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Mass Effect Novels #3

Mass Effect: Retribution

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Humanity has reached the stars, joining the vast galactic community of alien species. But beyond the fringes of explored space lurk the Reapers, a race of sentient starships bent on “harvesting” the galaxy’s organic species for their own dark purpose.

The Illusive Man, leader of the pro-human black ops group Cerberus, is one of the few who know the truth about the Reapers. To ensure humanity’s survival, he launches a desperate plan to uncover the enemy’s strengths—and weaknesses—by studying someone implanted with modified Reaper technology. He knows the perfect subject for his horrific experiments: former Cerberus operative Paul Grayson, who wrested his daughter from the cabal’s control with the help of Ascension project director Kahlee Sanders.

But when Kahlee learns that Grayson is missing, she turns to the only person she can trust: Alliance war hero Captain David Anderson. Together they set out to find the secret Cerberus facility where Grayson is being held. But they aren’t the only ones after him. And time is running out.

As the experiments continue, the sinister Reaper technology twists Grayson’s mind. The insidious whispers grow ever stronger in his head, threatening to take over his very identity and unleash the Reapers on an unsuspecting galaxy.
This novel is based on a Mature-rated video game.

From the Paperback edition.

356 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published July 27, 2010

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About the author

Drew Karpyshyn

50 books1,772 followers
Drew Karpyshyn is a Canadian author and game designer. After working at a credit union for some time, he eventually became a game developer. He joined BioWare towards the end of the Baldur's Gate series, and wrote the tie-in novel for Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal. He stayed with BioWare, where he worked on Neverwinter Nights, and became the Senior Writer on the critically acclaimed Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.

This Star Wars connection gave him the opportunity to write Darth Bane: Path of Destruction, his first hardcover. Karpyshyn still works for BioWare where he is the lead writer for the Mass Effect series.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 216 reviews
Profile Image for Sesana.
5,332 reviews343 followers
March 6, 2012
Timeline note: Retribution is set almost immediately after the main storyline of ME2 concludes, but before The Arrival DLC. Which, I suppose, makes it canonical that The Arrival is post-game, even if you can play it through in the middle of the storyline. But it always worked better, from a story perspective, as a post-game adventure than a mid-game one.

Retribution has a strong hook: The Illusive Man has infected Grayson with Reaper nanotech as revenge for the events of Ascension, the prior book. This is the most in-depth look at Reaper indoctrination we've gotten to this point. The concept of knowing that you're losing control of your mind and your body and are unable to stop or even slow the process is pure nightmare fuel. There have been glimpses of what this looks like in practice, but always from an outsider's perspective.

Here's the problem. While Karpyshyn is a great hand at setting a scene, and he can create really memorable characters, he's not the best guy in the world for dialog and emotions. This is simply not as skin-crawlingly creepy as it should be, and as it would be with a writer who was better able to describe emotions, and details in general.

That didn't stop me from enjoying the book, by any means. It's still Mass Effect, the plot itself was still enough to keep me interested, and Karpyshyn is still a decent writer. It just could have been so much better by somebody else.
32 reviews
March 30, 2011
Well, purely in the comparative context of the Mass Effect novels, Retribution is all right and actually noticeably better written than Revelation. (I haven't read Ascension yet.) That honestly isn't saying much, though.

If you're a fan of the Mass Effect game series as I am, it may be worth a read-through as a companion to the game. As a novel, though, I can't really say much in praise of Retribution, I'm afraid. Many of the same problems plague Retribution as did Revelation. The dialogue is natural enough, but the rest of the book reads like a dry summary of what the novel really should have been. For example, on page 51:

"'Target has left the club alone,' he whispered, knowing the receivers worn by the rest of his team would automatically amplify his words so they could be heard clearly. 'The plan is go.'"

Would it not be generally assumed that the team could hear him, unless readers are shown otherwise? Why describe to the reader in such detail everyday technology that we are already familiar with and would expect to function? This is what I'm talking about. It's a whole book full of the obvious being tediously and unnecessarily spelled out, while very predictable characters play out their various cardboard roles, and events are described too many times from multiple perspectives that really don't add all that much to each other. I wish I could trade in all that extraneous text for some meaty descriptions of the environment or more lifelike characters with actual personalities. Sigh.

That being said, if you're a Mass Effect junkie and prepared for the above, you'll probably be all right. I'm just still hanging on to my wishful thinking for good franchised literature.
June 4, 2021
Mass Effect: Retribution was well-written, plotted, and paced, but suffered from side-quest-itis pretty badly. The problem with writing tie-in novels for an RPG in which your choices affect the game's outcome is that it's almost impossible to write a canon novel with the characters that we love without delegitimising some players' choices.

Retribution suffers from trying to tell a story that has already been tackled in part with other characters in the games. Most of the novel's events are mentioned in-game, and I didn't feel that the book itself did enough to flesh out those snippets of info in any truly meaningful way. It felt like a checklist of events and character cameos rather than a novel that could stand on its own.

Again, if you're a Mass Effect fan, Retribution does its job by adding flavour to the in-game universe. But it's not a great novel in its own right.
Profile Image for Nelson.
367 reviews17 followers
March 16, 2022
Another improvement on the previous book. This had a lot of interesting POVs you never get in the games, including the Illusive Man and the Reapers. Just a great Mass Effect tie-in that also reads well independently from the games. That said, not exactly something I'd recommend to read without playing the games.

Score for ME fans: 4*
Score for non-fans: 3*
Profile Image for Luke.
672 reviews25 followers
August 17, 2018
Humanity has reached the stars, joining the vast galactic community of alien species. But beyond the fringes of explored space lurk the Reapers, a race of sentient starships bent on “harvesting” the galaxy’s organic species for their own dark purpose.

