Book Review: Gears of War: Ascendance by Jason M. Hough
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: Gears of War Universe
Publisher: Titan Books (July 30, 2019)
Length: 464 pages
Bring on Gears 5, because I’m ready! And of course, being the tie-in addict I am, I just had to read the prequel novel too. Taking place in the immediate aftermath of Gears of War 4, Gears of War: Ascendance follows Corporal Kait Diaz as she grieves the loss of her mother in the Swarm War. Swearing revenge, she joins Marcus, JD, Del, Samantha, Cole, and Baird to the city of New Ephyra, where they have been summoned by First Minister Jinn. In exchange for a pardon for all the “crimes” they committed during the war, the Gears are asked to swear loyalty to the minister, as well as to bring proof of the new swarm threat.
But Kait, still bitter at all that has been done to her people, refuses. Instead, she decides to strike out on her own, returning to her ruined village after discovering that two children might have survived the devastation. Recognizing her pain and anger, Marcus Fenix decides to back her up, departing New Ephyra together as rogue agents on a rescue mission. Meanwhile, JD and Del, who have agreed to the minister’s offer and taken on new command positions, are on patrol to locate the swarm when they are cut off from the city and trapped by enemy forces.
Attacking the story from these two sides, Jason M. Hough delivers an exciting adventure leading into the new game that fans will no doubt adore. I have played all the Gears of War games, and even read a few of the novels by Karen Traviss. However, I was not at all concerned about the author change, knowing full well the capabilities of Mr. Hough who has written a couple of my favorite action sci-fi novels, including The Darwin Elevator and Zero World. He’s also no stranger to video game tie-ins, having written a novel for Mass Effect: Andromeda. Suffice to say, it pleases me to no end that he has once more brought his talents for writing heart-stopping action and battle sequences to Ascendance, which were made even more incredible because we’re dealing with some of the best foes ever designed in gaming—the Swarm.
That said, you would have to be intimately familiar with the Gears franchise to fully appreciate this novel. While it serves as a prequel to Gears 5, it also builds upon four games’ worth of story and characters and spoils the ending to Gears of War 4. The opening assumes that you have finished the game and learned of Reyna’s fate and the role Kait played in it. The rest of the plot—Kait’s renunciation of First Minister Jinn, her return to her village, the surprising allies she meets there, and so forth—is the fallout from those events. What this means is that unlike a lot of media tie-ins these days which are written as standalones, this one actually requires a fair amount of background knowledge.
But for those of us who love this world and its characters, it is a very special treat. This novel breathes new life into Kait and Marcus, JD and Del. Their personalities are given new layers and dimensions that we’ve never seen before, and it’s clear that Hough gets it; he understands the importance of tie-in novels to fans and why we seek them out. It’s not just about seeking more adventure, or more time in our favorite gaming worlds (though that certainly doesn’t hurt). It’s about digging deeper and getting to know more about our characters and learning what makes them tick. While storytelling in video games is all the rage these days, the narrative style of a novel allows authors to explore certain areas that we can’t behind a controller, and Hough doesn’t waste a single opportunity to flesh out the characters.
And of course, I have no complaints about the action, which is the author’s forte after all. He has a very cinematic writing style, where you can easily picture what you read playing out on a big screen. With the events playing out in the story on two fronts, it meant that there was never a dull moment, and the pacing was relentless and constantly driving forward.
Overall, if you are a Gears fan, there is no question of whether or not you should read Gears of War: Ascendance. The answer is yes, and you should do it before playing Gears 5 if you want the full experience. So ready your chainsaw guns, everyone—because not only does this novel bridge the time between the fourth and the fifth game, it’s also a hell of a fun read. I hope this will mean more Gears of War novels in the future.