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WARNING: The following review contains several spoilers for the novel in question.

Heaven's Devils is the newest book written for the StarCraft Universe. It serves as an unusual prequel to StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty. The plot events are not what create the unique connection, but rather the characters, who will appear in WoL, are fleshed out for us throughout the book. It focuses on Jim Raynor's early days in the Confederate military during the Guild Wars. This was when he first met Tychus Findlay, another major character in Wings of Liberty. Anyone interested in the origins of their relationship will appreciate the writing style of William C. Dietz. He is best known for his work in other major sci-fi franchises, such as Star Wars and Halo.

The obvious focus of this book is to provide background on the relationship between Jim Raynor and Tychus Findlay, but just as important, the writing provides an impression of the Guild Wars atmosphere its effects on the StarCraft story through these characters. Several different perspectives are given, which try to flesh-out the whole picture. All of the main characters are developed by the circumstances the war puts them in, but fundamentally none of them really change over the course of the story, so it can be disappointing if your expectation is to see how Raynor became the heroic backwater leader, or how Findlay ended up so calloused. Instead, the book focuses primarily on the nature of the Guild Wars and the relationship between the two most prominent individuals, Findlay and Raynor.


Synopsis

The book is set almost entirely on Turaxis II, an important planet in the late stages of the Guild Wars, half was owned by the Confederacy, and half by the Kel'Morians. Inexplicably, the Confederate military feels a highly contested planet is an ideal location for a training camp for new recruits, so several of our protagonists are shipped there immediately. They later become instrumental in claiming Turaxis II for the Confederacy. The first half of the book focuses on the members of the Heaven's Devils, and their formation. The Heaven's Devils is a nick-name given to the 321st Colonial Rangers Battalion's Special Tactics and Mission Platoon. The squad itself consisted of about seven soldiers, and when they used experimental power armor to rescue hundreds of POWs, they became a legendary band of war heroes in their own right.

The focus in terms of characters is largely restricted to four members of the Heaven's Devils; the remaining three essentially serve only as plot devices. Jim Raynor is clearly the most significant individual involved, and the one we care the most for. He was just a poor farm-boy with an inherent sense of what was right and wrong, who joined the military, in large-part to help pay his parents' bills, but he was naive and idealistic and as such was distressed by the cold reality he was faced with in the military, a reality he was not well-equipped to handle. The disillusionment that causes the loss of his natural heroism is the only true character evolution that is made a point of throughout the book. Ryk Kydd was a member of a Confederate old family. However, he was dissatisfied with his wealthy, sheltered life, and was drugged, kidnapped, and sold to a Confederate recruiter, when out looking for some adventure, some freedom, in Tarsonis. Naturally, no one believed he was a member of one of the aristocratic old families, and as such he had no apparent way to escape the military. Kydd met up with Raynor, and another member of the future Heaven's Devils in boot camp, and it was there, in training he found the adventure and satisfaction he had yearned for as well as incredible skill as a sniper. His talent was in part due to his basic psychic abilities, like being able to slow his perception of time to help set up a shot. Kydd felt he had found his place in the world, and so chose to stay once he was eventually given the option to leave the military. He even went so far as to retain the false identity he had been given in order to avoid his powerful father's search. Findlay has the least back-story; he is portrayed as being cold, calculating, and decently intelligent, yet it is made clear immediately that he is primarily self-serving. One of the first things he does when introduced to the reader is to arrange the death of his prison task-master simply out of vengeance, payback for giving Findlay extra work. Whether or not he is exclusively interested in profit or he has a more hidden heroic side is intentionally kept unclear. Soon after being released from prison, Findlay is promoted to sergeant of the squad which will eventually become the Heaven's Devils.

