-fans into the franchise (as you can kind of see from the other comments here), though not for the lack of trying. Some of these IPs have tapped some mega big name authors to try and get people to take a look, but I don’t think it’s working too well, and honestly, I feel torn on this approach. Yes, they get someone popular with name recognition on the cover, and that makes people talk, but sometimes they end up choosing an author whose style is all wrong for the IP (as in the case with a lot of Star Wars novels right now).

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I probably won’t be reading this, but I do love seeing Valente’s name on this. I love when authors stretch their wings and go to unexpected places😁


  3. when i first heard Valente was writing a video game tie-in, I thought she was joking? This is just so completely different from the type of stuff she usually writes, and i’m surprised she was willing to write in someone else’s universe, and follow someone else’s rules. She’s, um, not a rule follower.


  4. I love the premise of this- cryosleep, something goes wrong (doesn’t it always haha), a mystery killer. Sounds fun! I’ve never played Mass Effect so I probably wouldn’t get as much out of it, all the richness of detail, like you said, but it does sound like a lot of fun!


    • The premise is great, I love those kinds of space mystery stories. I was hoping this could be read as more of a general sci-fi murder mystery novel, but unfortunately there are just too many references to the games that I think any non-ME player would get lost.


  5. The story details you mentioned sound more than fascinating, and I thought about looking for the trilogy, but your comment about the books not being enough for someone who has not played the game did worry me a bit. What does one do when she’s hopeless even at something as banal as Tetris? 😀 😀
    Still, I might look for some help (and information) on the internet: who knows, I might end up enjoying this story even though I’m not gamer…
    Thanks for sharing!


  6. Pingback: Mogsy’s Bookshelf Roundup: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

  7. I’ve often thought that if I’d been born later, I would have been a massive gaming fan… as it is, this experience has somewhat by-passed me. Glad you enjoyed it, though.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: