Friday, May 4, 2012

Dragon Age: Asunder - book review time!

Today I'll be delving into David Gaider's Dragon Age novel - Asunder! For bloody and delicious mage versus Templar action, read on!

Gaming franchise novel tie-ins are tricky business. Companies tend not to bother with them unless the franchise is a multi-chaptered epic (Halo, Mass Effect, Assassins Creed have all felt the awkward fumbling embrace of the hired author) which means that ultimately, the book cannot do anything too groundbreaking. The author can’t make any decisions which will alter upcoming games, since the author in question and the game development team are often literally worlds apart. The requirement for writing one of these hastily constructed, heavily branded creatures seems to mostly be a sturdy fan knowledge of the universe and little else. I’ve read some truly terrible game time-in novels (Richard A. Knaak’s Diablo: The Sin War I am completely looking in your direction) so was a little wary of delving into the Dragon Age literary world.  It’s a horrible tease to be reintroduced to a world you love, only to barely brush upon familiar scenarios and characters without getting the satisfaction of knowing that the story you’re reading pushes important characters forward, and this never seems to happen in this bracket of publishing. Most I’ve read create a new character and have them play out a scenario in a pre-existing playground, effecting nothing but their own fortunes, safely far away from the vital storylines that the gaming development teams are dealing with. And it saddens me.

Well – there is good news. Asunder is by David Gaider, the Tolkein of the Dragon Age world, and there is no greater authority, and anyone who has played the games can attest to the quality of the characterization and the storytelling.
Secondly – the story takes place after Dragonage 2, post-Kirkwall-mage-apocalypse (Damnit Anders), when every other Circle of Magi has been rattled badly by the events of DA2 and the mage/templar relationship is more strained than ever. It’s an immediate soaring of tension that I think excludes those who haven’t played DA2 a little (but then, seriously, why are you reading this?) but is suddenly and immediately satisfying.

Our protagonist is Rhys, a circle mage in his late thirties and for the most part, a genteel voice of reason. he also has a stronger-than-average ability to consort with spirits and a seemingly unique talent with communicating with the “Ghost of the Spire” – an actual fact a lost and very damaged young man brought into the Circle as an apostate and possessing of an ability to move invisibly and make everyone forget him. Cole the “ghost” is a wonderful creation, and I’m rather impressed with this skill that Gaider/Bioware has for taking a character that’s killed a whole lot of people and making them very likeable and empathetic. Anyhow, the Circle is experiencing an escalating series of murders, and on top of existing tensions, the whole mess looks ready to explode.

So more to the point – it’s a very strong novel. It’s meaty, visceral and uncompromising. People die. Some horribly. The final act in startlingly nasty and the big central twist, and a huge development for a companion character from DA:O, is unexpected and brilliant. In fact I wondered if the seeds of it had been planted during the development of Origins, it all meshed so well. There is a certain degree of business in The Fade (I know I’m not alone in being thankful there wasn’t much Fadey stuff in DA2, I find the whole thing just a touch too disorientating and nightmare-triggering) that is unsettling and wonderfully done, and the aftermath – specifically, Cole emerging into the consciousness of the other travelers, only to have them slowly begin to forget again who he is – is wrenching.

The beauty of the setup for this novel is that it still exists within the framework – Cassandra and Varric’s scenes in DA2 clearly state that the Circle’s have revolted, and the Templars rebelled, and from that one sentence this story has emerged. And thank god, because I remember having that moment when playing DA2 – “what? Why aren’t we playing that bit as well??” It fills a gap that I was insanely eager to have filled.

Too long, didn’t read version: It’s a motherfucker of a book. And a Must if you have any passing fondness for the franchise. I most certainly am going to backtrack and find the other two Gaider has written, because jeebus.


  1. Great review. I agree with you about the way Cole was done, he was one of the best characters I've read in a while.

    Asunder was my favourite out of the three I think, and it was hard to beat the Stolen Throne for me. The content of the story was amazing, and the characters were sketched magnificiently (of course they were, it's David Gaider).

    That said, don't you think the actual prose was pretty poor? It was tidy and solid in the other two books but there were so many lines in Asunder that seemed lazy and unoriginal and, if nothing else, not edited very well. I wonder if it was created under stricter time limits than the other two? It *did* read like the NaNoWriMo of a very good author!

    In any case, good idea to backtrack and read the other two. (Especially the Stolen Throne. My god.)

    1. Thanks so much!
      I suppose if I was going to pick faults I wasn't completely sold on the Lord Seeker. Something of a one dimensional villain. I need more than religious zealotry in this kind of set up.

      The prose didn't jump out at me as great or poor - so I'm going to say serviceable. served it's purpose and got us from a to b.

      But oh man, Cole :(