BOOK REVIEW – God of War by J. M. Barlog

By Marty Mulrooney

God of War by J. M. Barlog

God of War is the official novelisation of the hit 2018 video game of the same name. Written by J. M. Barlog, the book follows the emotional and compelling story of Kratos – a god now living as a man – and his son Atreus as they journey through a realm of Norse gods and monsters.

He stared curiously at Kratos for a time, as if to size him up. It seemed he was waiting for Kratos to speak. Kratos noticed his bony fingers curved reflexively into fists.
“Huh. Thought you’d be bigger. But you are definitely the one,” the stranger said slowly, drawing out his words. His colorless words curled into a smirk.
Kratos remained silent.

The latest God of War game for PlayStation 4 successfully refreshed the iconic series that was first born on PlayStation 2 in 2005. Unlike the previous games, this new instalment left behind the Greek Gods of Olympus to show an older Kratos living as a man in the realm of Norse gods and monsters.

The God of War novelisation follows the core story of the video game very closely; following the death of his wife, Kratos and his son Atreus – who is unaware that his father is a god – set out to fulfil their promise to spread her ashes at the highest peak of the nine realms.

They rowed beneath a natural rock overhang that emerged into a vast caldera. Atreus’ jaw dropped.
Then they drifted past a half-submerged monumental stone statue of a god, clutching a hammer.
“Look. That is Thor!” Atreus declared.

J. M. Barlog does a steady, workmanlike job of translating the game’s story to the written page. Not only was he previously a story consultant for God of War II; he is also the father of Cory Barlog, the director of God of War (2018). For a game that deals so heavily with the relationship between a father and his son, it seems particularly apt that the game director’s own father was commissioned to write the novelisation.

However, the game’s story doesn’t always lend itself well to the written word. Often, the novelisation betrays its video game roots and the truth is that this particular story is far more effective as interactive entertainment; the novelisation doesn’t add much to the experience and in fact omits many of the game’s side quests and story beats. Those who have yet to play the game may find themselves struggling to picture the realm Kratos and Atreus are advancing through.

With a fierce yank, Kratos extricated the steaming heart in a spray of inky blood, which quickly froze in the subzero air, causing the splashes on Kratos’ arms to dangle in red icicles. Kratos jumped away from the body, turning back to stare at his gory creation; a flash of remorse crossed his face, and he shook it out of his head. He did what he had to do to save his son.

There are also some peculiarities that must be noted. The dwarf Sindri is described as ‘bald and bearded’, while in the game he has a full head of hair – a curious oversight. Later, Kratos utters the words “Guys, the eye?” to Brok and Sindri, which just doesn’t sound right at all. Thankfully, the majority of the book rings true, making these complaints relatively minor in the grand scheme of things.

God of War is one of 2018’s best games and its novelisation provides an enjoyable way to recap Kratos and Atreus’ epic journey. However, it fails to reach the same lofty heights as novelisations such as ICO: Castle in the Mist and Metal Gear Solid: Guns of the Patriots. Those who have yet to play God of War should do so before reading this novelisation; it works far better as a companion piece than as a standalone novel.

7 OUT OF 10

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