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Dragon Age: The Calling [Paperback]

David Gaider
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Book Description

Oct. 13 2009
Dragon Age: The Calling by David Gaider is another thrilling prequel to Dragon Age: Origins, the hit role-playing video game from award-winning developer BioWare!

After two hundred years of exile, King Maric has allowed the legendary Grey Wardens to finally return to Ferelden. When they come, however, they bring dire news: one of their own has escaped into the Deep Roads and aligned himself with their ancient enemy, the monstrous darkspawn.

The Grey Wardens need Maric’s help, and he reluctantly agrees to lead them into the passages he traveled through many years before, chasing after a deadly secret that will threaten to destroy not only the Grey Wardens but also the Kingdom above.

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About the Author

David Gaider lives in Edmonton, Alberta, and has worked for video game developer BioWare since 1999. He is the lead writer on the upcoming Dragon Age: Origins role-playing game and has previously worked on such titles as Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn™, Star Wars ®: Knights of the Old Republic ™, and Neverwinter Nights ™.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

DRAGON AGE: THE CALLING (Chapter 1)

In the absence of light, shadows thrive.

--Canticle of Threnodies 8:21

Less than a year earlier, the only way Duncan would have seen the inside of a palace would have been at the sword-point of a prison guard. Perhaps not even then. In Orlais, lowly street thieves didn't receive the benefit of a judgment handed down personally by the local lord. There, the best one could hope for was a bored magistrate in a dingy courtroom as far away from the glittering estates of the aristocracy as they could manage.

But this wasn't Orlais, and he wasn't just a street thief any longer. He was inside the royal palace in Denerim, the capital city of Ferelden . . . and he was not particularly impressed.

The city was gripped in the winter winds that blew in from the south, and Duncan had never been so cold in his entire life. Everyone in Ferelden wrapped themselves up in thick leathers and furs, trudging heedlessly through the snowy streets, and yet no matter how much clothing he wore he could still feel the chill right down to his bones.

The palace was little better. He had hoped for some warmth here, at least. Perhaps a few mighty hearths with fires blazing, enough to keep the place toasty warm. But no, instead he was left sitting alone on a bench in a hall with frosty stone walls that loomed high overhead. There were probably pigeons nesting in the wooden rafters, judging by the filthy floors, and he saw little about in the way of ornamentation. These Fereldans liked their doors large, solid, and made of oak. They liked their wooden sculptures of dogs and their smelly beer and they even seemed to like their snow. Or at least that was what he had been able to tell in the day or so since he'd arrived.

What they didn't like were Orlesians. There had been only a handful of palace servants and functionaries that passed through the hall while he waited, and all of them had shot him glances that ranged from suspicion to outright hostility. Even the two elven maids that came through with shy eyes and nervous twitters had stared at Duncan as if he were surely about to run off with the silverware.

Still, it was possible that all the looks might have had nothing to do with the fact that he was from Orlais. He didn't look the part, after all. His swarthy skin and mop of dark hair marked him as Rivaini, for one. The black leather armor he wore was covered in straps and buckles, running all the way up his arms and legs in a manner far removed from the more practical local style. Not to mention the twin daggers on his belt that he didn't bother to hide. None of those things marked him as a reputable person, not by Fereldan standards.

Really, if anyone was staring at him it should have been for the grey tunic he wore, adorned with the symbol of a rearing griffon. In any other nation in Thedas that griffon alone would have drawn raised eyebrows and nervous glances . . . but not in Ferelden. Here it was all but unknown.

Duncan sighed listlessly. How much longer was he going to have to wait?

Eventually the great wooden door at the end of the hall swung open and admitted a female elf. She was petite even for her kind, almost waiflike, with short mousy brown hair and large expressive eyes. She looked annoyed, as well, which didn't surprise Duncan in the least. As a mage, she would have drawn more stares even than he. Not that she dressed much like a mage, eschewing their traditional robes for a hauberk of finely meshed chain and a long blue linen skirt, but she did carry her staff with her. It was polished white, with a silvery ball clasped in a claw at its end that gave off a constant and diffuse flow of magical power. She brought it everywhere.

