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Deus Ex Universe #1

Deus Ex: Icarus Effect

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In the near future, with physical augmentation gaining ground and nano-cybernetics only years away, the dawn of limitless human evolution is just beyond the horizon, and a secret corporate cabal of ruthless men intends to make sure that humankind stays under its control. But two people on opposite sides of the world are starting to ask questions that could get them killed.

Secret Service agent Anna Kelso has been suspended for investigating the shooting that claimed her partner’s life. Anna suspects that the head of a bio-augmentation firm was the real target, and against orders she’s turned up a few leads concerning a covert paramilitary force and a cadre of underground hackers. But the cover-up runs deep, and now there’s a target on her back. Meanwhile, Ben Saxon, former SAS officer turned mercenary, joins a shadowy special ops outfit. They say they’re a force for good, but Saxon quickly learns that the truth is not so clear-cut. So begins a dangerous quest to uncover a deadly secret that will take him from Moscow to London, D.C. to Geneva, and to the dark truth—if he lives that long.

The year is 2027; in a world consumed by chaos and conspiracy, two people are set on a collision course with the most powerful and dangerous organization in history—and the fate of humanity hangs in the balance.

352 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2011

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About the author

James Swallow

228 books899 followers
James Swallow is a New York Times, Sunday Times and Amazon #1 bestselling author and scriptwriter, a BAFTA nominee, a former journalist and the award-winning writer of over sixty books, along with scripts for video games, comics, radio and television.

AIRSIDE, his new stand-alone thriller, is out now from Welbeck; OUTLAW, the 6th Marc Dane novel, is published by Bonnier, and the 4th book in the series - SHADOW - is available in the USA from Forge.

His writing includes the Marc Dane action thrillers, the Sundowners steampunk Westerns and fiction from the worlds of Star Trek, Marvel, Tom Clancy, Warhammer 40000, Doctor Who, 24, Deus Ex, Stargate, 2000AD and many more.

For information on new releases & more, sign up to the Readers’ Club here: www.bit.ly/JamesSwallow

Visit James's website at http://www.jswallow.com/ for more, including ROUGH AIR, a free eBook novella in the Marc Dane series.

You can also follow James on Twitter at @jmswallow, Mastodon Social at @jmswallow@mstdn.social and jmswallow.tumblr.com at Tumblr.

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5 stars
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495 (34%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 102 reviews
Profile Image for Efka.
446 reviews250 followers
May 22, 2015
If you had your hand on Deus Ex games, reading this book is almost mandatory. It's not because this book is great, no. This book is a wasted potential, actually. Nevertheless, it sheds some light on Deus Ex world, explains some plot holes in Deus Ex:Human Revolution and sets a tone for the original Deus Ex.

Why it is a wasted potential? Well, for starters, it's the characters. Saxon and Kelso, the protagonists, aren't badly written or unbelievable, just.. they're bleak. It's a short and fast paced covet-ops book with some sci-fi elements, not a huge world-building novel, so it might not come as a surprise, but James Swallow still managed to handle Namir, Mr.Chief Villain, quite good (yeah, we know he's just a tool, The Illuminati are the real villains, new world order, blah blah blah, but still Namir was the main antagonist here). Yelena's been done well, too, but that's a small achievement, considering she is sociopathic, psychotic murderer who doesn't speak - that type of characters usually only have to, well, kill everyone without speaking to be considered written good. So, duh, it's quite baffling that the author was able to create baddies well, but fail to do likewise with his goodies.

The second shortcoming is the one I disliked even more - every action, every setting, every person feels plain normal and casual. It's a Deus Ex world, for god's sake!! A world of ultimate technological advancement, a cyberpunk fairytale. And besides a constant mentioning of "augmented arm" or optical augmentations, which somehow felt like having no pros compared to original "meat parts", the book felt like a usual spec-ops action story - More like Rambo than Adam Jensen. WTF?! Should I show, how this world looks like?! It's like this, it's like fucking THIS, not some green berets Gung-ho flick of '90ies, god damn it!

It's not a bad book, and if you are a fan, you should read it - probably you'll even like it. But those three stars I'm handing out, well.. I don't say they aren't deserved. But at least one of them is simply because I'm very fond of the game.
Profile Image for Jason.
200 reviews14 followers
June 4, 2012
I was a big fan of the original Deus Ex video game, but never got into the sequel and hardly paid attention to the prequel released by Square Enix in 2011. I eventually picked it up on a sale on Steam, and discovered a game that was well made, visually appealing, and a lot of fun. The Mass Effect novels have made me a believer in some video game novelizations, and I decided to give “Deus Ex: Icarus Effect” a chance (partially because I was hungry for more cyberpunk after reading William Gibson’s “Neuromancer” a while back...)

OVERALL RATING: 3.2 out of 5
The Deus Ex series of video games are exciting near-future and cyberpunk adventures in a world of grand conspiracies and interesting characters, and this book doesn’t disappoint. I don’t think it is vital for players of the games, but it ties into both the original and the prequel, providing additional material for both while not requiring gameplay to follow what’s going on. Ben Saxon is a great story hero (reminded me of Bart Coleman from Orson Scott Card’s 2006 novel “Empire”; they are both human men with real flaws, but are also aware of their status as “Rambo”-type characters from training and experience).

In the end, I thought this book was a bit underwhelming though. The hard, gritty edge of the latest game (Human Revolution) doesn’t feel as pronounced, the conspiracy at the heart of things is barely touched upon (many of the more sinister aspects of the story, including the Hyron Project, Bob Page’s ambitions, and the expanded role of mech-augmented people are mentioned in passing or not present at all), and, last but not least, the character of Anna Kelso really bugged me.

