Review: Mass Effect: Andromeda: Annihilation

If there’s one question Andromeda left me wanting an answer for, it was the fate of the Quarian Ark. Oh, there are many more unanswered questions from the last Mass Effect game, but none of the others have such an immediacy. Questions about the Kett, Jaardan, and Benefactor can wait for the sequels — and yes, for all the doom-saying around Bioware in general and Mass Effect in particular these days, I do expect Andromeda sequels, though perhaps not for a while.

Cover art for Mass Effect: Andromeda: Annihilation by Catherynne M. ValenteThankfully, that burning question has at last been answered. In the new novel Annihilation, author Catherynne M. Valente uncovers the true fate of the Keelah Si’yah.

I will say off the bat: This is a delightful book. Initiation was fun, but not really essential reading, even for hardcore fans. Annihilation, on the other hand, is something I’ll recommend to any fan of any of the Mass Effect games. Not only because it answers a crucial mystery from Andromeda, but just because it’s so good.

In the truest Bioware tradition, the best feature of Annihilation is its characters. The Keelah Si’yah carries not just Quarians, but members of many other less influential Milky Way races, allowing for a cast as diverse and colourful as any of the Mass Effect games. Particularly memorable are the acerbic Volus fashion designer Irit Non, lovesick Quarian outcast Senna’Nir, and the Elcor wannabe thespian known as Yorrick.

What really surprised me is how funny Annihilation is. I was expecting a very dark, unhappy book, and in some ways it is, but the characters are such oddballs and the writing has such a wry, quirky style that I found myself laughing out loud on almost every other page.

Not to say that it can’t be serious when it needs to be. Actually I found the mystery of why so many things are going wrong aboard the Ark quite effective. The ultimate reveal is not at all what I was expecting, though it makes perfect sense in retrospect — everything a good mystery’s conclusion should be. It’s also far more interesting — at least in my opinion — than any of the popular fan theories for what wrong aboard the Keelah Si’yah.

It is not entirely perfect, of course. I really only have one complaint, but it does cut down on the enjoyment of the book a fair bit: It’s much too short, and much too rushed. These characters could have carried a book twice this long. They could have carried a trilogy, or a quartet. I wanted to spend more time with them. I wanted to see their relationships continue to grow and evolve.

Annihilation is like a delicious, inventive meal, but the portions are all too small, and it leaves you hungry for more.

Overall rating: 8.1/10

Review: Mass Effect: Andromeda: Initiation

Dem colons doe.

While I’ve been a long-time fan of Warcraft and StarCraft’s tie-in fiction, I’ve rarely paid much attention to tie-in books for other franchises. However, I remain heartbroken over the lack of DLC for 2017’s best video game, Mass Effect: Andromeda, so I decided to give its related literature a shot.

Cover art for the Mass Effect: Andromeda novel InitiationThe first Andromeda book, Nexus Uprising, is all about, well, the Nexus uprising, which was by far and away the least compelling part of Andromeda, so I gave that a pass, but the next one, Initiation, seemed a good pick: The story of how Cora joined the Initiative.

It’s not what I expected, but I don’t regret the purchase.

I was hoping for something meditative and character-driven. What I got was more like a buddy cop movie starring Cora and SAM as they investigate the theft of some of SAM’s source code.

It’s a book with some rough edges. The prose is a little dodgy in spots — exclamation points outside of dialogue are a serious pet peeve of mine — and the pacing and overall structure of the story are a bit whacky. It’s definitely shorter than I’d like, and feels a bit rushed.

But it’s fun. It’s fast-paced, there are some memorable action sequences, and while this isn’t a very character-driven book, what character moments there are are well done. SAM, Cora, and Alec all feel like the same characters they were in the game, and their speech patterns are captured well.

Initiation does help to make Cora’s rabid Asari fangirlism seem a little more sane. It’s a less case of her being that obsessed and more just that’s the culture she’s spent much of her recent life immersed in.

If you’re looking for some nostalgia, there are also more than a few nods to the original trilogy, including an appearance by a familiar face… though not necessarily a face you would have wanted to see again.

Don’t expect any big reveals, but there are also some tantalizing hints about the origins of the Andromeda Initiative… and the ulterior motives behind it.

So, yeah, it’s an enjoyable book. I’ve read some tie-in novels that were genuinely amazing and powerful pieces of literature, and this isn’t one of them, but I’ve also read tie-in books that were just shameless cash grabs with nothing interesting to offer, and Initiation definitely isn’t one of those, either.

It’s not DLC, but it’s better than nothing.

Overall rating: 7.2/10