Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Dishonored: The Corroded Man review

    I'm rather wary of video game fiction as a general rule. Not because I don't want to give it a try but because so much of it is a shameless cash-in. There's exceptions, mind you, but they tend to be diamonds in the rough. Nevertheless, I wanted to give this work a try and see if it was better than the forgettable Wyrmwood Deceit comic book. I'm a huge Dishonored fan so I was hoping Adam Christopher would do a great job. Did he? Well, he did an entertaining job, which was better than I expected. It's not going to convince anyone video game adaptation work is a new medium but it's still a pretty decent adventure novel even without the tie-in elements.

    The premise of the book is Zhukov, a prisoner from the Russian-esque Tyvia, escapes from a frozen prison with the aid of his newly-acquired supernatural powers. Wanting nothing more than revenge against the people who unjustly imprisoned him, he sets out to Dunwall in order to acquire the means of doing so. Meanwhile, a year before the events of Dishonored 2, Empress Emily Kaldwin is enjoying her newfound freedom gained by studying as a assassin under her father, Corvo Attano. Emily chances on Zhukov's newly-acquired minions in a revived Whalers assassins guild while they're robbing graves, putting her on a collision course with the organization.

    I really liked the novel for giving me what I wanted from Dishonored 2, which was Corvo and Emily working together on a case. Seeing the two play off one another is quite entertaining and Adam Christopher captures an easy going relationship which is quite heartwarming. Corvo Attano wants to protect his daughter from all the evils of the world and has become a very competent spymaster as a result. However, he also is too protective and has indulged his daughter too much as she's become focused more on adventure than ruling her country.

    Zhukov is a great character and represents a nice alternative to the somewhat whitewashed Corvo and Princess Emily. He's definitely a "High Chaos" run of the standard Dishonored protagonist and not without his own understandable grievances as well as discernible code of honor. Much of the book is about finding out what he's got planned and how it all fits together with the setting's mythology. Despite looking like a combination of Hush and Freddy Krueger, he's a character you can believe people will follow.

    The supporting cast is also quite good with Gaylia as a former member of the Whalers assassins guild and the introduction of Empress Emily's lover Wyman, who is kept gender neutral for reasons which I think were well-intentioned but limit Wyman's development. I even liked the inclusion of Esme Boyle, minor character from the original Dishonored game who has gone on to be a high society matriarch.

    If I have any complaints about the plot, it's that the book is a little too morally straight-laced. Dishonored was a game where the "good" play through had you send two men to be worked to death in a mine, a woman kidnapped to be given to her stalker, and another branded as a heretic in a society which ostracizes said beings. I would have preferred a little more darkness from our heroes but this is a complaint which extends to Dishonored 2 and might not have been the author's choice.

    The writer also feels the need to make things feel a little more 'gamey' than they necessarily should. Much is made of Princess Emily sneaking around and basically playing out levels as if she were a video game character. I would have preferred a greater focus on the emotions of the characters and their sense of danger. I also felt a number of interesting characters were unceremoniously killed off when their stories had been laid out for something more. Some readers will dislike this sort of writing style but I was okay with it. I will forgive a lot for a chance to get back to Dunwall and visit with old friends.

    The Corroded Man is full of action, adventure, and quite a bit of character development for the series' protagonists. I recommend fans of the series pick it up and even those who aren't familiar with the games will probably enjoy it as a fun steampunk fantasy adventure. I hope future books will recapture the original game's darkness, though.


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