Review: Uncharted - The Fourth Labyrinth / Author: Christopher Golden / Publisher: Del Rey Books / Release date: Out Now
The Fourth Labyrinth marks Nathan Drake's first adventure out of the high octane adventure games that have made him famous. Yes, there are the Eye of Indra motion comics, but they were written by developer, Naughty Dog, so they don't count. The writing duties for Nate's first cross-media sojourn were quite rightly given to licensed-property veteran, Christopher Golden.
Set at an unknown point in Drake's timeline, Golden gives us a taste of Nate's propensity for trouble and luck in the book's 'prologue', but other than setup the character and fund his adventures through the rest of the book, this early 'mission' has little to do with the rest of the book.
Nate is called to New York City by Victor Sullivan, his close friend and mentor. Luka Hzujak, a world-famous archaeologist and an old friend of Sully's, has just been found murdered (in quite a grisly manner) in Grand Central Station. Joining the pair in their investigation of Luka's death is his daughter, and Sully's goddaughter, Jada. Following in the footsteps of Elena Fisher and Chloe Frazer, Jada initially provides a romantic interest, but stands apart as an individual character who can take care of herself. Her close relationship with Sully forces Nate's interest in her into a platonic one.
The investigation immediately turns up two suspects, Luka's wife (and Jada's step-mother) Olivia and his former partner Tyr Henrikson, as well as a possible motive; the discovery of connections between labyrinths being unearthed in Knossos and Egypt. The three feel that the best course of action is to continue Luka's investigation into the connections in order to prevent Olivia and Henrikson from getting their hands on what ever secrets or treasures are worth killing for.
We begin our Da Vinci Code-like hunt for clues that eventually leads to a third and, you guessed it, fourth labyrinth. Within the labyrinth lore they discover mentions of a monster and some connections to Daedelus, Atlantis and King Midas. Henrikson, Olivia and their private army are at their heels the entire adventure, but within each labyrinth lurks a threat to both parties.
Obviously, the differences between a videogame and a novel are huge, as is the experience of enjoying either one. Whilst blasting your way through waves of increasingly difficult thugs can get your heart pumping and set your knuckles white around your PlayStation controller, it would simply get boring and confusing in prose. Golden deftly avoids this pitfall by thinning out the action with the threat of violence and disaster. The heroic trio are rarely given a reprieve and when they are their adversaries are half a pace behind them. The urgency to find and decipher clues before Henrikson's army or the mysterious hooded men beat them to it or kill them hovers over the entire book and forces the plot forward. The focus of the historical mystery supersedes the action and we look forward to finding the next piece of the puzzle.
Golden's use of supporting characters also helps to avoid the other major pitfall of tie-in novels; learning too much about the main character. Drake is reactionary by nature. His past has been left deliberately murky so that the games can explore it when the time comes (Uncharted 3 took a look at Drake and Sully's first meeting, for example). Drake helps us learn more about the new characters and he does lead most of the action, but that said, it does feel like Drake is sometimes not active enough within the story and is simply filling the reader's role as an observer. We learn more about the relationship between Jada and Sully than we do the one between Drake and his mentor. The shades of grey in which the villains and Drake operate are explored to Golden's credit, with enough details and depth given to Henrikson that we can consider the comparison properly.
Considering the collaboration that must have existed between Naughty Dog and Titan, I was surprised how similar the plot beats and the "McGuffin" for the book and the latest game were. Unfortunately the similarity extends to both stories having a pretty decent build up to an ending that simply falls flat. In the case of The Fourth Labyrinth, the reveal of what the treasure is comes a little too soon before the anti-climactic confrontation of beast and villain, which is done and dusted in about fifteen pages. Please note, however, that I was disappointed in the pacing and scale of the denouement, but still felt that the plot was wrapped up and all my questions answered in a satisfying manner.
All in all though, The Fourth Labyrinth is a decent read and whilst fans of the game series will get the most out of it, there is plenty for those unfamiliar with Uncharted, who enjoy a bit of historical detective work mixed with action adventure (fans of Indiana Jones, The Da Vinci Code or Brad Meltzer's Book of Lies would do well to pick this up). Personally, I hope that The Fourth Labyrinth will be just the first of Golden's prose adventures with Nathan Drake.