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Dragon Age #4

The Masked Empire

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Empress Celene of Orlais rose to the throne of the most powerful nation in Thedas through wisdom, wit, and ruthless manipulation. Now, the empire she has guided into an age of enlightenment is threatened from within by imminent war between the templars and the mages, even as rebellion stirs among the downtrodden elves To save Orlais, Celene must keep her hold on the throne by any means necessary.

Fighting with the legendary skill of the Orlesian Chevaliers , Grand Duke Gaspard has won countless battles for the empire and the empress But has he fought in vain? As the Circle fails and chaos looms, Gaspard begins to doubt that Celene’s diplomatic approach to the mage problem or the elven uprisings will keep the empire safe. Perhaps it is time for a new leader, one who lives by the tenets of the Chevalier’s Code, to make Orlais strong again.

Briala has been Celene’s handmaid since the two of them were children, subtly using her position to help improve the lives of elves across Orlais. She is Celene’s confidante, spymaster, and lover, but when politics force the empress to choose between the rights of Briala’s people and the Orlesian throne, Briala must in turn decide where her true loyalties lie.

Alliances are forged and promises broken as Celene and Gaspard battle for the throne of Orlais But in the end, the elves who hide in the forests or starve in the alienages may decide the fate of the masked empire.

381 pages, Kindle Edition

First published January 1, 2014

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About the author

Patrick Weekes

16 books578 followers
Patrick Weekes lives in Canada with their non-platonic life partner Karin, their children, and an ever-increasing number of rescue animals. By day, Patrick currently works at BioWare, where they are lead writer on the Dragon Age franchise. By night, they write novels whose feel usually boils down to “Absurd premise executed faithfully.”

Patrick enjoys Lego, martial arts, musical numbers, and chocolate milk, but probably not in that order.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 310 reviews
Profile Image for Federico DN.
308 reviews549 followers
February 17, 2023
The life of a Noble.

All nobility in Orlais is adept to “the Game”, a systematical fight for power. Alliances, betrayals, conspiracy, rumors, lies and truths disguised as lies; everything valid to get to the top. At this game Queen Celene of Orlais has kept herself strong and powerful for more than twenty years. However, the conflict between Mages and Templars keeps escalating all over Thedas; a possible uprising of the army at the command of General Gaspard threatens to break a precarious balance; and terrible injustices forces the marginated elves to a search for freedom and a revindication of their species. All the internal conflicts threaten to unleash a bloody civil war that will destroy all of Orlais, from the queen to everyone below.

Briala is an elven maid, orlesian bard, spy, lover and right hand of Queen Celene. When the conflict between humans and elves reaches a point of no return, she’ll be forced to choose between her love and human queen, or herself and the subjugated elven race she belongs to.

A novel that works as a sequel to Dragon Age 2 and “Asunder” and prequel to the events of Dragon Age 3: Inquisition. Several characters are explored indepth, among them Celene, Briala, Gaspard, Ser Michel, Teagan and Leliana. Interesting as the previous installments to further expand the lore of the Dragon Age world, although nothing especially remarkable. And maybe the weakest of the series so far.

This novel mainly focuses on what it means to be Nobility in the world of Orlais, with every machination, manipulation and skill required to survive. Personally I couldn’t care less about all that political mambo jumbo, whether it’s from my country or fictional Orlais, so this novel felt kinda tedious. However, I rescue from it seeing Leliana again some more, and meeting several characters that later do appear in DA3. Still, not recommendable, not even for a Dragon Age fan, unless you happen to enjoy all that political and cloak and daggers stuff.

[2014] [381p] [Fantasy] [2.5] [Not Recommendable]

La vida de un Noble.

La nobleza de Orlais es adepta al “Juego”, una sistemática lucha por el poder. Alianzas, traiciones, conspiraciones, rumores, mentiras y verdades disfrazadas de mentiras, todo válido para llegar a la cima. En este juego la Reina Celene de Orlais se ha mantenido firme y poderosa durante más de veinte años. Sin embargo, el conflicto entre Magos y Templarios escala sin cesar en todo Thedas; un posible sublevamiento del ejército al mando del General Gaspard hace peligrar el precario equilibrio; y terribles injusticias llevan a los marginados elfos a una búsqueda de la libertad y reivindicación de su especie. Todos los conflictos internos amenazan con desatar una sangrienta guerra civil que arrasará con todo Orlais, desde la reina hasta todos abajo.

Briala es una elfa sirvienta, barda orlesiana, espía, amante y mano derecha de la Reina Celene. Cuando el conflicto entre humanos y elfos escala a un punto sin retorno, deberá elegir luchar por su amor y reina humana, o por sí misma y el subyugado pueblo elfo al que pertenece.

Una novela que funciona como secuela de Dragon Age 2 y “Asunder” y precuela a los eventos de Dragon Age 3: Inquisición. Varios personajes se exploran en profundidad, entre ellos Celene, Briala, Gaspard, Ser Michel, Teagan y Leliana. Interesante como las anteriores entregas para expandir el conocimiento del mundo Dragon Age, aunque nada especialmente destacable. Y tal vez la más floja de la serie hasta ahora.

Esta novela se centra básicamente en lo que significa ser Nobleza en el mundo de Orlais, con todas las maquinaciones, manipulaciones y destreza que requiere para sobrevivir. Personalmente todo el entramado político me importa poco y nada, ya sea de mi país o de la ficcional Orlais, por lo cual esta novela me pareció algo tediosa. Sin embargo, rescato de ella haber visto a Leliana de nuevo un poco más, y conocer varios personajes que luego sí aparecen en DA3. Igual no recomendable, ni siquiera para un fan de Dragon Age, a no ser que de casualidad disfrutes todo ese mambo de la política con capas y dagas.

[2014] [381p] [Fantasía] [2.5] [No Recomendable]
Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,109 reviews44.2k followers
March 9, 2018
It was international women’s day yesterday, so I thought I’d review a fantasy book that displays a very powerful woman!

Meet Celene, Empress of the mighty Orlesian Empire.


The story begins with a typical clash for power. Celene is a very clever woman; she manoeuvres her way through political opposition with subtle grace. To her Lords and Ladies, she appears to do absolutely nothing. In reality her touch is so stealthy they miss it entirely: they have no idea they are being manipulated. As such the ignorant men cry out for a more blatant display of physical leadership; they want to see the strength of a male leader rather than a tactician. Fools.

What then follows is a story of treachery, bloodshed and pure brutality. Celene’s rival, Duke Gaspard, hunts his leader across the breath of the Empire. She is forced to take refuge with the elves and finds a dark and disturbing magic; it no longer becomes a simple fight for the throne, but a battle for survival as the dead begin to rise from their tombs. Loyalty is pushed to the very edge and new alliances are formed. Love is disregarded, reclaimed, and disregarded once more. The weight of a people is nothing compared to the sorrows of an aching heart.

So this was rather excellent. These novels are making me fall in love with Dragon Age all over again. This was full of everything that makes the series so fantastic. And one thing Fereldan and the Dragon Age Universe has displayed so fairly, is equality between men and women. Both sexes can join the army and fight for thier country. Sounds silly that I should even need to mention this, but in fantasy fiction (which is loosely from a medieval style era) this does not happen enough, so this is a very good book for today.
Profile Image for Markus.
470 reviews1,519 followers
May 17, 2016
The Imperial court of Orlais is filled with parties, ornamented masks and the intrigue-filled contest for power known simply as 'the Game'. But behind all this, the threat of full-scale civil war is looming. The mages and the templars are already fighting. The elven alienages simmer with discontent. And the nobility is rallying behind Gaspard de Chalons, a powerful chevalier critical to the rule of Empress Celene.

Dragon Age books have a tendency of starting out incredibly weakly, and this one is no exception. For the first half of the book, everything is about the noble gatherings and the playing of the Game in Val Royeaux. Moves are being made and alliances are being forged, but in the end there is very little actual plot development. However, all that changes when the downtrodden elves of Halamshiral gather in open rebellion against the crown.

There are two important protagonists in the book. The first is Empress Celene herself, a cynical woman who has achieved true mastery of the Game, and has managed to rule the mightiest nation in Thedas for twenty years through words, diplomacy and manipulation. The second is Briala, an elven girl who has been Celene's handmaid since they were both children, and after a time became the Empress' closest confidante, her spymaster and, eventually, her lover.

