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Dragon Age: The Masked Empire by Patrick Weekes

Dragon Age: The Masked Empire by Patrick Weekes
Book Name: Dragon Age: The Masked Empire
Author: Patrick Weekes
Publisher(s): Tor Books (US) Titan Books Ltd (UK)
Formatt: Paperback / eBook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: April 8, 2014 (US) April 17, 2014 (UK)

The first game series I ever really fell in love with was Dragon Age. The predecessors to this expansive series were also fantastic in their own right (Neverwinter Nights was especially great, if you ask me), but when I first began Dragon Age: Origins as a Dwarven Noble, I was immediately drawn into the story of political intrigue and betrayal. In the newest installment of the Dragon Age tie-in novels, Patrick Weekes returns us to this point of beginning and, simultaneously, shows us a side of Thedas that we haven’t seen before.

Orlais is generally described as a place rife with political intrigue and backstabbing, described throughout the series as “The Game”. All nobles play the Game, keeping their secrets close and their enemies even closer. This is true most of all for the Empress of Orlais, a human woman named Celene. Groomed from a young age to take the throne, when we encounter the Empress she has been ruling on her own for 20 years and is a master of the Game and its dance. Being able to take down a rival with a pointed word, or a pointed dagger from the shadows, has become as easy as breathing for the Empress. While her champion, Ser Michel, defends her honor, her personal maidservant and master of spies, Briala, provides her with critical insight to her reign and possible rivals.

This book ties into the Dragon Age game series after the events of Dragon Age II. The end of Dragon Age II saw the spark that created the inferno of the mage/templar conflict across all of Thedas, which was also discussed in detail in the book Dragon Age: Asunder (by David Gaider, who is a lead writer for the Dragon Age series). To compound this, Orlais is dealing with uprisings of the elves in the alienages within the large cities. Briala, an elf and secret lover of Celene, uses her position to steer the Empress toward sympathy for her people, who are generally in positions of service to the nobles or are desperately poor. Much to the disdain of the nobles embroiled in the world of the Game, Celene allows gifted elves to have certain freedoms within their society.

It is critical to remember that every main character in this book has an ulterior motive they are working toward or a secret that they are desperate to keep. Weekes does an incredible job of eliciting sympathy for his characters: the Empress wants nothing more than to quell the mage/templar conflict; Briala wants to help her people; Michel wants to protect his Empress. Then enter the antagonist: Grand Duke Gaspard, cousin to the Empress and one who sees Celene’s sympathy to the elves as a weakness that must be squelched in order for Orlais to be seen as the great nation its nobles know it to be.

On the surface, the storyline of this book seems very cut and dry. Celene wants to keep her power; Gaspard wishes to take it from her and rule on his own. Each character, in the end, finds where their true loyalties lie and what their real motivation is. Personal secrets, long kept, are revealed and threaten to destroy an entire empire from within. Relationships crumble, and new alliances are formed. An ancient power awakens within Orlais, which will make for some interesting movement in future installments of the series.

At the end of the day, the Game stops for no one.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I was originally hesitant to read it, as this is the first book in Dragon Age tie-in series that was not written by Gaider. However, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the characters’ depth and realism. The information provided within the story has set up some interesting connotations within the concept of the next game, which is due out on October 7, 2014.

Reading this book has made me excited for Dragon Age: Inquisition, and I’m looking forward to picking up Weekes’ stand-alone novel, The Palace Job, which was also reviewed here on Fantasy-Faction. I highly recommend this book for anyone who has enjoyed the Dragon Age games and absolutely cannot wait until this fall to return to Thedas.


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