Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Dragon Age: Last Flight Review


The Fourth Blight.  Apparently this was one of the worst Blights to occur in the world of Thedas, where the Dark Spawn emerged from the Deep Roads, taking everyone by surprise, and starting a war that lasted for about a decade and almost saw Thedas fall to the Taint and Corruption as entire nations were thoroughly ravaged.

The Fourth Blight also happens to be the primary setting for Tor Book's latest novel, Dragon Age: The Last Flight.

In the present day, the conflict between the mages and Templars rages on, and some mages have sought sanctuary with the Grey Wardens in their secluded fortress of Weisshaupt.  One of these is the young mage Valya from the Hossberg Circle, with a few of her peers.

In no rush to put them through the Joining, the Chamberlain of the Grey has requested their assistance in combing for specific information regarding the Blights through their vast library, and Valya stumbles across a hidden diary from Isseya, the sister of the hero Garahel, who sacrificed himself to slay the Archdemon and end that horrible Fourth Blight.

Having never played a Dragon Age game before, Dragon Age: The Masked Empire was my first foray into the universe, and I enjoyed it immensely.  I'm pleased to say that I enjoyed myself just as much, if not more so, with Dragon Age: Last Flight.

The diary from Isseya, which provides much of the backdrop and narration for the novel, is dark and at times, thoroughly desperate.  I found this tone very appealing, as it narrates through key moments throughout this decade-long Blight, from when Garahel and Isseya were new Grey Warden initiates, to their maturity as leaders and the difficult and dangerous decisions they made, to the war's conclusion and a bit of its aftermath.

To the best of my knowledge, there are no griffons in the Dragon Age games, but of course a stylized griffon is the order's symbol.  During the time of the Fourth Blight, there certainly were griffons, and the Grey Wardens exclusively road them, giving them air superiority against the Dark Spawn that typically only the Archdemon could effectively counter.

With the end of this Blight, however, all the griffons died out and are now simply a memory to the Wardens and the people of Thedas.  The reason behind this, the real reason the griffons vanished, is ultimately the primary theme of the novel, and it's a rather interesting and sad twist and one that will affect Valya and her companions in the present day.

Liane Merciel, the novel's author, interweaves the story between the narration from the diary and Valya's overall reactions to them in the present day, and does so well with some solid foreshadowing of the plot points to come.  More time is spent recounting the Blight, and that worked strongly in my opinion as it's not only where the real action lay but also the major choices of the story, choices that would have repercussions straight to the present. 

Garahel and Isseya, amongst other Wardens of the time, rode griffons into battle, using them to the best effect possible during offenses and defences, breaking sieges or simply passing messages.  Without the bonds between the Wardens' and their griffons, the Fourth Blight would likely have been lost, and even with their aid, the Dark Spawn were so strong and so well coordinated that the Wardens and their allies nearly failed and nearly lost everything several times over.

This forced the Wardens to make significant sacrifices to stem the horde, both in terms of people, locations, and morals.  To stop the Blight, the Grey Wardens did some rather bad things with good intentions, and it left its mark on Thedas, but was subsequently buried to time and mystery.  Until now, until Valya goes through Isseya's diary.

I was so taken by the story and the locations that Merciel wrote about that for a few days afterwards, I found myself reading up on the nations, races, Blight's, etc. from the world online, simply to immerse myself more in the story and to understand and appreciate it all the more.

That, to me, is the mark of a good novel, one that makes you want to expand your experience happily and to long for more.

For current fans of the series looking to dig themselves deeper in the rich history of the franchise, for those anxiously waiting for the next game, or for those simply looking for an entertaining dark fantasy read, you'll find all of that in Dragon Age: Last Flight.

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