Mass Effect: Revelation

Mass Effect: Revelation
Mass Effect: Revelation Cover
Author Drew Karpyshyn
Publisher Del Rey Books
Length 323 pages
Buy from Amazon

Mass Effect began here, with its first novel, Mass Effect: Revelation. Released in mid-2007, a half-year before Mass Effect proper was unleashed on the Xbox 360 and Windows, Revelation was meant to not only start the hype for what would become BioWare’s flagship series but also begin laying down the structure of the series’ large universe.

Authored by Mass Effect writer Drew Karpyshyn, Revelation follows the video game’s background hero Captain Anderson about 20 years before the events of the first game. We also meet a few of the series’ alien races along with the Citadel Council and first game villain, Saren. An Alliance scientist, Kahlee Sanders, is also introduced and she has served as the main link between the Mass Effect tie-in novels.

I first read Revelation when it was released in 2007, and have since read the second book, Mass Effect: Ascension, which I wrote a review on afterwards. Ascension takes place between the first two games and did an excellent job hinting at what was to come for Shepard and the gang in the second game. I recently received the first three novels (Retribution was released last year) as a gift so I decided to re-read Revelation and write a review on it, enjoy.

The beginning

Mass Effect: Revelation is a very different read between 2007 and 2011. When going into the book blind, you have zero exposure to characters like Captain Anderson, Saren, the Council, and have no understanding on the relationships between alien races or their histories. But after playing Mass Effect 1 a half-dozen times and its sequel, it’s much easier to digest and consume the story and the world around it.

The book begins with a rapid retelling of how humanity accelerated to the heavens after finding Prothean technology on Mars. This enabled humans to build faster than light spaceships and eventually find a Mass Relay out by Pluto, which in turn brought them face-to-face with the Turians and the First Contact War. Alliance commander Jon Grissom became a war hero and symbol for all the people of Earth for his efforts during the war but then disappeared from the public eye.

We catch up with David Anderson as he’s called to a secret Alliance research facility on Sidon that is in distress. In an early nod to the structure of the Mass Effect universe, Anderson and his team take a long elevator ride down into the belly of the planet. In retrospect it is really quite funny how much time and emphasis is spent on this particular elevator, there’s a lot of discussion on where the bad guys could be since the elevator takes so long to go up and down. Little did I know during my first read that elevators would be so important in Mass Effect.

Kahlee Sanders

We’re soon introduced to Kahlee Sanders, a researcher who was supposed to be on Sidon during the attack but coincidentally was off world running away for different reasons. Kahlee is an interesting character in the Mass Effect universe as she is essentially the main character in the novels but has no place in the games. This is effective, however, as instead of seeing the universe from the hardened eyes of Anderson or even Commander Shepard, we take in the galaxy alongside a determined and unwearied heroine.

We quickly find out that Kahlee is actually the estranged daughter of Jon Grissom and that she is wanted alive by the Alliance and dead by the Blue Sun mercenaries who carried out the Sidon attack. This is a lot to handle, but her partnership with Anderson proves to be strong and the core of the book features them traveling from location to location trying to stay a few steps ahead of death. In this case, death is a Krogan named Skarr.  Skarr seems to serve mostly as the reader’s preparation for the awesomeness that is Wrex.

Big Bad Saren also makes his introduction, and while he’s definitely the Saren fans of the game will recognize, he hasn’t gone quite off the deep end yet. Saren makes a habit of using his Spectre status to its full potential by executing bad guys and destroying huge refineries without a second thought. Revelation actually does a better job illustrating the power of the Spectre than Mass Effect.

The lead-in

Mass Effect 3 James Sanders ScanI spent most of my review of Mass Effect: Ascension predicting where the series will be going in Mass Effect 2 (and I was right, most of the time). I have the advantage of a few years to see all the ties Revelation has to Mass Effect 1. The biggest being Saren’s acquisition of Sovereign at the end.

The last section of the book teams Anderson and Saren up for a joint mission that is also serving as a sort of recruitment test for Anderson into the Spectres. There hasn’t been a human Spectre before and Anderson is the Alliance’s current best, brightest, and strongest. But after playing Mass Effect 1, it’s apparent that the final act may actually be Sovereign’s recruitment test for Saren to be the Reaper’s representative in the galaxy.

The Reapers needed someone “on the ground” so to speak to gain access to the Citadel which would allow them to unleash their horde on the unsuspecting races across the Milky Way. Saren has the power of the Spectres behind him plus a total disregard for life in general. He really was the perfect option for the Reapers and needed to bring him in by triggering the events in the final few chapters. I’m not sure if it was ever intended to be read this way, but I like to think that the Sovereign was manipulating Saren as early as soon after the Sidon incident.

Drew Karpyshyn lays out Saren’s pre-indoctrination days extremely well in Revelation and for fans of the game, it’s a great success. Anderson’s backstory is further defined with a divorce plus disappointing meetings with the legend that is Jon Grissom. His reaction to failure in the Spectre recruitment mission carries over even two decades later in the game, too.

With the announcement of Mass Effect 3 and a few details emerging, it’s apparent that there may be still be secrets originating in this novel, particularly with the new character James Sanders. It is unlikely he coincidentally shares a surname with the protagonist of the novels or a first name with Jon Grissom, Kahlee’s father. But Kahlee’s timeline and history don’t match up for James to be her brother or son, so unless Jon Grissom has returned to the battlefield and taken his daughter’s name, BioWare has a lot of explaining to do!

Mass Effect and Mass Effect: Revelation complement each other extremely well, and if I would highly recommend reading the tie-in novels. They help fill in some of the gaps in characters’ stories and further set up the universe we love. I’m looking forward to reading Retribution next.


Turns out James Sanders is not the new character's final name. Casey Hudson, executive producer of Mass Effect 3, has said that his real name is now James Vega. Chances are when originally presenting the character to Game Informer, they just tossed out a temporary name either not aware or at the time leaving some wiggle room open for a connection to book heroine Kahlee Sanders. Unfortunate coincidence for speculative fans of the series.