The commanding officer of their platoon, Vanderspool, is very similar to Findlay in a way. He is devoted first and foremost to his own profit and as such was planning to work with the Kel'Morians to steal two truckloads of valuable goods from the Confederate military and sell them via an elaborate scheme. During the midst of this heist, Findlay manipulates his squad to steal the goods for themselves. Vanderspool suspects Findlay, but cannot prove it, or do much about it without incriminating himself. In an effort to get revenge, and prove his suspicions, Vanderspool puts a Medic in their squad to spy on them in exchange for a steady supply of "crab," an addictive drug. The Medic, Cassidy, becomes an interesting character. She can't stop working for Vanderspool given her addiction to crab, but she becomes emotionally attached to the squad, especially Findlay, her romantic interest. The squad becomes famous for their unique capacity to dive right out of Dropships using experimental power-suits, and they are given the nickname "Heaven's Devils" for this talent. The rest of the book essentially consists of the Heaven's Devils trying to stay one step ahead of Vanderspool, who is still trying to get revenge, and make as much money a possible while he's at it. All the while, unbeknown to them, the Medic, Cassidy, is still reporting to Vanderspool.

The inevitable showdown occurs when Kydd and another member of the Heaven's Devils stumble upon information regarding a plan between Vanderspool, Kydd's father, and a Kel'Morian overseer to steal an incredibly valuable shipment of crystals, kill the Heaven's Devils to help cover it up, and split the profit. Findlay makes a plan to reverse the situation on them and steal the crystals for themselves, but the plan is reported to Vanderspool, by Cassidy. The book ends in a bloody series of double-crosses, and several squad-mates die because of Vanderspool's actions. Raynor guns a defenseless Vanderspool down, and the surviving members of the Heaven's Devils go AWOL out of disgust for the Confederate military.

 

Heaven's Devils Logo


Review

Those looking for a complete backstory for Raynor or Tychus will be disappointed. The book ends with several characters becoming wanted criminals, but provides no real explanation for how Raynor went from wanted criminal to the Marshall of Mar Sara we see in StarCraft. Given the emphasis on the relationship between Raynor and Findlay that is understandable, but disappointing. The biggest issue with this book is that it fails to make you really care about the supporting members of the Heaven's Devils at all.  They serve as plot devices and canon fodder exclusively, and have little or no background information or character development. The focus is on Raynor, Kydd, Findlay, and Cassidy. Everyone else seems more or less useless, except for some comic relief.  

Heaven's Devils does fill an important void in the StarCraft universe. If Blizzard were to give us Wings of Liberty without it, many die-hard lore fans would be hard-pressed to figure out Raynor and Tychus's relationship, albeit it may have changed in the time between the Guild Wars and StarCraft II. Tychus plays the hardened sergeant, interested only in his own profit, whereas Raynor is the naïve, but talented soldier, who wants to be a hero, and in many cases is, but is concerned about his own corruption. This is an issue throughout the book, Raynor is desperately trying to hold on to his inherent morality, but is faced with corruption and evil everwhere he looks, even in people who should be the good guys. Furthermore, he is perfectly aware that the overwhelming amount of corruption in the galaxy is wearing on him and making him far more calloused than he was when he joined the marines, but he feels utterly incapable of stopping or controlling his own moral decline. This is a nice touch, as it is apparently mirrored in Wings of Liberty, where he is again put in a situation where his natural morality and heroism is being severly tested. His ability (or inability) to resist almost universal temptation is sure to be a key point in StarCraft II, as it is in Heaven's Devils. This internal struggle would have been more impressive if instead of having Raynor begin as a hero, and simply become more hardened; it chronicled something of his evolution to the man we see in StarCraft. Instead he essentially starts out like that, and is just polished, and molded slightly over the course of the story. His "choice" is just to maintain his natural heroism and morality in spite of all the corruption and amorality he is surrounded by.  

