With the 2013 reboot of Lara Croft in the new Tomb Raider series, current stewards of the franchise, Crystal Dynamics, decided to go right back to Lara’s origin story, and actually tell one. Lara is no longer living half her life as a British aristocrat, while the other half is spent trotting the globe raiding tombs. She is a 20-something young woman, traumatized by supernatural events on the Japanese island of Yamatai, and is having a hard time adjusting to that. There’s a second game in the series coming to elaborate on exactly how this new, young—and evidently poor—Lara Croft eventually becomes the tomb raider we all know, but in the meantime, there’s an upcoming comic by Gail Simone, and there’s this novel, The Ten Thousand Immortals. Thankfully, this novel knows it’s a novel and doesn’t try to play out like a videogame.
People expecting this to be read only, non-interactive version of a typical Tomb Raider game are in for a shock. This is nothing remotely like that. The tag team of Dan Abnett and Nik Vincent instead choose to tell a smaller, more intimate and personal tale. This is about Lara Croft undergoing a minor journey in an attempt to save her friend Sam (the helpless girl in need of rescue from the last Tomb Raider game) who is now in need of psychic/emotional rescue thanks to the events of Yamatai island. The object of pursuit this time is the golden fleece of Greek myth, and this is where things take a radical departure from what fans of the game would expect.
The old Lara Croft, flush with money and a hunky tech and research support staff, would simply fly down to Greece, raid a tomb, shoot animals, exchange witty bon mots with villains, and top things off with a Raiders of the Lost Ark-esque mystical confrontation that teaches both her and us about the folly of toying with godlike forces we are unworthy of. The new Lara Croft consults a single family notebook of research, talks to professors at Oxford and reads up on Wikiepedia. A LOT. This is all part of the “new” Lara Croft, whom, it was hinted in the last game, is not a wealthy noblewoman living in Croft manor, but has rejected her aristocratic roots to try and earn her way in the world. As a result, she has only marginally better financial resources than the average reader of this novel, and can’t afford to go globe hopping with a small armory and enough spy tech gadgetry to satisfy James Bond.
If you’re looking for a Lara that’s more uncertain of herself, having a smaller adventure, then this book will be for you. The writers use this opportunity to show a Lara we’ve never seen before, struggling to deal with the trauma of Yamatai in a way that’s far more realistic than the schizophrenic presentation she had in the game. Here she is prone to panic attacks and doubt, whereas in the game one moment she was horrified at the thought of having taken a life, and literally killing everyone in sight seconds later.
There is, however, a real lost opportunity in this novel. It’s likely because of the amount of control being exerted by both Square-Enix and Crystal Dynamics, but the one thing readers don’t get from this book is the one thing most Tomb Raider fans will want; a history of this new Lara Croft. We know she’s not rich, and we know her father is missing, but the novel never explains any of this, choosing to present Lara’s thoughts in whatever present crisis she’s dealing with. The language is simple—quite suitable for younger readers—and the plot moves along at a brisk pace, so if all you’re looking for is another breezy Lara Croft adventure, then you’ll be well served here, assuming you can accept the smaller, more modest scale of this adventure. If, however, you wanted someone to explain to you why Lara’s not living in a manor, what happened to her father, her butler, her wealth and all the other characteristics that Tomb Raider what it was, this book is not for you.