“Jesse McCree, I may not be able to see the future,” Ashe said quietly, “but I know one thing: Whether I’m headed for heaven or hell, I want it to be on the route I choose. Not one chosen for me. So, are you with me, or not?” It’s official — Overwatch players have some quality reading to enjoy while sitting in matchmaking queues with Lyndsay Ely’s novel, Deadlock Rebels.
Overwatch has been a popular darling for Activision Blizzard, going on to spawn comics, lauded animated shorts, and now a series of books in partnership with Scholastic. Aimed at fans young and young at heart, Deadlock Rebels is the second book in the anthology series, centering on the origins of one of the most recent new heroes, Elizabeth Caledonia Ashe. Though players already know Ashe’s destiny as the leader of a high-tech cowboy gang, Deadlock Rebels manages to add considerable nuance to the character.
Ashe’s journey from troubled rich girl to leader of a fiercely loyal gang of criminals is remarkable in a variety of ways. Despite the bombastic scale of the setting, Deadlock Rebels never leaves the single sizable town of Bellerae’s radius, only going as far as the outskirts onto a particular famous map from Overwatch’s launch.
Deadlock Rebels features a surprisingly potent exploration of all the “unrefined” folk society leaves behind when rebuilding in a post-war society. With the fallout of the Omnic Crisis still looming, Ashe’s friends and foes bear the marks, both literally and inwardly, from the robot revolution. Most surprising is the revelation that Ashe is basically a gun-toting Lorelai Gilmore, from the emotionally distant rich parents to falling for a boy that’s nothing but trouble. The Gilmore Girls comparison runs surprisingly deep, with a remarkably upbeat story bolstered by lively dialogue that’s constantly evolving across each page.
Speaking of troublesome boys, beloved DPS cowboy Jesse McCree also features prominently, though it’s a fair few years before he’s grown that famous beard, let alone lost an arm. Though we never see how the pair eventually break apart, the novel’s conclusion leaves a prime opening for Ely to return to the story down the road, which Blizzard absolutely should arrange.
The supporting cast are just as lively, packed full of charisma, including an ambitious demolitionist gambler, a hacker survivalist, and an old lady hoverbike racer. There’s a healthy dose of tension that brings out the best in all of the cast, with some great set pieces that evoke everything from Mad Max to classic spaghetti westerns, but Deadlock Rebels wants you to have fun between all the emotional highs and lows.
All of this is wound together by perfect pacing. You witness the titular gang’s rise to fame and Ashe’s formative moments, growing into an imposing, charismatic leader in her own right. The action hits hard, multiple heists playing out a mile a minute, in one case literally, with each throwing new variables into the works. The novel harnesses the franchise’s science fiction elements smartly, seemingly taking a few notes from Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs and also previous in-game events.
Ashe’s internal monologue is great too, bitter enough to express her repressed childhood, yet her empathy for her found family is instantly endearing. You resonate with her so well that it makes it a tad harder to reconcile she’s supposed to be an antagonist in the present-day story. There’s clearly some tragedy on the horizon for her gang, but Deadlock Rebels never delves into what happened there. Ultimately though, Ely provides an inspired evolution of Ashe, who originally debuted in somewhat bland fashion in the game.
Deadlock Rebels incorporates every single detail from the game’s existing voice lines for Ashe. Even a one-liner about a bad cup of coffee at a diner comes up. It’s impressive, demonstrating considerable research put into the adventure. Only a couple things feel out of sync. One is how casual McCree is with Ashe’s bike in the game and the animated short Reunion, given its construction is a key subplot of Deadlock Rebels. Another is that fans were previously told Ashe and McCree weren’t attracted to one another, yet it comes up as very much a thing in Deadlock Rebels. It suggests Blizzard might be going back on that stance.
My only other real complaint is that none of the antagonists are well developed. Ashe’s parents loom more than do anything substantive, though that’s partly the point with them. Meanwhile, the later antagonistic threat is just sort of there, even if their fate is a suitable comeuppance. It could have elevated the story if their individual conflicts with Ashe had as much meat as everything else. But this criticism aside, Deadlock Rebels is still a vibrant, impactful adventure.
The big question now is what remains for Scholastic’s Overwatch lineup. Its opening act centered on the sentient African centaur omnic robot Orisa (say that three times fast), and now it’s explored Ashe. It seems the characters further on the fringes of the story are being granted greater prominence in the fiction. Given that’s the case, there’s a wide selection of choices for authors to explore next. However, as much as I’m gonna keep rooting for a Symmetra book, I do hope we get a direct sequel to Deadlock Rebels. Ashe’s band of misfits is worth exploring further, as well as her and McCree’s evolution from partners to rivals.
Despite being relatively new to the tie-in fiction scene, Lyndsay Ely demonstrates a thorough grasp of how to tell a thrilling tale. It’s rare a book gets me to tear through from cover to cover in a single day, but Deadlock Rebels did just that. Another welcome surprise is the sheer breadth of vocabulary on display. At every turn, Deadlock Rebels perfectly balances greater aspirations with an instantly gripping adventure. Whether you dig Overwatch, westerns, or sci-fi heists, there’s something to love here — and if you are an Overwatch fan and haven’t picked this book up yet, you need to rectify that ASAP.