Bendy and the Ink Machine: Dreams Come to Life

Bendy and the Ink Machine: Dreams Come to Life was written by Adrienne Kress and first published in 2019. It is a prequel story to the popular video game of the same name, focusing on a teenager in 1940s New York as he uncovers a sinister mystery at the animation studio where he works. The novel stands alone, though I would recommend playing the game first if you want to fully appreciate it.

Since the death of his father, Daniel “Buddy” Lewek has been the primary breadwinner for his family and struggles to make ends meet. However, his luck seems to change when he impresses Joey Drew – the owner of a local animation studio – and is offered a well-paid job as a go-fer. Buddy is eager to impress his new colleagues with his artistic talent as he dreams of one day becoming an animator himself.

However, something seems to be strange at the studios. Pipes full of ink run through the walls, some of the staff are behaving strangely and Mister Drew is developing something in secret – something that he believes will restore the failing studio to greatness. Although Buddy wants to believe in his new employer, he is starting to have his doubts. When he befriends a young scriptwriter called Dot, he slowly starts to uncover the unbelievable truth hidden in the depths of the studio.

When one of Buddy’s co-workers suddenly vanishes, Buddy realises that he is the only one that can save the studio. However, as he descends into its depths, he realises that Joey Drew Studios are not a place where dreams are made. It is a place of nightmares…

Before I start, let’s talk a little about the game on which this novel is based. Bendy and the Ink Machine was first released in 2017 and is a first-person puzzle game. In this game, you take the role of Henry – a former employee of Joey Drew Studios – who has returned to the studio after receiving a letter from Joey Drew himself. Unfortunately, you find the place seemingly abandoned and soon become trapped and hunted by a mysterious, ink-splattered demon.

Dreams Come to Life is actually set substantially earlier than the events of the game, in a time when Joey Drew Studios was still fully operational. Due to this, you can still easily read this novel without having ever played the game, yet I still probably would not recommend this. The novel is still really one of the fans as its primary purpose is to add some depth to Bendy’s world and fill in some plot holes. If you’re not already familiar with the characters, or the titular Ink Machine, you won’t get as much out of this.

While Dreams Come to Life does not answer all the questions that fans of the game might have, it does do a pretty decent job of showing what Joey Drew Studios was like in the days before Henry’s return. The story presents everything from the perspective of Buddy Lewek, who is only hired by Joey Drew within the first couple of chapters. Through Buddy, the reader gets to see how the studios worked. They also get to meet several beloved characters and bosses from the game and see what they were like before they were “changed”.

The thing that I found most surprising about this novel was the way that Kress sets the scene. The story is set shortly after World War II and this colours every aspect of Buddy’s world. From the sharp social divide between Mister Drew and Buddy, to the way that people treat Jacob (a black man) and Dot (a young woman) differently, to the bullying that Buddy has endured due to his Jewish heritage. The novel certainly does its best to address the social issues of the time in a way that is both sensitive and honest.

However, in other ways, Dreams Come to Life paid a lot less attention to details. There are very few physical descriptions in the story, which felt like an oversight in a novel that was about art. Although anyone who has played the game is familiar with the monsters that Norman Polk, Sammy Lawrence and Bertrum Piedmont will one day become, Kress only vaguely describes what they looked like in their first lives. I’m not even really sure what Buddy looks like beyond being tall as he’s never actually described. Even the Ink Machine, when it finally appears, seems underwhelming on page. Although the properties of its ink are touched upon, it does not seem sinister in the way that it does when it is depicted at the start of the game.

The plot of Dreams Come to Life is very engaging, quickly setting the scene and capturing my interest long before anything creepy happened. As the novel is fairly short, it does not take long before Buddy and Dot discover that something very weird is going on at the studio. Although the novel does hide the Ink Demon well until the climax, the hints of its existence are enough to entice both fans of the game and newcomers. The ending of the story is as bleak as a fan would expect, culminating as Buddy comes to understand what Mister Drew’s “vision” means for his employees.

In terms of characterisation, Dreams Come to Life is a bit varied. Buddy makes for a wonderful protagonist and is easy for the reader to relate to. He has a good heart but is still very flawed, constantly weighing up his ambition to become like Mister Drew with his need to support his family. His relationship with Dot is endearing, hinting at a possible future attraction but focusing more on the growing friendship between two like-minded people.

I also felt that the story really excelled in fleshing out Joey Drew – a character who does not appear much in the game. Here, we get to see him in his prime and understand exactly what his intentions in creating the Ink Machine were. However, the other characters aren’t quite so polished. If you picked up this book hoping to learn more about the game’s minor characters, you may be disappointed. Sammy Lawrence probably has the most development over the course of the story, but we still don’t really get to witness his descent into madness. The other characters – Norman, Tom, Bertrum, Allison – only really have brief cameos and don’t impact the story much at all.

Anyhow, I don’t really have much more to say. If you haven’t played the game, I probably would not really recommend Dreams Come to Life as it does not entirely stand on its own. However, if you are already a fan, it is definitely a must-read. It has certainly made me very excited for when the next instalment of the game series is released next year.

Bendy and the Ink Machine: Dreams Come to Life can be purchased as a Paperback and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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