This review of StarCraft II: Heaven’s Devils is of the spoiler-free variety.
What can I say? Sometimes I like to toe the line, and the latest evidence of my conformity has been jumping on the StarCraft II bandwagon. The campaign is great, multiplayer is balanced (thanks to months of beta testing), there’s some great RPG aspects and the story is, well…there is one. Even before diving into Raynor’s latest escapade, I cracked open StarCraft II: Heaven’s Devils to see exactly how he evolved into the leader of a revolution.
The latest StarCraft novel is a prequel to both games, created solely to flesh out the backstory of James Raynor and Tychus Findlay. We’re introduced to a barely-of-age James Raynor working on his father’s farm. He’s quickly recruited thanks to a Goliath and whisked away to boot camp near the front lines. Our first glimpse of Tychus has the bratty marine working on Operation Early Retirement – aka stealing government property and selling it for personal gain. Before the deed is completed he’s pulled into a raid against the Kel-Morians, which has his squad dressing up like their foes and attacking civilians. Tychus objects to the plan and clocks his CO with a haymaker. The justified punch lands him in a work camp and a demotion to Private. By starting the story off so far in the past, William C. Dietz is able to add additional testimony that works towards verifying Raynor’s and Tychus’ close bond. There’s quite a bit more to it than we were previously aware.
Dietz introduces us to other characters as James Raynor progresses through basic training. In short order, he’s pushed onto the field of combat, given a detail and becomes a small-time hero (that’s just while on his way to base). Once there, he hooks up with all the secondary characters – Hank Harnack, Ryk Kydd, Connor Ward, Max Zander and Lisa Cassidy – and put under Tychus’ charge.
Dietz doesn’t ease us into the combat scenarios. This is war, spikes and rockets do not wait for typical novel pacing. The skirmishes are unpredictable, fast, furious; they’re full of action, gore and strategic decisions. Furthermore, Dietz’s knack for military fiction is well-represented in the StarCraft universe. His descriptions reference familiar structures, units and abilities in order to bring fans closer to the combat. Even more entertaining is the writer’s ability to flesh out even minor aspects of the lore, such as the history of Firebats or Reaper suits. He goes into great detail describing the technology, why a character would use it, and even its advantages. The skill with which Dietz integrates the universe into his story is seamless.
Being a prequel, we basically know what’s going to happen. We know Tychus and Raynor are going to live to fight another day. The hook Dietz crafts to keep us reading is why the pair become rebels. The entire plot revolves around Colonel Vanderspool, an intelligent military leader set on lining his own pockets, much like Tychus. However, Vanderspool has no qualms when dealing with the enemy, even if it means having his own soldiers killed to cover his tracks. The Heaven’s Devils continue to do their duty, despite any reservations they might have. A corrupt military leader isn’t the only device used to instill hatred of the Confederacy and the Old Families, though. That’s just the stick, so what’s the carrot? All of the other subtle, and not-so-subtle, details that cause Raynor to question everything he knows, and everything he’s fighting for.
Dietz spends a large portion of the novel on politics and character development. More than you may expect from a military science-fiction novel. There is plenty of quality action, but it just so happens that what I fondly remember aren’t action sequences at all. It’s the character of Ryk Kydd and a story one Kel-Morian Overseer was writing to his family. A story about a lizard. It has nothing to do with the war, the corruption, or even a member of Heaven’s Devils (at least not directly). Dietz added it in to humanize the enemy, while simultaneously giving us, the reader, pause. It worked.
Plain and simple, I really enjoyed StarCraft II: Heaven’s Devils and recommend it to anyone interested in the universe. Dietz succeeded in creating a novel that doesn’t reek of fan service or a cash-in attmept. It’s the best StarCraft novel I’ve read, containing a story that articulates the motivations of the characters more than any of the games and explains how they got there.