The Story: [From GoodReads:] Since the devastating conclusion of Hitman: Blood Money, Agent 47 has been MIA. Now fans awaiting the return of the blockbuster video game and film phenomenon can pinpoint the location of the world’s most brutal and effective killer-for-hire before he reemerges in Hitman: Absolution. When the Agency lures him back with a mission that will require every last ounce of his stealth, strength, and undercover tactics, they grossly underestimate the silent assassin’s own agenda. Because this time, Agent 47 isn’t just going to bite the hand that feeds him. He’s going tear it off and annihilate anyone who stands in his way.
My Take: Normally I don’t read media tie-ins (with exceptions taken to the Star Trek and Star Wars universes) though I don’t inherently dislike the genre. While I’ve never played any of the Hitman games, I’m familiar enough with the franchise and its main characters that I was interested in reading this novel. That and, at the time, I had finished watching a walk-through of Hitman: Absolution and was curious to read this story, which occurs between Hitman: Blood Money and Hitman: Absolution. (Wow – I feel geeky just knowing that!) (As to why I watched a walk-through: I was bored and it was a featured video on my YouTube homepage, so I watched it and got interested in the story. That’s as good a reason as any, I guess!)
Hitman: Damnation (which, as I understand it, is a stand-alone that doesn’t tie into Agent 47’s official canon or bio) is a good example of why I tend to avoid media tie-in books in general. For starters, the writing is extremely brisk and employs a simplistic, dry delivery. This is the sort of story that’s not intended to be lingered over but read in a hurry as if it’s designed to encourage speed-reading, and that intent bleeds through the entire story through its delivery, plotting, and character development. Physical settings are described by their basics only, just enough so readers don’t think the action in a given scene occurs in a black box, and thus devoid of any luscious details. Characters are rarely described, if at all, including persons who are unique to this story and who don’t populate the Hitman games. Likewise, the characters essentially exist just to populate the plot and don’t develop much beyond a rather limited scope. Lastly, the writing itself is also basic and lacking in rhythm or color.
Also, I’m not sure how I feel about this particular take on Agent 47. In the games, we know he is genetically designed to be the perfect assassin, complete with a rather stoic manner. Hence, he exhibits a limited range of emotions and harbors no close social ties, with Diana from the Agency being his only regular source of human contact and usually not in person. However, in this novel, Agent 47’s emotional and social limitations are presented and explored to some minor degree as well as an inclusion that 47 has an addiction to pain pills. Again, while my knowledge of his character’s inner workings is limited, this latter element came across as a bit odd and I don’t think it’s ever come up in any of the games to the best of my understanding. Granted, it’s possible this was added to make Agent 47 seem more human. But I see his character as being impervious to pain, both physical and emotional, so this felt like it was added strictly to make him seem less than invincible.
Again, I wouldn’t take too much issue with this provided it was present in the games. But it seems slightly dismissive to the true nature of an addiction, meaning it’s not something that suddenly develops and then disappears overnight, which is how it’s portrayed here. If this is something Agent 47 dealt with in the games’ story lines, then it’s fine to bring it into the picture here. But if he never has, then doing so gives the impression that Agent 47 spontaneously developed an addiction and then miraculously recovered from it. Again, I know the novel isn’t official canon, but I much rather would have wished the story stuck with his personality and history from the games rather than add in a serious element (i.e. an addiction) that never reappears elsewhere.
Likewise, there are interwoven chapters of first-person narration where Agent 47 himself relates either a memory of his past or an aspect of his present situation. While the flashbacks work to ground his character for readers who are unfamiliar with him, the present-day accounts were a bit redundant. The rest of the novel is told through third-person narration; therefore, we often know a particular scene’s set up without requiring Agent 47’s additional commentary. In the same way, 47’s voice sounded a bit too youthful and casual. While his blunt delivery and lack of verbal color reflect his near-robotic personality, the tone seemed a bit young. Similarly, his painfully awkward interactions with Hannah, with whom he poses as a quasi-boyfriend, added to this youthful portrayal, meaning 47 seems to talk and act more like a 20-something man, not a 40-something gent, which his biography states is his age (and I assume he is supposed to be in his 40s in this novel). Again, all of this is probably intended to reflect Agent 47’s social inhibitions and lack of social graces, but his approach to the situations he finds himself in seem more fitting a younger man, not someone entering middle age. Regardless whether or not Agent 47 has had limited interpersonal human contact, his age would, theoretically, enable him to engage people on a more mature level, not as a shy, nearly skittish person.
Lastly, and as seems to be the case with media tie-ins, this novel was 90% telling and 10% showing. Granted, some books lend themselves to more telling than showing and vice versa, but this lack of a good balance can cause a story to become dry as we’re constantly being told what’s happening, never shown through description or non-verbal character interaction. In fact, this book reads more like a script at times and less like a novel. In the same way, the characters aren’t developed beyond a general, basic scope and assume readers are familiar with the games’ principle cast. While there are some new, original characters (such as Hannah), they’re practically faceless and aren’t given a chance to shine because we’re always being told about them rather than letting their actions speak for themselves. Overall, this novel possesses the same depth of plot delivery and character development as a video game, which works for the medium of a video game but is found to be sorely lacking in the medium of a novel.
Language – Minimal and infrequent.
Violence – Since this is Hitman, there are scenes of violence scattered throughout and the story hinges on a contractual hit; but these moments are delivered using clinical language, so there are no detailed descriptions of blood and gore.
Sexual Content – Essentially none other than some mild innuendos. Also, while Agent 47 has a girlfriend of sorts, they don’t engage in anything sensual or sexual.
Overall, I think Hitman: Damnation might be best appreciated by Hitman franchise aficionados more so than casual readers though perhaps fans of the suspense/thriller genre in general might find something to like. However, this novel possesses flaws common to media tie-in books: rapid-fire pacing, lack of character development, more telling than showing, bare-bones description, and dry narration. In short, this novel does what it probably set out to do – tell a bridge story between two Hitman installments – and for that it accomplishes its task albeit it doesn’t offer much beyond that scope.