Bioshock: Rapture – John Shirley


5/5 stars

Spoilers ahead.

First published in 2011, Bioshock: Rapture is the official prequel to the video game series Bioshock, taking place before the game and explaining the events that led up to Jack’s return to the sunken city. It’s a very insightful read for fans of the game who have the patience to read through this hefty read – at nearly 500 pages, it’s the largest video game tie in novel that I own.

The novel begins by introducing the main antagonist of the video game, Andrew Ryan, during a time where he was still living on land. You get to see what his life was like whilst he was forming the idea of Rapture, learning about his past and how he fled from his home country. He’s a very interesting character to read about because he seemed so cold and calculating in the video game. He felt linear but the novel gave him a greater depth – there was an obvious method to his method, and despite knowing how everything would turn out in the end, I found myself routing for him to succeed. The first meeting with Ryan is told during the introduction of another main character – Sullivan, his most trusted companion and head of security. You can tell that there is a bond between the two men despite there being a clear class divide between them – Sullivan was the sweaty underling and Ryan was the larger than life billionaire genius.

The novel was very well written, nothing seemed out of place – everything felt relevant. The way that Shirley wrote the characters, though a little awkward at times when he tried to write in their ‘nationality’, felt genuine. There was a steady build in character development that I have rarely seen in novels I’ve read in the past couple of years. With the game fresh in my mind, I had an idea of how characters would evolve or devolve and watching that process happen so smoothly was fantastic.

My favourite character in the novel was Bill McDonagh. For me, he was the best in terms of character development. Starting off as the British plumber trying to earn a living the honest way in 1940s New York City, Bill is introduced to us through his first meeting with Andrew Ryan – he proves his ingenuity with plumbing by giving some honest advice that he, at the time, doesn’t realise will help bring Rapture to life. Watching him grow as a character was amazing – he started off awkward and mistrusting, grew to respect Ryan for the chances that he gave him, fell in love and created a family so subtly through the text that I felt as though I had really known him for years, and eventually stopped denying that Rapture was failing and stood up to Ryan. It was only half way through the novel that I realised why I recognised his name – and with the knowledge of his grizzly fate in my mind, I continued sadly to watch this character’s demise.

His death was written perfectly. I felt the emotion between the men involved – even from Andrew Ryan. He wasn’t even in the scene, just the phrasing of Bill’s executioner saying how he couldn’t bare to watch that fate fall upon Bill. It just hit home how perfectly executed these characters were – Ryan considered Bill his best friend but Bill tried to leave Rapture to protect his family, came close to killing Ryan to end the civil war, and became a traitor to Rapture. And despite his reluctance in ordering his death, he stuck to his morals and made an example of Bill who in turn took the punishment honourably. They were two friends torn apart who kept true to what they believed in no matter the cost, their flaws defined them as characters and that was what made this novel so amazing.

All of the characters, no matter how small their part, were fantastic. The background behind the other antagonist, Frank Fontaine, was incredible! Everyone knows the man as Frank Fontaine, but that wasn’t even scratching the surface of who he was. You never really get to know who he was even before his ‘Before Rapture’ moments. He was enigma of a character, layer upon layer of persona’s that all made a very intriguing character to read. His transformation from Frank Gorland to Frank Fontaine to Atlas was seamless – he was a master of disguise, a villain with a likeable quality. Despite knowing his fate and how much I hated him when I played the video games, I couldn’t help but admire him – everything was so brilliantly played out and ingeniously smart.

What I especially liked was Jack’s origin story being blended with mentions of Eleanor Lambb. It put things into perspective for these characters – how they manipulated Jack’s DNA to make him age to be older than Eleanor despite the girl technically being older than him. The impact on children was another topic that was so well managed – children of war like Jack, Eleanor and Sophie (Bill’s daughter) and how it affects them. It was fascinating and terrifying. A liked that it focused a little more on Sophie rather than Jack and Eleanor – they had their stories, but some background was welcome.

Overall, this novel was a fantastic read. I’d say it would be a good read for people who haven’t even played the video games – there is enough information for you to be able to sink into Rapture, fall in love with the characters without even having any prior knowledge. It’s eloquently written and the historical elements were on point. It’s well deserving of 5 stars out of 5.


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