I was very pleasantly surprised. I thought this was going to be the fourth installment of the books that went with Starcraft (1), and share those tomes' foibles. Rather, it was the first book of the prequels for Starcraft II. This puts in in the ballpark with other books I enjoyed, like Heaven's Devils and Devil's Due.
The story itself, perhaps unsurprisingly tells of Arcturus Mengsk's teenage years on Korhal, his joining of the Confederate Marines, and his subsequent life as a prospector in the outer reaches. It might be a little bit of a spoiler, but it also tells about his son Valerian, and gives a little back story into how and why Valerian would work at cross-purposes to Arcturus. This is much needed information for the game, as far as I am concerned.
- Insight into one of the primary villains of the Starcraft Universe. While I was expecting a somewhat stale piece of fluff about Mengsk pulling the wings off of butterflies because he's a "Bad Guy," the book quite superbly gives him layers of personality behind everything he does. He's not just power hungry, he's a complex and very driven man, who is really much, much, scarier than I gave him credit for.
- Valerian. I didn't really understand Valerian in his game appearance, but with a little bit of back story, he becomes quite the sympathetic character. I hope he plays a more central role in the forthcoming "Heart of the Swarm."
- Battles. Arcturus and Valerian participate in some pretty gritty combat, and while it cannot be said to be 'realistic' (this is sci-fi after all), there is some real thought going into how they fight.
- Tie In. When all is said and done, this really is just a tie in novel to a computer game. Meaning that it is on the short side, and the author's have to be careful where they tread. No shocking endings for characters in the game continuity, for example. You know Arcturus and Valerian are going to survive the 'hair raising' ending sequence, which robs some of its potency.