The Illusive Man, leader of the pro-human black ops group Cerberus, is one of the few who know the truth about the Reapers. To ensure humanity’s survival, he launches a desperate plan to uncover the enemy’s strengths—and weaknesses—by studying someone implanted with modified Reaper technology. He knows the perfect subject for his horrific experiments: former Cerberus operative Paul Grayson

This has to be the best novel out of the other 2 books in the series the others where equally amazing but this is where the story gets to the neaty gritty of the mass effect lore. The reapers are coming and only Cerberus is doing anything about it so to get a upperhand they install our anti hero paul grayson with reaper tech to see the affects. And to me that was the most interesting because throughout the games you have met people who have been indoctrinated or had reaper tech in them and the games just say his evil kill him which you don't disagree with because its the reapers. BUT! In this book it's more than that you finally get to find out what these people go through not having control over there body there throughts even speech it's all taken away and for the charecter it's like being locked in the trunk of the car with someone else at the wheel. All that to me was just fascinating and makes me feel bad now i think of it of all those people i killed now knowing they didn't want to they where forced makes me wish the games explored this more but never the less still a great game.

Also in this book you get to meet Kai Laing the best assassin that Cerberus has and killer of my best drell friend thane which im still sad about but hay he still got his ass handed to him by a dying man so not so bad. I went off there into the games im sorry I'll try and keep it to the book sooo as well as meeting kai lang the book also meet kahlee sanders and anderson again which is always a welcome edition. But this book also sets the seeds for the reaper invasion as to no spoil anything but they use grayson as a data uplink which should be enough for fans to understand 😅 so you get everything into this book i already know the next out come because i played the games first but i think if you read these while playing the games you might be a little more surprised than i was but either way like i said about the other books you don't need to have played the games to enjoy this book it works perfectly on it's own as a sci-fi trilogy high reccomed as always.

5/5 stars

100/100 Ginger points
Profile Image for Eric Allen.
Author 3 books738 followers
June 2, 2021
Welp, the events in this book are referenced in Mass Effect 3 in two off-hand comments, so it has slightly more justification for existing than the second book had. Anderson is back, thank god. the second book REALLY felt his lack hard.



It's still not a story that needed to be told. It's boring, and kind of pointless. I didn't need a whole book to know that Anderson shot Kai Leng in both of his legs. Anderson told me that he did in the game. And that was all I needed. I didn't need a whole book to tell me that Cerberus experimented on Grayson while trying to find a way to control the Reapers. The game tells me in a vid recording in the Cerberus base. This book just doesn't really exist for any real reason except to cash in on the Mass Effect Franchise.

So, this trilogy of books is not great. The first one was probably the best, but none of them are very good. Spend your time replaying the games instead. You'll enjoy it a hell of a lot more. I can definitely recommend the Legendary Edition remaster that just came out. The trilogy looks amazing in 4k, and it comes with all of the DLC included.
Profile Image for Christopher.
50 reviews2 followers
December 19, 2011
Surprisingly, this one had the barest glimpse of potential at being an interesting story. Squandered, but there was the gem of an idea here. However, the writing was awful. Once more, nearly every line of dialog is accompanied by a phrase telling us the internal mental state of the character in question. And the paragraphs of prose in between dialog blocks are merely transcriptions of what the characters are thinking, what their base motivations are, punctuated by clumsily written actions.

Show, don't tell.

It is better than the previous two, although the bar has been set so low that isn't difficult to accomplish.
Profile Image for Steve Holm.
37 reviews2 followers
May 23, 2023
Mass Effect is one of my favorite game series of all time. This book and the two previous ones, all written by Bioware Lead Writer Drew Karpyshyn, did a really great job at adding to an already great universe. Karpyshyn’s writing style makes for an easy and fast-paced read, with memorable characters, both book original and beloved from the game series.

While this last book was not quite as good as the two previous, it was still enjoyable and they all have really added something to my current replayings of the games. If you are a fan of the games and have not yet read these tie-in-books, I recommend doing so if you plan on doing a replay any time soon. If you haven't played any of the games, is it worth it for you? Hard for me to tell, but the first book was written and released before the first game even came out, so if Mass Effect does interest you, the first book should give you a hint if it is for you.

I’ve heard that the books written by Karpyshyn are the only ones worth reading, and looking at some ratings of the others, I doubt I will try them out. So this marks the end of my ME book journey for now, and I am very happy I decided to check them out. Now to finish my replay of Mass Effect 3.
Profile Image for Brendan.
1,197 reviews54 followers
June 6, 2018
Granted I'm a little bias when it comes to Mass Effect so my review is more fan reactive. This book carries on from Ascension and the Illusive Man has a lot of wheels in motion. The book is something for the fans and it delivers on this front, Karpyshyn has a lot of the early novelist errors but this book starts with a lot of action and barely lets go. The Reapers are true unknown antagonists here and Cerebus are out to save mankind in their usual extreme methods. If you have played game 3, you'll understand where this book is heading. This has a lot of name dropping moments, think a Marvel universe. Characters from the games drop in and out while establishing further backstory into the Mass Effect lore. The book does lack that final polish but it is fun and delivers everything a fan could want. If you're book 3 and know nothing of the series, stay well clear to avoid pointless reviews.
Profile Image for wishforagiraffe.
222 reviews49 followers
July 14, 2021
Finally someone actually mentions Shepard! This one was particularly chilling, but still fast paced.
Profile Image for Marie Flanigan.
Author 6 books43 followers
April 16, 2017
I really enjoyed Drew Karpyshyn's Mass Effect series of books that tied into the games. This third book in the series wraps things up and leads into Mass Effect 2. This gives readers more information on The Illusive Man and how Cerberus works. It also provides more information on Kahlee Sanders
and David Anderson and there is even a brief mention of Shepherd. All good stuff for Mass Effect fans. Now that Andromeda is out, it was kind of nice to listen to some of the old school Mass Effect stuff. I highly recommend both the games and the books. Although the fourth book is not written by Karpyshyn, so I don't know about that. People don't seem to like it as much as the three he wrote.
Profile Image for Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali.
Author 17 books108 followers
March 2, 2013
The lie ran so deep that even those who’d helped bury the truth had convinced themselves the Reapers were nothing but a myth. They continued on with their mundane existence, too weak and too stupid to acknowledge the horrific destiny awaiting them. But the Illusive Man had devoted his life to facing unpleasant truths. - Drew Karpyshyn, Mass Effect Retribution

