From TheExplodingBarrel's Review of Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway: A Brothers in Arms Novel
We don't normally write about books here at the ole' Barrel, but since Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway is a book based on a video game, I figured I'd make an exception. Although I didn't know it until picking up the 300 page novel, Col. John Antal [retired] (who has served as Gearbox's military advisor for many years) also happens to be a prolific writer who has published 80 articles and a half dozen military books prior to writing Hell's Highway. In his latest effort, Antal blends fact with fiction as he intertwines the struggles of series mainstay Sargent Matt Baker, the British XXX Corps, the German army (both SS and Wehrmacht), and members of the Dutch Resistance during Operation Market Garden. Hell's Highway illustrates the Allies' attempt to put an end to fighting in the European Theater of operations by reclaiming Holland and crossing into Germany in full force. It was the largest air-drop operation in American history, and the last major victory the Germans were able to muster.
Initially, I was concerned that Antal's fictitious narrative could never provide the same level of authenticity and historical accuracy one would expect from strictly non-fiction accounts of the 101st Airborne. Still, my love for the Brothers series, and WW2 history in general, compelled me to give it a read regardless of my trepidation. As it turns out, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that by writing historical fiction, Antal capitalizes upon his artistic liberty to convey the inner worlds of his characters in a more personal light than other popular accounts of this conflict. For instance, protagonist Baker's post-traumatic stress disorder is explored with a level of sophistication and depth that strict non-fiction seldom approaches. Never does the story venture beyond the boundaries of the credible, and one gets the feeling while reading Brothers in Arms that the plot progression always has one foot firmly planted in actual history, which is the result of many years of research on the author's part.
I was also a bit concerned that the novel would ruin the plot of the game, but I've watched practically every bit of Hell's Highway video available on the Internet, and as far as I know, many scenes, characters and set pieces portrayed in the promotional trailers never seem to pop up in the novel. Corrian, the assault team leader who has been in the previous Brothers titles, is present in the cut scenes Gearbox has released, but entirely absent (at least in name) from the text, for example. I may be wrong, but it seems like the novelization of Brothers in Arms is anything but, instead fleshing out the game's ancillary narratives with additional exposition. It's meaty stuff, but it doesn't appear to be the author's intent to spoil the game with a blow by blow account of the game's plot. Instead, much of Brothers focuses on the various soldiers' downtime, combat tactics, and personal thoughts.
One of the book's main strengths was it's ability to humanize the Wehrmacht, delineating the regular German military from the brutal SS soldiers who routinely killed Dutch civilians, and even German soldiers perceived as being unpatriotic. Much of Brothers is told from the perspective of a highly decorated Wehrmacht Fallschirmjäger officer named Graf, who at one point does battle with his Nazi superior over ideological differences. It is an interesting glimpse into how fragile Germany's unity was during those dark days, and Antal provides his readers with fascinating insights into the complex infrastructure of the German war machine that has yet to be tackled in any of the numerous video games set in WWII. I also particularly enjoyed reading the chapters written from the perspective of a 16 year old Dutch girl named Mira, who aided the allies with a small band of child resistance members called `The Bicyclists'. Much like the Call of Duty games have clung to the notion war is a collaborative endeavor, one gets the sense that the game play in Brothers in Arms will depend on the cooperation of individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds to a greater extent than previous iterations in the series.
Whenever I buy a book based on a video game, I get feelings of shame one would normally associate with the procurement of pornography. "Are books based on games considered books at all?" I silently ask myself during check-out. In this case, the answer is a resounding, "Hell yes!" With Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway, the narrative is the spoonful of sugar the helps the historical medicine go down, and Antal succeeds in entertaining readers while dropping little bombs of knowledge throughout. It isn't just the best book I've ever read that was based on a video game, it's one of the most entertaining books I've read on the subject of the 101st Airborne, and I can whole-heartedly recommend Antal's novel to fans of the games and WWII history buffs with no interest in ever laying hands on a video game controller alike.