Even though the reader is bound to support Celene while reading this book, I would say that its most interesting character is without question Grand Duke Gaspard. For the first half of the book he seems to be a selfish, power-hungry bastard willing to do just about anything to seize the throne of Orlais. Once you get to know him, however, it's difficult not to sympathise with him. Even though he's a noble, he's also a chevalier, and all his actions are guided by the Chevaliers' Code. He is completely ruthless in his quest for the throne, but also refuses to do anything that would put a stain his honour. And based on his actions in the book, I would say he's the greatest character the Dragon Age universe has produced since Origins.

As for worldbuilding, there is very little new. One does get a lot more insight into the noble society of Orlais and the nature of the eluvian mirrors, but other than that there are no big revelations about anything a Dragon Age fan doesn't already know.

The Masked Empire was definitely my least favourite of the Dragon Age novels published so far, but considering how much I enjoyed the first three, that is not very much of a problem. The book was fun enough to read, and when it comes to setting the scene for Dragon Age: Inquisition, it does the job well.
Profile Image for Jessica.
105 reviews31 followers
May 14, 2014
How very disappointing... This novel has left me with a bittersweet aftertaste, more bitter than sweet, in what started as a very interesting and complex story about Orlesian politics and the "Game", and ended, well, to quote another Game, with my joy turned to ashes in my mouth.

The first third of the book is great, with Empress Celene of Orlais in the midst of preventing a civil war, moving strings and winning battles with words, rather than swords, and her spy and elven lover Briala being her eyes and ears, moving her own strings from the shadows. We see a couple of well known characters from Dragon Age Origins, and get to know Grand Duke Gaspard, who is the one trying to take the throne away from Celene. But when the true battle for the throne of Orlais begins, it turns out to be not much of a battle after all, and the book starts going downhill, subtly and slowly if you will, but downhill nonetheless, until it stops, not even with a crash... more like a "poof!" and it's over, just like that.

Don't get me wrong, a lot of rather interesting events occur; besides immersing yourself in how Orlais works, you get to learn more about the elves, their culture and their past, about the differences between the city elves and the Dalish. And there is a slight foreshadowing to the events that will occur in the third installment of the game (slight as in a couple of lines maybe?). There are alliances, betrayals, secrets to be kept, honor, lack of it, love and loyalty... you know, all the things that would make for a good story. Sadly, I couldn't connect to some of the most important emotional moments. In fact, I could never truly connect with Briala, and so I didn't care much for her struggles.

And the battles, by the Maker, most of the battles were annoyingly descriptive to the point of getting boring and pointless, except maybe the ones involving magic. Even though it's a video game novel, it is a novel first and foremost and the battles must have a reason to be there.

I would still recommend it to Dragon Age lovers, especially if you are looking forward to the third game, Dragon Age Inquisition, along with Asunder, which, by the way, is a far better book than The Masked Empire and totally worth the read.
August 3, 2016
‘How are the Dalish?’ she asked. 'You have not spoken of your people.’
Beneath his cloak, his face lit up with enthusiasm. 'They have a wonderful new plan! It ends with the shemlen killing each other off, leaving the Dales free for the elves to rule.’

'Felassan plucked off a bit of bark, popped it into his mouth, and chewed.
“What are you doing?”
“The Dalish know many medicinal remedies that the humans have forgotten,” Felassan said, chewing. “Certain types of bark can be chewed to ease headaches.” He paused. “Not this kind, though. Sadly, this is just bark.”

"Felassan closed his eyes, straightened, and inhaled the rich scent one last time. "They're stronger than you think, you know." He smiled. "You know, I suspect you'll hate this, but she reminds me of-"
He never heard the blow that killed him."

Thank you, BioWare. Because of you now I am madly in love with two perfect Dalish elves...the problem is...They ARE BOTH Dead...
*Tamlen and Felassan are alive idk what everyone is talking about*
13 reviews
April 12, 2014
After reading the first three DA books, I picked this one up and was tremendously disappointed. Complete garbage. Expected another great adventure in Thedas, but all I found was a poorly written romance novel.
Profile Image for Anne.
269 reviews38 followers
June 27, 2016
It seems I'm one of the few who loved this one, but so far it's my favorite of the companion novels. It's because the whole story is painted in shades of grey. While it's easy enough to say what what's morally right, it's harder to follow that path while keeping your empire in check.

Celine is backed against a wall, and though she seems like the least terrible option for the elves in alienages, she's also the best option for the rest of her people. She cares about Orlais, versus Gaspard, who really only wants to go to war, despite how "honorably" he tries to go about it. And I really enjoyed Briala and Fellasan (the best honestly) and the sticking point about the Dalish. Briala's championing of the CITY elves is a huge high point for me, because they are the true downtrodden in this entire world.

