S.D. Perry has written 7 Resident Evil novels to date, 5 are based on the game series & 2 are stand-alone new stories tying into the series as a whole. While they mostly follow the events of the games the author does delve into areas not touched elsewhere.
While having more details & insight into the series as a whole is a good thing it does force inconsistencies to crop up as the game series continued onwards. Reading these books I have to constantly remind myself that they are not canon & that the author could never have foreseen where the series (4 onwards) was going.
The Umbrella Conspiracy takes us right to the beginning of the Resident Evil story. If you don’t know the Resident Evil story by now…where have you been!? Stop reading this, go out & find a copy of one of the finest games of the last 20 years.
If you don’t have time for that the story goes something like this…There has been a spate of nasty murders in & around the Racoon Forest/Arklay Mountain regions. Victims were mutilated & parts of them, eaten. Raccoon City Police are struggling to solve the mystery so the specialist team S.T.A.R.S (Special Tactics & Rescue Squad) are called in to investigate. Bravo team is sent in but go missing with no contact so Alpha team follow. While searching the forest region in their helicopter they see Bravo’s crashed helicopter so land to investigate.
As they find the remains of a Bravo team member they are attacked by a pack of wild hounds & the surviving members of Alpha run for safety towards a nearby mansion. This mansion is no safe place though as an outbreak of the T-virus created by Umbrella has infected the workers & surrounding areas.
The book begins as Bravo team have been sent in…
We are introduced to the characters of Alpha we know so well but with some added back stories. It turns out Jill Valentine is the daughter of an infamous thief & was brought up in that life until recently. This explains her ‘master of unlocking’ title as she is extremely adept with lock picks. Her wondering if the life of a S.T.A.R.S member is for her considering her past adds some strength to her character.
She also has a vested interest in the murder cases as 2 victims, 2 young girls, were close to her. As does Chris Redfield who is convinced Umbrella is involved somehow after getting a call from a friend who worked for them claiming they were dangerous. His friend has gone missing now & Chris suspects foul play but can’t prove it. Chris’s character matches up well to how he appears in the game – headstrong with a bullish character but fiercely loyal & protective.
We get to see the reaction of the Alphas, as during a meeting. the Bravo helicopter goes down & Wesker makes the decision to send in the Alphas. A little bit of interaction with the Chief of Police, Brain Irons (first seen in Resident Evil 2) was a nice touch but what follows this section is pretty poor.
S.D. Perry writes from a character point of view switching between them as the book progresses. To flesh it out she doesn’t just rely on Chris & Jill but Barry & Wesker as well. It is the latter’s first section that annoyed me…we read as Wesker plans to depart with the Alpha’s & what they might expect. Anyone who has played the game knows that Wesker is working for Umbrella & that he has been tasked with cleaning up the mess Umbrella has made. So why pretend in internal thoughts that he is cares about the S.T.A.R.S mission or his colleagues?
It’s not like there is a big reveal as once they arrive at the mansion Wesker’s bits become about him cleaning up Umbrella’s mess & avoiding the S.T.A.R.S. As the book progresses he slips into the villain role that we all know so well, blackmailing Barry into helping him, killing Enrico & just being a pest. I would have much preferred to get Wesker’s thoughts about what he was going to do before he arrived at the mansion.
The introduction of a new character, Trent who gives Jill some clues & advice before she leaves with Alpha confused me. It is heavily hinted that he is an Umbrella insider wanting to help the S.T.A.R.S take them down. His part is minor but he is clearly a long-term plan for the book series…an Umbrella insider giving clues & knowledge seems a little too lazy, almost like Perry didn’t want to go into too much detail about the clue-solving the S.T.A.R.S would have to do. Instead Jill just pieces together Trent’s info.
I found the way in which Perry takes the explorative/back-tracking side of Resident Evil & turned it into a fairly free-flowing story quite good. It was always going to be difficult turning key collecting/crest collecting into something interesting. So what we get are 4 characters all working together without realising it to solve puzzles & open doors. Crest are found & placed by multiple characters & often someone will arrive at a section of the mansion to discover its puzzle already complete. It works…somehow, it works…
Well up to a point…
A lot of other sections are skipped or passed by which was unfortunate. Richard is dead already from the snake bite & Chris kills the snake outright. This means the 2nd snake battle never happens & a hefty section is cut out as well. Jill & Barry descend into the caves by walking through the waterfall rather then turning it off (sensible thinking, that) while Chris ends up in the guardhouse & deals with the shark & plant 42.
The plant 42 battle is a let down as Rebecca mixes the V-Jolt & they use it on the roots killing it instantly. I really feel like we could have had a nice big battle here, instead all we see is its remains & the realisation for Chris & Rebecca that Wesker is an Umbrella operative.
Talking about Rebecca….
She is easily the most frustrating character in the book. By the 10th internal monologue about how she doesn’t like being thought of as young & weak I wanted a zombie to eat her. For some reason S.D. Perry litters as lot of Jill & Rebecca’s thoughts with them feeling like they are treated as lesser because of their sex. However other then Chris treating Rebecca like a child I see none of this. I get it…its Rebecca first mission; I don’t need to be reminded of that fact every time she worries….particularly as Resident Evil 0 in the future will mess up the continuity completely.
The final sections of the book whizzes by in a flash & I am grateful that the tyrant battles were left intact. I did feel a bit sorry for the fella at the end though as all 4 surviving characters (Barry, Jill, Chris & Rebecca) team up to take him down before Chris blasts him with the infamous rocket launcher.
The book ends with Brad the pilot wondering who this Trent character was who radioed through the co-ordinates of the heliport to him.
It’s all very mysterious….
Better then expected but it is a difficult read knowing what I know about the game. I really enjoy the character development mostly although the references to Rebecca’s age & lack of experience become frustrating. Wesker was a bit of a mis-step as well appearing cool & calm but turning into a bit of a pantomime villain. The author was trying to make him lose his cool under pressure but as he never seemed under pressure it didn’t work. That sections are skipped would be fine if they weren’t important boss battles & I was sorely disappointed that Plant 42 wasn’t expanded upon.
Resident Evil: Volume I - The Umbrella Conspiracy