I will make one recommendation: begin reading the book before you play Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Read up to the point when Jaron Namir, Yelena Fedorova, and Lawrence Barrett launch their attack on Sarif Industries in Detroit, then begin playing the game. Play through opening scenes, and up until Adam Jensen (the game protagonist) returns to work after his medical leave, and then pick up the book and finish it. I thought that was the best way of bringing the two worlds together and letting them weave a single, concise story for readers and gamers.

CHARACTERS: 3 out of 5
I enjoyed the characters in this book, and it helps that the author (who was involved in the video game) was able to see many of the principal characters as moving, speaking personalities on the computer screen.

Ben Saxon, a soldier-of-fortune who finds himself working for the wrong team, is an interesting character who I imagined (personally) portrayed by Jason Statham. I later learned that the author had Gerard Butler in mind for him.

Anna Kelso was annoying for me though. She is single-minded to the point of insanity in her quest to avenge a friend (who was not a lover), and she stops paying attention to her surroundings (like alarms going off) when a new revelation in her “quest” is made. I would not have been sorry if her character was cut out altogether. She is not my idea of a “strong female character”.

I was particularly pleased with the appearance of Gunther Hermann, a major character from the original Deus Ex game. The book sheds some light on his younger days, before he became a “mech” (had most of his body parts replaced with cybernetic prosthesis). I particularly liked the nods to his established character, including “dead eyes” even before they are augmented, large stature, cold personality, and preference for orange soda.

PACE: 4 out of 5
Except for some brief passages, most of this story moves fast. My only real complaint is that I wasn’t always certain how much time was passing from one chapter to next.

STORY: 3 out of 5
The best way to break this story down is to say that it is about two people who set out for revenge, realize they’re up against something much bigger than themselves, and eventually give up without ever really accomplishing their goals.

I’m actually not trying to bash it; the story is generally tight, well-written, and interesting. However, it also serves mostly just to help flesh out the video game world; there is even brief mention of the game’s protagonist, Adam Jensen.

There’s a great conspiracy here, but it isn’t explored enough. Most of this story lies in the characters (particularly Ben Saxon and Jaron Namir, in my opinion), some fun action scenes, and the “sunnier than average” cyberpunk setting (this novel definitely feels lighter and less gritty than the game though).

DIALOGUE: 3 out of 5
The dialogue in this story is difficult to rate. I don’t think there is anything spectacular here, but the speaking parts are easy to understand even while fairly complicated topics are being discussed, and most characters express their emotional states through their dialogue quite well.

I think Mr. Swallow is a good writer, but there is nothing special in the execution. This can be a good thing though, since writers who pull lots of fancy tricks frequently distract their readers from the story. Events in this book follow a logical progression, I was never confused about what was going on (except for the passage of time between chapters), and the action is well-written.
Profile Image for C.T. Phipps.
Author 68 books578 followers
January 21, 2017
Deus Ex: The Icarus Effect is a novel set in the Deus Ex setting, roughly six months before the events in Deus Ex: Human Revolution. The novel stars two original characters and expands on several enemies encountered by Adam Jensen in the game.

The books title comes from the in-universe Icarus Effect. It's a fictional sociological theory about humans and animals turning against the truly exceptional. Also called "Tallest Poppy Syndrome" by TV tropes.org and "Crab Bucket" by Terry Pratchett, it's when a bunch of people unsatisfied with their own lives get nasty to the people who succeed. I'm not sure it exists in nature but there's a certain level of truth to it in society.

Truly, I'm not sure the Icarus Effect was the best idea to base a book around in the Deus Ex setting. Given what we later find out about augments, wouldn't a better name be the Perseus Effect? I.e. an augment has the potential to be a great hero because of them but he's likely to end up with hubris as a result?

The stars are Secret Service agent Anna Kelso and Belltower mercenary Ben Saxon. Both are augmented individuals who have exceptional abilities as well as highly important positions in their respective organizations. Both are individuals used to taking orders and being on the side of authority.

Both make a nice contrast to Adam Jenson and JC Denton. Adam Jensen is a corporate mercenary and ex-SWAT team leader betrayed by his superiors. JC Denton, on the other hand, begins the original Deus Ex as a secret agent in the service of UNATACO. Anna Kelso and Ben Saxon, like Jensen and JC Denton, want to be able to trust their superiors and blindly follow orders. That's just not an option in a world run by the Illuminati.

As you may have guessed, I found both protagonists very interesting and was eager to follow their journey through the surreal yet familiar world of Deus Ex 2020. Ben Saxon runs a little on the stereotypical side being a super-soldier with a conscience but I've used that character several times in my own writing so I'd be a hypocrite to begrudge Mister Swallow it. Amusingly, I kept thinking of Mister Saxon from Doctor Who and was tickled by the comparison. Likewise, Anna reminded me of Kate from NCIS.

Also expanded in this book are the Tyrants, the quirky-miniboss squad of mercenaries from Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Mister Swallow really doesn't have much to work with here as their depiction mostly treats them as a bunch of gun-toting psychopaths. This doesn't change in the book, though the character of Namir is expanded to become a truly malevolent evil genius. The kind of banal monster which can believe himself to be a good man while simultaneously murdering thousands of people.

I, likewise, enjoyed the author's handling of Yelena Fedorova. She remains as mysterious as ever but does something so strange it causes you to speculate about her motives. You'll know what scene I mean when it happens. A special guest star shows up towards the middle of the book, one who made me smile every time he opened his mouth. Fans of the original Deus Ex games will love his inclusion.

I was especially pleased by the inclusion of a new faction, Juggernaut, which makes an appearance in the "Missing Link" DLC. Juggernaut a group of anarchist hackers roughly analogous to the Illuminati but exalting everything they hate. I'm a sucker for conspiracy stories and giving the Illuminati an archenemy pleases me to no end. I hope this isn't the last we see of the oddball group of cyberterrorists.

