Books

Tom Clancy’s The Division: Broken Dawn (Alex Irvine) – Review

One of the main advantages of Ubisoft’s “Tom Clancy” brand is that it is instantly recognisable. Whether you play games, watch films or read books, Clancy is as widely recognised a name as you could possibly get. Having that name on your product gives you a level of marketability that most companies would kill for. It guarantees a crossover audience – even ones that would ordinarily not play games, for example – which equals sales and dollars handed over. This is part of the reason why, even with wildly varying levels of quality, Ubisoft’s Clancy-verse does so well.

In 2016, author Alex Irvine wrote New York Collapse, an interactive adventure book that told a story that ran parallel to that in the first The Division game. It introduced hero April Kelleher on her personal mission to uncover the reason behind the death of her husband. This year, Irvine, and April, have returned to continue the adventure in Broken Dawn. 

Now five months after the virus that ravaged New York, and the country, hit, April has finally solved all of the riddles left for her, or whomever realises the puzzles are there, by Roger Koopman in his book and followed the breadcrumbs it left to his hideout deep in the city’s treacherous “Dark Zone”. Closer to answers (and a whole lot more questions) than she’s ever been, April heads over the barricades and risks the dangerous area to meet the man that wrote the book she’s been obsessing about and unpick more of his puzzle.

Luckily for April, her late afternoon stroll into the Dark Zone captures the attention of Division Agent Aurelio Diaz, a Washington DC native whose job as a Strategic Homeland Division (SHD) agent brought him to New York months prior. Tracking the lone wanderer through Manhattan’s ruined streets, Diaz keeps one eye on her and one on the less-than-friendly elements that have also noticed her – such is his job. But duty calls and seeing her safely into the building she was looking for would have to do for now. Aurelio has more pressing matters in chasing down, Ike Ronson, a possibly rogue Division member who left a group of civilians to be massacred and fled the city on his own mission.

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Meanwhile in DC, Diaz’s children, Amelia and Ivan, are holed up in one of the many camps for refugees and orphaned children. While nowhere near as bad as New York, things in all the major cities are in a bad way and with no news of their father, they are just another couple of kids without parents. Following the lead from Violet, the de facto leader of this little squad of children, fighting to survive in the all-but war-torn City is a tough life. 

All these lives are about to crash together as news that could begin the rebuilding of the ruined United States comes to light and a country full of people, good and bad, can see the ramifications. 

Not unlike its main characters, Broken Dawn has a tough road to walk. A book set in a world now two large games and an encyclopaedia’s worth of lore deep has to not only satisfy game players – the book’s main audience – but those that might choose to read it without knowing the background of the story. Unfortunately, while trying to balance that fine line, Alex Irvine fails to satisfy either. At times giving too much detail and repeating universe specific beats – such as the all powerful “Directive 51” agents in this world adhere to – to the point of mentioning it at every possible opportunity and emphasising that both Aurelio and Ike can kill whomever they want, whenever they want – will become a bone of contention for a reader with even just a passing knowledge of the lore at play here. Simultaneously, the author will make mention of very specific elements that only someone who had played the first game – if not to completion, at least far enough to get more than a little backstory –  with no hint of explanation or discussion as to its place in this world we are expected to invest in. It is a frustration that could have been avoided with a little care and attention at the editorial level.

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Your time spent in New York, DC, and all those areas in between is not all bad. In fact, there are moments where you find yourself invested in all the players involved because rightly or wrongly they all have a personal and relatable stake in how the book ends. Told in a per-character basis, each chapter is the next small part of one of the lead protagonists’ tale. It gives the reader a sense of the stories closing in on each other and brings a frantic, fast paced feel to the closing half of Broken Dawn. Your heart aches for Diaz and his efforts to find out if his children are alive. As frustrating to read as some of these chapters can be, you find yourself willing him to ignore his duties and get to Ivan and Amelia. You find yourself both elated and heartsick for April as the journey that should have come to an end in the opening chapters forces her on into an unknown conspiracy that risks her life. 

The children’s chapters fall weakest to this method of storytelling. Told from Violet’s point of view, she is an avatar for all orphans in any of these post-apocalypse style situations. In concept this is a great idea, but her moments in the story sadly fall flat and feel uninspired. However, gunfights happening around these children do feel particularly terrifying. 

Irvine always had an uphill battle with The Division: Broken Dawn. Writing a novel for a Tom Clancy inspired series, while not actually being Tom Clancy, meant comparisons were inevitable and expectations were going to be substantially higher. Sadly, for all his efforts, he wasn’t able to hit those lofty heights this time around. There’s plenty to enjoy within Broken Dawn’s pages, but mainly for those looking to expand on The Division’s lore without taxing their brains too much. 

Tom Clancy’s The Division: Broken Dawn prequel novel is available now on paperback and e-book from Titan Books.

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