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An enjoyable romp from an industry pro
on April 17, 2009
Some of the criticism leveled at David Gaider's initial venture into novelization is that he makes heavy use of clichés, or his writing is technically poor. This is unfair on both counts. Genre literature, by its very nature is a cliché. What Gothic novel could exist without a decaying mansion? What fanstasy novel can exist without elves and dwarves? Only an exceedingly dull or groundbreaking one.
Mr. Gaider wasn't hired to break new ground. We must keep in mind exactly what he was trying to accomplish with DA:Stolen Throne and then commend him for doing just that. Mr. Gaider is a hired hand, a mercenary in the business of fiction. He must constantly guard against writing above his audience, but then avoid slavishly pandering to its adolescent demands. He must balance the canon and ideas of an entire team with his own sensibilities and imagination. Speaking of imagination, he cannot allow his to roam unfettered, because this is primarily a marketing effort, a promotional piece for a game, and because his best material must be saved for later, we can marvel that a book of his cast-offs is still of quality.
Not only did the author have to work against the game's publication date, but he had to work on his own time, and within the restrictions placed on him by corporate interests, i.e. don't reveal too much but don't make it boring. It is a nearly impossible tight-rope walk and Mr. Gaider balances everything the way only a true professional can.
Too much has been made of the opening (free) chapter of this book. It might have been more effective to have released a chapter nearer the middle. No time was wasted crafting a perfect first sentence or opening; these considerations must be secondary to establishing the scene, characters and motivations quickly. Back story is cut mercilessly to that end.
To his credit, Mr. Gaider avoids most of the trappings of fantasy writing, and in fact, until the last quarter of the book it is more like historical fiction along the lines of a Margaret Campbell Barnes take on the War of the Roses, or a Jacobite uprising fantasy.
There is magic and magic-users but they don't play a significant role in the plot. There is nary a mythical beast until nearly the end. The story is at its core, a love triangle, and a tense friendship between three warriors - Maric, the boy-king, Loghain, the murderous and dour son of a bandit leader, and Rowan, the uncompromising daughter of an Arl (Earl).
There is not much that hasn't been hashed and rehashed in other forms, but it is a quick and entertaining read. There is blood and action aplenty, as the gamer audience will demand, and it is in the action scenes that Gaider's strengths as a writer emerge. Fast, taut, descriptive sentences whirl and blend to form a genuinely exciting and tense overview of combat. Despite an unfortunate predilection for Deus Ex Machinae, and a predictable pattern of increasing intensity of a dilemma, followed by the last-minute intervention of a saviour, the action in Stolen Throne never gets tiresome or intrusive.
Mr. Gaider isn't as deft while handling the romance between his protagonists, but neither does he have the time to adequately pace the exchanges. He is beholden to his greater task - tell an epic story with faction history and multiple characters. In fact he employs a few clever montages to advance the story while giving the impression of time passing in just a few pages.
Although the book is physically large, and somewhat overpriced, the margins are big and the book is not over-long. I wonder if a longer story was planned but scrapped due to time constraints? There are some much-publicized grammatical and logical glitches. For example during one of the initial rebel battles why does Loghain berate himself for being inadequate to a task that he completed just a few paragraphs before? These should have been picked up by a capable editor. Whether that would have been supplied by Tor or Bioware (or EA?) we won't know, as there is no editorial credit and none is deserved. The net effect is of a hastily-produced promo item, and most of the missing two stars is the fault of a publishing conglomerate that cares little for art.
Despite these few drawbacks it is a fun fast-paced story that will likely endure in the mind at least as long as your Dragon Age: Origins single-player campaign.