The primary theme throughout the book is that "You are who you choose to be," in the words of Trace Raynor, Jim's father. At some point in the book, virtually every main character makes a choice about who they want to be. Kydd, for example, decides he would rather stay in the military, in hiding from his family, than return to his aristocratic beginnings.  The choices made by the characters set up their personalities for Wings of Liberty, where they may be faced by the same sort of challenges again. This theme may very well be paralleled in Wings of Liberty, with Raynor's heroism being stretched by circumstances. He will be forced to choose between his natural heroism, or to succumbing to the circumstances by becoming more like Tychus, interested only in his own well being. However, none of the characters feel as if they go through any real evolution or development, rather they are who they were originally written to be. There isn't enough depth to feel a connection to any of the characters. For someone who hasn't played StarCraft, who doesn't have a previous attachment to the characters, the book, as well as the characters are flat.

For lore buffs, the relationship between Raynor and Findlay is very interesting. Findlay's real nature is still unclear, he initially seems little better than other Terran villians, like Mengsk or Vanderspool. However, we learn that he does have a softer side and he is entirely capable of heroism, but perhaps not the predisposition. He is more of an anti-hero than anything else, the Han Solo of StarCraft, so to speak, but teetering on the edge of becoming just a plain villain. Raynor on the other hand, is an absolute hero, who would sacrifice everything for anything worthy. They are an interesting duo as such, and even though Findlay is said to be the bad influence on Raynor in StarCraft II, he is also a reliable companion to him in a pinch, fully capable of the side-kick role.

Heaven's Devils goes fairly deep into Terran lore, giving a brief cameo to the origins of the Neural Resocialization, a project used to make troublesome soldiers more amiable through brain-washing. One of the members of the Heaven's Devils also has some level of psychic powers, but is not recruited as a Ghost, and no one else seems to understand his abilities, implying psychic humans were far from common knowledge in those days, and the Ghost program was less rigorous, to say the least. It should not be mistaken for something as lore-centric as Twilight though. The lore is just an interesting addition; the focus is on the early relationship between Tychus and Raynor and may give some insight as to how it will play out in Wings of Liberty, when they are reunited.

Heaven's Devils provides a great deal of important backstory on the relationship between Jim Raynor and Tychus Findlay. It also provides a great look into the Guild Wars themselves, and much of the Terran lore associated with it. We recommend it for anyone interested in understanding the relationship between Findlay and Raynor for Wings of Liberty, or anyone just interested in Terran lore. It requires no previous knowledge of StarCraft to read however, and as such can be a great introduction to lore, as well as simply a good military-sci-fi read. In general, this book was written for the students of StarCraft's lore.


Accuracy and Canon

Blizzard tagged a full, retconned timeline onto the end of the book. It doesn't really fit into the storyline of Heaven's Devils, but it serves as a nice tool for hardcore lore fans. The first date in the timeline is 1500 A.D. This was when the Dark Templar first left Aiur. The last date is in 2504, the same year StarCraft II begins. The new timeline is to be considered fact; it's a retcon, that serves to redefine the timeline that had developed previously. The biggest change is that most of the events in the Great War and The Brood War were moved back to all fit within  year 2500. This frees up 2501-2503 for the events of the Dark Templar trilogy, and the StarCraft comics. Previously, a great deal of content was shoved into 2504, and now much of that has been moved back to 2503. This clears up a great deal of time for Wings of Liberty.

Heaven's Devils itself is set back in the Guild Wars, which was hardly affected by the timeline retcon. Most of the events in the book are of minimal consequence to the overall plot of the StarCraft universe. The roots of several units can be seen in the squad-members of the Heaven's Devils. The Firebat and Marauder for example, seem to have their roots in some of the experimental power-armor used by the Heaven's Devils. Even Ghosts seem to have been virtually non-existent before the Heaven's Devils, making Kydd one of the first, as an early psychic sniper. The roots of the now-common Neural Resocialization  program are also visible. The Heaven's Devils didn't really make a big impact on the overall story of the StarCraft universe, but their story occurs at a time of change in the Confederacy, offering a great look at Terran lore and canon.

 

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