And I do like Michel de Chevin, who is the epitome of honor -- almost to a fault. I know people have criticized his character, but again, shades of grey.

Overall this one made me question who was the better option for Orlais, and puts Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts in a whole new light.
Profile Image for Sud666.
1,920 reviews156 followers
September 16, 2019
This Dragon Age book is set during the time before Dragon Age Inquisition, the video game. Perhaps because the book really revolves around the intricate world of Orelsian court politics, it wasn't as exciting as the other DA books. The gist shows the relationship between Briala of the elves and Celene, Emperess of Orlais. It also details the conflict between Gaspard and Celene. For those that have played the game, it is interesting background information, for those who have not played the game this is a decent fantasy story.

The biggest problem I have with this book is the version of Celene. Celene, in the game, is a skilled political manipulator. Here, Patrick Weekes channels his SJW bona-fides and turns her into a dual dagger wielding rogue. What? Even if I buy the flimsy premise of her being trained as a bard, I don't since she is an Emperess. Her upbringing in the stringent Orlesian court would not have considered it appropriate for the Imperial Heir to learn an art that falls under the "rogue" heading. Also to make the Emperess some kind of bad-ass knife fighter is a stretch (because in my game she was easily stabbed in the back by her friend-not a good rouge at all) and unnecessary as there are plenty of cool and completely believable female characters all over the place. But remember the SJW mantra "A point is never made unless you bludgeon it into reality"

Well it made this an average book with an average story. 2 Stars.
Profile Image for C.T. Phipps.
Author 68 books578 followers
January 18, 2016
One of the major problems I had with Dragon Age 2 was the game had something of a monomaniacal focus on the Templar and Mage issue. The Qunari were also present, thank the Maker, but it seemed to make the setting smaller rather than larger. One of the most appealing elements of Dragon Age: Origins was it illustrated the staggering number of issues which were plaguing the continent: elvish bigotry, dwarf classicism, mage oppression, religious fanaticism, Qunari totalitarianism, Tevinter slavers, and the fact the nobility ranged from the Stark-like Couslands to Joffrey-like psychopaths like Arl Howe.

With the set up of Dragon Age: Inquisition initially looking like it would deal with the Mage and Templar War I was rather worried the other elements would fall to the wayside even further. Thankfully, both the information coming out from Bioware as well as The Masked Empire. The Masked Empire deals with areas of storytelling almost untouched by Dragon Age 2 and which I think will play a big role in Dragon Age: Inquisition.

Specifically, the plight of elves and the Orlesian Empire.

Orlais has been a country which has long had an important role in Dragon Age but has yet to be fully detailed until now. Whereas Fereldan has served as the archetypal stand-in for England, Scotland, and Wales--Orlais has served as an analog for France. It is a country which is much more than this, though, embodying the setting's concepts of autocracy and the divine right of Kings. Orlais is the largest, most powerful, richest, and most dangerous nation in Thedas.

It didn't get there by being nice.

Interestingly, Orlais is shown to be a multifaceted nation too. Whereas much is made of the brutality and cruelty of Orlais' nobility during their occupation of Fereldan, Awakening's Baroness being based on Elizabeth Bathory, we also have fan-favorite Leliana (one of the sweetest characters in the franchise) hail from said nation. They are a thoroughly humanized bunch of characters but have cultural attitudes which are decidedly, well, Medieval.

As for the elves, one of the things I always enjoyed about Dragon Age was they were a race which was as far from Tolkien's conception of them as godlike immortal beings as you could get. As the settings analog to both Jews and Romani, elves are a despised minority desperately trying to cling to their cultural heritage in the face of brutal oppression. Fereldan, normally treated as much better than Orlais, still has elven women abducted for sexual assault from their wedding and a full-on pogrom when they try to resist.


The premise follows the political struggles of Empress Celene and her elven lover, Briala. It's rare enough we see women in authority without being overtly sexualized. It's doubly-so to see a lesbian woman in authority. Empress Celene could have easily been cast as a bisexual but there's no indication that she or her lover have any interest in men other than potential political allies.

