*Article contains minor spoilers*
With the war won and the Locust defeated, the conclusion of Gears Of War 3 has Sergeant Marcus Fenix turn to Anya Stroud and ask the question, "What's left, Anya? What do we got left now?". She responds with, "A tomorrow, Marcus. We've finally got a tomorrow". But what exactly does that tomorrow look like? Well, author Michael A. Stackpole (Star Wars, World Of Warcraft) looks to deliver some insight into what that entails in the newest Gears Of War novel, Ephyra Rising.
Ephyra Rising is a satisfying story that does a beautiful job of getting inside the mindset of its two protagonists. It describes the internal struggles they still carry with them and the moral debates on whether their chosen path is right or wrong. Throughout the game series, we never get a detailed look into the mind of Marcus. The war hero goes through trauma after trauma. He decides to keep his emotions bottled up within himself, but here we see a completely different side to him, making the character seem more human. His relationship with Anya is also heavily focused upon in this story, where he is more open with his feelings than in any other novel or game that came before.
Alongside our two protagonists, the novel also delivers some brilliant fan service by including a handful of returning characters from the series. It is revealed that the wise-cracking Damon Baird has established a workshop in a water treatment plant where he is hard at work constructing and building "Dee-Bees" robots that he hopes will help rebuild what was lost. Augustus Cole, also known as the former Thrashball player “The Cole Train,” has returned to his hometown of Hanover to lead his own group of survivors. He is even starting up his own Thrashball league to recruit players from different settlements and broadcast games worldwide. It is worth mentioning that a few surprise characters also appear that I feel will spoil the reading experience if they are revealed now but are a welcome return to the series.
Published on November 16, 2021 by Titan Books, Stackpole attempts to fill in the gaps of what has transpired over the 25 years between Gears 3 and Gears 4. The author succeeds in sticking the landing with ease as he draws the reader in with an in-depth look into a highly requested period of time. Picking up six months after the events of Gears 3, Marcus and Anya are taking on the task of finding their roles in a world that is finally at peace. Marcus is still suffering from PTSD after losing his best friend/squadmate Dominic Santiago. He must also learn to transition out of the military lifestyle he has grown accustomed to for most of his life. Meanwhile, Anya finds herself caught in the middle of a political debate on who should take the lead in rebuilding society in a world that has been torn apart. She discovers that not all candidates share the same vision of peace. Split up into three acts, each chapter alternates between their journeys and perspectives. Although the war humanity has fought for nearly two decades is now over, an unlikely enemy rises and threatens to destroy everything that has been achieved thus far.
The story begins with Marcus and Anya claiming the estate of Anya's deceased family as their new home. They intend to rebuild the damaged building and turn it into a place to live out their "tomorrow." There is even a sweet moment where they speak of starting a family. The idea of fixing something rather than destroying it for once makes Marcus optimistic. He even decides to grow tomatoes from the seeds that Dom gave him. Anya befriends politician Jamila Shin, who asks Anya to help her campaign for the role of First Minister (viewed as a president) so that she can start rebuilding the world one step at a time. Whispers start spreading across the land that there have been sightings of the "thought deceased '' Locust. Marcus sets out on his own mission to hunt down these rumors and finish off any remaining Locust for good. For the good majority of the novel, Anya's story takes place between her home at the Stroud estate and the Ministry of Sanitation while Marcus travels to New and familiar locations such as visiting an old friend at Hanover Stadium and a touching moment in the town of Mercy where he pays his respects to one of his fallen comrades.
This novel may turn off some fans due to the fact that there are not as many action-packed fighting sequences as the games usually provide (aside from the third act of the book); it instead focuses more on lore building and meaningful moments that the game does a good job of setting up to explore. Unfortunately, I was a bit let down that the novel barely touched upon a confrontation that was hinted at in Gears 3 between two characters. However, there's so much space left within the 25-year gap between the end of the Locust war and the rise of the Swarm that I'm confident this will be explored more in any upcoming novels, comics, or games.
Overall, Ephyra Rising provides readers with an interesting look at the early stages of rebuilding a planet ravaged by a lifetime of war. While the lack of constant action may discourage some readers, this Gear-head appreciates the more toned-down and personal approach that helps flesh out the character arcs and lore. I, for one, hope that author Michael A. Stackpole gets the opportunity to return to the series and delve more into this negative space the games left open.
You can pick up Gears Of War: Ephyra Rising today through the Amazon link provided here.
What are you currently reading? Have you read Ephyra Rising yet? Are you new to the series and don't know where to begin? Check out some of the earlier novels in the series written by Karen Traviss.