It’s no secret that StarCraft is one of my all time favorite game franchises out there. I’ve remarked on the fact often (especially because of my affinity for RTS style games), and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the story set up in the StarCraft II games, despite them bringing some inconsistencies with previous lore.
Timothy Zahn, the author who helped revitalize the Star Wars franchise in the early 90s and established the Expanded Universe as we know it (though now it’s Legends), is one of my favorites. His Star Wars books remain among my favorites, as their smart stories and fast-paced action always make for enjoyable reads. Putting the two of these together is a recipe for awesome, and something I was eager to check out when I got my early copy for review. Thankfully, I wasn’t disappointed.
StarCraft: Evolution is the second novel to come out from Blizzard’s partnership with Del Rey (the first was the incredibly fun Warcraft: Illidan), and picks up the story of StarCraft a few years after the end of Legacy of the Void. The three factions (Terran, Zerg, and Protoss) are still abiding by the uneasy truce they from the end of StarCraft II. That said, however, all three races are suffering from the aftermath of the long war and looking to improve their situations. With Kerrigan (the Queen of Blades) ascended to the Xel’Naga, Zagara has established herself as Over Queen of the Zerg and wants to guide the species to a new cooperative future.
This new direction for the Zerg comes into light when Zagara invites the Terran and Protoss leaders to the new Zerg homeworld. While both are wary, the promise of a new way to rebuild devastated worlds and provide vital resources for refugees is too much to ignore. What follows is a tale of intrigue, scientific discovery, and a battle against desperate odds to discover the truth and prevent another full scale war.
A Concise Story With Big Action
Despite the StarCraft franchise featuring a galaxy spanning story and conflict, Evolution succeeds in telling a “smaller” story. While this may sound like a knock against it, the more focused narrative did more to suck me into the story/characters than all of the previous games that came before it.
The story takes place almost entirely on the new Zerg homeworld, with much of the action placed on a small team of explorers (a motley crew of Terran fighters, a Ghost, and an exiled Protoss) seeking to discover the truth behind the new Zerg “technology”. If you thought the smaller scale of the story meant less action, you’d be wrong. Timothy Zahn has packed in a ridiculous amount of action into the story, evoking the intensity of the battles StarCraft fans have come to know and love.
Much of the story unfolds as a mystery that will leave you guessing the intentions of the players involved up until the final act. Even those characters who you believe to be the “good guys” have motivations you can’t quite put your finger on. The inherent distrust of all things Zerg keeps you wondering from the outset, but as the story continues to play out, it becomes clear that the battle lines aren’t completely clear this time around.
The stakes are high, as the wrong move will lead to another full-scale war, which none of the factions are prepared to handle once again. With the Protoss angry and eager to “pull the trigger,” the tension is unusually high, while the new Terran emperor, Valerian Mengsk, seeks out the truth. It’s a harrowing dynamic that keeps the book moving forward at a breakneck pace that’s nearly impossible to put down.
Seriously, I got a copy of the ARC for StarCraft: Evolution about two months before it’s release and I finished the book within TWO DAYS of getting it. Even with all I had going on, I couldn’t put the book down and found myself coming back to it until I turned the last page. There never felt like a good time to “take a break” from the story and set it aside for later. As soon as I put it down, or ended a chapter, I immediately wanted to pick it back up and see what happened next.
The driving factor of the story is the mystery surrounding what’s ACTUALLY going on with the Zerg. While we, as readers, are privy to more information than the characters in the story (it’s not so much a mystery for us, especially by the final act), what kept me hooked was seeing how everyone involved would react to the mystery unfolding. The tension remained high as I read the characters nearly make fatal mistakes, or jump to (what I knew to be) the wrong conclusions about things, which could then result in dire consequences.
The story itself is largely self-contained, and wraps up the ideas it’s presents in a fairly tidy package. So if you’re worried about too many loose ends from being the start of a longer series, you can rest easier. That doesn’t mean certain things aren’t left open for a sequel (and I sincerely hope we get one), but it manages to work as a great standalone story.
Timothy Zahn’s refined writing style keeps the story moving forward with engaging characters and sprawling battles. Fans of his previous Star Wars books know how adept the author is at crafting stunning action sequences and he doesn’t skimp out in StarCraft: Evolution. The action places readers in the heart of these battles, offering up a perspective gamers haven’t had with the series before. This unique perspective serves to bring the stakes to a new level and give a sense of scale beyond what the story has set up. Despite the story being more focused, the consequences are far-reaching, giving each action piece a sense of urgency and desperation.
Beyond the story and action scenes, one of the best aspects from StarCraft: Evolution are the primary characters we follow along the way. While there are a host of characters we encounter and see their perspective on (including the Emperor and leader of the Protoss), the book really puts it’s focus on a smaller team tasked with researching the Zerg terraforming technology, and seeing if they’re on the level or not. Much of the story is played out through their perspective, as the five of them roam the Zerg homeworld alone without hope of backup.
As the group of researchers find themselves hopelessly outnumbered and at the heart of the mystery, they become the only ones who could prevent a potential war. Each of them bring their own skills to the table, as well as a good helping of personality. Despite being on the same “team,” none of them really seem to know how to work together. The war has made them loners in their own way and struggling to find new purpose these “peaceful” times.
As such, the book shows them not only struggling to survive the situation they’ve found themselves in, but coming to terms with their place in the new galaxy and how to cope with one another. This offers up a plentiful amount of character moments within the book, endearing you to eclectic mix of personalities. This character hook keeps you glued to the story, and their plight keeps the tension up to yet another level. Basically, from all aspects (story, action, characters), StarCraft: Evolution manages to keep the tension high, luring you in to the point where you cannot set the book down.