Mass Effect Retribution picks up two or so years after the end of Ascension. Grayson, a former Cerberus operative, is living incognito on Omega. In Ascension he was a drug addicted father of an autistic biotic girl. Against the wishes of Cerberus, Grayson removes his daughter from the experimental clutches of the Illusive Man and sends her to live unmolested among the quarians, untouchable amidst their enormous flotilla. The Illusive Man wants him, but not dead.
Grayson is now a trusted foot soldier of Aria and he has kicked the red dust habit. He keeps in tenuous touch with Kahlee Sanders who still lives and works at Grissom Academy in an effort to ensure her safety per a deal he made with the Illusive Man that she would not be harmed.
But the Illusive Man is not to be thwarted and he learns of Grayson's whereabouts. The Illusive Man sends Kai Leng to obtain Grayson.
If you're familiar with the ME games then you already know who Kai Leng is, a former Alliance officer hyped up on Reaper tech who acts as the Illusive Man's top assassin. He's ruthless, patient, and utterly deadly. Kai Leng is also mentioned by Anderson in ME3 wherein he mentions not being one of Kai Leng's favorite people because he once shot out both of his legs. You get to see how that happens in Retribution. For those of you who know the beloved Captain Anderson, he can be just a ruthless as Kai Leng and we get to see him here in rare form.
Retribution is the saddest of the books thus far. Grayson, poor man, can never catch a break. His life is a long series of bad choices and worse outcomes and what eventually happens to him, thanks to the Illusive Man, is probably worse than death. What happens to him also screams "borg" to me. Borg as in Star Trek.
Like the others, this book is fast paced and well written with a crisp concise story line that does not wander away from the original ME story but runs parallel to it. There is no pretended happy ending here though, so as much as one might root for Grayson to finally have some peace in his life, you won't be satisfied.
Kahlee Sanders isn't as annoying in this book as she was in Ascension. In fact, she's quite a trooper, even if a little soft around the middle. Anderson, who we know is a bit of a badass, but only from rumors and attitude, shows us exactly why he can be counted among the Shepards in the ME universe. He isn't just the deep voiced on point soldier with a commanding attitude. He's a calculating and dangerous opponent even without Reaper cybernetic implants, a bad attitude, or indoctrination.
As for the last book in the ME novel series, Deception, I'm unsure if I will read it. I understand that it was authored by someone other than Drew Karpyshyn and reviews are somewhat lackluster. We shall see.
Profile Image for Chris The Lizard from Planet X.
358 reviews7 followers
May 19, 2021
Mass Effect: Retribution by Drew Karpyshyn is a video game tie-in novel based on BioWare’s sci-fi RPG Mass Effect Franchise. Wrapping up his Mass Effect trilogy, Drew Karpyshyn delivers an emotional, action packed ending in Retribution. Ex-Cerberus agent Paul Grayson is laying low on the lawless world of Omega. Working odd jobs for the Pirate Queen Aria, he’s managed to stay clean and in control. But the past is about to catch up with him. The Illusive Man has a long memory, and no one ever gets away in the end.

For fans of the franchise, there’s some cool stuff in this novel, though it doesn’t tie-in too much to Mass Effect 3. Through the story, the characters spend most of their time on Omega, the Citadel and a few space stations. Aria and her organization get some attention, as do the turians. However the stars of this book are Cerberus. This all plays well into the theme of the third game as we see Cerberus continuing to play a major role and playing around with the integration of Reaper technology.

One of the key characters in the story is the Illusive Man. The story begins and ends with him. In the middle, we see his struggle to gain the upper hand against the Reaper threat, his struggle for survival, and his desperate moves to do whatever it takes to protect humanity. While he is not as empathetic a character as he was in the last novel, he’s not quite as far gone as he is during the events of the final game. Thus this story helps bridge the gap of his progression from misguided patriarch to delusional psychopath. Along the way, we also get to see the Illusive Man’s trusted assassin Kai Leng as he gets some page time in his hunt for Grayson.

Tying into the previous books, Retribution forms a nice trilogy with the key characters. Grayson is back in this one and takes center stage. Along for the ride are Kahlee Sanders and David Anderson. The trio wind up in some serious messes as they deal with Cerberus and the Reapers. Retribution is set 20 years after the first book, Revelation, and 3 years after the second book, Ascension. I’m not exactly sure when the book takes place in relation to the events in Mass Effect 3, however, it would have to be during the 6 month in-universe gap between Mass Effect 2 and 3.

The story itself takes some interesting twists and turns. There’s an early climax in the book that would have been a great ending for the series, yet it is only the opening act for the story. Afterwards, it’s a mad dash as Cerberus tries to regain control and the opposing forces retaliate. Grayson’s struggle for survival is no easy matter, and becomes a brutal character journey. Yet the story manages to stay upbeat overall, even with the relentless surprises it throws at the readers.

Overall, it’s sad knowing there are no more Karpyshyn Mass Effect novels to dive into after this one, but it was definitely a fun trip. I highly recommend them to Mass Effect fans as they’re some great books that add a lot to the universe. For wrapping up Grayson’s story arc, diving deeper into the Illusive Man, and spinning together a dramatic story.
Profile Image for Ben Brown.
421 reviews134 followers
October 13, 2022
The third and final book in Drew Karpyshyn's original “Mass Effect Novel” trilogy, “Mass Effect: Retribution” represents a shining example of just how satisfying it can feel when a skilled storyteller is allowed free reign to take specific elements of a well-recognized universe, then weave them together into a narrative that is actively driven by creative propulsion, rather than studio-mandated necessity. As a singular story, “Retribution” is consistently effective and engaging; as the culmination of a three-book-long saga, it’s nothing short of exhilarating.

It’ll be interesting to see what the franchise looks and feels like – both in novel and game form – once Mr. Karpyshyn (who more or less acted as the series’ chief storyteller through “Mass Effect 2”) departs…but it’s hard to imagine it ever quite achieving the same degree of storytelling finesse as demonstrated here (although you never know - with a universe this rich with storytelling potential, perhaps a changing of the guard will result in even more interesting stories).

