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Review: Watch Dogs Stars and Stripes by Sean Grigsby; Stewart Hotston

A fan of the Watch Dog games franchise since its release I was incredibly excited to find that Aiden Pearce was back in his first story since the 2014 game. I was even happier to find that this novel links to his arrival in the latest expansion for Watch Dogs: Legion game, Bloodlines. So needless to say I had high expectations. It’s nearly always the same with an Aconyte book though and boy did they deliver.

For those who may not have played the games the Watch Dogs universe focuses on and illustrates the labyrinthine world full of corrupt companies, criminal empires and rival hackers all hellbent on rooting out deadly secrets – with people from all walks of life caught in between. Similar to the Anonymous collective of hackers present in our own world.

Stars and Stripes sees infamous hacker Aiden Pearce follow a bloody trail of corruption to the highest levels of government in this gritty and tense action adventure. Older, but not exactly wiser, Aiden Pearce, ‘the Fox’, is a rolling stone, surviving by moving from one shadowy hacker job to the next. While finishing a job in Baltimore, he’s captured by a mysterious agent who insists on finding some missing cargo full of transhuman tech is a job only Aiden can do. But when flattery doesn’t work, blackmail does. Could it get any worse? Considering he ends up partnered with the unscrupulous Jordi Chin, yes it could. The simple investigation and retrieval begins to spiral into a nefarious plot leading all the way to the White House. Should Aiden really help a country that only wants to see him behind bars? For the Vigilante, no one escapes hard justice, not even Uncle Sam.

From the very first page we are dropped into the action packed and gritty world of Watch Dogs and the action does not let up. I was hooked. Sometimes it is difficult to capture the essence of a different medium such as a videogame and translate it to a prose novel but believe me when I say Sean Grigsby and Stewart Hotston do just that!  Not once are you left thinking this is too much or this isn’t believable – quite the opposite. The story fits perfectly into the Watch Dog universe and somewhat eerily even ours.

Dealing with topics that have been brought to light more so in recent years we see so called ‘Patriots’, the Stripes, dreaming of a true America where only those with a certain background and skin tone are safe. These themes of racism being validated and seen as a form of patriotism are dealt with amazingly by the authors. I would dare say it provides a rather startling look at something that, while based on a game, could and unfortunately is an issue in our world and not just in America. I was perhaps a little too pleased to see a lot of the stripes get what they deserved.

On top of this the plethora of added characters are well thought out and believable. I have to admit this novel reignited my love for Aiden the most, with his wits and sarcasm as well as determination in face of rather damning odds. A quick note and aside was, and stupid as it sounds, seeing the characters particularly Aiden continue to suffer from their scrapes, wounds and just general age. The characters aren’t invincible (yes you can die in a video game but often the characters can go through a lot or sort of cheat death. Take Skyrim for example, I can’t be the only one who may be guilty of stopping mid-battle to eat some sweetrolls!) but that doesn’t happen here. Yes, they get medical attention but they still suffer later on. It’s not a cure all and it helps further ground this in the real world.

 I honestly could not put this one down.The action perfectly merged the high-tech setting of the Watch Dog universe. This is a high-octane ride that does not let up. A wonderful addition to the growing line-up of Watch Dog tie-ins. I really hope we see Aiden Pearce return in novel form and I adored the tie in at the end to the newest expansion of Watch Dog: Legion. Aconyte have done it once again and I have to say this may be one of my favourite reads of the year so far.

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