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Return to the Deep Roads...
on 28 October 2009
With the November release date of Dragon Age: Origins (PC) coming ever closer, the Bioware/EA hype machine has spun into overdrive and has spawned a second prequel novel in the form of Dragon Age: The Calling. Having been pleasantly surprised by the quality of The Stolen Throne (Dragon Age), I decided to try this novel with little hesitation.
After the events at the end of the previous outing, King Maric has become rather emo and longs for an escape from the humdrum of governing his kingdom. Lo and behold, a rag-tag band of mysterious Grey Wardens turns up in his throne room and presents him with the perfect opportunity for escape - a return to the death and decay filled Deep Roads he managed to navigate in the first novel. One of their own has fallen into the hands of The Darkspawn, and they must get him back before he can reveal to them the obligatory Terrible Secret. Thus begins another compelling journey into (or beneath as the case may be) the land of Ferelden.
Whereas the first novel was set against an epic backdrop of kingdoms at war, this time around we are treated to an intensely plotted dungeon crawl in the corrupt tunnels and ancient ruins of the Deep Roads. The rather nondescript Darkspawn of the first novel are explored indepth and brought to life much more successfully this time around, and now seem like a palpable, coordinated threat rather than stock monsters. Much of their history and motivation is fleshed out and forms the core of the novel, especially where the main antagonist of the novel, The Architect, is concerned. The "star" characters are well written and mostly likeable, with their inner conflicts and shifting motivations creating an interesting counterpoint to the more small-scale and fast paced battle scenes. The motivation and methodology of the Grey Wardens themselves is another interesting theme that runs through this novel, and the effect it has on the characters lives is a compelling part of the plot throughout.
However, it's not all positive with some of the characters coming across as rather generic and suffering from a lack of development (Utha, Nicolas & Julien in particular). In the latter stages of the novel some very questionable snap decisions are made by people that seem to go against everything we are told about them previously (Utha again and Genevieve). There is also very little closure at the end of the novel. The pre-requisite showdown in itself is well written and entertaining enough, but none of the threats and themes in the novel are actually concluded. The last quarter of the book seems to scream "play the game to find out what happens next!", which might be a cunning marketing ploy but doesn't make a particularly satisfying ending.
In conclusion, Dragon Age: The Calling gives us another competently written and genuinely engrossing portrait of life in the land of Ferelden, with only a few flaws not serious enough to mar the overall enjoyment of the novel. Lets hope they continue with this book series long after the release of the actual game.