Regardless of what does or doesn't happen from this point on, it still merits saying: bravo, Mr. Karpyshyn. You killed it.
Profile Image for Colin Flanigan.
61 reviews2 followers
April 18, 2017
Always liked this author. The Mass Effect universe makes for great video games and fiction!
Profile Image for fibu.
14 reviews
May 10, 2021
"Shock and horror," the elcor responded, his monotone words explicitly stating the emotional state completely absent from his appearance and demeanor. "Violence is not the answer."

Kai Leng shook his head. "There wasn't time. It was kill him or save you. I chose you."
The Illusive Man almost replied, "You made the wrong choice."
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Merelish.
16 reviews
July 4, 2022
Look, I'm a simple woman, if I can read about Aria T'loak, I'm happy.
Profile Image for sarkasmuz.
24 reviews
April 15, 2023
It was okay, I liked Grayson. But it was also really, really boring at some point and I had to push through. I am glad I finished all three books now and can read other things...
Profile Image for Iset.
665 reviews491 followers
January 8, 2017

Having read all three Mass Effect novels written by Drew Karpyshyn, I have to say they are very much three of a kind. Same style of writing, same ideas about the plot in all three. Each book seeks to flesh out the Mass Effect universe without directly touching on the main plot of the games. This is really a double edged sword. On the one hand, getting too deeply into the main plot wouldn’t make fans happy as there is such a variety of paths and choices to take the player character that inevitably such a story would earn the ire of the majority of fans. On the other hand, that means we’re left with a rather tangential story – one that isn’t nearly as meaty or fascinating as the main Mass Effect plot we know and love, but slides in at ‘vaguely interesting’. To be fair to Karpyshyn, since he’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t, I feel he can’t be blamed for the novels being less gripping in comparison to the Mass Effect games.

Lacking that gripping main plot is rather detrimental to these novels, but that point aside there’s a mix of good and bad points about them. For me, the next biggest bad point after the tangential plot is the writing – the style of it, the language used and so on. It’s competent, which is a good thing, but that’s all it is. When I look for five star quality writing, I expect writing to have a bit more flair and creativity to it, a bit more expressiveness and imagination. The writing here is merely functional. This is why I didn’t post any quote updates as I read through the book; there were no lines that made me stop and think “wow, I love the way the author has put that, I just have to share this”. So that would be my biggest criticism outside of the tangential nature of the story. Those two fairly substantial points against the novels, they do have good points in their favour. The writing is competent, meaning it’s never clunky or awkward, and the storytelling is neatly tied up in a way that makes sense and doesn’t suffer from any plotholes. The pacing in particular is pitched perfectly – these books are very easy to read and devour in a mere few hours, and it’s an enjoyable ride to do so. I would recommend them as fun, easy reads for anyone who’s curious about learning a little bit more of the in game universe; just be aware they’re not as substantial and compelling as the actual games themselves.

7 out of 10
Profile Image for Nikolai.
48 reviews4 followers
April 23, 2015
Nothing about this book I didn't like. Karpyshyn is one of my favourite writers for Bioware, and I was sorely sad to see him leave the team, and this was definitely my favourite book of his.

Many people forget that the galaxy had more than what Commander Shepard was dealing with, and that important events that shaped the plot for Mass Effect 3 conspired without the intervention of everyone's favourite human Spectre/N7 Commander/neighbourhood playboy/girl.

As much as I loved Revelation and Ascension, this one is my favourite, as I have always had a soft spot for Bioware's villains, and this book showed a great deal of insight into the best antagonist/unintentional villain in the series- the Illusive Man, his organisation, and his right hand operative that the fandom loves to hate, Kai Leng.

For those who haven't read the novels, it's easy to wonder "Where did TIM get the idea to implant his troops with Reaper technology? Where the heck did Leng come from, and why is he suddenly everything I want to destroy?" but reading this novel, it shows where the ideas began, just how Leng fits into the picture, and gives even more insight on the Grissom Academy and its biotic students, not to mention background on Aria, Anderson and Kahlee that is not in the game- even in the codex.

As per Karpyshyn's usual, the pacing was excellent, the characterisations were phenomenal- if anyone could make you respect someone like Kai Leng (or at least see and respect their redeeming qualities), it's Drew-the interactions and thought processes between the characters were compelling, and the plot itself was straight forward, but with subtle twists and surprises that pleased but didn't overwhelm. All in all, it's something I think every Mass Effect fan should read.
24 reviews2 followers
May 1, 2014
The illusive man knows about the reapers and their attack. He wants to find their weaknesses for when they attack. He sends his agent Kai Leng to go get his former Cerberus employee. That way Grayson can be studied, when the illusive man puts implants in him. Kahlee finds out that Grayson is missing and asks Anderson to help find out what happened to him.

Kahlee Sanders is a lead scientist of humanity. Anderson is one of the top military soldiers for humanity. The Council is made up of three species that govern the world and their actions. The illusive man is the leader of a pro-human black ops group called Cerberus. Grayson is Gillian’s father.

One of the many settings takes place in the Grimson Academy. That's where they help kids with their biotic powers. Another takes place at the Citadel and that's where all the species meet with really important information of what's going on. Another takes place on Omega which is a crime world with no police. One takes place at a Cerberus research lab and that's where their doing experiments on Grayson. This takes place in the year 2150.

I think ages 16-32 should read this book. Both genders should read the book. It’s a very good book that I really enjoyed reading and I don’t like reading books. It was a very interesting. This book was filled with adventure and action. Best book/series that I have ever read!
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Peter.
72 reviews2 followers
February 23, 2011
This is the third novel in the series, and it once again goes in a slightly different narrative direction. The focus seems to be more on action than the previous two novels, and it achieves an exciting pace while also giving readers further insights into the Mass Effect universe.

Kahlee Sanders and Paul Grayson are at the heart of the story, and even David Anderson is back in the thick of things this time. The plot picks up a couple of years after the end of the second novel, and pivots around Cerberus' relationship with Paul. The Illusive Man conducts some gruesome experiments in the name of learning more about the Reapers, but everything gets out of hand.