Mister Swallow has an excellent gift for bridging the gap between 2012 and 2020. While Deus Ex's timeline split from our own probably as early as the 1980s, the world is somewhat familiar. It's the kind of place where people suffer Wallstreet anxieties and televangelists form an obnoxious power-bloc in politics. The only major difference is the role of augmentation and, really, I rather like that sort of world-building.

Was the book perfect? No. It has the flaws expected of a side-story which has to dance around the events of the game while simultaneously is unable to effectively resolve the fates of its central villains. After all, the Tyrants have to live until Adam Jensen can face them in-game. Still, I enjoyed the work and recommend it to fans of the Deus Ex franchise. I wouldn't mind seeing the surviving characters again and will be paying attention to Mister Swallow's future writings.

Profile Image for Mells.
44 reviews56 followers
April 26, 2015
Don't you just love reading books based on games and movies? With all the quality characterisation and exciting plotting? But then again, with that fancy new lobotomy augmentation you can purchase for an exorbitant sum of money you can read any book and still be in awe.

So you might as well give this one a go. Or if you've read all the cyberpunk thrillers already and crave new ones. Or, more likely, if you've beaten Deus Ex: Human Revulsion and want more. And here's where this thing cracks.

Because on the one hand, yup, it's a cyberpunk thriller that can very well stand on its own, without any connection to the game it's based on. But if you're not a beautiful weirdo who reads books based on games while ignoring the games themselves, welcome to the book the ending of which you pretty much know already, because it's a prequel party, and you're invited.

But the thing is, it's almost a decent book. Yes, I KNOW, it's a novellization of a computer game, it's your typical thriller, and you probably already know how it ends. I've just said it after all.

And yet... It's divided into neat short chapters, and in every one of them something interesting happens. It has vivid descriptions, its action scenes are juicy, its locations are all over the globe, its conspiracy is wide-reaching and sinister, its heroes... are unsympahizable and boring.

There's a typical simple good soldier guy, and there's a girl that was probably supposed to be a badass detective, except she is kinda dense, she has a drug problem and a temper problem - seriously, the bloody thing flares up more or less in every chapter with her, mainly at people who are honestly trying to help her. And while these people participate in slightly predictably thrillerish, but still exciting events, you, dear reader, are left with nothing but a vague curiousity at why should you care about them at all.

So you don't. The pretty pictures that flash in your head while you read it provide enough distraction, and ohhh, the action is shiny! Until you realize that the action is slouching towards becoming cliched, and all the obligatory things you can think of that should be in such a thriller surface and wave their augmented hands.

On the other hand, at least it enriches the experience from the game, and now I at least understand what the hell was going on in more details. So, read it at your peril, but beware of a sudden but inevitable betrayal. If it's there, it'll surely break your heart.
Profile Image for Tabitha.
93 reviews23 followers
December 4, 2013
I bought this book after playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution and absolutely LOVING it. Near-future sci-fi is a genre I wasn't took familiar with prior to the game and it hooked me in the more I learned about it. As a result I went on a frantic search for anything else in the genre and came across James Swallow's book Deus Ex: Icarus Effect! Admittedly I was hesitant as I'd read tie-in novels before and honestly was rarely pleased with the story. What this book has going for it is the fact the author also worked on the script for the game and so he clearly had a great familiarity with the world and the politics of Deus Ex and an investment in seeing it represented well. You can see this also in the Mass Effect book series, where the author of the first three books was also the writer for the first games, and then they got a new author for the fourth book and it was TERRIBLE. That connection between the game and the book is only a boon apparently!

What was even better about Icarus Effect is that it's a prequel to DE:HR and so it can stand on it's own. Swallow did well in making sure that the world and politics were explained well enough so that anyone unfamiliar with Deus Ex would be able to understand it and anyone who is familiar wouldn't feel like they weren't being lectured. The inclusion of some of the characters from the game was fun but I think having the main characters be new was definitely the best way to go as it adds another pov to the events and feelings in this world.

Now, while I have this book five stars, that doesn't mean it was absolutely perfect. It was perfect for me because it ticked every box I was looking for and having the background knowledge of the Deus Ex games, while not necessary, definitely made the reading of this novel much more enjoyable. The book could only have benefited from extra-length focusing on the characters and who they are and their motivations as when it came to characterization it all felt quite rushed. The action scenes were great, however and it made reading the book feel a bit like a rollercoaster. In the end though, the lack of focus on the characters and too much focus on action gave the feeling of wanting more at the end.

Fans of the game and of the genre are sure to enjoy this novel though :)
Profile Image for Breck.
Author 4 books14 followers
September 13, 2011
Admittedly, video game novelizations are one of my guilty pleasures. While many (if not most) of the ones out there are pretty bad (I read the first page of one the other day that was horrible), over the last few years some of them are surprisingly good. As more money flows into the VG industry, so does the in-game writing (and novelizations) improve. (An recent example was Orson Scott Card being hired to help write dialog and story for a new game called "Firefall.") The author of Deus Ex, James Swallow, was also a writer on the game, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and does an excellent job setting up the world and characters.

The year is 2027 and with rapid advances in technology, humans have begun to "augment" themselves with cybernetic limbs, eyes, brain-chips and a myriad of other enhancements. As humanity heads toward an age of "transhumanism" the divide between "augs" and "naturals" grows. Anti-augs riot in the streets, government threatens to pass limitations to augmentation technology, the wealthy grow more powerful due to their access to improved cybernetics, and corporations who engineer the "augments" wage war over who will rule the market. Deus Ex is also a story of conspiracy, Illuminati, with a cyberpunk air about it -- small players struggling to cut through the layers of secrecy to survive the all-powerful cabal who seek to "guide"/rule the world.

