Review by C.J. Bunce
In Michael A. Stackpole’s first venture into the Gears of War universe, the author puts the franchise’s military sci-fi storytelling into the realm of Aliens, Predator, Starship Troopers, and Edge of Tomorrow. Focused on the same elite military squad of “Gears” as in the video games and previous novels in the series, Gears of War: Ephyra Rising takes a surprising turn into the gritty, real-life aftermath of soldiers returning after the war is over. Focusing on the toll that battling the Locust and Lambent threat has taken on Sgt. Marcus Fenix and Lt. Anya Stroud, Stackpole infuses an adjustment to life narrative that is believable and real, while also creating a love letter to one of the franchise’s most beloved characters.
At times it feels like Gear Dominic “Dom” Santiago may actually still be alive and rise up from behind the next turn. Memories of Marcus’s late friend and comrade become motivation for him to adjust to life as a farmer, as his new wife Anya is tapped to lead post-war city planning efforts for the Sera civilization. Taking place between the games Gears of War 3 and Gears of War 4, those who know the complete story of the couple years in the future will find a bittersweet next phase for the couple.
What is refreshing is that this is not the nonstop, pew-pew first person malay of previous stories, but a grounding of the characters as real people. Stackpole does this with the very Dave Bautista-inspired retired soldier doings of Marcus, similar to the handling of Colonel Butler in Michael Mammay’s Planetside novels.
While Marcus and Anya begin to adjust to assisting to rebuild the local economy step by step, Marcus is tapped to track rumors of Locusts that survived. Are these just the rantings of local nervous folks, or something else? Something worse? The story pulls in franchise familiars Damon Baird and the very brazen, Dwayne Johnson-inspired Augustus Cole. Interesting new characters include Brandon and Dr. Adira Turrall and Karima Razek.
The rebuilding efforts of Anya and her planning colleagues are a bit of a roadmap of life after a holocaust, the kinds of imagery found in prior sci-fi stories like The Postman, Waterworld, and Mad Max, with bits of the fear of Edge of Tomorrow and The Terminator. Ultimately monsters take backseat to the evil of man against man, as Stackpole takes many big political and social issues and reduces them into a tight story.
This one is highly recommended for readers of military science fiction and the Gears of War universe. A surprisingly different but fascinating look at the Gears characters, Gears of War: Ephyra Rising is available now here at Amazon.