Another aspect of this novel which differentiates it from its predecessors is that it feels like it is much more closely involved with the games' plot. This makes it particularly engaging as we gradually approach the release of the third game.

As always, this book will likely only appeal to fans of the Mass Effect universe. The writing seems to have improved somewhat, and it is again a well told story which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Profile Image for Mogsy.
2,071 reviews2,633 followers
September 13, 2015
The third book in the Mass Effect series, and the first time I actually felt a twinge of disappointment. I felt the story was sloppier than the others, filled with plot points that jarred me out of my reading, distracting me from really getting into the book. It almost felt like the author was rushed.

Also for the first time, I started to get very irritated with Kahlee Sanders. Characters in the book even made it a point to remind her she's not the best judge of character, but seriously, how many more times must she fall for traps and enemy ploys?

I also didn't really buy her "relationship" with Paul Grayson (warning: spoilers for Mass Effect: Ascension); like, come on, they were practically enemies in the last book, up until the very, very end when Grayson finally has a change of heart and sees the error of his ways. Even then Kahlee was bringing him in as a prisoner when he zapped her unconscious with a stun gun to escape. But now they're all buddy buddy with a "special" relationship?
Profile Image for Lukas Lovas.
1,244 reviews61 followers
June 10, 2015
Another book in the series, that makes Mass Effect universe more real in my mind. Not a great book, but a good book none the less. It's hard to write in a universe, where all the main events have already happened and you are left on the fringes of the story, trying to make it interesting. So...all things considered, not bad at all :)

Profile Image for Ľuboš Barskto.
72 reviews5 followers
April 6, 2019
Karpyshyn sa kazdou knihou lepsi. Konecne sme sa dockali trochu komplexnejsieho pribehu, aj ked postavy boli trochu ploche. Najzaujimavejsi bol z mojho pohladu The Illusive Man, ktory ukazal vela roznych emocii a charakterovych vlastnosti, ktore som podla mojich skusenosti s nim z hry Mass Effect 2 u neho necakal.
Profile Image for Behnam Riahi.
58 reviews2 followers
January 3, 2015
The following review has been copied from http://behnamriahi.tumblr.com

Mass Effect: Retribution, written by Drew Karpyshyn and published by Del Rey Press, is a third-person, science-fiction novel set in the Mass Effect universe, told primarily from the points-of-view of Paul Grayson and Kahlee Sanders. With great technological advancements, humanity has set foot into space and made many new allies by joining a council of other races. They commune primarily at the Citadel, a space station of epic proportions that was thought to have been built by an extinct race of generous forerunners, the protheans. However, while these ancient aliens existed, they did not build the Citadel. In fact, like all the races that came before the protheans, they were swallowed up by those that did build the Citadel: the reapers. Now, the reapers are returning to annihilate humanity and the council races. One secret, pro-human organization is bent on stopping them though—Cerberus. Known as an anti-alien, secret militia, they’ve acquired reaper technology and need a human to implant it into in order to learn to exploit reaper weaknesses. Paul Grayson, who formally betrayed them when they threatened his daughter, is kidnapped by Cerberus again for that very purpose. The only one who can save him is his old friend, Kahlee Sanders. Only, Kahlee may be too late to stop Cerberus, and Cerberus may be too late to stop the reapers.

If you caught my reviews on the other two Mass Effect books that came before Retribution, Revelation and Ascension, then you’ve already got a pretty firm grasp on what Mass Effect is. If you didn’t, then just know that it’s a popular video game trilogy set in terrestrial space. Simple enough? But really, Mass Effect is anything if not complex. Each game illustrates theoretical physics and hypothetical technological advancements, builds legends on galactic secrets and universal destiny, and requires several hours of exploration through uninhabited worlds and abandoned colonies. It even has a relationship dynamic built into the engine to develop characters based on your affections for them. It’s no surprise that I platinumed all three games—it’s basically the closest most nerds (like me) will ever be to getting laid (but not really). And it’s for that reason that my kin and I bonded over this title. Tommy, my older brother, pushed me into the Mass Effect series during one brief visit to see my family last year. He did everything but buy me the damn game, encouraging me to invest at least sixty hours with it because it was one of the most powerful, immersive fictions he ever experienced. And Tommy’s experienced a lot—he introduced me to Star Wars, Dungeons & Dragons, and Firefly. I introduced him to Cowboy Bebop, The Elder Scrolls, and Settlers of Catan. Basically, our nerdiness is what makes us good brothers—and it can be pretty hard for me to compete with our youngest brother, who was Tommy’s best man at his wedding (I totally missed it) and who spent years building and transforming pen-and-paper role-playing-game campaigns for their mutual friends. But in more recent years, Tommy and I found one specific idea in common: fighting the reapers to protect the Citadel in Mass Effect. Thomas Shepard and Behn Shepard never fought side-by-side—in fact, they looked and acted very differently throughout the game. But they fought the same fight to the very end. They made deep, thoughtful choices independent of each other to save the universe in tandem. It’s no surprise that Tommy bought the entire Mass Effect book series for me. I think he owes me that much for getting me glued into a new adventure.

(See the family resemblance? Yeah, me neither.)

