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Sins of the Fathers: A Gabriel Knight Novel…

Sins of the Fathers: A Gabriel Knight Novel

by Jane Jensen

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Gabriel Knight is a New Orleans bookseller and horror novelist. He wants to make it big as an author, but everything he's written so far has flopped. He has high hopes for his next novel, which he plans to base on the recent killings the media has dubbed the Voodoo Murders. First, though, he wants to figure out as much as possible about what's really going on. The police think all the voodoo stuff is fake, a smokescreen meant to hide mob activity, but Gabriel's not so sure. He finds his investigation mixing strangely and uncomfortably with the horrifying dreams he keeps having, in which a woman is burned at the stake.

Okay, I'll start this off with a few questions: Have you ever played the Gabriel Knight computer games, and do you have fond memories of them? Are you a fan of point-and-click adventure games? If you answered “yes” to any of this but don't particularly want to play/replay Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers, then this book might be for you. Everyone else is probably better off moving on to something else.

I played the second and third Gabriel Knight games around the time they first came out (1995 and 1999), but I never got around to playing the first one, the one on which this book is based. Even so, I found this to be an enormously nostalgia-filled read. The dialogue, the characters, the way Gabriel went about his investigation, all of it felt familiar. It was wonderful and fun. And also terrifically bad.

Although I haven't played the original game, I suspect the novel is very closely based on it, right down to its depiction of the puzzles players would have had to solve. This is great for nostalgia but otherwise not good, because adventure game logic and book logic are not the same thing.

In an adventure game, a player's inventory can hold all manner of things for however long they're needed. Players pick up all kinds of random junk, even if they don't know how or why it might be useful, because anything that can be picked up is guaranteed to eventually be useful. And just because players think a particular inventory item should be able to accomplish a task doesn't mean that it actually will. For example, a screwdriver is never going to be able to pry open a cheap locked box if the game designers decided that players need to find and use a key instead.

While book logic isn't necessarily exactly like real world logic, it's closer to real world logic than game logic, which is why some of the things Gabriel did and some of the ways characters reacted to him were absolutely bizarre. For example, at one point he decided he wanted to steal Detective Mosely's badge. I would never have guessed that the best and most foolproof way for him to do this would be for him to complain about the heat, wait for Mosely to feel sympathetically hot and take off his jacket, and then ask for a cup of coffee (who asks for coffee immediately after complaining about the heat?), prompting Mosely to leave the office and his jacket, with his badge still in it, unattended. It didn't help that readers weren't told what his goal was until after he'd achieved it.

There were so many weird things. Like the mask with the $100 price tag that cost exactly $100 (no sales tax!). Or the journals from hundreds of years ago that were inexplicably written in English, even though the people writing them were German. Jensen should probably have left that one alone, but instead she drew attention to its strangeness by trying to explain it. The best she could come up with was that the journal writers must have somehow sensed that Gabriel would one day read their entries and therefore wrote them in English, to which I can only say “huh?”

Even back when I was playing the games, I enjoyed them more for their stories and puzzles than for their characters. The same held true for this novelization. Although Gabriel could have been worse, any time he was in a scene with a woman I cringed a little. Nearly every single younger woman was described in terms of how physically appealing she was to Gabriel. In one of my least favorite scenes, Gabriel essentially harassed Malia Gedde, a woman he was interested in, at her mother's grave, telling her not to belittle his love for her. He'd spoken to her maybe twice by that point. Not long after that, the two of them had sex. The only reason I could accept any of that was because it seemed fairly obvious that Gabriel's feelings were being magically manipulated by Malia.

The way Grace was handled could have been better. She was a better logical thinker than Gabriel, and yet he never sat down and bounced ideas off her or even told her much about what was really going on. Mostly, she was there to provide Gabriel with someone he needed to save near the end of the book, and to do Gabriel's research, even when that "research" amounted to no more than checking the phone book for a particular name. I gritted my teeth when she first appeared in the book and Gabriel described her by basically calling her "exotic" without ever actually using that word. For example:

"And beyond all that, Grace was Japanese or, rather, Japanese-American. Although she spoke and acted as American as a native (well, she was a native), there were subtle things about her that Gabriel found incomprehensible. Her loyalty to her parents, for example. She called them daily and they still seemed to run her life to an extent that Gabriel could not comprehend any grown person putting up with. Hell, his gran had never been that bad, and he'd still moved out when he was sixteen." (7)

I'm not sure why some of that info was included, considering that Grace was never shown calling her parents. In fact, at the end of the book she made a decision, all on her own and without even mentioning her parents, that could have an enormous effect on her future. Meanwhile, Gabriel spent a portion of the book at his grandmother's house.

Jensen's writing could have been better. "Relinquished" was one of her top favorite words, used even when other word choices might have been more appropriate, and Gabriel frequently described attractive women using the word "creamy" (there were "creamy" legs and even a bizarre instance of a "creamy" face). There was also a lot of infodumping, although that was probably at least partly an artifact of the original game: lots of instances of Gabriel reading about drumming, voodoo lore, or other subjects in books, or receiving a long lecture from another character.

