Book Review: The Masked Empire by Patrick Weekes
Genre: Fantasy, Gaming Tie-in
Series: Dragon Age #4
Publisher: Tor Books (2014)
Author Info: https://twitter.com/PatrickWeekes
Wendy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Normally, Dragon Age books are at the top of my to-read list, yet for some reason, I let this one slide for a long time because, as much as I love the world of Thedas, fantasy France just didn’t appeal to me, even after I played Dragon Age: Inquisition and got all wrapped up in the intrigue that directly follows the events of this book. You’d think playing and winning the Grand Game, even as an elf whom the court considers to be worth little more than a slave, I’d at least want to find out why I had to work so hard to reunite the empress and her consort.
Not to mention I have really enjoyed Weeke’s Rogues of the Republic series as well as his writing within the game itself.
But no. Here I am three years later, only just now reading The Masked Empire.
And flailing all over the place because oh my emotions!
The Masked Empire focuses on Empress Celene and the struggles she faces to maintain her crown and her vision of Orlais as the centre of education and artistry, even as the Mage/Templar War and the demands of the Chantry begin to weigh on her. Constantly nipping at her heels is Gaspard de Chalons, her cousin who believes himself to be the better person for the throne, especially with war looming. Behind her stands her most loyal servant, the elf Briala, who is also her secret lover, and at her side, her Champion, Ser Michel de Chevin, bound by the code of honour of the chevalier, but harbouring a heavy secret that could crush his entire world.
At the heart of Orlais’ realm of intrigue is the Grand Game, a political chess game that all Orlesians are born into, no matter their rank. To lose can mean something worse than death for an Orlesian of high rank: utter shame. The Empress is the greatest player of the Game, but Gaspard gives her a run for her money by forcing Orlais into a civil war between the nobles and their elven serfs that in turn, puts Celene at odds with her lover.
Toss in a desire demon — ahem, a Spirit of Choice — and, as it turns out, you’ve got a pretty darn good read here.
I didn’t think I’d care about any of these characters, despite having met them in-game, but through reading this book, I found myself deeply involved in their struggles. They each love and respect each other in their own way, but they also each have much larger troubles that must take precedence over their feelings, forcing them to make painful choices and sacrificing the things and people that they hold most dear. Even Gaspard proved himself to be more than just a usurper to the throne, and I was particularly enamored by the code of the chevalier to which he too adheres.
I’ve played all the Dragon Age games and read all the books. I recall commenting that in Dragon Age: The Calling, author David Gaider wrote the action so well that I could imagine actually controlling the characters on my computer screen with mouse and keyboard. In The Masked Empire, Weekes went so much further. Not only was the action intense and vibrant, the emotions of the characters and the Grand Game itself was almost palpable. So much so that I found myself wishing to see this translated into a visual medium, such as the animated Dragon Age film, Dawn of the Seeker. The subtleties of the Game would be fascinating to see played out on screen.
My only real disappointment in this book is that the game did not follow through well enough with all of the characters it portrayed — in particular, Ser Michel and Imshael, the Choice Spirit. Their entwined fates seem to be leading them to great things at the end of the book, but that fizzles to nothing in the game.