Retribution does a great job of taking us back through many of our old favorite characters from the Mass Effect books, including Grayson, Sanders, and Anderson. For Mass Effect fans, it really gets behind the scenes on Mass Effect as a series, opening the closed-doors that we were so desperate to peek through. The additional depth given to these characters, molded by the decisions they’re forced to make when confronted with another galaxy-saving operation, makes this book fun for anyone already in the Mass Effect fan club. It even illustrates the backgrounds of the natural satellite, Omega, and the school for psychics, Grissom Academy, while expanding organizations like Cerberus and other Terminus System gangs with more minutiae than made available in the games themselves. In Mass Effect 2, I spent a lot of time fighting numerous gangs and blindly barreling through the streets of Omega, working on hints from Cerberus given by emissaries of the Illusive Man. So when I played Mass Effect 3, I didn’t understand how all of the gangs from Omega could be united under one leader for a single cause. Neither was it clear why Cerberus was drawn to Grissom Academy in Mass Effect 3, until now. Though we met the Illusive Man in previous Mass Effect books and games, Retribution also introduces one new character who becomes an important figure in the series: Kai Leng, a stealthy ninja with a penchant for killing. Imagine Raiden from Metal Gear Solid, but somehow more Asian. Through this introduction, Karpyshyn delivers additional character growth prior to his role in Mass Effect 3, since it almost seemed like he sprung out of nowhere without taking this book into context. However, like Ascension, if you’re not already in on the secret of why Mass Effect is amazing, you’ll be extraordinarily disappointed. This book offers, quite literally, nothing to a newcomer—not even an engaging enough science fiction story outside of the context of what Mass Effect already is. It’s about as much fun as picking up a player’s guide for the Mass Effect games without owning the game, looking at pictures and reading strategies that have no value for someone who’s unfamiliar with whatever action happens in the Mass Effect setting. If you’re generally looking for a good book and you’re not familiar with Mass Effect, this is not the novel for you. Hell, it may not be the novel for you if you’re already familiar with Mass Effect—but we’ll get into more of that later.

Like Kai Leng and the Illusive Man, Mass Effect is nothing short of great, intriguing characters. I had a thing for Miranda, Tommy liked Jack better. There’s too many characters to choose from in each game to simply pick a favorite (though some have pushed me to try). But like our favorite romantic interests from Mass Effect 2, Tommy and I haven’t always seen eye-to-eye. When I was a kid, Tommy was like any big brother—kind of a bully, kind of only saw me as a burden, kind of uninterested in playing the role of big brother. He didn’t like the games I played back then (primarily, Street Fighter and Sonic the Hedgehog), nor did he invite me to listen to his music (primarily, Guns’n’Roses and Black Sabbath). He was pretty strict about my younger brother and I staying out of his room and out of his business, probably because he hid a porn magazine or two in whatever crevices he knew Mom wouldn’t check. On a side note: I’ve never owned a porn magazine. Age gap or something, right? I probably would have tried to as a six-year-old though. Either way, Tom, as he preferred to be known as back then, may have been a lousy big brother, but he was a great son and got along really well with my father. Technically, my dad wasn’t Tom’s dad—Dad essentially adopted Tom after marrying my mom. But those two were as thick as thieves. As I became a pre-teen, I was jealous of the relationship Tom had with Dad—they drank together, they got high together, they even traveled together. That last one being the reason why Tom was the last person in our family to see Dad alive, after Tom returned home early from their trip to Turkey and Dad didn’t come home at all. It’s a hard thing losing your dad as a kid, but Tom was the primary reason I learned how to stop crying. He sat with me one night, after a couple of weeks of nonstop tears, and he and I just talked like adults about who Dad was, memories we had of him, whether or not he was or would be proud of us. It was the first time in my life that I felt like my older brother and I ever had a serious conversation. It was also the first time in my life that I felt like I wasn’t just a kid anymore.

(Kai Leng. He’d be pretty cool if he wasn’t such a pain in the ass.)

Some people grow up in some ways, but stay young in other ways. Tommy and I still nerd out about all kinds of shit, including the Mass Effect games. Mass Effect, as a series of novels however, did not mature. Unlike Tom’s name transition to Tommy, Karpyshyn doesn’t purposefully use different names for his characters—rather, he barely even knows the names of his characters. I don’t know if the turian diplomat is Oriana or Orinia, because he uses both multiple times in reference to the same character. I do, however, know that Kai Leng is not supposed to be Kail Leng. It’s these discrepancies that immediately took me out of the book, prompting me to flip pages back to make sure I had the original names right. It’s not just bad editing—it���s bad writing, because you can see how little attention was given to this book. When the characters don’t mean enough for their author to iron down their names, the story loses traction because the author loses any credibility and authority. As if confusing the spelling of the same name wasn’t bad enough, we also get to see many examples of name confusion. “Grayson responded by dropping into a crouch, spinning around, and charging the krogan, doubled-over so low he almost seemed to be crawling on all fours. It happened in the blink of an eye; Orgun was moving so fast he seemed to be nothing but a blur.” Orgun? But he isn’t moving at all, though Grayson is. Failure to address the right character on the page is the outcome of a failure to actualize those characters in the mind, and if the audience can’t actualize it, who’s to say that the author did? Also, don’t even get me started on the writing itself. Karpyshyn, like most authors writing action thrillers, depends on his cliches as much as any other layman asshole. Just refer to the above quote: “It happened in the blink of an eye.” “Nothing but a blur.” Come on, man—you’re writing for a living. At least try to be creative with it.

It was years before I took writing seriously too, but I dabbled with it a lot in high school. I didn’t think there was any money to be made from it (is there?) and I didn’t think it could be a serious career path, but I liked to write. It felt right to write. Tom wasn’t big on it though—he often criticized me for spending too much time at the computer. Though my friends came over to watch movies or play video games, Tom insisted that we go out and party, like he did when he was our age. In spite the buds of a mutual respect between us, he treated me like a child after Mom left. He made empty promises to take me places or do things with me, only to doze off and forget he ever agreed to anything to begin with. He monopolized the den with extended sittings watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Babylon 5, so I didn’t get much TV in my life either. My life became the computer—not just for writing either, but for socializing, meeting people, exploring new ideas. That’s where I met my first girlfriend, and Tom didn’t keep that a secret from Mom on one of her surprise visits either. She threatened to take my computer away—a threat that involved taking me from some of my friends, the girl I was learning to love, and the comfort of infinite information at my fingertips as a result. Worst of all, she threatened to handicap the story-telling that I only just started growing into. That’s when I realized that I wasn’t like anyone in my family—and it took me a long time before I forgave Tom for his betrayal of my trust. I guess it was no surprise that, upon graduating, they all left the suburban embrace of Aurora, Illinois for a town so small that it barely registered on a map, while I headed up to Chicago to explore its limitless mysteries. My departure from my family didn’t matter much to me though—it’s not like I was a kid anymore.

(The Illusive Man, played by Martin Sheen, or the Smoking Man from The X-Files. Same asshole, really.)

