I do not normally read tie-in fiction, with the notable exception of Star Wars, but that’s sort of its own monster. I recognise that there is an enormous amount of talent in the field, and I don’t want to discount that fact, I just tend to prefer when an author constructs their own world. Still, as an active player of Elite:Dangerous I had heard great things about Elite: Reclamation by Drew Wagar, who has written both tie-in fiction, and his own Shadeward Saga, an epic Science Fiction series I intend to read. So I thought I’d pick it up and give it a shot.
For those who’ve never played, or perhaps even heard of Elite:Dangerous, there is surprisingly little information that is needed to jump into this novel. In Elite, humanity inhabits a sizeable bubble of space, but the vast majority of our galaxy is uninhabited, and in fact unexplored. Mankind has divided into factions, of which the two most powerful and cohesive are the Empire and the Federation. Reclamation tells the story of those powers battle over the resource rich Prism system, and particularly how it effects the Loren family, a Noble Imperial House.
Elite:Reclamation tells a vast yet quick paced story full of political intrigue, space battles both small and large, criminal machinations, and surprisingly likeable characters. I went into this novel with tempered expectations, and while this is by no means a “new favourite” of mine, I found myself really enjoying the journey it took me on.
What I Liked
There were several things that impressed me about this novel, and perhaps the first was that the book doesn’t overly rely on readers being familiar with the universe of Elite. While there certainly would have been changes if this story were not a tie-in novel, this story could stand firmly on its own two legs. Elite is such a vast and spread out galaxy that there isn’t really an overarching narrative, but this novel tells an entertaining story that would have been just fine if it had been released without the Elite banner. Wagar gives readers enough information to help them understand the galaxy, particularly politically speaking, but never wastes time doing this. The narrative is given paramount importance.
I also enjoyed the characters more than I was expecting. The story mainly follows Kahina Loren, the daughter of a noble Imperial house, and it would have been very easy to cast her as a defenceless Damsel-in-Distress, particularly given the way the novel begins. Instead she is almost entirely self-sufficient, and she not only has agency in the story, she also asserts he authority over those who just assume she will roll over. Likewise, Hassan and Luko are both clever and unique characters who sit outside some of the standard archetypes. Patron Dalk, who is arguably the second main character in this book, kept me guessing the entire time. I was never sure where his true loyalties lay, until the final pages of the novel, and that resolution felt earned and well executed. (There’s a pun there for anyone who actually reads the book)
Speaking a little further on Kahina, the journey that she takes as a character was incredibly engaging and profound. She begins the novel with one outlook on life and herself, and slowly, often begrudgingly comes to realise who she truly is if you strip away the noble trappings. Luko in particular helps her come to this realisation, and it’s not until the end of the story when readers find out which version of herself she decides to stay true to. For me that was unexpectedly compelling and moving for a novel based on a video game.
The book also captures some cool moments in space battles that were exciting to read and visualise. In fact, all the action in this novel was well written, finding the balance of being descriptive but never becoming plodding.
What I Didn't Like
As much as I enjoyed this novel, there were some issue I had with it. Most notably, the pacing of this book was problematic. I understand that some setup needed to occur before the plot really takes off, but the setup lasts about 1/3 of the novel. The setup is interesting and even has some memorable action scenes in it, but it really felt to me life the story didn’t get to the core of what it was telling until about 1/3 in, when Kahina and Hassan meet up. After that the novel proceeds at a pace that is exciting and at times even borders on too fast paced. Some of the build-up for the final space battle felt a little glossed over, even though the actual finale was stunning and memorable.
Second, while the plot was certainly interesting, in broad strokes it was fairly generic. Kahina’s character arc definitely serves to distract from the fact that the story is familiar, but upon reflecting back on the novel it’s easy to see. That’s not to say it isn’t worth reading, at this point every story has been told dozens of times, but it is a weak-point in the novel.
Lastly, I don’t honestly ever see myself rereading this novel. If I were to it would be almost solely for the arc of Kahina, but the majority of the plot developments and twists were either easy to foresee, or will stick in my memory long enough that a reread would probably feel tedious.
Should I Read it?
If you’re an Elite:Dangerous player this novel is absolutely, unequivocally a must-read. It’s set in a universe you love, and tells a story that is memorable enough, and filled with characters who are interesting. Plus, Wagar is currently working on a second novel Elite:Premonition that will tell the “real” story of the Elite galaxy, covering the over-arching narrative of the game.
If you aren’t an Elite player, I’m going to recommend you give this one a pass. It’s a well written Science Fiction story, and it doesn’t overly rely on the basis of the game, but aside from the characters a lot of the book is generic. Unless you’re crazy like me and read literally dozens of novels a year, there are probably other novels to fill your reading schedule with.
- Plot 70%
- Writing Quality 70%
- Pacing 65%
- Emotional Connection 85%
- Wildcard 75%
- Re-readability 50%
- Overall Rating 69%