Gears of War is probably the first trilogy for the Xbox 360 I really got into, and to prepare for the currently ongoing Gears of War 4 beta, I replayed all 4 games (the fourth being the Judgement prequel). Now the games have never really been known for their deep stories, but the games, especially 2 and 3, do have some great character drama moments. Back then, I wasn’t really reading novels and now that I am, and I got back into the series, I figured it’s worth reading Gears of War: Aspho Fields, the first of five Gears of War novels.
I’m going to write this review assuming that readers know at least a little bit about Gears Of War’s story, partly because the novel is written that way. If you’re lost as a result, I apologize.
Written by Karen Traviss, Aspho Fields takes place in two different time periods. The Aspho Fields half takes place toward the end of the Pendulum Wars, while the “modern” story takes place weeks after the lightmass bomb detonations at the end of the first game. Like the games, the stories are simple, but for a book of this sort it works. The modern story tells the story of the evacuation of a city while Locusts make scattered attacks on the Gears. The violence is descriptive and often brutal, just like the games, and the tactical thinking behind the action immerses you into Delta Squad.
The book is written in third person, switching between a handful of protagonists, except for the prologue which is written in first person from Dom’s perspective for some reason. In any case, most chapters dig into two characters’ heads, with a clear marker separating them. Traviss does a great job at expanding on the characters’ personalities and what they think of each other. Colonel Hoffman’s problems with Marcus Fenix are explored in detail, while Dom’s history with Maria is given more time the games ever did. Like the 2nd and 3rd game, all of the character drama works very well.
The Aspho Fields half of the story digs into Marcus and Dom’s shared past, including the moment they met, and how they grew up together, along with Dom’s older brother, Carlos, who’s never mentioned in the games. Another character this novel introduces is Bernie, an older female gear who has a minor role in Gears of War 3 that I forgot about until I replayed the game. She’s one of the perspective characters in both halves of the story and is a great addition to the cast, especially her antagonistic interactions with the ever sarcastic Baird. It makes her a much more memorable character than she was in the game.
The Aspho Fields half of the story is much more complex than the city evacuation. It’s a massive offensive by the Coalition against the UIR as they’re breaking into a facility that’s developing a very dangerous weapon. It delves into the planning stage of the operation, and then Hoffman and Dom work with the commandos, while Fenix, Carlos, Bernie and Anya Stroud’s mother are fighting in the nearby swamps.
I wouldn’t call this book perfect. Even though the character drama is well-written, by its very nature you can see the most devastating moment coming a mile away, even if how it plays out is a bit of a surprise. Cole Train’s lines aren’t as funny as they are in the games, even if some of them are amusing. Because both halves of the story end within a few chapters of each other, both endings play out in the last 3 chapters of the book, and it feels a bit long as a result. The pacing of the ending would probably work better if they concluded the Aspho Fields half of the story a bit earlier. I won’t spoil why it wouldn’t work the other way around.
So do I recommend this book? To any fans of the Gears of War game franchise, yes. It adds a lot of depth to the characters and their pasts, and gives context to Marcus referring to Dom as his brother in Gears of War 3. Would I recommend this to people who don’t like Gears of War? Not really.
I’m not sure what I’ll be reading next. Earlier this month I re-read Magic Bites, and then a non-fiction book. My options include the second X-Wing book, South China Morning Blues by fellow blogger Ray Hecht, and Storming by K.M. Weiland. Next month I’ll be doing a dialogue sweep edit for the second book in the series I’m writing, and then I’ll do a second or third draft for something else. Honestly, I’m not sure what book I’m going to edit yet.