Gears of War: Bloodlines (Novel) by Jason M. Hough Reviewby Chad Goodmurphy
After nearly fifteen years of existence, Microsoft’s Gears of War franchise is still going strong. Hell, it remains one of their most popular exclusives, and is right up there with the likes of Halo. The reasons for this are simple: good gameplay, addictive multiplayer and challenge. Of course, evolution has also helped, as anyone who’s played it will tell you that the last game took some risks and introduced some surprising changes.
Last summer Titan Books sent me a copy of Gears of War: Ascendance, the new prequel to Gears of War 5. It was the first time I’d ever read a novel based on this series, and my only previous literary experience with this world had come from a comic book. As such I wasn’t sure of what to expect, especially since tie-in novels tend to be very hit or miss. The genre isn’t exactly known for great quality.
The book started well, and had me pretty hooked from the beginning. It was interesting, rather well written, and did a good job of branching the story between the end of Gears of War 4 and the beginning of the as-yet-unreleased Gears 5. I devoured it while sitting outside, and came away from that experience both surprised and impressed. The end result was a very positive review that you can read on this website HERE.
Simply put, it was a lot better than expected, and received a score that I wasn’t expecting to give it when I first took the project on.
Fast forward to this spring, where the world is trying to deal with (and eradicate) an unexpected pandemic. People are wearing masks when they go shopping, families are distancing themselves from one another, and everyone is living in fear. Many stores are just now opening, but even then it’s not the same. When a package arrived about a month ago, I was surprised because I wasn’t expecting anything and assumed most publishers’ warehouses were closed. Upon further inspection it ended up being Gears of War: Bloodlines, the next in Jason M. Hough’s Gears of War series. Simply put, it’s a Gears 5 and Gears Tactics tie-in, which fills in missing story beats that the games glossed over, briefly mentioned or didn’t cover.
Things pick up at the end of Act I of Gears 5, immediately following Settlement 2’s destruction. There, we find Kait Diaz and company, as they pick up the pieces following a terrible fight and resulting explosion. The consequences of this have been devastating, and JD Fenix looks to have perished in the battle. However, it’s quickly discovered that, despite his terrible injuries, he’s still holding on and may make it if his allies can get him to a hospital. It won’t be easy, though, nor will it be pleasant.
Soon after, Kait and company find themselves with a new order, which sends our main protagonist back to a familiar world. The mission? Travelling to Outsider camps, so as to ask their inhabitants to come to the city, where they’ll (hopefully) be protected from the Swarm. To do so, Kait will have to grapple with her past and what she wants from her future. For instance, does she want to become a member of the COG? Also, how does she feel about telling her kind to leave the villages they know for an industrial city that they do not? Would it be best to just leave the Outsiders to the lives and rituals they prefer?
Of course, part of the idea is that Outsiders could help defend the city if the proverbial shit were to hit the fan. That is something unspoken, though, given the circumstances. All Kait wants to do is help keep them safe.
The beginning of Gears of War: Bloodlines deals with the above, but it isn’t long before we’re sent into the past, after Kait receives an unexpected folder detailing her father’s COG service. To her, he was a mechanic who worked in the motor pool before becoming an Outsider. However, there’s a lot more to Gabriel Diaz’s story than his daughter was told.
Thus, the book switches from being a Gears of War 5 tie-in to a Gears Tactics one. It later switches back and finishes Kait’s story between Acts I and II of Gears of War 5, but the majority of the book does focus on Gabe.
The second act of Jason M. Hough’s latest tie-in picks up on the once beautiful beach of Vectes Naval Base during the much talked-about Pendulum Wars. There we find Lieutenant Corporal Gabriel Diaz as he does his best to beat his previous best jogging time. Along the way Gabe spots a vandalized sign that reads NO80, which refers to a new saying that has been going around the base. It means ‘No 80th year of war,’ and is something that the ranks have been chanting and tattooing on themselves. It’s optimistic to say the least, because there’s no sign that the slow moving war will end soon, but Gabe lets it slide because a little optimism never hurt anyone.
Later, an unexpected visitor comes to Vectes and throws everything into chaos. Said visitor is Wyatt; the fellow orphan who Gabe and Oscar Diaz took under their wings and called brother. Having grown up from the wild kid he once was, Wyatt is now a member of a COG Ghost Squad, which has come to Vectes in need of some supplies.
As you’ve probably surmised, the Ghosts’ mission goes awry when they get stranded on a sharp, steep and dangerous island called Knifespire. Stuck, and with sensitive equipment to protect, they call upon the folks at Vectes for help. This sends Gabe and a ragtag team of comrades into the shit, where they must do their best to rescue the Ghosts and make sure that the sensitive equipment doesn’t fall into enemy hands. That is much easier said than done, though.
Much of Gabriel Diaz’s lengthy act is spent in battle, or inside of the character’s mind as he attempts to protect his team and come up with ways to get an advantage. There’s lots of shooting, some interesting military strategy, and enough action for any Gears fan to sink their teeth into. It’s an interesting part of the story that has never been covered before, and something you’ll want to read if you’re someone who loves this series and cannot get enough of its lore.
With all that having been said, I must admit that I struggled to get into Gears of War: Bloodlines as much as I did Ascendance. The story found within these many pages is interesting and serves an important purpose, but it’s not as gripping or as riveting as what came before. While Ascendance surprised and thoroughly impressed me, Bloodlines left me feeling a bit 'ho-hum'. That isn’t to say that it’s bad or something that you should avoid, because it’s neither of those things, providing that you’re a fan. It just tends to get repetitive, and doesn’t have enough variety to it to ascend to the levels of its predecessor.
Although I like Kait as a character, she and the Outsiders have never been personal favourites. Her plight was quite interesting in Bloodlines, but here her mission feels a bit forced and uninspired. While I know that the author had to work off of what the game provided, I wish there had been more depth, intrigue and excitement provided. Yes, there are quite a few shootouts and some precarious situations, but they never hooked me like those of the previous book. That said, I did appreciate that the book reintroduced Kait to someone who made an impact on her as a child, as that backstory was pretty interesting.
As for Gabriel Diaz: This was my first experience with the character, because I’ve yet to play Gears Tactics. Honestly speaking, I don’t think that particular style of game is for me, so I’ve held off on buying it. Maybe I’ll give it a shot on GamePass someday, but who knows. I’ve never been a big fan of tactical or strategic games.
The book does a good job of making Gabe feel human, and presents a character who is deep, dynamic and interesting. It’s not often that you encounter a soldier like Lieutenant Corporal Gabe Diaz, and I thought his personality added a lot to the experience of reading this story. I ended up caring about him, and was interested in his plight to save his brother and keep his allies from perishing in battle. Not to mention how much he cared about everyone around him.
Gabe’s story starts off strong, but it becomes a bit muddled and repetitive, and lacks variety. Much of it revolves around the same things: battling, hiding, making up tactics and then acting on them. This became repetitive and a bit dull after a while.
All in all, Gears of War: Bloodlines is a decent but unspectacular novel, which will appeal more to hardcore fans than anyone else. Those with interest will appreciate how it picks up the pieces and explains what happened during the four month break between Acts I and II of Gears 5, and those who've recently played Gears Tactics will also get to know Gabe Diaz a lot better. As a tie-in, Jason M. Hough's newest book does its job well. It just isn't as immersive, riveting or exciting a read as his last one was.
**This review is based on a copy of the book that we were provided with.**
- Paperback: 464 pages
- Publisher: Titan Books (April 21 2020)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 178909478X
- ISBN-13: 978-1789094787
- Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.3 x 20.3 cm
- Shipping Weight: 259 g