Dragon Age: The Calling

Regular readers may remember my enthusiasm surrounding the first Dragon Age novel, The Stolen Throne, by David Gaider. I found it to be an entertaining stand-alone fantasy novel and its tie to a video game irrelevant. So it was with great anticipation that I picked up Gaider’s second DA novel, The Calling. I’m sad to say, this second book lived down to the general reputation of books based on games.

A lot of things went wrong here. My guess is that Gaider was under a lot of pressure to get the book out before the game, and it shows in sloppy editing leading to cringe-worthy sentences like “Holding up his hand, a surge of black energy surged out of him and lanced toward Fiona.” There are also lots of incongruous shifts in POV and characters reading each other’s thoughts via steely eyed glances and such.

Second, the plot is extremely one dimensional and honestly not very interesting. This is the most basic of “Quest” novels. A group consisting of Human/Dwarf/Elf Fighters/Thieves/Mages have to enter the Deep Roads (a series of tunnels first encountered in The Stolen Throne) to stop a Foozle. *yawn* The book was so clearly designed to showcase the races and classes of the game that it felt like one long chunk of marketing copy. The vast bulk of the book has our Group roaming through the underworld fighting Darkspawn.

Thirdly, even if you can get past the lack of editing and wafer-thin plot, the characters’ motives often make no sense. Without spoiling anything, one character in particular suddenly betrays the group and we never understand why (or at least I never did, perhaps I missed the one nuance in the entire book).

The epilogue is equally bizarre and I have to assume will make sense once I play the game.

Mike Stackpole says everyone has one novel in them and the real challenge is being able to go back and do it all over again once that first novel is out. Here’s hoping David Gaider has more than one in him and that he just faltered here due to time pressures (after all he is lead writer on the game and so must have had a very busy year; The Stolen Throne came out only last March). I’m not ready to give up on him yet!

Read The Calling only if you’re a huge fan of Dragon Age: Origins and want to dig deeper into the lore of the world, and in particular the Gray Wardens. But don’t read it for the story; it’s just not worth your time.

Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne Review

Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne by David Gaider

Wow. What a surprise.

This is a prequel novel to the upcoming video game Dragon Age: Origins, by Bioware. I was reading it more to ‘get in the mood’ for the game than anything, and I had very low expectations, to be honest. And I was blown away.

I’m giving it 4 stars, and that is judging it against all fantasy, not against “pre-generated world” fantasy (novels based on games, movies, tv series, etc). Within that sub-genre it’s a 5 star book, easily.

As the story begins, a cruel usurper sits on the throne of Ferelden, and the Rebel Queen has been betrayed and murdered. The only member left of the royal family is young Maric, a charming but slightly inept princeling, now on the run for his life. He soon teams up with a young commoner named Loghain, and the two set off to reunite with the rebel army, and begin the daunting challenge of trying to push the usurper from his ill-gained throne.

There’s a bit of game-ness to the book here and there as character classes are mentioned, but it isn’t very intrusive and if you didn’t know it was a game-prequel novel, you might not even notice it.

The story has everything you could ask for in a fantasy. A noble, seemingly impossible quest, great battles, characters who feel very real, and who interact in ways that also feel very human. A smattering of magic and strange creatures. Joy and pain, victory and defeat. All written with genuine emotion.

A nice change of pace is the way elves are handled, who are definitely second class citizens in this world, scraping by working as servants and living in squalid quarters of most cities.

All in all, a very, very enjoyable read, and a very ‘self-contained’ novel. You aren’t left with a cliff-hanger ending that is going to require you to play the game or read another novel. You can download a sample chapter from http://dragonage.bioware.com/noveltst.html

I hope the author, David Gaider, focuses on more novel writing, and less game writing. I’d love to read more from him!

View all my reviews.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Just for the same of completeness, I’m cataloging the fact that I finally read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Sorcerer’s Stone. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? 🙂

I enjoyed it, as have a gazillion readers before me, but I think you’ll agree it’d be silly of me to review it. The book was very similar to the movie, at least as far as I remember the movie, so not a lot in the way of surprises, though Hermione was a real female dog at the start of the story. Yeesh!

I’ll probably read more of them at some point, as Angela tells me they get darker and ‘meatier’ as Rowling’s audience and characters grew older, and I’ve only seen one other movie, and I think is was #4 or so. So the next time I read one it’ll be a new story to me.

I’m frankly puzzled at the changes they made for the US version though. OK, replacing football with soccer makes sense to some degree, but why rename the Philosopher’s Stone to Sorcerer’s Stone? That one puzzles me to no end.

The Born Queen

Wow, but it’s been a long time since I offered my thoughts on a book here. Playing Age of Conan prompted my to drag out my Conan books for a re-read, and that didn’t seem worth covering. When I started to read Greg Keye’s The Born Queen I realized I’d sort of lost the thread of the series, so I went back and re-read The Blood Knight.

Anyway…so The Born Queen brings the Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone tetralogy to a satisfying conclusion, but it sometimes feels like a frantic trip. As the pacing of the book increases, chapters get shorter, rotating through the various characters one chapter at time. It feels like you’re riding a whirlwind at times. Granted Keyes has a lot of story to tell, and I suspect he had too much for this 4th book to contain, but not enough to warrant a 5th book. As I told Angela this morning (I was up reading long after she’d gone to sleep; a typical event with this series), “I’d love to read the director’s edition of the book.”

Bottom line though: this was a great series. If you enjoy big rambling epics like Martin’s Song of Ice & Fire, you’ll probably have fun here. It isn’t -quite- as meaty as Martin, but it comes close. Keyes is a fantastic world builder. As the series starts the world is pretty pseudo-medieval ‘normal’ but as things go awry it becomes a more and more fantastical environment, and it all makes sense within the rules that Keyes built the world around.

His character development isn’t quite as strong, though its still good. Some of the characters tend to be too “purely good” or “purely evil” and there were a couple of shifts towards the end that were hard to understand. Again, these are nits, and characters like the charismatic Cazio or taciturn old Aspar White will stick with you long after you close the book.

Approaching the end of a series this long is always a bit frightening. Will all this time reading turn out to have been wasted if the author can’t pull all the strings together? That’s not a problem here, and Keyes even goes against what is currently accepted as good form, and offers an epilogue to ease us gently out of his world. Much appreciated, that was.

To recap, the complete series is: The Briar King, The Charnel Prince, The Blood Knight, and finally this one, The Born Queen.

A great series for fantasy fans.