First impressions of the Dead Space tie in novel, ‘Martyr’ are favourable. The cover features a kneeling figure covered in the mysterious Dead Space script and a quick flick through random pages reveals the words ‘bloody’, ‘screaming’, ‘gouged’, ‘hallucination’ and ‘corpse’. So far, so good.
Once you get passed the excellent cover art things go rapidly downhill with two stories quickly unfolding. In the first a child dreams of what appears to be a Necromorph and moments later, once he’s woken up, encounters the same beast flapping about on a beach. The second strand features scientists investigating the Chicxulub crater.
As the tale begins there is no mention of the time period or even a planet and as the names sound rather sci-fi – Chicxulub, Chava, Bruja – the story could be set anywhere in the Dead Space universe. In the end I had to Google ‘Chicxulub’ to see if the location was real and it’s on Earth, in Mexico. No space ships, no zero g, just confusing Mexican folklore.
The characters are briefly sketched out but for the most part this can be forgiven as the body count is fairly high. What cannot be forgiven is the terribly clunky dialogue. ‘I’ll find out what’s going on even if it kills me,’ grimaces a character. Twice.
A few pages later three new characters, the local thugs, are introduced and are named Tim, Tom and – wait for it – Terry. At this point I put the book down and let out an exasperated sigh. Tim, Tom and Terry? It felt like I was reading a story written by a twelve year old. ‘People don’t just slit their throats when you’re talking to them,’ declares one character, stating the bleedin’ obvious.
Thankfully the novel improves as legendary Dead Space character Michael Altman is introduced and a mysterious two-pronged artefact is discovered at the bottom on the Chicxulub crater, no prizes for guessing what it is.
A tense submarine dive (a highlight of the novel) generates the creeping horror we’ve come to expect from Dead Space. Voices whisper from the beyond, long deceased relatives reappear and before you can say ’Black Marker’ a character has gone insane, mashed the submarine co-pilot in to a pulp and used his blood to inscribe the inside of the submersible – and himself – with the language of the marker.
The writing continues to vary in quality; Chava is described as ‘barely a teenager’, then, in the very next sentence, wearing shorts ‘barely held together.’ Using the same adverb in two consecutive sentences is something that really should have been picked up by the editor. Two policemen annoy Altman by repeating the others questions, but the author, B.K.Evenson, is seemingly unaware that reading two characters repeating themselves is equally annoying.
The last quarter of the book is more akin to the Dead Space we know and love, packed full of blood thirsty Necromorphs and situations lifted directly from the game. There are many gory deaths as Altman learns more about the marker and the novel has a satisfying conclusion, even though the ending has been constructed to allow a sequel or three.
It seems Evenson is more at home writing the visceral details; a character is visited by a dead friend who tells him he cannot breath and his space suit is running out air. Happy to help the victim he slits his ‘air tube’ so his friend can share his air supply, puzzled by the bright red mist that is appearing before his eyes and the warm liquid that has started to flood down his chest. Moments like these evoke the true horror of the source material, its just shame they are interspersed with dull, workmanlike dialogue.
- In places, atmospheric and disturbing.
- Fills in the back story to the games quite well.
- Cheap, doesn’t require a power supply, excellent for offline Necromoph action.
- In places the writing is below par.
Dead Space: Martyr is the definition of ‘half decent’, moments of horrific brilliance are dulled by incredibly clunky writing. By no means an essential purchase for Dead Space fans but if you have four quid you can’t really go wrong. Just don’t expect spaceships, claustrophobia and Necromorphs on every page.