This was one of those strange reads that I both thought was terrible and thoroughly enjoyed. Here's hoping Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within manages to be similarly appealing. I expect the nostalgia aspect to be even stronger in that one, since I've actually played the game.

Rating Note:

If I could, I'd give this book multiple star ratings: 4 stars for entertainment value, 4.5 stars for nostalgia, 1 star for issues with the writing, either 2.5 or 3 stars for the story. Instead, I've settled on 3 stars. It was a fun read and I kind of loved it even when I hated it, but I wouldn't recommend it to most people.

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.) ( )
  Familiar_Diversions | Jan 30, 2016 |
I usually try to avoid things that are based on video game franchises. They smack entirely too much of product placement and hype generation. I gave this one a chance for three reasons: One, I practically worship the Gabriel Knight games. They're amazingly well crafted, tell great stories, require a lot more thought - and more of it logical than most of the point-and-click games of their era - and have more amazing talent behind them than anything else for their day. Plus, they were obviously created for an older, more mature audience than much of their compatriots (King's Quest, Space Quest and Police Quest were all a little more in line with the "Good guys beat bad guys, no moral grey areas, no potentially offensive or mature content" statement, and Leisure Suit Larry, while amusing, was a very long dirty joke, not a "mature" game.) Two: They were written by an actual published writer, not two guys who said "Hey, you know what'd be fun? Let's make a game!" Three: I was madly in love with Jane Jensen when I was a teenager.

Ms. Jensen wrote the games... then she came out with the novelizations. Unlike a lot of game and movie novelizations of the era, Sins of the Fathers comes across as actually BEING a novel. The plot is solid, the characters interesting, suitably flawed and believable, the setting info is well done. I almost feel like she wrote the novels first and Sierra came along later to make games of them, rather than the other way around.

The basic premise - a New Orleans bookstore owner, Gabriel Knight, is poking around the edges of a murder case, hoping to dredge up enough good material for his breakout novel. In doing so, he manages to get himself (along with childhood friend turned police detective Mosely and research assistant/store manager Grace) wrapped up in something a lot bigger, older and more magical than any of them expected. Along the way, he finds out a bit about his family history and a curse that's been hanging over his people for nearly three centuries.

The premise is solid; the explanation for the curse is well-done (if slightly cliched) and the characters are appropriately tortured by the choices they have to make. Gabriel and his ancestors quite often do the wrong thing - though sometimes for the right reasons - and the "villains" have their own reasons for doing what they do, which are every bit as viable and "right" as the heroes, if taken from their perspective. Mosely provides great unintentional comedic support, and Grace - possibly the most well-written character - shows a lot more talent and broader emotional range - and keeps her actions logical and believable - than anyone not familiar with the GK series would likely believe.

There are a few problems on the technical end; Jensen seems to have difficulty remembering that parenthesis and em-dashes tend to go in pairs and sometimes the narrative - which is usually in third-person subjective - devolves into difficult-to-process stream of consciousness with frequent repetition. Adjectives threaten to drown the action, and sometimes don't seem to make much sense; one example being, as she describes Malia Gedde, a "copper-skinned" African-American woman who Gabriel interacts with extensively, as having "creamy flesh." This is done three times. Maybe it's just me, but I'm picturing someone who's practically bronze-skinned, and the word "creamy" doesn't really seem to tie to that. Or I'm thinking of what she looked like in the PC game, and again... "creamy" isn't a word I'd use. *shrug* Maybe it's just me. Description for characters seems to be in short supply; though we're (often to our dismay) treated to vivid descriptions of Mosely - his balding pate, his chubby, fur-covered gut, his hairy, long-nailed feet - there's hardly anything to say about Grace other than that she's Japanese and has "creamy" legs. Gabriel too, is often overlooked in the description category, with the exception of his "stringy blonde bangs," which he takes every opportunity to preen over.

Overall, it'd say it's well worth checking out, however. The plot is solid and interesting, the characters very believable and human even when dealing with the inhuman situations they find themselves in, and the forbidden love theme is done well without beating you over the head with it. Plus, hey, if you're into graphic adventures and still have the discs or venture over to GOG.com, you can use the book as damn near a step-by-step walkthrough for the game. ;) ( )
  KaineAndrews | Apr 15, 2013 |
I read this book when I was younger (maybe 13 or so): it was a novel adapted from a point and click mystery game. I enjoyed the game very much, however I became stuck at one point during the game. This was a time before you could just Google everything when you wanted an answer so I bought the book and ended up figuring out what I needed to do. I really did like the flow of the novel as it clearly followed the exact same events of the game, and it enhanced some of the places as well. Plus having played the game the characters felt very alive to me. I wasn't an avid reader at this time but this novel was a pivotal point in my appreciation of books. I usually go back and re-read this book every couple of years and each time the adventure pulls me in! ( )
  Timothy_Dalton007 | Jun 15, 2011 |
For a game tie in novella, this wasn't bad. It fleshed out the characters further and added details you just can't get in a game or movie. And even though I knew the ending (since I did play the game first) I found the story engaging and still somewhat suspenseful if not surprising. ( )
  Kellswitch | Nov 9, 2009 |
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To my mother, Virginia Rarick Smith
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