Celene appears to be a woman who holds liberal attitudes to the plight of elves and is more interested in patronizing the arts versus military expansionism. However, looks can be deceiving, as she's also a master politician with the ruthless streak necessary to rule a country which has institutionalized intrigue. Briala has a somewhat rose-colored view of Celene, viewing her as a messianic protector of her people who will deliver Orlais out of its current dark age of autocracy.

She's wrong.

Opposing our heroes is Grand Duke Gaspard, a brutal imperialist warlord who wishes to invade the nation of Fereldan and put it under a military dictatorship for no other reason than to distract Orlesians from their constant infighting. He's a monster planning the deaths of thousands for no other reason than because, as a chevalier, war is his trade and he sees nothing wrong with practicing it. Yet, despite this, Duke Gaspard reveals himself to be possibly one of the few Orlesians with any sense of integrity. Most characters in the novel would throw away their honor, for whatever worth that is, when it threaten their position.

Gaspard's word is his bond and he doesn't rules-lawyer it either. Between he and Empress Celene, I'm not sure who I would rather have as my ruler. Empress Celene as an enlightened liberal ruler seems like she's the sort of person who would be better to my modern sensibilities. However, she's a politician and flat-out untrustworthy. Duke Gaspard, by contrast, is a ruthless war monger but you can expect him to honor your agreements. That is an ugly pair of choices if our Inquisitor is called to support one or the other in Dragon Age: Inquisition.

The supporting cast in The Masked Empire is great too. I despised the character of Michel and hope there's an option for killing him in Inquisition but, honestly, I can't say I don't understand why he chose to make the choices he did. I think those choices have damned him, either secularly or metaphysically depending on your beliefs re: Dragon Age's afterlife, but I understand them. I also loved the character of Felassan who is a delightful Trickster mentor and reminds me of the early legends of Merlin.

The worldbuilding in this book is great with insights into how the Dalish mages view City Elves, the City Elves view Dalish mages, how half-elves are treated by society, and how the Orlesian nobility looks down on them all. We get insight into the Game which all of the Orlesian nobility plays and how their system of honor works. I've always liked how honor was treated in Dragon Age as we see in both the Dwarvish and Orlesian world that it allows you to do monstrous things but think of yourself as a good person.

In conclusion, as much as I hated some of the characters for their actions, this is a really good book. I prefer Asunder but I think The Masked Empire is objectively better if that makes any sense. Fans of Dragon Age should pick this up ASAP.

Profile Image for Andrés.
156 reviews50 followers
April 20, 2015
I think this book pretty much lived up to my earliest expectations, that is to say, it was an okay read, enjoyable at times but mostly dull. Personally, I blame the subject matter more than the author but let's start from the beginning.

"The Masked Empire" takes place around the same time as the events of "Asunder." While Wynne and company went off to find the answer to the Rite of Tranquility, trouble was brewing in Orlais. Empress Celene is slowly (very slowly) trying to incorporate the Alienage elves into Orlesian society with the aid and guidance of her elven lover/spymaster/servant, Briala, and protected by her Chevalier champion, Ser Michel de Brevin. Naturally, not all nobles agree with her views and under the leadership of her cousin, the Grand Duke Gaspard, a Chevalier himself, they plot to overthrow her. They half-succeed in killing her but Celene manages to escape with the aid of her champion and soon they team up with Briala and another elven mage to find a way to regain the throne.

Well, where to begin? I initially expected to read about a military campaign with Celene on one side and Gaspard on the other. Unfortunately, there is no such military campaign in "The Masked Empire" much to my disappointment (so it didn't live up to my expectations there). Celene is set up early on so she loses the only army she was riding with and Gaspard decides to hunt her personally with a handful of troops. This sets the tone for the book and highlights a crucial point: this book isn't about the civil war in Orlais, it's about the elves. Specifically, this is Briala's story and, I'm sorry to say this but, it's pretty boring. Let me rephrase, it's not my cup of tea.

I was pleasantly surprised, however, about Gaspard's depiction. He could have been stereotipically villified but instead was rendered as an honorable adversary who even puts aside his qualm with Celene at one point and teams up with her champion to battle the dead, a couple of Revenants, and a Varterral. He even recognizes in the end that perhaps he's not the best person to lead the empire after all (not that Celene is, mind you), even though he turns out to be right.

