Dragon Age – The Silent Grove by David Gaider – Comics Review [Shadowhawk]
Shadowhawk reviews the graphic novel sequel to Bioware’s Dragon Age games, a new narrative penned by David Gaider and published by Dark Horse Comics.
“Quite a mystery thriller set in the world of Ferelden, Dragon Age – The Silent Grove offers a lot of intrigue, swordplay, double-crossing and subterfuge but does not quite go the whole distance.” ~The Founding Fields
Note: After writing the review I randomly found myself on the Dragon Age wiki and found that Ferelden isn’t the name of the world in the setting but one of the continents. The review inaccurately presumes that it is. Please ignore that misconception!
Just as with Matt Forbeck’s Magic: The Gathering comics, David Gaider’s Dragon Age – The Silent Grove exposed me to a setting that I had no previous experience with, but by the time I was done with it, I wanted to explore more and more. Its funny how things work out that way. I’d heard about the Dragon Age games for ages but had never had a chance to get acquainted with them. Seeing the collected six issues of The Silent Grove on NetGalley was therefore a great chance to take that first step.
I have to say, based on this first exposure, that I really like the setting of Dragon Age and the world of Ferelden. Conceptually and in terms of the atmosphere created by the writer and the various artists, I’m quite reminded of the Dragonlance novels by Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis. The Dragonlance novels were my first real exposure to the wider world of speculative fiction, coming just ahead of me picking up my first Black Library novels. As such, I have a great fondness for those novels and for the world of Krynn which holds an endless fascination for me. Ferelden is every bit just as interesting as Krynn!
In terms of the narrative, The Silent Grove is written quite well with some really interesting characters. However, it doesn’t quite go that whole distance. Some of the twists and turns appear to be tacked on for the benefit of filling up the page requirement, and not necessarily because they were the demand of the narrative itself. As such, the graphic novel wasn’t as enjoyable as I thought it would be. Nevertheless there are a lot of factors that still made me want to go on and get to the end of the story to see how things play out.
Whatever the issues I had with the narrative itself and with the portrayals of some of the characters, as a complete package, The Silent Grove is still a graphic novel that is not to be missed out on.
My only problem with Gaider’s characters was that I remained unconvinced of their motivations until the very end. I just wasn’t sure why they did what they did other than they are doing what they are because that’s how they have been written, if that makes sense. In that respect, all the characters, whether it is King Alistair or the Sorceress Yavana or anyone else, came across as cliched, although not overbearingly so. Besides that, I really enjoyed reading about these individuals. They all have quite a mystery to them, more so for me who has never played the games before. Gaider’s narrative unfolds their story little by little and it keeps the excitement of finding out more about them alive all the way till the end because you really can’t predict what’s going to happen next to them.
My favourite of the lot is definitely Yavana, more so than the protagonist Alistair and his two friends Isabela and Varric. I have a weakness of sorts for mysterious sorcerous characters, especially when they consort with Dragons, to which Yavana is no exception at all. I really would have loved to have seen more of her as she was the most interesting and intriguing of the bunch.
What the graphic novel does really well is to make me want to explore the setting more and find out what backstory/history all these characters, including the world of Ferelden, have. The plays between the various factions in the setting, especially the relationship between the dragons and magic is something that really struck a chord with me because they remind me of the complexity of the Dragonlance novels and Raymond E. Feist’s work set in the world of Midkemia. With so many fantastic settings I’ve read of this year, Dragon Age is certainly at par with the best of them.
In terms of the art, The Silent Grove definitely stands out. The cover artwork by Anthony Palumbo is, for my tastes, a little too cartoony and comical. It gives off a rather anime look which doesn’t work for me. However, the panels by Chad Hardin and the colours by Michael Atiyeh are simply too awesome. Having read some of the Dragonlance comics, the art here is as great as it is for them. The art panels bring the world of Ferelden to near-cinematic life and they really draw you into the narrative penned by David Gaider. Art is as important a component of any comic or graphic novel as the story and where The Silent Grove is concerned, it was doubly so for me since this was my first experience with the Dragon Age setting. Just as with the story, the art makes me want more.
In addition, the fantastic art makes up for the somewhat disappointing pay-off at the end of the sixth chapter. A few more panels telling us about the great mystery of the narrative would have really sold me on it but that was not the case here. Quite disappointing indeed.
Overall however, The Silent Grove is a great graphic novel that I’d really recommend to everyone. I’ve enjoyed it and I’m sure that others will too. The story is good. The art is good. And it ends on a great cliffhanger after a lot of exciting revelations that put quite a nice and unique spin on dragons. In short, it sets up the next few chapters of the series quite well and so, it promises a lot of great things to come.