Saturday, February 13, 2016

Dragon Age: The World of Thedas Volume 1 #review

Title: Dragon Age: The World of Thedas Volume 1
Introductions by Mike Laidlaw and David Gaider
Publisher: Dark Horse Books, 2013

Every once in a while there’s a book I simply must have a physical copy of in the house, and this is one of them. Hardcover, full colour printing throughout and devastatingly beautiful art – enough to make me want to purr, caress its cover and breathe sweet nothings into its pages.

This is one for the fans of BioWare’s Dragon Age game franchise, and it’s well worth the clams forked out and the effort of importing. (And rushing down to the postbox every time the postman whizzes by on his bicycle.)

{And yes, I’m still smarting from the import duties SARS gifted me with for the privilege of buying this book.}

What’s clear from the three games brought out so far is that the fantasy world of Thedas is chock full of lore – so much so that I’d hazard to say that given a few years the peeps at BioWare are going to give Tolkien a run for his money. As it is, they’re snapping at his heels.

Volume 1 pretty much reads like a traveller’s guide to Thedas, not only giving a timeline for events – starting with the rise and fall of the elves’ Arlathan, to the expansion of the sprawling Tevinter Empire and the subsequent blights, but also giving an overview of the races, nations, magic, religion, the fade, the blight and assorted wildlife. This volume is by no means exhaustive, but serves as a good introduction to the setting without giving away too many spoilers for those who’ve yet to play the games.

Even my husband – who’s patiently still waiting for me to get over my fascination with the game – had to admit that the book’s layout and art are pretty darn impressive. This is a pretty book – there’s no denying that. It will cause the fans to make grabby fingers. It’s also useful as reference for those who’re addicted to unpicking canon and who may wish to create fanfiction. And volume 2 arrived recently in the mail too. Like my centenary edition of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings that also graces my permanent book collection, this one’s a keeper.

As a storyteller, I’m envious of those writers who’ve had the chance to contribute to the creation of this world, and as the map suggests, the games, books and comics have only scratched the surface of all the possible future tales yet to be told. Yes, this is standard high fantasy involving elves, dragons, mages and brave warriors, but it’s what the content creators say with these stories and their art that is important – touching on many important issues. The world of Thedas matters, because in many ways those existing, familiar tropes resonate on a deeper level. The fact that so many of the heroes are tragic, and are faced with impossible choices that turn out badly no matter what, attests to the fact that the BioWare writers are basically horrible, evil people who love to torment gamers. But we love them anyway and keep returning for second helpings. And the great thing about the games is that for a while we can tune out the real world where we have little agency, and plunge ourselves into a world where we are the heroes who can and do make a difference.

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