The elf strode across the hall toward him, her boots clicking on the stone floor loud enough to echo. Her annoyed expression gave way to amusement as she reached him.

"Still here, I see," she chuckled.

"Genevieve would cut off my feet if I went anywhere."

"Ah, poor Duncan."

"Shut up, Fiona," he snorted. His rejoinder lacked heat, however. He knew the elf probably did have some sympathy for him . . . well, a little, perhaps. Maybe a smidgen. There simply wasn't anything she could do to help him. He sighed and glanced up at her. "Did you see the Commander?"

Fiona nodded soberly toward the door behind her. "She's still negotiating with the captain of the city watch, thanks to you."

"Negotiating? She does that?"

"Well, he's negotiating. She's staring him down and not budging an inch, of course." Fiona regarded him with a raised eyebrow. "You're rather lucky, all things considered, you know."

"Yes, lucky," he sighed, sinking dejectedly back down onto his bench.

They waited for several minutes, the mage leaning on her white staff next to him, until finally the sound of voices approached from beyond the doors. They slammed open and two people entered. The first was a white-haired woman, a warrior in formidable-looking plate armor that covered her entire body. Her face was sharp and worn with many years of command, and she strode with the powerful confidence of one who expected no impertinence and usually found none.

The second was a dark-haired man in the resplendent yellow robes marking him as First Enchanter Remille of the Circle of Magi, the ranking mage in Ferelden. It was perhaps odd, then, that his pointed beard and the waxed curls of his mustache marked him as an Orlesian. The sort of man, Duncan assumed, that believed he could fare far better away from the Empire, even if it meant assuming a position of authority in a backwater nation that had thrown off Orlesian rule only eight years ago. At least in this case, his belief seemed to be correct.

The mage simpered after the warrior, and she did her best to ignore him. "Lady Genevieve"--he wrung his hands nervously-- "are you certain--"

She paused, spinning about to glare at him. "You may call me Genevieve," she snapped. "Or Commander. Nothing else."

"My apologies, Commander," he quickly assured her. "Are you certain that was necessary? Your order does not wish to antagonize King Maric, after all. . . ."

"We have already antagonized King Maric." Genevieve shot a withering glance in Duncan's direction, and he did his best to shrivel up out of sight behind Fiona. "And our order will bow to no authority, especially not some foolish watch captain who believes he possesses more power than he does." She cut off further protest by marching over to where Duncan sat.

He avoided her glower. "I trust you are satisfied?" she demanded.

"Maybe if I'd gotten away with it."

"Don't be a child." Genevieve gestured sharply for him to rise and he reluctantly did so. "We did not come to Ferelden to engage in nonsense, as you are well aware. You are no longer the boy I found in Val Royeaux. Remember that." She took his chin in her gauntleted hand and raised his head until she was looking him in the eye. He saw little more in her expression than checked rage layered in disappointment, and his face burned in embarrassment.

"I hear you," he said glumly.

"Good." She let him go and turned back to the hovering First Enchanter. "I trust the King is ready to see us, then? We won't have to come back?"

"No, he'll see you. Come."

The mage led the three of them down a long and dark hallway. If anything, it was even colder here than elsewhere, wind whistling through cracks in the walls. Duncan was certain he could spot frost, and his breath came out in white plumes. Just brilliant, he groused to himself. We came here to freeze to death, apparently.

They reached a large antechamber, a place filled with a scattering of dusty chairs that he imagined might at other times hold whatever nobles awaited their audience. Four others rose and stood at attention as they entered: three men and a dwarven woman, all in the same grey tunics as Duncan. Two of the men were tall warriors dressed in the same bulky plate armor as Genevieve, while the third was a hooded archer dressed in leathers. The dwarf wore a simple robe underneath her tunic, though naturally she was no mage.

