Mass Effect: Retribution

Mass Effect: Retribution
Mass Effect: Retribution Cover
Author Drew Karpyshyn
Publisher Del Rey Books
356 pages
Buy from Amazon

You may be surprised to find out the Mass Effect novels are not about Commander Shepard, or any of his squadmates, or feature any of the major events that take place during the games. BioWare and author Drew Karpyshyn have been very careful in not allowing any kind of canon Shepard to be declared. An individual’s Mass Effect experience is heavily influenced by the decisions they make, and the writers don’t want any outside influence to indicate someone is doing it right or wrong.

But the novels have successfully created their own small cast of characters and locations. Mass Effect: Revelation served as a prequel to the series, and while it introduced us to Captain Anderson and Saren, Kahlee Sanders quickly became the character to identify with. Ascension follows Sanders through her run in with Cerberus and training of human biotics, but also teases at some of the locations we would see in Mass Effect 2.

Now with Mass Effect: Retribution, we continue to follow Kahlee, but seemingly brush up against the world of the games a little closer. In most ways, Retribution doesn’t feel as much like a prequel to Mass Effect 3 as Ascension did to 2, but some groundwork is laid.

Here is my review of Mass Effect: Retribution, written by Drew Karpyshyn and released in July 2010.

Being the third book in the series, unless you’ve read and enjoyed the previous two titles, there is probably little reason you’re reading Retribution. I did enjoy the first two books, Revelation for the amount of groundwork it laid for the entire series, and Ascension for its well-paced story and how much it got me excited for the second game. Retribution seems more akin to Revelation, with less awesome fan service and more intriguing groundwork.

The story begins with Paul Grayson, the father of the star biotic featured in Ascension, former Cerberus agent, and recovering drug addict, being captured by his old friends. He didn’t leave Cerberus on the best of terms, and the Illusive Man has been hunting him down since he shipped his most-wanted adept daughter Gillian off with some quarians on an unknown mission. Kahlee Sanders developed a soft spot for Grayson, so when she discovers his disappearance, she recruits her old acquaintance Captain Anderson for help.

Having recovered some Reaper indoctrination technology on the Collector Base during the events of Mass Effect 2, the Illusive Man would like to test it out on some humans. Cerberus has done some pretty nasty things throughout the series, but this probably takes the cake. Purposefully indoctrinating someone is not only an awful thing to do, but it seems to have little scientific value. Once Cerberus has captured Grayson, however, the Illusive Man approves his indoctrination.

As you can imagine, things do not go well. We don’t know right now if Reaper indoctrination will be a big thing in Mass Effect 3 (I can’t imagine why it would be, they’ve already arrived in the galaxy and subtly taking over a mind is a lot of work when you can just laser beam a planet in half), but Retribution reminds us it is a nasty process.

Quite a bit of detail goes into the first-person perspective of Grayson being shut out of his own mind as the Reapers take over. These sequences are well written and provide a very clear picture on what indoctrination is really like. We can sympathize with Saren a little more now. (Further reading: the Scott Sigler podcast novel Infected is a super creepy thriller with similar themes to fighting off Reaper indoctrination.)

Something I didn’t quite like was getting into the Illusive Man’s head. There are a few chapters written from his perspective that seem distracting in the long run. Listening to his thoughts on smoking, drinking, and indoctrinating doesn’t do much to further his character, and actually diminishes the aura around him. He’s called the Illusive Man for a reason.

But most of the book follows either Grayson, Kahlee, or the people pursuing either Grayson or Kahlee. Aria from Omega makes repeated appearances, and it’s impossible to read her parts without hearing them in Carrie-Anne Moss’ voice. Omega station is also featured heavily, but most of the book is spent aboard starships.

Retribution is still a solid book, but it is unfortunately not a good jumping in point if you’re new to the book series. Reading about the Reaper indoctrination process is very interesting, but outside of that, there’s not enough new content to add to my excitement for Mass Effect 3. There aren’t any characters I feel might join Shepard’s crew in the third title, or locations we’re bound to visit.

If you’ve stuck with the novels this long, then Retribution is a must-read, but this book alone isn’t a good enough reason to start reading the series.

The upcoming book Mass Effect: Deception (can these books be more generically named?) seems a bit more intriguing, but it looks like Drew Karpyshyn is officially done with Mass Effect as it is written by William C. Dietz.

Mass Effect 2 Illusive man Martin Sheen