I think the other reason I enjoy this book (and game) are because the subject of transhumanism and it's moral implications have always fascinated me. I wrote a book called "The Ghost Within" a few years ago on a similar theme. The book does have it shortcomings...the Illuminati are a little overused (at least change their name for crying out loud)...but otherwise the main characters were well-developed and the action scenes were expertly written. Swallow obviously has a gift for that. Overall, an enjoyable read and would recommend to anyone who enjoys similar themes and is looking for something fun to read.
Profile Image for Krzysztof.
355 reviews13 followers
October 17, 2012
Meh. Alright, I guess. Adding a few connections to Deus Ex and Deus Ex: Human Revolution doesn't really make much of a difference to the book, since some of them - especially the character of Namir -feel very false when compared to their video game originals. The lead characters are rather unlikeable, especially the female protagonist who seems to not be able to decide on a behavior. She's supposed to be a Special Agent but often lacks any sort of strong character and it seems to me the author wanted to introduce her to have a "sensitive" character... which feels very forced and kind of sexist to boot. The male protagonist isn't all that much better - the fact that he is a completely missed fit for the team he spends the majority of the book with is blatantly obvious from the start, and so his decisions later in the book come as no surprise. Plot wise not all that much of importance actually happens - there's plenty of action, it just doesn't feel like much of it has leverage. Also, the Deus Ex setting - a prime strength of both games - doesn't shine through in this book at all. Placing fan-service here and there doesn't really cut it, when the rich setting of the games feels very bland and uninteresting here.

So, generally speaking, not impressed. It's an ok read, but it just doesn't amount to much in the end.
Profile Image for Sam.
4 reviews
May 6, 2011
I enjoyed it. Well visioned sci fi, conspiracy and action. I guess i would have liked to see more about what life is like for average Joe citizen in this well thought out world but the two main characters are well developed.
I also would have enjoyed it more if the book hadn't followed many dynamics that I'd expect from an average action/ adventure movie.
Wow this sounds bad, but i came away from it having enjoyed it. It's a vision of conspiracy in the possible future. But how many of the books plus sides can be directly attributed to the fact that they've created a compelling world vision for a video game (which I'm looking forward to) and then fluffed out a side story to go along with it. I'll have to wait for the game to find out i guess. Geez I've given a nice compliment sandwich for this book... I liked it.
Profile Image for Emperador Spock.
120 reviews11 followers
February 12, 2013
Being a fan of the Deus Ex video game series, I knew that this book would unlikely to be a complete disappointment. Actually, it has turned to be a neat expansion into the world of these games, uncovering the back stories of many of the familiar characters, in particular those that came from the original Deus Ex: the book successfully bridges the gap between the first and the latest installment in the game series (Human Revolution itself is not as good at it).

The more detailed account of the Tyrants alone makes this book a must for a fan, as these mercenaries and the battles against them are probably the worst thing there is about HR. 'Icarus Effect' redeems this fault to some extent, adding depth to these characters.

Novel's belonging to the Deus Ex world notwithstanding, it is an engaging, fast-paced and entertaining read with lots of aug action.
Profile Image for Nathan.
16 reviews
June 14, 2011
I really wanna give this book 5 stars, but i just can't....2 reasons....

1. the book's ending is a bit abrupt and if you're not planning on playing the upcoming video game on which the book is based, then you're definitely gonna be missing something (fortunately i will be playing the game)

2. it's kind of short. i don't mind the quick, fast paced read, but sometimes i felt like parts coulda been fleshed out better or some backstory explained a bit more.

these issues don't hold back the book much at all in retrospect. it's a fantastic read if you love sci-fi, and the world around the plot is pretty engrossing. the characters are intriguing, and i'm excited to see where the upcoming game takes things. can't wait.
Profile Image for Oganalp Canatan.
Author 3 books11 followers
April 20, 2018
It is a nice addition to the lore, and gives a bit of an insight. You get to learn more about the Tyrants, who were behind the Sarif Industry attacks in Human Revolution. You see the human side in them, only if limited, and you get a glimpse into the build-up of things that happen in HR after the initial Sarif attack.

That said, the book has also missed some serious potential to give a better insight and character building about Namir, Barrett, and Federova. It shows bits and pieces from Namir’s background, but it misses the chance to create a huge background to the boogeymen of Deus Ex 3.

Still, a very fun read. I wanted to give 3.5/5 but the system only allows 3 or 4. So, I gave 4. 3 would be too harsh.
May 25, 2013
This is a truly great book - but only for a series fan. Of course, you have to be a series fan to read a prequel's prequel.

It's full of cyberpunk and conspiracies. There're more nods to Deus Ex 1 game in this than in the Deus Ex Human Revolution. The russian translation is... mediocre, I say (couple of errors and out-of-context translation - for example, Reed has been translated as male). The book contains some strange original choices (there're no flying bots in any Deus Ex game), but still it's solid. Definitely recommend but play "Deus Ex", "Deus Ex: Human Revolution" and "Deus Ex: Human Revolution - The Missing Link" videogames first.
Profile Image for Patrick Todoroff.
Author 28 books39 followers
April 3, 2011
I try to avoid spoilers when giving reviews, so all I'll say while it's nothing earth-shattering or refreshingly unique, Swallow's book is a very solid, action-packed read. The novel parallels and is somewhat of a prequel to the upcoming video game, "Deus Ex: Human Revolution", which in turn is the third installment in the franchise. Good, near-future cyberpunk: a genre very near and dear to my heart.
Profile Image for Ella Drake.
Author 46 books109 followers
March 17, 2011
I enjoyed this accessible Science Fiction novel. It blended the best features of cyberpunk & military SF with a healthy dose of biotech. The backdrop of a tech society dominated by a shadowy conspiracy-type organization pitted against the individual isn't new, but the flawed but empathetic main characters drew me in. This is a great read, especially if you're interested in the forthcoming game.
Profile Image for Micha.
167 reviews
May 1, 2014
A good read. I enjoyed nearly all of it. The only letdown was at the end where a less-augmented person, Kelso, was able to fend off highly-trained and highly-augmented combat personnel. I could see her doing it once, with luck, but she was able to do it multiple times.