The First Enchanter barely paused, sweeping past them and throwing open the enormous double doors that led into the throne room. Genevieve went after him and waved impatiently at the others to follow.

The throne room was slightly more impressive than the rest of the palace. Duncan did his best not to gape and stare as they walked in. The vaulted ceilings in the chamber rose at least thirty or forty feet, and the room was large enough to hold hundreds of men at once. There were galleries on each side of the room where he could imagine dignitaries shouting angrily at each other while the crowd below shouted and jeered. Or did Ferelden not work like that? Perhaps their gatherings here were dignified and quiet? Perhaps the court danced a great deal and this was a place where they held fantastic balls as they did in Orlais?

It seemed doubtful. The throne room had a dour look to it, and felt so empty he rather doubted there were many gatherings here at all, never mind balls. Tapestries hung on the walls, most in dull colors depicting scenes of battle from the days of some long-forgotten barbarian king. Dominating one of the walls was a massive wooden carving, a scene in bas-relief depicting a barely clothed warrior slaying what looked like werewolves. An odd choice, he thought.

The throne at the very end of the hall was little more than a massive chair with a high back, topped with what looked like a carved dog's head. It looked small up there on the large dais, raised above the floor by a small number of steps and flanked by bright torches. But one certainly couldn't miss it.

There was a man sitting casually on the throne, and Duncan wondered faintly if that was supposed to be the King. If so, he looked like a man who hadn't slept in a long time. His blond hair was unkempt and his clothing was hardly what Duncan would call regal, consisting of a rumpled white shirt and ...


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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Book Nov. 30 2009
Format:Paperback
If your interested in seeing why a lot happened in the game read this book, a lot of the undertones explain why the king was abandoned at Ostagar
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  66 reviews
78 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From man's worst enemy to man's best friend Oct. 7 2009
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Full disclaimer: As someone obsessed with the DAO universe, my review is biased because I already have an attachment to this world and its characters. I devoured the first book and loved it, but this book just had me fluttering about like an excited if demented pigeon.

On the surface, the story seems simple. A King guides a motley crew of Grey Wardens through the treacherous Deep Roads to help them find a missing Grey Warden. But what it is, is so much more. It is about loss and regret, it is about trust and friendships. It is about how far a person will go to do the right thing, and how far a person will go to correct his or her mistakes. It leaves you with a feeling of uncomfortable uncertainty about the nature of evil and of good. And if you are a dog lover, it has a scene that will leave you misty eyed if not a complete emotional wreck.

In the end, it leaves you with a satisfying sense of closure, but you will see the Thedas universe with new eyes. No longer will you see the darkspawn as pure evil. No longer will you see those who defend humans against them as pure good, and suddenly, everything in the Dragon Age universe just acquired a patina of nuance that was until now not quite obvious.

And even if you are not into the Dragon Age universe, it is still an entertaining, action packed fantasy romp. Mr. Gaider's style is very confident and assertive in this book, his story is very expansive and lore filled, and yet he never loses his strengths- great interactions, a very intimate sense of story telling and characters that you will feel for strongly whether you want to hug them, or slap them silly.

I really enjoyed this book.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tremendous success Nov. 2 2009
By M. Adams - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
David Gaider did a tremendous job on this story, surpassing The Stolen Throne in all respects. The storyline will engross you and make you want to keep reading, and you find yourself truly wondering about what you really know about this world, the darkspawn, and the Grey Wardens. It should be required reading before playing Dragon Age, and also stands on its own as a worthy novel for those who enjoy adventure. Highly recommended.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Great Read Oct. 9 2009
By Morganic - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
While the story seems simple enough for a fantasy novel, David Gaider's excellent writing style pulls the book through. Character interactions and an extensive lore are appearing as major strengths in his writing. I would heartily recommend reading this to anyone, not just fans of Dragon Age: Origins.
16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good for a Fantasy Game Novel Jan. 27 2010
By Matthew - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If you're looking for a fantasy novel and have not played and enjoyed Bioware's Dragon Age: Origins game, avoid this novel. If you fit this category, I give this novel two stars. Without the game's support, the novel cannot stand on its own. The characters are flat, the setting is not well fleshed out, and the story itself is uninspiring.

