Infinity Blade: Awakening by Brandon Sanderson

Rating 8.3/10
Infinity Blade: Awakening might just be the best adaptation of a popular video game.

Trained from birth in swordplay and combat, a young knight named Siris has fought through an army of Titans to face the tyrannical God King in one-on-one combat. This was his family’s sacred mission, going back countless generations in an effort to free their people from enslavement.  But when Siris succeeds, he finds himself cast into a much larger world, filled with warriors and thieves, ancient feuds and shifting alliances, Deathless immortals and would-be kings. His quest for freedom will take him on an epic journey in search of the one being in the world who can unravel the secrets of the Infinity Blade.

Synopsis sourced from iTunes (http://itunes.apple.com/us/book/infinity-blade-awakening/id469531262)

Adaptions of popular video games do not normally translate very well into any medium, they are often awkward and clunky, restricted by the mechanics of the game, and devoid of whatever it was in the video game that appealed to you so much. There are so few decent attempts at movies or books based on video games because video games are a completely different medium, they rely on player interaction and gaming mechanics to tell you the story over the course of around 12 - 15 hours. Well trust the ever productive Brandon Sanderson, the author who it seems can do no wrong, to defy conventional wisdom and attempt to tell a decent story based on a video game. And you know what, his attempt is better than decent - Infinity Blade: Awakening might just be the best adaption of a popular video game that I have experienced.

The story takes place immediately following the conclusion of the first game. The God King has been slain and the people are rejoicing in their new found freedom. Siris, the young man who slew the God King, arrives home with the Infinity Blade expecting to find his village in the midst of celebrations. Instead he is banished from the village, the village leaders fearful that the God King's Deathless brethren will be seeking both the Infinity Blade, and vengeance on their fallen brother. With nowhere to go, Siris vows to protect his people by seeking out and destroying as many Deathless as he can find. That's about it for the story - it's not terribly complex, not a lot actually happens, and it doesn't really resolve anything, leaving almost every plot thread open to be resolved in the second game. And yet Sanderson manages to flesh out a 40,000 word novella from this premise that is quite compelling from start to finish. With licence to do almost as he pleases, Sanderson has gone ahead and built a whole with as much history, culture, religion, politics and other world building elements as you would expect in one of his own full size novels. He uses the in-game mechanics as the basis for a magic system that explains almost everything, gives personal identities to all those nameless enemies you defeated in the game, and gives the game developers plenty of material to work with should they choose to adapt what he has written back into the game.

While the world building is fantastic, what really makes this story work is the characters that Sanderson has used to populate this world. Siris is a tortured soul, a young man whose childhood was sacrificed to mastery of the sword, a young man whose life is suddenly without purpose after completing the one mission he was born to do. In his head are a complex tangle of emotions and the way in which Sanderson writes allows you to really empathise with Siris and he tries to work out what he is going to do with the rest of his life. Isa is a fantastic companion, a young eclectic girl who knows much more than she is letting on and whose allegiance you can never be quite sure of. Her cheerful and mischievous nature are a great contrast to Siris with his dark brooding silence, and together they make a very likeable pair. Sanderson also gives life to The God King, painting him as a very capable and calculating antagonist, one who never expected to be put in this situation and will do everything to ensure he is never put in this situation again. While I love these characters, I think what lets the story down is that we get no real resolution between the characters at the end of the story, no chance to see The God King and Siris square off against each other in the battle to end all battles. I know that the purpose of this book is to build a story for the second game, but it would have been nice to see one or two of the character arcs get resolved in this novella.

Video games can provide a large source of material for authors to work with, and I think Sanderson has gone down the right path here by telling his own story from the Infinity Blade universe rather than trying to write a novelisation of the game. With so many popular authors attaching their names to video games at the moment, I am hopeful that we will start to see more of these 'expanded universe' novels where you can enjoy the story without having played the game.  When you boil it down, Infinity Blade: Awakening is a simple story that builds a world and a framework for game that previously had neither. What makes it so good are Sanderson's sublime world building skills, and the characters he created to explore this world he has built. These are hallmarks of any great story, and whether or not you have played Infinity Blade, you will not be disappointed by Infinity Blade Awakening.

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