Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within by Jane Jensen Book Review: A Warming Dose of 90s Lycanthropic Nostalgia
Publication date: 1 December 1998
My rating: ★★★☆☆
Just as Gabriel Knight is finally settling into his ancestral home in Germany, he is called upon in his role as schattenjagger, or "shadow hunter", to help solve the savage killing of a young girl. The authorities claim it was a wolf escaped from the zoo, but the townspeople say it is a werewolf. Gabriel soon becomes certain the answer lies within an exclusive hunting club in Munich that celebrates the nature of the beast. As his loyal assistant Grace delves into the past to discover the truth, Gabriel finds himself ensnared in a sinister trap, in which the beast within himself becomes the greatest threat of all!
I found a digital copy of this as it turns out the paperback is near-impossible to acquire these days. I wasn't expecting much in the way of literary merit, simply a way to get my Gabriel Knight fix having exhausted many of the best classic adventure game titles (not unlike how Gabriel might hunt down a shot of caffeine with little regard for much else).
I was pleasantly surprised to find some fairly solid characterisation (at least, for a game novelisation) and a wealth of details on the enigmatic central historical figure, 'Mad' King Ludwig II of Bavaria. Much research clearly went into this, and Jensen offers more than an uninspired rehash of the game (*cough* Sins of the Fathers), with more context and motivation provided (and the convoluted puzzle logic removed, although a few game-driven devices remain). Oh, and certain aspects of the game, particularly the glaringly homoerotic subtext, also make much more sense.
Jensen has an unfortunate habit of occasionally lapsing into clichéd language, and the characters sometimes say things like 'Geez Louise!' This was also longer than it needed to be, and I would've liked to see more intersections between Gabriel and Grace, as their romantic tension is largely neglected.
At the same time, I would've appreciated learning a bit more about Grace outside her focus on all things Gabriel, as dreamy as his hair may be (the lady has an independent streak and a master's in history and classics but seems largely motivated by pursuing Gabriel all over the world). In addition, while the book gathers pace towards the end, the finale was rather unsatisfying.
Nevertheless, this was an enjoyable and easily absorbed dose of lycanthropic escapism with a warming glow of 90s nostalgia – perfect for a few long, wintry nights.