Dark Templar: Firstborn by Christie Golden (Book Review)

The first time I ever ran into StarCraft was in one of the two gaming magazines I got as a kid, many, many years ago now. I recall reading a review of the game in the magazine and thinking, “I’d like to play that”. But that didn’t happen until I got into college. And you know what, I loved the game. It was sort of similar to WarCraft (strategy games were all similar to me back then) but more nuanced I suppose. Then the obsession went further in junior year of college when my friends and I played the StarCraft board game on weekends and had a ton of fun playing it. It wasn’t until just three years ago though that I read my first StarCraft novels, Graham McNeill’s I, Mengsk and Keith R. A. DeCandido’s Nova that I truly fell in love with the setting.

And that brings me to Firstborn, the first novel in Christie Golden’s Dark Templar Saga, which I finished reading a couple days ago. It is my first StarCraft fiction in three years, and it was as great an experience as I, Mengsk was. It isn’t as rooted in the original lore or even the games as that novel, but it does some amazing work to expand on the setting and the lore. I haven’t kept up with the game unfortunately, so I don’t know how the bits of lore in this novel came about and whether Christie has shepherded it all, but I don’t care either way, because Firstborn was ultimately a fantastic novel that much to increase my fascination with the Protoss and the mysterious Xel’Naga.

Dark Templar Saga 01 FirstbornFirstborn focuses on a (I believe) new character, that of archaeologist Jake Ramsey and chronicles his adventure on the dirt-planetoid Nemaka where he and his team investigate a recently unearthed Xel’Naga temple and where everything goes wrong for him. During his investigation and exploration, he irretrievably becomes psychically bonded with a Protoss female, and from there starts his journey in uncovering a rather large mystical secret, something the likes of which Valerian Mengsk, the son of Arcturus Mengsk, is willing to kill to acquire.

Personally, I loved almost everything about this novel. For me, it was an interesting continuation of I, Mengsk in that Valerian makes for some great scenes, interacting with a wide variety of characters. He has grown in personality and attitude since those days of his early youth and is now very much the kind of man that his father, the Emperor of the Terran Dominion, wants to have as his Heir.

The novel starts off innocently enough, but soon as we hit the planetoid of Nemaka, it becomes clear that nothing is as it seems and that there’s a big deception in place on part of some of the characters. That ultimately provides the lightning rod that throws a rather quiet and unassuming novel into high gear as a full-on action-adventure in the world of StarCraft. Christie Golden has written numerous novels for Blizzard, whether we talk StarCraft or WarCraft, and in this novel, it very much feels as if she is right at home. The ease of her prose in her WarCraft novels is present here as well because Firstborn made for a great read that I plowed through in short order. It also helped that I was a bit familiar with the setting and that references here and there to some events weren’t entirely lost on me as might otherwise have been the case.

I wouldn’t recommend Firstborn as an entry-novel for StarCraft, because it focuses on completely different characters from the game, though it does delve into some of the lore introduced in them. It is far more an exploration of Protoss culture, of how it was before the Protoss came together as a species, in a time where the different (primitive) tribes constantly warred against each other and held any one not of the tribe in distrust. In all of this, Firstborn is also a novel that focuses on a message of peace. It deals with the legacy of the Xel’Naga, the mysterious greater alien species of the setting and their influence on the Protoss. It deals with being accepting of ideological and cultural differences.

That’s what the second half of the novel is all about, as Jake Ramsey learns to his fascination. For an archaeologist like him, what he experiences at Nemaka is a dream come true, but it is also a nightmare, because when he gets infused with the consciousness of a dead Protoss female, he has to contend against the requirements and urgency of her last mission, a mission that is vital for her species. How Christie brings all of that about, or at least how she sets up the foundations for that, in this novel is really an experience.

Once this big twist happens, there are essentially two ongoing narratives. The first deals with Jake Ramsey’s own journey from being a (decently) recognized archaelogist to a fugitive on the run from the Terran Dominion. It is not a great place to be and all of a sudden Jake is thrown into a world that he never knew, and never wanted to know either. Criminals, gangs, mercenaries, back-room dealings. It is all too much for him. But as I love to read, Firstborn is also about his test of character and how he rises up to the challenge in the end.

Of course, Jake and Valerian aren’t the only primary characters in the novel. There’s also a delightful femme fatale-styled mercenary R. M. Dahl aka Rosemary Dahl. She is the leader of the mercenary team that Valerian sends with Jake and his team to keep them safe on Nemaka and when things go south in the middle of the novel with Jake, she is both the instigator and the solution. At first I didn’t take so well to R. M. but by the second half, I really got into the flow of her story. Part of that of course is the fact that Christie has to build up the character and set the foundations for what happens later, so I didn’t mind that overmuch. In fact, by the end of the novel, she was one of my favourite characters in the novel.

StarCraft as a setting is full of some great female characters, not the least of which is Sarah Kerrigan aka the Queen of Blades, or even Nova, among others. I can happily say that R. M. Dahl is a great addition to that line-up. Firstborn is a fairly straight-forward story in many respects and that’s where she comes in, without much artifice and a great no-nonsense attitude to her coupled with street smarts and years of experience as a merc. Loved her.

All in all, I’d say that Firstborn is a great read. You get the best of two worlds with this novel and is a great start to the Dark Templar Saga. I have some inclination of where the story might be headed, given what little I know of the Protoss known as Dark Templars, but it is an exciting experience nonetheless and is very much in the typical StarCraft mold, which cannot be faulted in any way.

Rating: 9.5/10

More Christie Golden: WarCraft: The Shattering: Prelude to the Cataclysm, WarCraft: Twilight of the Aspects, WarCraft: Jaina Proudmoore: Tides of War.

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Posted on September 2, 2014, in General and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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