A Quick Look at the Mass Effect Novels

Mass Effect: Ascension
Relevant to: Mass Effect 2; Mass Effect: Retribution; Mass Effect: Deception; Mass Effect 3
Amazon Average Rating: 4 out of 5
Summary: After Sovereign’s attack on the Citadel and Saren’s defeat (but before Mass Effect 2), Kahlee Sanders has left the Alliance to work at the Grissom Academy, a human facility that teaches the best and brightest students. Sanders works in the Ascension program, which focuses on high-potential human biotics, where she works with the autistic but extremely powerful biotic child Gillian Grayson. Turns out, however, that Cerberus, the rogue pro-human black ops organization, has sleeper agents using the facility to do experiments on the biotics there, specifically Gillian. The girl’s own adopted father is a Cerberus agent, as is a doctor in the program. After Ceberus orders the doctor to inject Gillian with some biotic-enhancing drugs to test their effectiveness, she has a seizure and he’s exposed as a Cerberus agent. Gillian and Hendel, the Ascension project’s security officer, flee the station with Gillian and her father, Grayson, who means to recapture Gillian by leading the party to his partner. Turns out, though, that his partner captures all of them with the intention of selling Gillian and Hendel to the Collectors, a race that will pay a heft bounty for human biotics.

Hendel, Gillian and Sanders escape with the help of a quarian on pilgrimage, who wants to return Sanders to the fleet as part of his pilgrimage thanks to her expertise in AI and the quarians’ hope to retake their homeworld from the Geth. Turns out, the quarians are looking into kicking the Geth off their homeworld of Rannoch and think maybe Reaper Geth control (seen in ME1) might be the key. Sanders knows about that stuff (from Revelation), so they want to talk to her. But Grayson shows up with Cerberus, attacks the quarians (Cerberus previously wanted to screw with the quarians because their Flotilla basically comprises the largest armada in the galaxy), and tries to steal Gillian back. After Gillian hugs him, however, he decides to let her, Sanders and Hendel go and breaks ties with Cerberus. He uses his Cerberus knowledge to buy Sanders’ safety and goes on the run.

Quick Review: Karpyshyn’s second Mass Effect effort is a little better because here he’s running with content that previously hasn’t been seen before. This story bridges a few gaps between Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect 2, but not too many — it still remains its own storyline with little to do with Shepard. However, given a long view of the larger Mass Effect story, this is where Karpyshyn starts to build a lot of the threads that will weave through the games and novels to their eventual conclusion. It also gives him room to breathe in the universe a bit, spending time with the much maligned (and previously unexplored) quarians and to build out Cerberus. A lot of that becomes relevant in Mass Effect 2 and even more in Mass Effect 3; once you’ve seen everything, there’s actually a lot built up in this story that starts to effect the games’ stories. Plus, the sci-fi works a little better in general as Karpyshyn hits a stride.

Our Rating: 4 out of 5

Mass Effect: Retribution
Relevant to: Mass Effect: Ascension; Mass Effect: Deception; Mass Effect 3
Amazon Average Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Summary: Mass Effect 2 has come and gone. Gillian and Hendel are hiding from Cerberus in the quarian Migrant Fleet and Grayson is on the run, working for Aria T’Loak on Omega as a mercenary. He’s less racist against aliens now, even enjoying a relationship with an asari (who is Aria’s daughter), but eventually, a Cerberus assassin named Kai Leng tracks him down and captures him (and also kills Aria’s daughter). Before he’s grabbed, Grayson manages to send a message to Kahlee Sanders at the Ascension Project to warn her — and to transfer a ton of information about Cerberus to her.

The Illusive Man starts doing experiments with Reaper tech captured from the Collectors on Grayson, adding cybernetics to his body and exposing him to indoctrination. Meanwhile, Sanders meets up with David Anderson and passes on the Cerberus information she got from Grayson, and the pair turn to the Turian Hierarchy for help attacking Ceberus. Teams simultaneously attack several bases and operatives, including the facility where the Grayson experiments are taking place. Kai Leng and the Illusive Man escape, as does Grayson, in the chaos. The Illusive Man then tries to get Aria T’Loak on-board with helping to recapture Grayson, which she agrees to, partially because she believes Grayson killed her daughter. Aria’s troops attack the Cerberus station, now controlled by the turians and with Sanders and Anderson on board, and captures both of them. They use Kahlee to try to bait Grayson to come to Omega.

Grayson is basically fully under Reaper control by this point and, sure enough, heads to Omega to get Sanders. There, he’s ambushed by Aria’s troops, who attempt to kill him. With his Reaper powers, Grayson escapes and heads to the Ascension Project, which the Reapers learned about through accessing Grayson’s mind for information about Sanders. After being stopped by Kai Leng on Omega, Anderson, Sanders and Leng leave the station, but Anderson and Sanders manage to get the drop on Leng, knock him out and tie him up as they head to the Grissom Academy. When they arrive, they engage Grayson; Anderson is hurt and Grayson attempts to indoctrinate Sanders. Leng gets off the shuttle and enlists the help of a biotic student, Nick, to help him by lying and claiming kidnappers are on the station. A fight ensues: Nick is shot, Grayson is killed and Leng escapes after being shot in both legs by Anderson.

Quick Review: This is Karpyshyn’s last Mass Effect novel, and while it’s still a strong effort, it doesn’t feel quite as together as Ascension. Still, there’s a lot of action in it, Kai Leng is introduced as an epic bad-ass, and a lot of the information becomes very relevant to what happens in Mass Effect 3. This sets up everything we learn about Cerberus and the Illusive Man in the last game, and the material in this novel and the next one are directly referenced by Mass Effect 3. Retribution‘s events concerning Ceberus are direct antecedents to many things players encounter in the game, so seeing how it all starts is a lot of fun. The novel has a few troubles here and there and isn’t as in-sync with the greater universe as the earlier efforts, but it’s still fun.

Our Rating: 4 out of 5

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