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Dragon Age: Asunder by David Gaider

01/02/2012. Contributed by Kelly Jensen

Buy Dragon Age: Asunder in the USA - or Buy Dragon Age: Asunder in the UK

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pub: TOR/Forge. 416 page paperback. Price: $ 4.99 (US), $10.87 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-76533-117-5. pub: Titan Books. 414 page paperback. Price: GBP 6.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-85768-647-3) .

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‘Dragon Age: Asunder’ by Bioware’s lead writer, David Gaider, is third in a series of fiction set in the same world as the ‘Dragon Age’ video games. Set a year after the conclusion of ‘Dragon Age II’, ‘Asunder’ explores the repercussions of the cataclysmic end to that game. Instead of Kirkwall, however, the setting is Val Royeaux, home of the Chantry and the Divine and the White Spire, which houses the Orlesian Circle of Magi.

For the uninitiated, mages in Thedas are collected as soon as their power manifests (typically between the ages of five and eight) and imprisoned in towers where they are guarded by a militant arm of the Chantry, known as the Templar Order. They spend their lives in relative seclusion, learning to control their magic. Despite the lack of freedom, the tower has benefits, mages are schooled in additional magic and most go on to have interesting careers. Until they achieve the level of senior enchanter, however, they remain under the watchful eye of the templars. On the surface, the reason for this is fairly simple. Because of their connection to the Fade, a dream-like plane, mages are susceptible to possession. A possessed mage is called an abomination and must be killed before it wreaks havoc.

As with any complex world, there are other dangers. Mages who cannot control their magic are made Tranquil (their connection to the Fade is severed, leaving them focused, but inert and emotionless) and mages who struggle with the accepted schools of magic sometimes turn to the forbidden schools. Therefore, rife with fear and suspicion, the tower is not an environment conducive to balanced and fair thought. It happens, of course; not all templars are zealots and not all mages are naïve and self absorbed but in the case of Bioware’s world, the rule far outweighs the exception.

On the heels of mage revolt in Kirkwall, the templars have tightened their grip and are on high alert. Outside the tower, Orlais is facing civil war and the Divine, the leader of the Chantry, has her own agenda. She has sanctioned an experiment that could forever change the Rite of Tranquillity and perhaps alter the balance between the Circle and the Chantry.

Add to the mix a young man who thinks he is a ghost, the naïve mage he haunts and a templar who is able to put aside her conditioning in order to actually listen to the mages (shocked gasps are echoing across Thedas) and you have the basics. From there, we follow a fearless band, the mage, a reactionary friend, the ghost, the templar and a character from the games, Senior Enchanter Wynne, as they journey across Orlais on a mission for the Divine. The result of their mission adds to the tension between the Chantry and the Circle and the inevitable happens, they go to war.

I did not enjoy this novel as much as I did the first two. Some of this may have had to do with my dissatisfaction with events leading to the conclusion in the game, ‘Dragon Age II’ but more, I had the feeling I was reading fan fiction, not a chapter by the series’ lead writer. David Gaider’s characterisation of Wynne left me cold and Leliana (another character from the games) felt thin. The inclusion of a character from the previous two books, toward the end, felt like fan service. She served little purpose in her role.

The mages were on the whole frustratingly naïve and selfish and the templars were, almost to a man, clichés of the Order. For a world that is famous amongst its fan base for being morally grey, ‘Dragon Age: Asunder’ felt very black and white.

Disappointment aside, I did enjoy absorbing more Thedas lore and what I hope was a preview to events of the upcoming game, ‘Dragon Age III’. The story of Cole, the ghost, caught me in particular. In true Bioware fashion, it was compelling and tragic. Oddly, however, the inclusion of his story made little sense unless it has some bearing on what awaits us in the next game.

The inclusion of Shale, a companion from the first game, was another of the highlights. The banter between the golem and Wynne was enjoyable to read.

Set out like an expansion pack to the game, unravelling a mystery, hack and slash dungeons and the emergence of a new hero, ‘Dragon Age: Asunder’ will appeal to fans of the game. The author’s assumptions on behalf of the reader (a more than passing familiarity with the games and the world in which they are set) will place this novel out of reach for more casual readers, however. That being said, the book does serve to whet the appetite, whether it inspires an investigation of the earlier books and the games they are based on, or near rabid clamouring for the third instalment of one of the most popular fantasy RPG video games of the last decade.

Kelly Jensen

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