In the end, "The Masked Empire" is an okay read. Personally, I didn't particularly enjoy reading about "the Game" (of Thrones) nor about the plight of the elves. What you have is a story about a man so worried to keep a secret that he ends up betraying the woman he serves; a woman so smart that she knows all of the Empire's secrets except the most blatant one; another woman that is blinded by love/lust and comes across as mostly inept; a civil war that starts, sort of, gets delayed and then starts anew; and a revolt that appears to start, is put down, and will now start again under new leadership.

Please let "Last Flight" be better.
Profile Image for Wendy.
598 reviews136 followers
July 29, 2017
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 The Palace Job 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 The CallingThe 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.

Profile Image for Angie.
46 reviews
May 19, 2020
This was a slightly more enjoyable read than the previous ones. Writing style is more to my liking. I was mostly underwhelmed by the plot (though it had some fun points), but that may be due to my high expectations based on what happens in games. It took me five months to get to reading it till the end. If you are not madly interested in game franchise, I would not recommend you read this book, it won't do much in realm of convincing you to start playing the games.
Profile Image for Joseph.
676 reviews85 followers
October 9, 2014
Tricksy masked Orlesians dancing and making cutting remarks, incipient civil war -- wait, what comes after incipient?, hair's-breadth escapes, ancient magics and long-leggity beasties -- everything I need to make me even more excited about the impending release of Dragon Age: Inquisition.
Profile Image for Chloe.
59 reviews
April 30, 2022
Read this book before playing Inquisition. SO IMPORTANT! ok can I talk to you about FELASAN? Felasan can give me the biggest hug and be my comfort character forever I love the sneaky boy.
Profile Image for Tiara.
463 reviews60 followers
February 18, 2016
Crossposted at The Bibliosanctum.

I joked that this was going to be the first review that I wrote using only emojis, but then I realized that I almost wasn’t joking. Discussion of this book with other people mostly involved me using varied emojis, from agitated to mildly amused, to get my point across. When I started writing this, I had to chew on what I wanted to say about this book. Then, when the words started coming, they wouldn’t stop!

As with The Stolen Throne, I read The Masked Empire to learn more about the lore of the Dragon Age universe. I know there are plenty of books and comics between these two books, but while connected, it is easy enough to read these books as standalones. I started The Masked Empire because it serves as a bridge between Dragon Age II and Dragon Age: Inquisition. It gives readers a history of the recent political climate in Orlais, which factors in heavily in Inquisition.

I started this book after playing the quest “Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts” in Dragon Age: Inquisition. After completing that, I wanted to understand the relationship these characters had with one another and how they got to the point of civil war. Inquisition didn’t do much at giving me a foundation with these characters, and the tidbits I did learn in the game weren’t enough to satisfy my questions about the situation.

This book deals directly with the characters and circumstances surrounding that quest. I picked up this book before I finished the game, nearly right after I played that quest, and in a way, I’m glad. It added some weight to certain parts of the game. When I encountered another character from the book later in the game, I knew this character and what they were seeking to achieve. If I hadn’t read the book, this character would’ve been just part of a random side quest that held no real significance for me.

The Masked Empire follows three key players—Empress Celene, her elven handmaiden, Briala, and her cousin, Grand Duke Gaspard de Chalons. Celene’s bodyguard, Michel de Chevin, also plays a considerable role, but in a different manner than Celene, Briala, and Gaspard. Celene has long ruled Orlais after ascending as a teenager when she outwitted Gaspard for the throne. During her rule, she has worked to make Orlais a beacon of education, knowledge, and art. Now, Thedas is in a state of constant flux as the templars and mages wage war against each other. She also has to contend with elven unrest in her empire. Elven dissidents whisper among themselves as discord between the elves and nobles brews toward rebellion.

Celene fears that her grasp is weakening on a empire known for being fickle, politically savage, and unforgiving. Gaspard, who feels he is the rightful ruler of Orlais, challenges Celene’s diplomacy and her right to rule while Briala implores her to be fair to the elves who serve her as loyally as any human. Celene believes she is the only one who can keep Orlais afloat in such precarious times, and she is determined to hold on to her throne by whatever means necessary.

I wanted to love this book, but I was just so annoyed through most of it. This book proved that having too much knowledge about the lore of a game can really kind of stain one’s view of the game. This has the distinction of being a deliberate path between Dragon Age II and Dragon Age: Inquisition rather than just being story featuring characters we may or may not know during that in-between period. This book serves up something that is an important factor in Inquisition.