Unlike Chicago, Mass Effect's mysteries are barely worth looking into after reading this novel. In the first Mass Effect game, we’re exposed to Cerberus for the first time—and they’re pretty goddamn mysterious. They perform secret experiments on people, they have ties with the government but remain independent, and they don’t give a shit who suffers as a result of their actions. In Mass Effect 2, we actually get to meet some of their members—but their mystery doesn’t fade, it only grows. Little is given to the audience through the game to explain what Cerberus really is or how they operate, though clues are placed here and there that made the game’s exploration more than just fun—it felt imperative to uncover that mystery. And though we know even less about the reapers, we’re given new clues about them to as we come to an understanding about the way the universe works. Karpyshyn, however, has no love of mystery. Cerberus is boiled down to a series of archetypal characters, army jocks with back stories that feel like quick explanations for why they’re military-capable, while he works through their individual, one-track thought processes. None of this story should have been told from Kai Leng’s or the Illusive Man’s point-of-view, but much of it is. Suddenly, the Illusive Man doesn’t seem so goddamn illusive anymore—he seems like a regular shmuck, bent on control and revenge, without any of the dark, racist connotations that come with an idea like Cerberus. Though we never learn his name, his past is broken down to a few pages of inconsequential military history, prompted by him gearing up to fight for his life against a fairly mundane enemy. Yeah, he really seems like a badass now. And Kai Leng is even worse—though his personality in the game is that of a somber zealot, he’s boiled down to your basic action hero, complete with snappy, villainous one-liners like, “Finish them!” Gee whiz. Though in overwhelming situations, Kai Leng seems clever in Karpyshyn’s writing, it’s only because the other characters don’t appear very bright—and his one merit-worthy quality is that he can take insurmountable amounts of pain without making a fuss about it, though he still acts paranoid that the Illusive Man will kill him if he fails. Anything we might have felt for him prior to the final action scenes is made null when he has a sigh of relief after the Illusive Man pats him on the back for a job well done. And if Cerberus turning into a comedy of dunces isn’t bad enough, the reapers become almost apologetic. This force of nature, out to destroy reality as we all know it, sets out to explain to Kahlee why they need to destroy humanity, as if wanting her approval. You could almost justify their longing for acceptance as Grayson beating the reapers back, but what’s the point? Are they supposed to be that weak? And just like that, all the mystery of Mass Effect is pasteurized and served in a heaping pile of who-gives-a-shit. Well, the games were still pretty good at least.

Tom and I didn’t exactly start adulthood off on the right foot, but we found our way. It happened surprisingly quickly—I came down for a visit and Tom was talking about getting married. Seemed surreal, but I didn’t get much into it. I just wanted to chill and hang out. As the drinks flowed, Tom challenged me to a game of chess. Not exactly a fun drinking game, but I never say no to a challenge. Only Tom isn’t as good at chess as I am—not anymore, at least. I beat him in fewer than five moves, and just like that, Tom became Tommy. We were equals. The dynamic of our relationship became a mutual respect from that point forward, growing and evolving into a friendship. It wasn’t as though we were the same though either—we still had separate experiences that made each of our perspectives unique, but now those perspectives were evenly matched. So whenever I discover something nerdy or interesting, Tommy inevitably hears about it. And likewise too—after all, that’s how I grew to love Mass Effect. For his birthday, I even bought him a set of personalized, Mass Effect dog tags, reading Thomas Shepard; Earth-born; paragon. I’m not going to recommend the Mass Effect novels to him, but maybe we’ll get the chance to explore the next adventure in the Mass Effect game series together again, or some other interactive, immersive fiction experience. I’m already on the edge of my seat.

(If you like’em, check out Fanflail at Etsy.)

As far as Retribution goes, it’s a direct insult to the fans of the series. How can anyone possibly take a book seriously when the author doesn’t know the names of his own characters? Or worse yet, when he debunks the fun that the story’s franchise was built on? What this book really is, is Karpyshyn desperately trying to bend the Mass Effect franchise to his own will, before it was taken out of his hands completely. Better luck next time, man.
Profile Image for Diana.
439 reviews20 followers
December 14, 2017
tl;dr: I am a hardcore ME fangirl, and this is a great little puzzle piece in the canon, if imperfect

I'm a dedicated Mass Effect fan. I threw the Big Fit after #3 (goddammit Bioware, the end), I own not one but two N7 jackets (one's a trackie, shut up); my reusable Starbucks cup has "Shepard" sharpied on it and it never ceases to amuse me. I'm part of the fandom (if you are too, message me because I've got some good shit bookmarked). I own an omniblade (got in on sale though; DO NOT pay full price, it's literally just plastic). The lock screen on my phone is not my children, but femShep Alliance recruitment poster. You get the idea.

THUS, I had avoided the Mass Effect novels for the same reason that I avoid the Dragon Age novels. I don't want Bioware's canon to fuck with my ME experience. Shepard is not a dude, period. But here I was driving to LA for school in need of both haste and something to pop on my phone, and there was Retribution, so I took a chance.

WHEREFORE, I actually enjoyed the story. Shepard is referred to, but not in the book firsthand at all, and never did Karpyshyn use gender identifiers (omg, thank you dude; it's such a small thing, but it was perfect). The book is more a side story about The Illusive Man's (TIM) first fumbling attempts to understand Reaper tech, and his machinations that lead to general chaos and misery. We get a lot of Anderson, Kahlee Sanders, Kai Leng (who, pre-upgrades, was apparently already a badass), and Aria, omg. Have I mentioned how much I fucking love Aria T'Loak? Because yes please.

The narrator made a decent impression of Anderson and TIM's accents, but his female voices are like breathy cartoon-Shakespeareans, so that's distracting, especially since Karpyshyn did a great job of writing Kahlee and Aria. Also, the games would have us pronounce "Kahlee" as "Kayley" and this book would tell me it's "Kali". All I could see was Anderson as a thuggee chanting to Kahlee-Ma. This is clearly a problem I wouldn't have had if I'd read it. :) moving on.