Simplistic story. Just a good action novel. I like the setting and have played Deus Ex.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Ryan Stewart.
500 reviews39 followers
January 7, 2021
Wasted opportunity inside a world so captivating I still can’t knock it to the two-stars the writing deserves. If you’re a fan of the games, this is not a waste of time. If you’re not, avoid with no regrets.
Profile Image for Joshua.
241 reviews50 followers
September 3, 2021
Good contribution to the Deus Ex world-building. Best read as a companion to the video game series.
Profile Image for Chris The Lizard from Planet X.
322 reviews4 followers
October 23, 2022
Deus Ex: Icarus Effect by James Swallow, is a video game tie-in novel based on the “Deus Ex video game franchise.”

Not so far into the future, cybernetic implants have become a reality; bring the promise of augmented humans, at a price. But it is a price some are not willing to pay. Behind the scenes a shadowy global organization sees this development as a threat to their control over the mass of humanity. Caught up in this hidden conflict, Secret Service agent Anna Kelso is not only removed from her post, for investigating the death of her friend and mentor, but she quickly discovers that her own life is at risk as she uncovers secrets long hidden. Across the other side of the world Ben Saxon, a gun for hire is searching for the people who are responsible for the death of his men, is inducted into an elite force, only Ben is increasingly uncomfortable about both the jobs and the people giving him orders.

Written by Deus Ex: Human Revolution's writer James Swallow, Icarus Effect is essentially a prequel to the prequel of the original game, and it forms a direct and robust introduction to the various factions that define the fiction. It therefore makes an excellent starting point for those too intimidated by gaming myth to tackle the first Deus Ex, especially since it explores the story through two sets of eyes.

Disgraced Secret Service agent Anna Kelso and Brit mercenary Ben Saxon are the two protagonists in question, and they spend most of the book orbiting each other and entering into the conspiracy from different routes. The pair are on a collision course, however - Kelso is searching for the mysterious hitmen who attacked her unit; Saxon is recruited by the very same team.

Soon enough, in true Deus Ex fashion, the heroes find themselves embroiled in a conspiracy that's larger than either imagined; terrorists and freedom fighters becoming indistinguishable from each other, even to themselves.

While a lot of work has obviously gone into building the characters into believable and consistent personalities though, it's the world at large that looms over both as the real star of the show. Swallow's vision of the future is one that alternates brilliantly between being alarmingly realistic in its depiction of social stratification, and subtle in how cleverly it builds technology into the backdrop. Icarus Effect may be a science fiction tale, but it's not a world of laser-death rays; most of the gizmos are instead believably restrained. Often, it's interestingly contrasted against low-tech situations too, as is the case with a gutted shipwreck that Kelso visits early in the novel, finding a coven of hackers hidden within.

There are times when that restraint slackens, however - notably when dealing with weapons or augmentations that appear in Deus Ex: Human Revolution itself. These are usually discussed in such detail that it jars when placed against a normally slick, action-orientated plot.

This overt-action focus will be a potential sticking point for those hoping to explore Deus Ex's transhumanist themes in more details too as, despite a few glimmers of philosophy, the novel remains more focused on the motives of the principal characters themselves. It's hard to feel embittered at this fact when the tale is so fantastically paced - the alternating between Kelso and Saxon kept us always wanting to read 'just one more page' - but we can't help but feel it's a missed opportunity. Icarus Effect has plenty of baddies among its cast, but most are of the muscle-man or calculating-bastard variety; there's no room given over to the type of pro-human zealots that you would expect to fill the pages.

All in all, while Icarus Effect fails to become the contemplative tome that optimists might have hoped for, it's still a hugely enjoyable and fast-paced action thriller. The characters are believable and sympathetic, while the story is studded with memorable set-pieces and brutal fistfights. Like the game it prefaces, Icarus Effect comes as close to fulfilling our unrealistic expectations as possible.
Profile Image for Yair Ben-Zvi.
320 reviews84 followers
January 15, 2014
Those of you who don't know me outside of my reviews on goodreads will be forgiven for not knowing up until this review that I am, in fact, a fairly avid gamer. And one of my favorite franchises, if not my most favorite gaming franchise is without a doubt the Deus Ex series of games.

First released in 2000 as a PC game that was quickly ported over to the PS2, the original Deus Ex was a masterwork of gaming and interactive storytelling. Combining cyber punk, neo noir, and post/pre apocalyptic narrative genres with action adventure, stealth, and even well integrated RPG elements, the game redefined the standard of what a game could be. The atmosphere was so nuanced and well detailed that it enveloped you in its world, helped no doubt by Alexander Brandon and his legendarily atmospheric sound score, as well as a bibliophile's delights. There was tons of reading to be done in the game that in no way came off as exposition. It all, along with the brilliant and beautifully fleshed out characters and conflicts, served to deepen your connection to this world and its history. Was it perfect? No. Damn close? Even considering that I feel that 'perfection' is a needless abstract that cannot and should not be pursued? Well, hell, yes.

Then a sequel, Deus Ex Invisible War, came out a few years later and, well, eh. Due to various circumstances I wasn't able to play more than an hour's worth of that game and really...it's not awful. It's a simplified, trivialized, watered down and just not as good sequel. If it hadn't of had the Deus Ex title, maybe it wouldn't be considered the goat of the series. This I can't say, however maybe when/if (definite if) I come into some free time in the future I may give it another whirl.

