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.
So I think I’ve wound up mentioning Dragon Age a few times. Mostly as apologies for me being quiet or really busy killing Darkspawn instead of doing reviews or whatever I should be doing. This game has become a huge obsession for me, so when I found out that Dragon Age had books? I think I ran to the library instead of driving. (They only had the one, so I’m already placing an order here soon for the other four). The most important thing to mention in this review is that even without playing a single Dragon Age book, The Calling is a book that makes perfect sense. The world of Thedas is described within the pages so even if you’ve never held a controller in your hand you understand the way of the Templars and the Dalish. Is the entire world of Thedas here? No. But anything you need to understand for your reading experience is within the pages.
The biggest about the Dragon Age series is, yes, it’s a role playing Game but instead of playing a movie-like game like Uncharted or Tomb Raider, you get to make choices, you are shaping the world around you. Beyond that, you honestly get to know all of the characters of the games. Don’t ask me my feelings on Alistair (or worse, Cullen); I won’t be coherent for a while as I try to spew my love for them. I’ve cried in these video games more than in most books I’ve read. I’ve never experienced anything like the world. I’ve made numerous comments that everyone in Thedas is my baby. And it’s true they all have gotten under my skin in one way or another. So I was really hoping for the same feel with Dragon Age in a book. And I wasn’t disappointed.
The Calling is actually written by the lead writer of Dragon Age Origins, but it didn’t feel like reading a book from someone used to writing screenplay style. The prose was actually beautiful, but I’ll get into that more later; this opening is getting out of hand. The Calling follows a young Duncan (an adult mentor character in Dragon Age Origins for those of you who haven’t played) and King Maric (in Origins his son Cailan is currently on the throne). We are also introduced to a full cast of characters that just become part of the lore of Thedas, or met in far down the line (hello Grand Enchanter Fiona).
The story follows the leader of the Grey Warden’s, a women by the name of Genevieve, as she strives to save her brother from the Darkspawn, who despite the fact that the Darkspawn are mindless creatures have kidnapped her brother rather than kill him. Genevieve is so hellbent on her mission she gathers a few Grey Wardens she trusts along with asking King Maric to join her party. With Maric on board, the group of seven main characters set off into the Deep Roads to find her brother. Yes, that’s right, seven main characters.
Okay, so despite all of my gushing up, there were aspects of The Calling that didn’t work. One of which was actually the most interesting experience for me. Despite the fact that I loved the characters, and obviously adored the world, I put The Calling down just around halfway through. It wasn’t a DNF, it was just a feeling of wanting to read something else. I knew I’d come back and pick right up where I was, but I just needed to pick up something else and read it for a while.
There are quite a lot of battles in this book, which makes sense. Dragon Age is running from one battle to the next killing Darkspawn, and our group of characters is in the Deep Roads, the home of the Darkspawn. However, Gaider was clearly trying to write what those of us that play the games see when we play. Which can work, but when you have seven main characters fighting at once (eight if you include Kell’s Mabari [Dog]) and you are trying to describe something that is very visual it can grow a little cluttered. Because I had played the games, I understood what was going on. I knew how these characters would fight. But from a pure reading perspective, it became a bit cluttered and confusing. The battles make sense and as a reader you can follow what is happening and who is attacking the dragon currently, but it was certainly cluttered at times.
All right, so as I mentioned earlier, Dragon Age is about the characters. The characters shine and you watch them grow and you cheer and you fall in love with all of them and you want to hug them or kill them sometimes, I’ll be honest. When reading this book, you got the exact same feelings. As I mentioned before, there are seven main characters that enter the Deep Roads, and that’s not including the characters that even have perspectives in the story but I would still call secondary. If I were to include all of the characters that were fleshed out and real there would be at least eleven. Now yes, Duncan, Loghain, and The Architect are characters that have personality within the games, but in this novel you get to know them completely differently.
For any writer to be able to balance eleven characters and not make them fade together, to make them all unique and to make me care about all of them? That’s something that is absolutely worth talking about. I’m not someone who cries in books, just in general I don’t. I grow attached to characters over time, so by the fifth novel? Oh yeah, I’ll cry like a baby over my favorite characters. But I don’t think I’ve ever cried in a standalone (that includes The Fault In Our Stars). However, The Calling made me bawl, ugly sobs in the back seat. Just like in the game, they take everything that you think you know and they turn it on its head and they give you these kneejerk moments where they are able to twist your feelings into shapes you didn’t know could happen. I should also mention the characters that had me crying aren’t even mentioned in the games. I grew attached to them just within the pages of The Calling.
Another thing I mentioned earlier was the writing. Gaider is the lead writer for the video game, but the book read like a high fantasy. The prose was actually something that I enjoyed thoroughly. I thought it might be rough, or even hard to read something from someone who is so used to writing just lines of a script. However, it wasn’t like that at all. The words flowed easily and beautifully. I felt like I was reading the novel of someone practiced and actually really great at their craft.
Obviously, the other thing that worked amazingly in this book is the world. But I can’t give all of the credit to The Calling because Gaider simply used the world that was already created for Dragon Age. Thedas has one of the most unique and in depth world building I’ve ever seen in my life, and that shines through in this novel. The world is rich and beautiful. There’s so much history that I can’t even begin to cover all of it here.
If you haven’t played Dragon Age, then yes, still pick it up, because you will find an amazingly detailed and rich world with amazing characters. If you have played Dragon Age then you need this book more than you even know. (There’s a plot twist in here about Alistair that makes me so happy and sad at once).
(Also, if you do play Dragon Age, I’m always down for talking about it because I need friends who play. I’m just sayin’.)