After reading The Stolen Throne, I was hesitant to read David Gaider’s next Dragon Age tie-in, The Calling, evidently for good reason. I haven’t been so angry reading a book since Lost Gate, and I’m forced to question how Gaider ever managed to make a living writing stories. Be prepared for many spoilers.
There are a few good points about The Calling, which I’ll start with. Gaider managed to take advantage of a great opportunity that the tie-in novel offered, further detailing the experience of the Grey Warden in a way you couldn’t execute in the games. For the first time, we’re granted a unique perspective of the mental effects of the darkspawn taint and what the Calling feels like, something Origins wasn’t able to accurately convey to players. And as always, Loghain remains the best-written character, though he sadly wasn’t present for most of the book.
Now for the bad, and there is a lot of it. I’ll start with basic storytelling, since I was nearly halfway through reading John Truby’s Anatomy of Story prior to reading this. The Calling has no clear protagonist. Normally in storytelling, the protagonist is the character whose needs and desires drive the story. Only Geneveive fits this role, but we never get her perspective, and she spends most of the story off to the side, while the narration drives us to pay more attention to Duncan, Maric, and Fiona (and Bregan, for some reason). Gaider narrates the story with a third-person limited perspective with multiple switching viewpoints (some of them completely unnecessary and counter-intuitive). This can be a good technique, but I understand it’s very difficult to execute well, and I feel like The Calling failed in this regard, especially considering the viewpoint characters’ lack of personal goals. All of them, even Bregan, are simply along for the ride, blindly following Geneveive and the Architect until nearly three-quarters of the way through the book. There is no reason to get so many different perspectives if these perspectives don’t offer any useful development to the plot or characters. The characters don’t grow gradually over the course of the story, they rapidly change their minds, despite passionately throwing themselves down a particular path. It’s jarring and doesn’t make sense. And I feel no attachment to these characters, other than Maric, who I spent the previous novel getting to know. But the rest… Genevieve is stupid, Fiona is annoying, Duncan doesn’t feel like Duncan, I constantly forgot Utha existed, and everyone else dies. At least Julien was able to spark some emotion in people, and his relationship with Nicolas was far more believable than Fiona and Maric.
Apart from the characters, there are also significant problems with the plot and lore. The novel starts with a squad of armed Orlesians entering the royal palace in Ferelden and demanding that the king or his general come with them on a suicide mission into the Deep Roads because they went there that one time. Before we even get into the completely asinine reason why Geneveive leads them on this expedition, this is absolutely ridiculous. Apparently everyone in Ferelden forgot about the fact that they were slaves to the Orlesian empire just a few years before and decided it was a good idea to let these people come in. Granted, they are Grey Wardens, but that name only has meaning to us who have played Origins prior to reading. At the start of The Calling, the Grey Wardens had been banished from Ferelden for two hundred years for attempting to overthrow the king. They shouldn’t have been allowed in the country, let alone making demands of the crown. Once again, Loghain is the only one with enough sense to call the Wardens on their bullshit, and Maric is a blockhead and decides to go with them anyway. Beyond that, the plot devolves into the two most boring levels from Origins, the Deep Roads and the Fade, before going completely off the deep end in the last fifty pages.
There is much I could say about the end of The Calling, but by the time I reached it I was so exhausted from my own nerd rage I just wanted Loghain to fly in on a dragon and murder everyone (sadly, that never happens). It’s nothing but a pile of contrived nonsense, unresolved plot, a couple retcons, and the most comically ridiculous death line since Shakespeare’s “He exits, pursued by a bear.”
“The soldiers carried it out, stabbing Bregan with their many spears.”
Really, Gaider? That’s the best you’ve got?
At least he remembered the function of an epilogue, which is to depict what happens after the main plot ends, and not to briefly gloss over the events of what should’ve been the climax in a nauseating framed story.
In short, I’m glad I didn’t spend money on this book, and I will now begin the slow, painful process of trying to forget it and its predecessor were ever written.