Review: Dragon Age — The Stolen Throne

Gamers know David Gaider for the great characters he's created for popular games Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Neverwinter Nights. And now that he's the lead writer on Bioware's upcoming fantasy RPG Dragon Age: Origins he's published his first novel (and prequel to the new game), Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne. It's chock full of the usual fantasy trappings like elves, dwarves, mages, giant spiders, magic and sword fights, but its focus remains squarely in Gaider's strength: developing the main characters.

Stolen Throne feels like the original Star Wars trilogy meets the Harry Potter series, with the tales of King Arthur and the darker tone of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series tossed in for effect. It's a coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of a rebellion to reclaim the throne for the kingdom of Ferelden's rightful heir.

The story centers around three main characters: the young Prince Maric (who must prove to himself and others that he is worthy of the throne), the outlaw commoner Loghain (Maric's reluctant best friend), and the noble warrior woman Rowan (who is betrothed to Maric). Each must make tough decisions and terrible sacrifices for the good of Ferelden while fighting to oust the viscious usurper sitting on the throne.

Maric, Loghain, and Rowan are each tragic in their own way, but Rowan's character arc is at times downright heartbreaking -- and steals the show. It's been a while since a character has moved me this much. You won't find a sunshine-and-rainbows happy ending here. You will find a gut wrenching this-is-how-it-needs-to-be ending that makes sense.

Even though it clocks in at over 400 pages, this is a quick and enjoyable read. Viewed as a video game tie-in, it's miles ahead of the competition (and an amazing prequel to Dragon Age: Origins). Viewed as the start of a new fantasy series, it's worthy of sharing shelf space with more well-known works in the genre. If you're looking for a good fantasy read -- or just want some background on the world of Dragon Age: Origins before the game hits the shelves this fall -- Stolen Throne is well worth your time.

Hopefully Bioware will follow their Mass Effect model and allow Gaider produce additional novels in this universe!

Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne [Amazon]
David Gaider
[Tor]
Dragon Age: Origins
[Bioware]

[Note: Gaider is a frequent poster on the Bioware forum!]

10 Responses to "Review: Dragon Age — The Stolen Throne"
  1. LordCorbin says:

    The sword-and-sorcery fantasy fiction genre is something like a lake with a thin base of drinkable water and a giant top layer of scum. However, your review has me on the verge of ordering this and reading the heck out of it (the fact that it’s a prequel to a Bioware game certainly doesn’t hurt).

  2. burk says:

    “Run, Maric!”
    And run he did.

    ^^ Literally how the book begins.

  3. CNote says:

    The only heartbreaking thing about this book is that its writer is a high profile employee in the game industry. If you can’t write, teach. If you can’t teach, write for games.

  4. Cirno says:

    I’m not sure if this review is meant to sound as hilariously negative as it does, especially the paragraph where you do nothing but drop in the names of other, more successful and better written books, which SEEMS to be the height of tongue in cheek. And yet, I can’t full tell. If so, congratulations! If not, then a congratulations are still in order, I believe.

  5. Choklad says:

    CNote:
    You have never played a Bioware RPG, have you? They’re the best games there are when it comes to storytelling. Think it’s easy writing for a game, having to keep a gazillion options open so the players can play how they want without it messing up the story? David Gaider is a talented writer. I’d sure like to see you do better…

  6. Lurk says:

    I read this book and enjoyed it, but I have to admit it’s weakest point was the writing. The story was great, the characters very well thought out and given real depth. But the authors ability to write prose is somewhat lacking.

    This is ok though because his vivid characterizations and well plotted story save the book, you can tell it was his first novel, but also that he knows and acknowledges this and is improving his skill as he goes.

    I think it’s a good first effort and can’t wait to see how he improves as a story teller in his future works.

    PS. Writing for games and writing novels require two very different skill sets. David Gaider has done some very revolutionary things as a writer in the gaming industry but it’s not surprising that to start he might be a little rocky when it comes to changeing mediums.

  7. Azrael the Cat says:

    Uhhh… Choklad, Bioware as the BEST games storyteller???? Are you KIDDING ME? Sure, they’re miles ahead of JRPGS and a metric sludgeton ahead of post-Daggerfal Oblivion, but some of their writing is just embarsasingly bad. And yes, I have played EVERY SINGLE Bioware rpg on the PC: BG, BG2. ToB, KoToR, NWN, Jade Empire and Mass Effect (NWN2 and KotoR2 were written by Obsidian).

    Bioware did some great work on BG2, but apart from that they’ve been decent, but nothing special. Their romance writing is particularly cringeworthy. If you want to see great writing and storytelling, how could you put any Bioware game in the same LEAGUE as Black Isle’s Planescape: Torment (same engine as BG1, and oh my god that’s an amazing game. People got thrown off by the fact that it’s written as a tragedy – no happy ending, you’re bringing misery to all those around you and are trying to find a way to die before things get even worse. The game is about finding out how you got to this immortal-but-cursed state, trying to save your companions from being dragged down with you, and ultimately finding a way to go to hell, pay for your crimes, and end the monster that you’ve become. No saving the world, no cliched epic – just a personal story in a highly original setting and in a massively underdone genre (greek tragedy).

    Secondly I’d say Mask of the Betrayer – an expansion for the horribly boring NWN2, so few people played it. Again, a greek tragedy like PS:T, and a refreshing break from kid-goes-out-to-save-the-world-from-cliched-pantavillain. That’s the thing with Avellone and co – no cliched bad guys, the ‘hero’ is as often as not a tragic victim trying to avoid becoming ‘the big bad’, where the game is won by finding out what has happened to put you in this state, and by saving the few people the character cares about, rather than the appeal-to-14yr-old-boys ‘save the world’.

    The Longest Journey and Dreamfall wipe the floor with anything Bioware made. And while we’re on adventure games, I’d add ‘I have no mouth but I must scream’, and ‘Under a killing moon’. Oh, and Bladerunner (runs parallel to the movie, but with an equally good and utterly interactive plot that never plays through the same twice – branches at almost every turn).

    And then there’s Fallout – the first game. FO2 had better content, but less impact storywise, being set later on rather than at the time when people first start leaving their bunkers to find a broken world.

    And Vampire: Bloodlines and Deus Ex for taking pulp genres and combining intelligent humour, politics and discussions about AI and morality, along with schlocky pisstake references to gaming and conspiracy theory tropes.

    The thing is that each of the games above targets the kind of people who read good books, are interested in philosophical and political themes, and would rather have an original introverted personal story than a stock-standard ‘hero-saves-the-word-again-version-33 [yawn]’. Bioware, on the other hand, aim for the Summer Blockbuster market. It’s like holding up Ironman as the greatest film script ever written, over Das Boot, Citizen Kane, Bladerunner and Trainspotting. Ironman is fun, and Bioware make good games, but they aren’t even vaguely number one in game writing.

  8. Pike says:

    Meh. They all pale compared to Marathon.

  9. Chuck says:

    @Azrael: You said “metric sludgeton.” Heh. 🙂

    @Pike: You with the freakin’ Marathon! I guess now that there’s an XBox version I’ll have to suck it up and check it out. Though one could argue that if the Marathon story is hot, that means the Halo story is hotter as one’s essentially built on the other, right?

  10. Pike says:

    @Chuck You would think, but no. Bungie open-sourced Marathon right as they were being bought by Microsoft (and the key writer left before Marathon 3 anyhow.) Halo is essentially a dumbed-down Marathon. (With a way better engine, etc.)

    I should do a blog post on Marathon, but trying to present, in retrospect, its awesomeness is daunting.

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