Saturday, June 4, 2011

Girl on Book Action: Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne by David Gaider

Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne by David Gaider
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2408-5


After his mother, the beloved Rebel Queen, is betrayed and murdered by her own faithless lords, young Maric becomes the leader of a rebel army attempting to free his nation from the control of a foreign tyrant.

His countrymen live in fear; his commanders consider him untested; and his only allies are Loghain, a brash young outlaw who saved his life, and Rowan, the beautiful warrior maiden promised to him since birth.  Surrounded by spies and traitors, Maric must find a way to not only survive but achieve his ultimate destiny: Ferelden’s freedom and the return of his line to the stolen throne.


Aside: Here is what I imagine is going through your heads right now, my little turnips: “Doom, you are taking this Dragon Age thing a little far, don’t you think?  Franchise books - really?  Those almost always end in tears of bitter frustration.”  Since my Morrigan action figure is giving me that look that plainly says "Morrigan disapproves -12," you’re probably right.  I assure you that my initial starry-eyed feelings on Dragon Age 2 have faded.  I now openly lament the fact that it feels more like the prologue to a game rather than a true game in itself, but that hasn’t stopped me from wanting to spend more time in Thedas (as I write this I’m nearly done my third play through of DA2 - it would be more but I went back to play both Origins and Awakenings again).  I've gone from the honeymoon to the marriage, here, in love despite the flaws showing through the shiny surface.  So, you really cannot hold it against me that when I saw the novels at the used bookstore I simply could not leave them there to languish unloved on those deliciously overcrowded shelves.

My Thoughts:

All that said – this book pretty much delivered what I expected: a story I enjoyed, characters I cared about (even though Loghain is a bastard in the game), prose that at times quite literally made me wince and enough fantasy clichés to possibly feed an entire army of darkspawn.  In other words (aside from the wincing) I loved every second of it (yes, even the clichés). 

There are two things you need to know about me when it comes to writing and reading.  One: I am a woman who loves long, convoluted sentences (so much so, in fact, that Wren spends a lot of her time editing my reviews to shorten my paragraph-long word perambulations – you should thank her, right now, yes, I mean that) and going hand-in-hand with that I prefer sentences to have variety – a subclause here, a short, poignant one there, etc.  Yes, I know, I am a demanding mistress of letters.  Second: I believe that behind the majority of good writers there stands an amazing editor (very few writers are able to truly edit their own work – some things you just don’t see when you’re that close to a thing, no one holds it against you).  Why am I telling you about all this?  Well, this novel needed a keen editor.  Someone who would have fixed the short, clipped sentences, and the fragmented sentences that didn’t make any sense, and just generally polished the story.  Someone with an ear for sentence rhythms and how they flow together so the prose would have been less wince-inducing.  Also, an editor worth a lick would have caught and cut out the jarring colloquialisms that infected some parts of the novel (especially the dialogue).  The writing really needed help (though I have read worse – I wasn’t quite ready to break out the corrective pencil with this book, which I have done with others in the past – seriously, it’s spelled suave not sauve, but I digress).    And while we're discussing flaws an editor would (hopefully) have caught...Did I mention that there was nearly a whole chapter that summarized events that happened off-screen?  Yeah, so that was boring.  As it turns out “show, don’t tell” is still excellent advice.  In the end, though, the story took over and I could largely ignore the lacklustre prose.

Ah, I feel better now that I’ve gotten that off my chest.

Let’s move on to the clichés and why they don’t have me tearing out my hair in agony.  See, really, this novel is the story of Arthur (yes, that Arthur, saviour of Britain, ruler of Camelot) set in a fantasy world with the usual minor alterations.  I truly don’t say this in a negative way – more in the Campbell / Jungian archetypal way.  Here, we have the young Prince, his sort-of friend Loghain and the fierce, but lovely Rowan  – can you see where this is going?  You see, Maric is Arthur, Rowan is Guinevere and Loghain is Lancelot.  Maric also finds a magical sword, which he pulls out from beneath a pile of stones (really!).  We all know this story – and most of us can admit that we love this story.  It’s a story about reclaiming what is rightfully yours and bringing peace to a world filled with turmoil and tyranny.  And it's a story about love that cannot be - between Maric and the elf Katriel, between Loghain and Rowan and between Rowan and Maric; it's a story about sacrificing personal happiness and romance for the greater good (for some reason, as a society, we love stories about star-crossed lovers almost as much as we love stories about reclaiming lost thrones).  Yes, maybe it’s a bit derivative – but at least it wasn’t a slightly dressed-up Lord of the Rings (ugh).

I don't want you to be confused, despite all my griping and justified complaints, I actually enjoyed this book.  Indeed, it exceeded some of my admittedly low expectations.  However, I don't think it's for anyone who isn't already a fan of Dragon Age.  Personally, I will snap up any opportunity to see more of this world.  Visiting other places in Ferelden was a treat and so was learning more about its history and characters.  We also get to see a few familiar faces (Flemeth makes an appearance and King Cailan – though clearly not as king, and Loghain, obviously), which makes Thedas come to life in the imagination with a "hey, I know these people."  As much as the stilted prose bothered me, I liked the development of the characters.  Watching Maric grow into a King, and what it costs him to do so, was so good.  Rowan broke my heart (of course she did).  And Loghain, well, I won’t go so far as to say I like him now, but I do respect him more than I did before.  Ultimately, that’s still the strength of Dragon Age stories – the characters.  It doesn’t matter that a lot of them are archetypes, that the tales stray into the realm of cliché, because the characters truly draw me into the world.

You might judge me harshly for my unabated love for all things Dragon Age, but we all have our weaknesses (and our guilty pleasures hidden in plain sight on our bookshelves).  If you suffer from a similar affliction to my own – withdrawal because you’re waiting impatiently for DA2 DLC – you might want to give this book a go.  Of course, if you’re nitpicky about the quality of your prose you should go read...well, some pretentious claptrap instead.  Similarly, if you’re the kind of nerd who is going to pick apart continuity or geography or whatever else might irk your purist mindset, I suggest that instead of reading this novel, you take a very deep breath and go outside.  I have been doing this recently and I promise you, the sun only hurts a little and the fresh air will clear your head a bit.  Now, if you hate Dragon Age, why are you even reading this review, much less considering this book?  And if you have never played the games, I suggest you do that first.  I’m not sure that the novel would stand up on its own – although I am curious about if it would, it’s a difficult thing for me to try to judge.  Anyway, I’ll leave you with that wishy-washy conclusion – I have darkspawn to slaughter.

No comments:

Post a Comment