TIM's motivations are clear and horrifying in that we can see clearly the slippery slope down which he's heading, adding a satisfying layer for those of use that have played the games and know what happens next. It's like one long nooooooooo TIM whyyyyy. Frustrating yet necessary, it's a great little puzzle piece in the canon.

I do however take issue with several things:

1) holy shit the exposition. I understand that the novels have to be written under no assumption that your reader knows all the backstory. But dear sweet baby Keelah, wtf. Every. Single. Nuance. is literally laid out in a tell, tell and keep telling format. Sanders and TIM spend long minutes thinking out expository information. Anderson and TIM tell people things for a good long while. argh. I wanted this story, but maybe it would have made a better graphic novel or DLC.

2) The women are all infinitely fuckable. They're written capably and not helplessly; they have agency and are clever and brave, but every last one of them is inescapably examined sexually, their body and appearance described as a product of how hot they are, in depth. Every Asari FFS. I can't even. Listen, no one cares that you'd do Sanders even though she's in her forties (GASP), Karpyshyn. No one.

3) Sanders is understandably on edge while she's waiting for a thing to go down, so she takes herself down to the gym and, I'm paraphrasing, but I did rewind to make sure I'd heard it properly, does hard cardio for three HOURS, only then beginning to feel a little twinge in her bad knee, so she scales it back, but since that doesn't help her brain, she turns the treadmill up and does another half hour of hard cardio. To be clear, world-class marathoners run 26 miles in 2.25ish hours, and sometimes their muscles literally give up and they fall over, lose control of their bowels, etc. Sanders is not an augmented human, soooo. I mean, I guess?

4) Finally, the Aria storyline Also, I turned into Sam Jackson about 3/4ths of the way through and was like, "SAY PIRATE QUEEN AGAIN, MOTHERFUCKER."

At any rate. I'm glad for it, and I may read (or listen to) another, but the execution left some to be desired.
Profile Image for Hali.
102 reviews13 followers
May 26, 2021
"As he sipped his drink and smoked his cigarette, the Illusive Man's gaze shifted from the glowing blue star to the cold black curtain behind it. One thought kept running through his head, over and over.
The Reapers are out there somewhere. And they're coming."

Of all three Mass Effect novels Drew Karpyshyn has written, Retribution may just be my favorite. It beautifully ties up and closes the door on the threads of the other two books in the series, while leaving the window for the games cracked alluringly open. A perfect blend of the two mediums if I've ever seen one.

Anderson and Kahlee reunite and start to grow on whatever had started between them but ultimately had to be ignored for duty in the first book. It's organic and well-paced, doesn't eclipse any of the other much more pressing matters, and leaves you wondering how they end up apart but still interested in the games later on. (Deception may answer some of that question but it's infamously horrible and written by an outsider to the franchise and I won't recognize it while levying praise.)

The inside look at indoctrination and the sad end of Paul Grayson's story is hard to read, but fascinating and compelling. If you don't read the books, he's just a name dropped once or twice in some audio logs in-game, a junkie of little to no import. And if you do read the books, he's a fully realized person who overcame addiction and became better than his past, and who suffers horrendously. Most importantly, you actually care.
Karpyshyn walks a razor's edge extremely gracefully in making you care about Grayson's perspective, even as you know he's already lost and you're just waiting to see how he inevitably ends, as the Reapers slowly invade him and slowly twist his perspective chapters around their point of view.

Most impressively, this novel made me actually feel a modicum of respect for Kai Leng. He's impressive and smart and driven and genuinely threatening in this book. An assassin through and through who has earned the reputation he later has in the games. Dare I say it's much more elegantly displayed here on the page than it is in the game, even.
I hated him in the game, because I could see the writers clearly pulling the strings behind him, needing him to achieve certain victories without bothering to make me believe he was capable of them. I hated him in this book, (and not even all that much) because he was genuinely able to thwart those he went up against. Because he was genuinely loyal to his very flawed cause and had the skills to be loyal to it in a way that made him formidable to our protagonists.

This novel does everything I believe a video game novel should. It fleshes out characters and lore, it gives you a better understanding of how certain events fall into place within the logic of the background of the game, and it does so without fighting the story as told in-game.
This trilogy has been a complimentary bit of writing all the way through, and I enjoy the games more for its mere existence.
Profile Image for Jessica.
514 reviews8 followers
April 2, 2020
The Mass Effect books have always been the kind where I don't think you'll really enjoy them at all if you're not already familiar with the video game series. As someone who's a big fan of Mass Effect and have played all the games, I've always enjoyed them even if they're not the best books out there. That being said, Retribution became my least favorite of the bunch almost immediately.

The plotline to Retribution isn't bad. In fact, it's pretty interesting though, once more, something that's more understandable if you've played the games. The problem is how the story is being presented to you. Besides the kind of clinical way its written (done in such a way it makes Cerberus and the Reapers seem boring when they're anything but), I feel like some of the decisions regarding points of view don't help the narrative.

First off, we get a lot of Paul Grayson, a character exclusive to the books (though his fate is mentioned in a later game). The problem is, Grayson is boring as all hell. The second is the choice to use the Illusive Man as a point of view. Part of what makes him such a great character in the games is the mystery and mystic surrounding who he is and why he's doing what he does. The latter is pretty much stripped away in this book by placing you in his head, effectively making him a far less effective character.

Kahlee's alright though she makes a few dumb decisions in this book. There wasn't enough Anderson. And, somehow, Kai Leng, one of the biggest dipshits in Mass Effect, manages to have my favorite POV. I don't know how that happened.

This book also has a problem that the previous two books didn't have where it was to follow the mythos set by the previous book while trying to conform to the multiple choice nature of the books without making any of Shepard's possible choices "canon". It does this pretty awkwardly, to be honest, which is a shame since I've seen it done well in the book series for Mass Effect's medieval fantasy sister series, Dragon Age.

Retribution was kind of an ehh way to finish off this series. And I am saying this is ending the series because I'm not touching Mass Effect: Deception with a ten foot pole since whoever wrote it couldn't even be bothered to read the Mass Effect wiki. There's an entire google doc that makes a list over all the errors and it's an embarrassing doozy.
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