And then, finally, a worthy successor, Deus Ex Human Revolution. Set as a prequel to the first game I, along with many I surmise, had high but somehow still mixed expectations for this game. The trailer looked great but how often have we all been led astray and ultimately had our hearts broken by an awesome preview for an in the end unworthy product? But, this time, such was not the case. Deus Ex Human revolution was an incredible gaming experience that somehow managed to do the impossible, it crafted an original, fun, and thought provoking gaming experience that stayed loyal to its predecessor while still adding new layers and depths to the mythos. Masterpiece? Damn close, I'd say.

And here's where we find ourselves. Released as a tie-in to the game, Deus Ex Icarus effect is part of a relatively recent upsurge in related gaming literature (seriously and I swear to god this genre didn't exist a few years ago) that has had a mixed reception from both gamers and lit fans alike. I was consigned to it, you must understand, as a Deus ex acolyte I am fully committed to embracing and experiencing as much of the franchise as I can as, notwithstanding the occasional letdown, it's a magisterial (and still ongoing, one hopes) storytelling experience that more people should open themselves to, if they have the chance.

But enough of the context around the book, what of the book itself? In all honesty, it's rock solid. As in, I enjoyed it greatly. James Swallow has written a work that transcends fanfiction for something greater, a legitimate and worthy addition to the overall canon. Essentially, I wouldn't call this novel apocryphal, it's well written enough to be included into the main mythos. It, like its related game, stays loyal to the source material with plenty of foreshadowing (some dark and prescient, some even humorous for the hardest of the die hard fans to recognize) but unlike, say Zack Snyder's film adaptation of Watchmen, does not do so with a suffocating lack of malleability. Rather, Swallow wisely integrates and interweaves the existing material with his own original conception. The result? A main story that runs more or less parallel with the games story that compliments it more or less as one strand complimenting another strand in a double helix.

But are there flaws? Yes, nothing glaring or deal breaking, but yes. Swallow is a writer's writer but the over effusiveness of genre writing is all over the place here with regards to word choice in both dialogue and description. But these are only minor stumbling blocks and should be treated as such. Also, for a long stretch during the middle of the novel I couldn't shake the feeling that I was reading Deus Ex as (re)imagined by the late Tom Clancy. Not bad, per se. But not applicable to my idea of the Deus Ex universe, that being a hodgepodge of a collapsing technology obsessed near future that in its inescapable avarice towards dehumanization in anticipation of something like Vinge's Singularity idea (though with a human controlled or at least human included element)is actually, ironically, creating new gods, new faiths, new sects, essentially a giant noir cyber punk re-actualizing of 1.) Human history repeating itself and 2.) Ecclesiastes 1: "The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun."

So overall, if you're a fan of this franchise as I am than this book is definitely worth a look. And if you're not a fan of the series or even of gaming in general, I'd still wager you'd enjoy it if only as the gateway into one of the most eye opening and horizon expanding gaming experiences available today. If one can alter or even abandon their expectations, than worlds of the deepest and most wonderful storytelling abound for you, but what genre of storytelling can that not be said for, all told?
Profile Image for Abhinav.
Author 6 books66 followers
October 10, 2012
You can find the full review over at The Founding Fields:


Shadowhawk reviews the tie-in novelisation of the critically acclaimed prequel of the smash-hit Deus Ex video game series.

“Finally, a video game novelisation that gets things right!” ~Shadowhawk

My experience with video game novelisations is a rather poor one. C.S. Goto’s Dawn of War stands out as the most boring, sleep-inducing book I’ve ever read, in addition to failing so phenomenally at living up to the source material itself. Aaron Rosenberg’s WarCraft II: Tides of Darkness and WarCraft II: Beyond the Dark Portal are a close second, and while not as bad as the above, they are still fairly terrible and suffer from the same issues: uneven characterisation, inconsistent pacing, terrible dialogue and so on. Chris Roberson’s Dawn of War 2, while nowhere near that bad, is still not a good book because of all the apparent changes it makes to the in-game events and bears only superficial resemblance to the game from what I remember. I did read a Metal Gear Solid novel ages ago and I thought it was decent, not spectacular but good enough. Not much positivity to go around however, as you can see. To date, the only spectacular novelisation that I can recall is Graham McNeill’s I, Mengsk which tells the story of Arcturus Mengsk and his son with the backdrop of the war against the Zerg and Protoss from the first StarCraft game. Its not an actual novelisation, as it doesn’t follow Jim Raynor, Sarah Kerrigan, etc but looks at what turned Arcturus into what he became over the course of the game and beyond. Slim pickings indeed.

Thankfully, James Swallow matches the standard set by Graham and delivers a great novel in the form of Deus Ex: Icarus Effect, which is the tie-in novel to Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Now, just to be clear, Icarus Effect is a novelisation the same way that I, Mengsk is one, albeit it is a prequel to the events of the game and ends parallel to its beginning. And it makes me wonder if straight up novelisations are better or those that are set around the events of the games. An interesting conundrum to be sure. Given my experience, I’m leaning towards the former.

Anyways. Icarus Effect. I played the original Deus Ex game ages ago and I remember it with great fondness. The various missions, the focus on stealth, the story, the setting, everything about the game screamed awesomeness. Being a fan of the Terminator movies, getting to control a player character with cybernetic/bio-enhancements and go around killing the bad guys spoke to me on a very basic level. Add in some James Bond style game elements and I was in hook, line and sinker. Looking back, it was the time when I had just discovered Diablo, Diablo 2, Homeworld, Homeworld 2, Jedi Outcast, Jedi Academy, Mechwarrior and Ground Control so for me this truly was the age of awesome games for me. I never got into the sequel to Deus Ex, or Human Revolution for that matter, but Icarus Effect has been high on my list of books to read for a long while, ever since I heard about it. And considering that James Swallow is one of my favourite authors, I knew that I would have a great time with it.

