REVIEW: The Division: Hearts On Fire

The Division: Hearts On Fire is an audiobook drama produced by Ubisoft and Audible. It is written by KC Wayland and stars a cast including Katie Sackhoff (The Mandalorian, Battlestar Galactica) and Shannon Woodward (Westworld) among a dozen other actors. It is set in the dark and austere world of The Division video games. It may seem strange to review a Tom Clancy video game spinoff here but despite the “realism” of the games, they are post-apocalypse science fiction.

The Division: Hearts On FireThe games’ premise is that an unknown individual or organization has launched a bioweapon attack on New York City during the infamous Black Friday sales after Thanksgiving. The Dollar Flu, also known as the Green Poison, is a smallpox variant that is incredibly lethal. While starting in New York, it quickly spreads across the globe and the United States activates the Strategic Homeland Division (AKA the titular Division) with broad authority to do whatever it takes to get the country back in order.

Mostly, the games exist as an excuse to explore the ruins of once-majestic American cities while shooting up hundreds of criminals preying on their fellow survivors. They’re basically zombie games without the zombies. However, both games contain a massive number of side content that tell very human stories of survival as well as horror. As with most post-apocalypse fiction, the real enemy of most survivors is less the crisis than their fellow humans taking advantage of it. Though, The Division is more hopeful than most as the SHD woks tirelessly to get things back in order.

Hearts on Fire is a story that attempts to expand upon the world established in the games and function as both side content for those who already enjoy them as well as an introduction to those who aren’t already players. Video game spinoff fiction is, bluntly, usually crap but there have been rare diamonds among the rough. Much to my surprise, I’m going to say that I think this may be one of the best examples of its medium and is a genuinely good story. It’s also on the short side with only five and a half hours of content, which means it doesn’t make the usual mistake of wearing out its welcome.

A summary of the audiobook versus the games’ plot is that Melanie Hoskins (Sackhoff) is a fire fighter and paramedic who impresses a Division agent while trying to save a dying child. Offering her membership in the Division, she would only be activated in the event of a catastrophic disaster and would mostly just return to her normal life with her husband as well as young son. Unfortunately, catastrophic disaster has occurred, and she is activated, only to find that the government is grossly unprepared with many of the Joint Task Force unwilling to guard contagious victims.

The matter is even more complicated because of Melanie’s sister, Johanna Fisher, who is a member of the New York Sanitation Department and an Iraq veteran. Unfortunately, she’s become embittered by her experiences and sucked in by conspiracy theories that convince her that the Dollar Flu is a product of the US government. Rejecting vaccinations and hospital treatment, she joins with her fellows on a mission of burning alive the infected to “cleanse” New York. It is a Cain and Able situation that might seem contrived, but I can personally attest to plenty of families being divided on how to deal with Covid-19, so I’m willing to take this as a simple exaggeration for storytelling potential versus wholly unbelievable.

Fans of the game will obviously get the most of this story, but I believe someone unfamiliar with the Division world would find this a pretty good introduction. The acting is top notch throughout the story, and I really believed in Melanie’s character. Sackhoff is definitely the best narrator, but everyone did a good job. One particularly powerful moment was a Division agent having left his family in quarantine and finding out that they’d been burned alive to “contain” the infection. It has dark but good stuff and definitely something for those who love dystopian and apocalyptic fiction.

Listen to The Division: Hearts On Fire

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CT Phipps

CT Phipps

C.T Phipps is a lifelong student of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a lifelong geek. He's the author of Agent G, Cthulhu Armageddon, Lucifer's Star, Straight Outta Fangton, and The Supervillainy Saga. He is also a frequent contributor to Grimdark Magazine.