Mafia III: Plain of Jars Review + Meeting the Authors!
Mafia III: Plain of Jars
(Don’t read this summary if you want to go into Mafia III: Plain of Jars blind.)
Teaming up with his CIA handler, John Donovan, Lincoln Clay leads a secret mission to take down a communist warlord on the edge of the legendary Plain of Jars in Laos. But he can’t do it alone. First, he has to win over the people of the village of Vang Khom, including the beautiful Sho. Then he has to form them into an army that can defeat the warlord’s superior forces, using nothing but his street-honed wits combined with the guerrilla tactics he’s learned in the jungle. Victory seems to be finally within his grasp when he is betrayed by one of his closest allies, leading to a wild chase and an epic confrontation out among the ancient monuments, where his former friend becomes one of the first to discover what grim fate awaits those who cross Lincoln Clay.
AKA: How Our Favorite Murder Husbands* Met
As I’ve already discussed, Mafia III was one of my surprise gaming hits of this past year. It had fantastic writing, fun gameplay, complex characters (Lincoln Clay and John Donovan in particular!), and the political climate (Civil Rights Movement, dealing with racists, etc.) was very topical. I wanted more content, but the game wasn’t well-received due to some minor issues (that were later amended). Which meant fans like myself have been sitting idly by and wondering if there was going to be any additional content beyond the additional DLC (Faster Baby!, Stones Unturned, Sign of the Times).
I’ve played through the entire game twice (working on a third in the future to get my platinum), and wanted more from the world: What about more war stories that show how Lincoln and Donovan met? Why not some stuff after Lincoln’s canon ending (ruling New Bordeaux with all 3 under-bosses working together)?
Well, the fandom gods have been merciful and there is a Mafia III book out!
Meeting the Authors
Facebook’s creepy algorithm caught wind of my interest and showed me an ad from the official Mafia page that they had a dang NOVEL that had just released! (They’re also doing a giveaway on the publisher’s site, heads up!) On top of that, the book’s authors (Marsheila Rockwell and Jeff Mariotte), were scheduled to attend Tucson Comic-Con as guests! It was like the universe had shined down upon me as a Mafia III fan. 🙂 After confirming on Rockwell’s FB that they would be attending on Sunday (Rockwell and Mariotte are a married author power couple), I made plans to get the book in time to get signed by both of them.
I made it about 7 chapters on the way down to Tucson (my husband was driving), just at the part where Lincoln meets Donovan. Using Brick Cave Media‘s awesome booth as a landmark, I made my way around the corner. Marsheila was there, and told me Jeff would be back soon. I said that I had the Mafia III book for them to sign, and she was excited to see it. She explained that they hadn’t received their copies from the publisher yet, and my copy was the first one they had seen in the wild. Awesome!
Great Writing Team to Tackle Lincoln’s Mafia III Prologue Story
Some authors just kind of sign and let you go on your way without engaging. Jeff and Marcy were the opposite — they were interested to see what I thought about the book so far, as a fan of the game. I, conversely, was really curious about how they got to learn about the world as they wrote the book. How did they research the era, the characters, etc.–and they explained a lot behind the process, from watching the YouTube clips of dialogue and cutscenes to get a feel of the characters and finding more in-depth collective knowledge from the Wiki. They also did a lot of research into the era and military stuff, to cover operating in the middle of the Vietnam war coupled with the Civil Rights Movement at home (which they go into a little bit with Ellis in New Bordeaux).
It took a few drafts of notes from the liscencer to hash out what direction the book should go. They also explained their take on some of the characters. They wanted Donovan to be more lawful-evil, the way the game highlights his darker moments in the name of “doing it for his country,” and I appreciated that they picked up on that from their research!
It was just wonderful to know that the book was in good hands and not just rushed through, the way some other video game properties have been handled.
Mafia III: Plain of Jars Review
For those who haven’t played the game, Mafia III features a bi-racial protagonist, Lincoln Clay, who returns home to New Bordeaux (the game’s New Orleans) from Vietnam War. Lincoln, the adopted son of the leader of the black mob, goes on a vengeance spree with his war buddy, a CIA operative named John Donovan, after the ruling mafia kills his family and leaves him for dead after a successful heist. Mafia III: Plain of Jars covers how exactly Lincoln made his way through the Vietnam War on a Special Forces team before the game’s events, trying to find a semblance of belonging in a place of death and darkness.
Mafia III: Plain of Jars kicks off with Lincoln as a private, right in the heat of the action in the jungle and doing what Lincoln does best–thinking fast and acting fierce in the heat of battle. His attitude draws the attention of his superior officer, starting a series of events and actions that gets him special training to run covert ops in a joint DOD/CIA collaboration that starts his friendship with CIA agent John Donovan. As we know from Mafia III, Donovan is the perfect handler and intel man for Lincoln, precisely because he is willing to break rules without a shred of guilt and has no issue helping Lincoln with civil warfare. Mafia III: Plain of Jars expands upon how this relationship developed.
The story starts a little slow, building upon Lincoln’s POV as he works to gain his footing in Vietnam. For those who aren’t used to war stories, it takes a little adjustment. I was able to pluck some extra Vietnam War knowledge from Allen, whose dad served and flew Hueys. Stick with it! It’s a slow burn as the book works into what propels him to meet and work with Donovan, but once things get rolling the wait is ABSOLUTELY worth it.
As a fan, there is a kick-off moment that expands upon some game POV that really delighted me. Honestly, after the initial world-building of Mafia III: Plain of Jars, the game tie-in moments are really fun. More like “Oooooh, the authors totally caught that Lincoln tends to do XYZ in game and found a way to expand upon it and make it part of his character development!”
High Expectations Met
Honestly, I had high expectations after how solid the writing and characters in Mafia III were, and Mafia III: Plain of Jars was a pleasant surprise. Game novels can be hit and miss, but the writing flows well and feels well-researched. There are some bits that may seem redundant to veteran Mafia III players, such as some tidbits from Lincoln’s boyhood in New Bordeaux and being raised by Sammy and Father James, but I think it helps the readers who never finished the game or simply want to revisit those integral pieces to Lincoln’s evolution. It was also great seeing those in a new light, and tying them into Lincoln’s experience in Vietnam.
The only item that appeared random to me was that Ellis (Ellis!) had some POV in the novel. I wasn’t expecting that, but Rockwell explained to me that Ellis was a way of fleshing out the novel with some of the Civil Rights Movement, which played a prominent role of the era and game. The moments are short and sweet, the primary focus of the novel is definitely Lincoln/Donovan.
Joe Jusko did a beautiful “pulp cover” style design for the Mafia III: Plain of Jars novel. It also ties into the art book style very nicely!
Verdict: Highly Recommended
Remember that excited pit in your stomach when Lincoln survived his coma, went to the burned-out husk of his childhood home, and you thought “oh, man, shit is going to go DOWN” when he pulled out his survival knife and cleaned up for urban warfare? Mafia III: Plain of Jars builds directly off of this. Lincoln has a history the game only showed us glimpses of, through Donovan’s hearing and Lincolns tactics/body language, and we finally get to see more through his own eyes.
The novel holds up wonderfully for Mafia III fans and those new to the series who like the era/Vietnam war stories, especially for those who want enjoy how Lincoln and Donovan’s friendship developed before the events of the game!
*If you played the game you know why I call them that. 😛 It’s our inside joke as we played.