Which I did.

The novel delves into the events that lead up to Human Revolution and it tells a cyberpunk tale of secret agents, special ops soldiers and ancient secret societies out to control the world. What makes Icarus Effect stand out from the crowd is that it is a really easy novel to get into right from the very first pages. We are quickly introduced to our principal characters, Anna Kelso of the Secret Service and former SAS officer turned mercenary Ben Saxon. From there on, it is a novel of a very brisk pace that is as thrilling and awesome as any great action movie.

One of the reasons that Icarus Effect works so much for me I think is that James Swallow also worked on the game itself as one of the two writers, alongside Mary DeMarle. It made him a natural fit to write the novel, especially considering his long career in tie-in fiction (Stargate, Star Trek, Judge Dredd, and Warhammer 40,000 among others). He already knew the characters and the events inside out and he could easily maintain that consistency across formats. Again, I haven’t had a chance to play the game myself, so I can’t comment on how well those two things match up between it and the novel, but I found the characterisation in the novel to be top-notch. Even for someone with a wide experience in SFF (often jaded I might add!), the novel has many open-ended revelations and secrets that come out as the story progresses. Some things I expected, some I didn’t. Regardless, I had fun reading it all because my interest in the narrative never dimmed once I started.

Icarus Effect mixes up Terminator with RED and throws in a healthy dose of Total Recall and The Bourne Identity for good measure. What’s not to love about it?
Profile Image for x Dragunov.
17 reviews1 follower
September 15, 2014
Deus Ex. A prominent brand in video games, fan favorite franchise. Great storylines and interesting characters in a cyberpunk world set in the near future. Deus Ex games are unique so it didn't came as suprise to me that there's a novel based on the latest of the series - Human Revolution.

First of all, the book is quite tightly connected to the game, but it is not necessary to know its story to enjoy this one. I would higly recommend to play the game, though. Lots of things makes better sense and makes you understand what is really going on and why.

The name of the book itself is deeply connected to the game, there are mentions of this myth, the main theme is named "Icarus" and so on. Though the Icarus Effect here has a different meaning. Quite interesting and with a potential to further exploration. Sadly, you won't find that exploration here.

There are two main plot lines here, one of Agent Anna Kelso, and the second of a soldier Ben Saxon. Both have their ups and downs, but I liked the Ben's part of the story a great deal better.
Anna, when you think about her as a person and not about her "mission", is quite a hollow character. Not only that, she proves you repeatedly that she couldn't be very good at her former job of an agent. She just lacks the skill.
Now Ben is much more interesting with his history, moral code and beliefs. He wants to make a world better, but learns that road to hell is paved by good intentions the hard way. Even with so many military augmentations and dead bodies behind, he is very much human, for the good and for the bad.

As for the story, it seemed to me that there was a huge ambition, I mean, there's a future of humanity at stake. There's nothing wrong with ambition or a desire to play it big, but it looked like the story went a bit out of the hand by the end. It grew so big, that even the main characters, as heroic as it gets without ending up as Rambo, couldn't do much of significance. I've read the last 3 chapters while holding my breath, but at the very end, I was just "meh". It surely could've been better.

If you want to know how is the book written, I can't offer you much as I'm not a native speaker (obviously). The language is on the easier side, though it's still a cyberpunk, so quite a lot of technical stuff here - no surprise. I didn't have any problem with fighting scenes or anything else that is usually harder to read.

Just the last thought: The story, characters and the whole outline reminded me of Spook Country by legendary William Gibson. If the summary of Icarus Effect sounds interesting to you, but you would like something a bit smarter, and if you don't mind the story set in present world together with quite a slow and long opening, I would recommend Spook Country rather than Icarus Effect. It's a good book for a fan of the game, but all-around it's not that great.
Profile Image for Cătălin.
15 reviews5 followers
November 15, 2016
A thoroughly enjoyable read, especially if you're familiar with the Deus Ex universe from the games. From a purely literary perspective, the book doesn't really stand out, while the protagonists are not necessarily what I would call 'remarkable'. Still, that's not meant as a dig, as I feel that both Ben Saxon and Anna Kelso provide an interesting and rather unique perspective in that they're both 'grunts' (Saxon is a mercenary, while Anna is US Secret Service, with the added bonus of being the first fully-fleshed out female protagonist in the Deus Ex universe), whereas the protagonists in the games (Jensen and the Dentons) have this 'chosen one' feel about them. This, consequently, gives a different spin to the story as a whole and I believe the type of protagonists Swallow employs here is one of this book's main strengths. I would very much enjoy more stories like this set in the Deus Ex universe, employing various types of protagonists other than the ones from the games.

Where the book shines in terms of characters is when it comes to the villains - it does a good job of fleshing out the various members of the Tyrants group, something Deus Ex: Human Revolution (the game where they're also featured) doesn't really take the time to do. There's also several appearances from characters from the original game, where they seem very much in character with their initial iterations and this makes for a very nice, albeit predictable touch. Really, the book does a very good job of living up to the experience from the games (the cyberpunk protagonist fighting against impossible odds, the various locales around the world and, of course, the conspiracies), as well as further fleshing out the world and characters.

