Dragon Age: Asunder by David Gaider
Review by Mark
Asunder is an atypical fantasy novel set around the premise of a quest (necessary for the fantasy video game genre it is targeting) which means an eclectic group of people travelling out from the Orlaian city of Val Royeaux, with its magisterial White Spire, into the wastelands of the Fade in order to save a mage who has become an Abomination. The group is made up of the mages: Rhys, his mother, Wynne, his friend and sometime lover Adrian plus a deeply suspicious Templar, Ser Evangeline, who has been tasked by the head of her Order, the Lord Seeker, to keep a strict eye on them. Along for the ride, but hidden from plain view, is a unfriendly and frightened “ghost” – named Cole – who spends most of the novel either apologising for murdering hapless people or dealing with his social anxiety.
The journey’s premise is the focal point for the inevitable political machinations that fuel the rage of a land. The people of Thedas fear the mages, a point driven home by the assassination attempt on the Divine early on the book; and so they are bound to the White Spire, watched by the Templars, mistrusted by all. It is a world where they fight so that all understand “not all mages become abominations.”
The journey is one which commences as an uneasy fellowship with its typical tavern meetings (described in a manner you can read in a hundred other fantasy books), then proceeds into one-to-one chats away from campfires (resulting in attacks by darkspawn), trips into battle-blasted towns guarded by zealous Golems, the usual run in with hapless bandits, several quick steps across the Veil into the Fade so they can interact with Cole in his reality, a dragon, an elf named Pharamond, a mighty invading army, etc. etc… all of which leads to our Fellowship to their ultimate goal of discovering if the Rite of Tranquillity has become flawed.
Of course, not all journeys are physical and at the soul of the story are the voyages of self-discovery for both Rhys and Cole. The former to understand his place in the world, the depths of his magical ability; the latter to be resurrected, redeemed, yet ultimately betrayed, despised and sent away… all for a new novel to come. It is a story of many betrayals, of the sacrifices a mother will make for her child, of the inevitable fight for power and thrones and the right to rule.
This is a lengthy novel at four hundred plus pages of small print. David Gaider weaves a story that clearly follows the need for transferral to video games. As ever, novels of this type owe much to the phenomenon that has been TSR since the mid-80s; it ticks all the vital ingredients to keep its teenage audience interested, ensure the nostalgia of an older generation tugs at us as we read. The dialogue comes across as screen-play; the action is episodic as it has to be; at times the sentences uttered by the characters are too often proclamations of intent rather than genuine personalities. Yet, for all this, essentially it is a well done version of this sub-genre of fantasy novels. It is a novel that nestles safely and mediocrely in the bosom of its fantasy parents. If you like the concepts of Asunder give it a read. If you’re looking for a great fantasy novel… there’s better out there.
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