I want to stress that these things do not break the game for the player who hasn’t read this book, and I will probably repeat this throughout the review for emphasis.

One of my main issues with this book was that some things stated in the book seemed like they should’ve had some impact on Inquisition but didn’t come up at all. Canon that was created in this book was nowhere to be found in the game. I’m one of those people who feels that books about games should enhance the lore for those who decide to read the books without punishing people who decide to only play the games.

While not knowing about the things in this book won’t hurt game play, it does make me question why these things are included in the book but not reflected in the game canon. It’s one thing to pad and expand canon more, but it’s another to add canon that should, technically, have some impact on the in-game story. There’s a very specific circumstance I’m thinking of in the book that bugged me because I encountered it in game, but the experience in game is nothing like it’s described in the book or even vaguely hinted at being like the experience in the book.

Some of the canon that did find its way into the game from the book seemed one-sided without any potential way to find out that there’s much more to the story that’s being held back from the player. Again, this wouldn’t be something that would break the game for players, but having the knowledge of these characters and what they’ve gone through in the book, it feels like a disservice to give this one-sided account of things without any way for players to optionally learn the full truth.

In my personal opinion, there’s one particular opportunity of finding out how what you’re dealing with connects experiences from the previous two games. There was a chance to show the significance of these encounters and what part this played in the turmoil in Thedas. It could’ve been more than just a random side quest, but you won’t understand the puzzle without all the pieces (or even just the important pieces).

Another issue I had was, just as in the game, I still don’t like the main players. No, maybe that isn’t the right way of phrasing it since I don’t think I’m necessarily meant to like these characters. The game and book tries to present them in a way that shows they have their merits and they have their sins. It’s like playing two truths and a lie with them, but I digress. The problem is: I just don’t care about these characters. They are paper thin, uninspiring, and dull in game, and the book didn’t do much to make feel any differently about them. Their sins, both real and perceived, are the only things that make them somewhat interesting.

There was only one character that caught my attention and that was Michel. What intrigued me about his character was the conflict, the incongruity, that impacted him where his personal story was concerned, which is a side ripple in the book that ties in with the bigger issue of race and class in the world of Thedas. His personal story can also be seen as a very convenient plot device, depending on who you ask.

Maybe I set myself up for this disappointment in really getting to know the characters and their motivations. I know it’s common advice to not expect much from books based on a game/movie/TV show, but I rebel against that idea. I don’t feel like I should hold them to a lower standard simply because they may or may not be a cash grab. This is a world I care about with lore that I care about, and I hold these books to the same quality standards as I would a series of novels set in a world I enjoy. The media it’s based on shouldn’t matter and is not an excuse to give mediocre a pass.

With that being said, I don’t think this story or the writing is mediocre. The things I did like about this book fueled my annoyance more because this could’ve been a story I really loved. Political intrigue, quiet duplicity, court scandal—yes, these are all things that I live for in books. There were scenes I thought were just brilliant in this book.

While I didn’t connect with the characters, the story was actually good with my grievances put aside. This was less generic feeling than The Stolen Throne and really sparkles at highlighting the posh deception that rules the Orlesian empire with an iron grip. Learning more about “The Game” (what the Orlesians call the intricate mostly political scheming they engage in) and how it factored in for these characters was fascinating. Seeing more of how the Dalish elves and city elves view their respective frustrating situations and how they view each other was intriguing. These are things we learn in game, too, but this touched upon it a little more in prose.

Despite it falling flat with me, I think the average Dragon Age fan—who likes to buy the books and comics, that is—will likely enjoy this story. There are gems here, and there is a certain sense of excitement it adds when you’re playing Inquisition and have this context to help shape the in-game story.
Profile Image for Jeannette.
650 reviews139 followers
January 17, 2021
Also available on the WondrousBooks blog.

The Masked Empire tells the story of Orlais, the strongest force in Thedas, the empire which conquered, albeit briefly, Ferelden, and which can afford the most cultured and lavish life in the continent. An empire ruled by a powerful and cunning empress - Celene.

Strictly speaking of Dragon Age Inquisition, The Masked Empire is the book which is most crucial to the game's story, among all five companion novels. Unaware of the book series when starting the games, I think I might have missed out a bit when it comes to The Masked Empire, because it was published prior to the release of Inquisition, partly as a publicity event, partly to add to the some of the events in the game.

