Saturday, September 6, 2014

Dragon Age: Asunder review

    One of the most intriguing struggles depicted in the Dragon Age universe is between the Circle of Magi and the Templar Order. The basic premise is that mages are kept locked up in the setting, forbidden from using their talents save under the supervision of the Chantry. The mages, naturally, resent this treatment as they can't help how they were born.

    What saves this from being a clear-cut metaphor for oppression is that mages, unlike real-life minorities, are a threat to the common good. They are haunted by demons and possess powers which could easily result in the deaths of thousands. One of the earliest missions in Dragon Age: Origins deals with the discovery of an eight-year-old who, in a moment of desperation, makes a pact with a demon and unleashes a horde of undead on his hometown. There are also mages who brutalize and abuse normal human beings, the latter who are helpless to resist.

    It's basically the fantasy version of the X-men, only Henry Peter Gyrich and Senator Kelly are given a sympathetic portrayal.

    Dragon Age: Asunder focuses squarely on the Mage versus Templar issue. I'll be honest, when I first heard about this, I was of mixed feelings. Dragon Age 2 devoted a great deal of time to this issue and I came away hating both factions. It was like being forced to choose between Magneto and the Sentinels. Neither side came out smelling like roses and there was no sign of a reasonable third option. I decided to side with the mages in Dragon Age 2 but I came away feeling that the Templars were being given the short end of the stick.

    Asunder avoids most of these pitfalls. It has the remarkably unique idea of giving both sides likable members and showing the dark side of each side too. As a result, it feels like a much more balanced group and while there's an air of triumph to the ending--you also feel like events have escalated to a point which they didn't have to.

    The premise is Senior Enchanter Rhys, a high-ranking mage, has long supported independence from the Chantry. His estranged mother, Origin's Wynne, believes this attitude is foolish and invites reprisal from numerous sources. After the events of Dragon Age 2, tensions between the Templars and mages have reached a boiling point. You don't have to have played the aforementioned games to understand the game but, frankly, why are you reading tie-in fiction if you haven't?

    An assassination attempt on the Divine, the Chantry's equivalent of the Pope, escalates matters further as does the discovery of a mystical ritual which has the potential to permanently alter the balance of power between the two factions. Thrown into the mix are liberal Templar knight Evangeline and the mysterious yet sympathetic serial killer Cole (who may or may not be a ghost). I'm also fond of the Lord Seeker, Lambert, who appears to be a one-dimensional hardliner but turns out to just be the wrong man for the wrong time in the worst way.

    I've read all of the Dragon Age novels and I have to say that Asunder is my favorite of the ones released so far. Everyone is likable, sensible in their actions, and entertaining to read about. We get a good look into their mindsets and there's even a few unexpected moments. Mages, for example, fail to realize the Templars don't just keep them locked up but also protect them from the bigotry of the common people. They also miss how blessed they are to live in a community where race, nation, sexuality, and social status don't matter. Every mage is allowed an education and never has to worry about where his next meal is coming from where, in Thedas, these are fantastic luxuries.

    But are they worth freedom?

    Fans of Dragon Age 2 may dislike the fact the book does a light retcon of the setting's timeline. It was implied a war between the Templar and Mage factions began immediately after the events of the game. This shows events took a great deal more to turn them into a full-scale war which also spoils the ending of the book. I'm, largely, okay with this but it does seem to make the actions of certain characters in the game seem less meaningful.

    In conclusion, I strongly recommend fans of the Dragon Age game series pick up Asunder as a lead-in to Dragon Age: Inquisition and because it's a very fun book. I don't recommend this book to people who aren't familiar with the franchise as the emotional resonance will not be the same. It's entertaining but this was written with fans of the game in mind and doesn't quite work on its own the way, say, The Stolen Throne does.


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