On the other hand, if you a Dragon Age fan, and are looking for more back story about the world of Thedas, then this is a pretty good read. If you're looking to expand your Dragon Age experience, then I give this novel 4 stars.

Averaging out the two ratings, I give this one a 3 overall.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A New Hope Dec 30 2010
By Annihilatrix1138 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I've never been so conflicted while reading a book. On the one hand, this is one of the most tedious things I've ever read, but on the other, it's given me a greater understanding of the lore of Dragon Age. And it's made me appreciate the game a lot more, as well. I feel satisfied, frustrated, happy, sad. I love and hate this book.

As a brief intro: THE CALLING is a novel based in the Dragon Age RPG setting created by the fine folks at BioWare. This is also the second novel in a series: a series primarily created to complement the video game. Because this book draws so heavily upon its prequel, and even more so upon the video game, there is almost no chance that someone who isn't a fan could pick up this book and know exactly what is going on. This book occupies a very limited niche.

But onto the story itself. It chronicles the return of the Grey Wardens to Ferelden, after the Orlesians were forced out of the country over a decade ago. We're introduced to a young Duncan (who fans of the game will definitely remember), his commander, and a few others who comprise the group. Their purpose in returning to Ferelden is to ask King Maric's assistance in tracking down one of their order, who was captured in the Deep Roads. Maric agrees to help them out, since it's possible they could put a stop to a Blight in the process. So, the group ventures into the Deep Roads, where they run into darkspawn aplenty, and a few mysteries that will definitely leave fans intrigued.

I would call myself a hardcore fan of the Dragon Age property. The game is one of my favorites, and the world (while derivative in some regards) is well thought out with a rich history to it. I read Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne and liked it. THE CALLING nearly made me rip the book in half, thereby separating the tedious part from the intriguing part.

The first half of the book is bad to the point of hilarity. The setup for everything is so forced that I couldn't believe it was happening. The Grey Wardens need Maric or Loghain to lead them through the Deep Roads. Never mind the fact that it's been fourteen years since they rather hastily made their way through the ruins. The Wardens need them, even if they don't remember anything. They make that resoundingly clear. And Maric actually agrees to this?

Combined with how Duncan - the stoic, noble and steadfast leader from the game - is set up as the book's comedy relief (which I did NOT see coming), that most of the first 200 of the 400 pages of the book are spent retelling events from the last book, and that most of the characters are hardly even provided personality...I was ready to put the book down.

I've said it once and I'll say it again: David Gaider is a great writer. While being the Lead Writer of two games back-to-back, and then writing two novels on top of that, he puts out fine work each time. But the main problem with this book (to me), like the last one, is that he spends far too much time laying on the exposition. The book jumps the story ahead by days at a time, but then goes about recapping those missed days anyway. Backstories are added in at random intervals. And the characters spend many pages thinking about things when the mood is supposed to be tense. All of the recapping, history lessons, and the lengthy internal narrative really broke up the action.

But things really started to pick up in the last half, when there was a little less conversation and a little more action. The book stopped trying to make me privy to all of the innumerable relevant details (most of which I had already known) and just tells the story. Characters begin interacting, the story speeds up from a crawl to a sprint, and the lore is expanded upon massively. I actually had some emotional investment in some of the characters in the end, which I didn't have in the first half.

And the epilogue will have fans of the game grinning, I can almost guarantee it.

So, I think I can safely recommend this book to fans of the game, but that's about it. There are some heartfelt moments, genuine tear-jerking scenes, and some times where the book really captured the spirit of the game. It gets three stars for me, because no book should take 200 pages to hook a reader, but when it finally did, it felt like it was worth the wait.
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