Batman: Arkham Knight – The Riddler’s Gambit is billed as a prequel novel for Rocksteady’s similarly titled videogame.
What you need to understand going into the purchase of this book is that you’re buying a tie-in book written by a tie-in book author. Alex Irvine has previously written tie-in books and novelisations for franchises like Transformers, Tintin, Planet of the Apes, Supernatural and Pacific Rim. He also wrote one of the Batman novels aimed at adults that came out a few years ago. That’s good, right? Wrong. The novel that he wrote was Batman: Inferno, a story so dire that I’ve tried to scrub its plot from my memory (Joker dresses as Batman and steals the Batmobile).
All of that needs to be stated upfront because you need to realise that you aren’t buying a meaty modern day classic. Just because this is a novel doesn’t mean that it’s going to be War and Peace; you’re going to get pulp entertainment. As long as you’re happy with that (and I presume you are since, like me, you enjoy comics), you’ll be fine.
That being said, I did not particularly care for Irvine’s prose style. In some sections of the story, his short, simple sentences work well to give a sense of immediacy, however the book would have generally benefitted from a variation of syntax and vocabulary.
In a related complaint, Irvine’s use of voice is poor. A lot of the characters sound the same. This is particularly evident when Batman encounters the Mad Hatter. “With that he launched into a torrent of gibberish,” is unfortunately the closest we get to Mad Hatter sounding as crazy as he does in Arkham City. His characterisation of Batman in particular has inconsistencies that I found a little jarring; these moments are fortunately brief.
In a more minor moan, Irvine makes some Arkham continuity errors that his editors missed. These aren’t huge, but will no doubt bug hardcore fans as the crop up.
In contrast to the above complaints, the story of The Riddler’s Gambit is an entertaining and enjoyable ride that shows off the teamwork and relationship between Batman and Robin in a way that is often neglected by some writers. The way that the Riddler sets his plans in motion is a nice twist on a formula that we’ve been repeating for years.
The riddles in the book are generally well thought out and interesting. Infact, I have to wonder if part of Titan’s remit for Irvine was to “dumb down” the language of the book though, as some of the puzzles hinted at much greater complexity than we see in the rest of the book. There were one or two clues that suffer from the ‘rather than solve this I’m just going to speak to this villain’ conceit.
Whilst the ending is a little too ‘big’ in some regards, the feeling that the denouement has become too grandiose soon dissolves amid Batman’s attempts to solve the final riddle in the midst of the action.
Overall, this book is a good throwaway read with an entertaining plot. With a further redraft, it could even have been added to my cycle of good Batman stories, but due to the technical quality of the prose, I don’t feel like it will become a regular read.
Pick it up, read it and give it to a friend.