While I feel pretty confident that I would've enjoyed this novel even if I hadn't played or been familiar with the games, I'm under no illusions that my familiarity and enthusiasm for the already established universe contributed to my enjoyment factor. As such, I would be curious to hear the thoughts of someone who's not familiar with the games on the book.
Profile Image for Jorge Figueroa.
319 reviews30 followers
March 7, 2017
Mucho "listillo" anda pro la vida diciendo que el libro es predecible...pero bueno, analicemos un poco los hechos, está ubicado en un universo previo a una de las joyas del software lúdico Deus EX y se desarrolla en paralelo al juego que va a la cabeza para juego del año Deus EX : Human Revolution, es importante mencionarlo porque si bien su lectura no es necesaria, complementa perfectamente a la aventura de Adam Jensen, si leen las reseñas del juego, mucha gente se queja de las peleas del mismo, y es que cuando no sabemos quienes son estos Tyrants se pierde mucho de su impacto, pero una vez que has terminado la novela (que obviamente no puede darle un final horrendo a sus villanos por la continuidad) la próxima vez que los veas nada será igual, por ello se lo recomiendo a todo el que quiera leer el libro y ...a nadie más.

El universo de Deus Ex es muy rico y esta precuela y el juego del año 2000 son ejemplos de como hacerle creer al jugador que tiene libertad, esta novela incluso nos trae a uno de los protagonistas de la primera entrega logrando unir a este trabajo con el original.

Su autor se dedica a escribir ficciones así para redondear los juegos y que el trabajo de los escritores del juego tenga más salidas, después de todo hay mucho jugadores que no entienden el daño que se hacen cuando corren a través de los programas como en una carrera y de verdad que si despues de 40 horas no voy ni a la mitad de DX:HR no tengo queja, he gozado cada minuto...por cierto...se juega sin mirillas y sin visión aumentada o no vale la pena
Profile Image for PsypherPunk.
98 reviews3 followers
July 26, 2013
One of the enduring features of the Deus Ex franchise is the freedom of play (or at least a decent illusion thereof) and it's willingness to consider, if not actually address with any great depth, issues of transhumanism, futurism, etc. It's something of a shame therefore that its first foray into literary territory is, by contrast, rather straightforward.

For fans of the latest game it offers insight into the backgrounds of the various bosses met throughout the course of the game. Given that said events were the game's lowpoints this might be a questionable idea but at least it offers the chance to embellish the backstory while you bang your head in frustration.

Story-wise there's little of note. Soldiers, betrayals, explosions, some truly questionable character decisions...it's all entertaining but it's never really given the opportunity to dwell on the series' larger themes, something you might think the written word would offer a franchise like Deus Ex.
Profile Image for Fahad Ahmed.
182 reviews27 followers
October 8, 2016
The action, plot and writing are Deus Ex through and through: lots of augmentation-packed action, a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top and the struggle of a few to fight everyone's favorite pyramid lovers.

That being said, it doesn't do much to draw the reader in; the universe isn't realized in a way that will entice non-fans of the games, neither Kelso nor Saxon nor the Tyrants make for very interesting characters, and the book spares only token nods to the concept of human augmentations and transhumanism

While there are plenty of nods and tie-ins to other Deus Ex games - Human Revolution, in particular - there's not much here for someone with no connection to that series. An uber-fan of Deus Ex like myself may find something to like about this story, but everyone else can safely give it a pass
Profile Image for Charlène.
318 reviews2 followers
January 28, 2017
"En conclusion, Deus Ex : Icarus Effect aura été une bien sympathique découverte pour moi. Il se lit facilement, nous plonge dans un futur probable et réaliste de par les contextes et descriptions évoqués, mais aussi par les débats et les réflexions qui pourraient surgir d’une telle évolution par rapport à notre époque. L’intrigue est prenante, les personnages sont dotés d’un fort caractère avec leurs faiblesses, et on prend plaisir à les suivre. Les scènes d’action sont grandioses, il n’y a pas de temps mort dans le roman, et clairement, ça nous fait réfléchir en nous immergeant dans un univers pas si éloigné du nôtre, mais assez épique, tout de même.
Ce sera donc un 17/20 pour moi et je le conseille !"

Chronique entière ici :
Profile Image for Michael.
111 reviews1 follower
February 8, 2018
This book sat on my shelf for a few years. I expected very little from it. After all, it was a video game novel and those are very much the mixed bag. I am happy to report that this is a fantastic book on any level. I am also mad at myself for leaving it on my shelf for so long.

The Icarus effect is extremely easy to read and very hard to put it down. I know it sounds like a cliche but it flowed extremely well with two likeable characters. I also loved the idea of keeping the two separate except at key points where their stories intersect. I might have to try that someday on my own writing.

The only negative to the book is perhaps the ending in that it is left open. But then again it is supposed to drum up excitement for the Deus Ex game, so perhaps it is best it ended like it did. Great effort and I look forward to other Deus Ex efforts by this author.
Profile Image for Will.
20 reviews
February 10, 2012
Action packed, true to the source material, and a great 'guilty pleasure' type of book. The writing isnt great and the characters are pretty one dimensional and lack any background, but the conspiracy plot is thought out. Perhaps if the book were twice as long with the extra geared toward character development it would've been better. I love the human revolution universe, so it was a fun n dumb piece of fan service.
Even though the bad guys are one dimensional, that's still more than these same guys were in the game, so it was nice to get a little background on their group.
One thing really bothered me, a lot of it takes place around DC and the author clearly did his research on the area, but despite that he still refers to Silver Spring as Silver Springs!
Profile Image for Andrea.
626 reviews14 followers
October 22, 2011
Being a fan of the original Deus Ex, I thought it would be fun to read a book that ties it in to the new Deus Ex game (which I haven't played yet). It was a fun cyberpunk story, with some cool ideas about human augmentation, scary conspiracies, and a realistic portrayal of computers and science. Like a lot of media tie-in books, it wasn't spectacular -- the characterization felt a little heavy-handed, there were some cliches, and the plot wasn't superb. But it was fun and neat to see some characters from Deus Ex (Gunther and Lebedev, mostly). I'm hoping it will also give good background for the new game.
Profile Image for Tobias Wolter.
66 reviews44 followers
March 15, 2017
Straightforward context and story glue that is entertaining to read while not being anything more than run off the mill.
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