by Ben Gelinas and Nick Thornborrow, fantasy (2013)
Dark Horse Books, $39.99, ISBN 978-1-61655-115-5
Just like the case with most beautifully illustrated hardcover books dealing with lore and artwork of popular video game franchises, the credited "authors" of Dragon Age: The World Of Thedas Volume 1 are actually the team leaders of a group of writers who pooled their stuff together to come up with the book. These writers, as far as I can tell, are the same ones that have worked on the Dragon Age games, so the lore here is straight from the guys who knew their stuff.
Now, I love the Dragon Age games, including the much-maligned sequel to the acclaimed Dragon Age: Origins. Both games are fascinating polar opposites. The first game is standard "zero to hero coming to save the world" game while the second game is a beautiful, if awkwardly and imperfectly executed, tale of how even the most powerful hero can lose everything at the end of the day due to forces beyond his control. Throughout it all, the setting is basically what you'd get if Middle-Earth goes to hell and the good guys are too busy waging holy war with one another when they are not fending off assaults from the darkspawn forces. Morality is never black and white in the world of Thedas - the whole Dragon Age franchise is an effort to combine elements of high fantasy with low fantasy, and while things can get weird (let's just say) sometimes, they work very well where I am concerned.
This hardcover paperweight is clearly released to bridge the wait for the third Dragon Age game, Dragon Age: Inquisition. As such, it delves into the history, culture, and races of Thedas, with the history spanning the early days to the events by the end of the book Dragon Age: Asunder. Don't worry if all this sounds confusing - this book actually stands alone very well as everything one needs to know is present here. It is, after all, all about the lore of Thedas.
The writing isn't fancy, but then again, I don't expect fancy from books like this. What's more important is that the artworks are gorgeous. If I have a criticism, it's how uneven the style of the artworks can be. Some are more old-school, others show anime influence. There seems to be a tendency to portray Morrigan as a refugee from a Japanese anime, with rounded face and overly large head over a twig-like body and all, and I'm really not keen on that. Still, the illustrations taken together are gorgeous and they make every page vibrant to behold.
Since the focus in on the lore, it may disappoint some folks that very minimal focus is given to the companions of the lead characters in the games. Aside from the cover where she bewilderingly puts on a bra, Morrigan gets a one-page illustration and her silhouettes appear in a few more, making her the poster girl for spell casters in this book. Apart from that, Alistair, Varric and Leliana get mentioned a few times, and that's it. Given the focus of this book, however, that's to be expected.
As for the content, most of it would be familiar if you bother to read the codex entries in the game. It's great to have everything on paper for me to read at leisure, though, and I found the descriptions of lands beyond the Kingdom of Ferelden fascinating. The Qunari city sounds awesome and so does Rivain. In a way, this book is an advertisement for Dragon Age: Inquisition, since that game promises to take me beyond the borders of Ferelden and Kirkwall, and it works because I want to play that game so badly now.
Oh, and this book makes it clear that Alistair is 20 by the time the Fifth Blight begins, so he becomes the King of Ferelden (if you choose to make him one, that is) at the age of 21. Since I always assume my Warden character is of the same age as Alistair, that makes the Warden one of the most powerful people in Thedas at the age of 21. I don't know whether to cringe or laugh at that. Then again, given how people rarely die of old age in this setting, 21 is practically 35 by the standards of today, so it's not so bad. House Tethras was exiled 32 years before the First Blight. Since Varric was born after the exile, he's most likely in his mid-twenties when he meets Hawke. Oh, and the Witch Hunt DLC takes place shortly before Act II of Dragon Age 2 begins. If you are stickler for canon, and you have killed Leliana and Wynne in your game, I'm sorry to say that their deaths are not canon, since these two are not just alive and well after Dragon Age: Origins ended, they play pivotal roles in the events leading up to Dragon Age: Inquisition. It's a good thing that my saved games are actually similar to the canon storyline, heh.
Anyway, this book is pure fanservice for fans of the Dragon Age series, or people with deep pockets looking for interesting new ideas for their weekend tabletop RPG games. It's not a necessary purchase to enjoy those games, though. Think of this as an expensive indulgence. I love the games, so this book is a very lovely addition to my small collection of fantasy coffee table books. Now all I have to do is to resist playing those games from scratch again.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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