I could, of course, connect things from the book which what I'd already played in the game, however, I can imagine that it would have been so much better to play the game, knowing the backstory in advance, as it would have added more depth and importance to my interactions with characters such as Celene, Briala, Duke Gaspard, and even Michel and Ishmael, who made an appearance in Emprise du Lion, and to whom I paid too little attention at the time.

Additionally, having read the book, I would have had a completely different attitude toward Briala during the quest in the Winter Palace. Briala in the game was a character who I did not fully understand and therefore, did not support. Briala in the book, however, makes a lot of sense. So did, for that matter, Duke Gaspard. He was, in fact, my favourite among the Orlesians in The Masked Empire. I found him a lot more honorable and even reasonable as to his desires to seize the throne. True, he was merciless, but so was Celene, and so was Briala, so among the three ruthless main characters in the book, Gaspard was actually the one who had clear and respectable reasons.

Celene, on the other hand was a greatly unpleasant character, from her hypocritical "honor", overly exaggerated skills, which she sorely lacked in Inquisition and needed the Inquisition to save her ass, and down to her extremely annoying constant repetition of "My champion" - nobody speaks like that!

The one story in this book which I liked the most, though, was the one about Felassan. The whole thing was very subtle, but having played DAI, I could easily make the connection between the ending of DAI and the ending of The Masked Empire, and it was quite fascinating and exciting.

And since I liked the book overall, why the 3 stars? Because I simply strongly dislike Orlais. I'm team Ferelden all the way, and reading about these Orlesian buffoons for so long exasperated me. I hope in the future games Ferelden overtakes the empire and brings the end of their silly masks, silly chevaliers and, most of all, their silly Game. Too bad it might not be Alistair doing it, seeing as how the books gently avoid all player-made choices in the games, like who each player would choose to rule Ferelden, for example.
Profile Image for Anca.
143 reviews1 follower
July 12, 2017

If you're about to read this, do not get fooled by the title or the cover: it's not a story about Orlais or the political Game you find out about in the Orlesian Ball quest in the thirst game: besides the very first quarter of the novel, the rest is specifically focused on the elves and the romance between Briala and Celene. This being something that didn't bother me at all, I still found it worth mentioning since everyone expects actual info about Val Royeaux and the people from there.
To sum it up, it's mostly a novel about orlesian elves and their history.
Now, while I liked the relationship between the Empress and her love interest, the middle of the book kinda bored (?!?) me. The process of Briala's realisation took way too long and I know the writer tried to give the impression of the game with the battles and all the fighting, but i couldn't care less about his description. The thing he did really well were the introduction (part where i was so impressed i actually considered looking up his other fantasy novels) and the ending of the book.
Here's where I'm getting to the one and only thing I truly loved about this: All the Fen'harel stories and the new elven character, Felassan. I was very intrigued by his presence and now I'm full of theories that make the third game and its finale more interesting.
Overall, i do recommend it if you want mroe world building and please do not give it up midway because the ending is what made it for me.
Profile Image for Carrie.
Author 16 books66 followers
December 28, 2020
This was sort of a surprise for me! I recently started playing Dragon Age: Inquisition. I was looking for a high fantasy book and picked up this one, number 4 in the series, because it deals with characters I'm familiar with from the game. Turns out it has a lot of things I like in high fantasy: multiple complex female characters, interesting politics, a dash of humor, and a bit of magic.

The last 20% of the book got a little bit slow and repetitive for me because of the continued fight scenes, so this is more of a 4.5 read, but hey, I read it in four days, which is a lot faster than I've read most books this year.
Profile Image for Glenn.
38 reviews1 follower
July 6, 2014
Dragon Age: The Masked Empire is the fourth novel set in the Dragon Age universe, and the first written by someone other than David Gaider. Overall, I enjoyed it and would recommend it to fans of the other books... but I enjoyed the previous novels more.

There is a lot to like about Masked Empire, especially if you are into the lore of the setting. You get an inside look at many previously unexplored aspects of the world... Seeing the Dalish view of the Alienage elves was especially noteworthy.

Most of the characters seemed more than willing to do horrible things, which made it hard to find someone to root for. Ser Michel, Empress Celene's sworn champion, is probably the closest thing to a hero and even he is willing to murder innocent people at the drop of a hat.

Felassan, a sarcastic Dalish apostate is probably my favourite character. He's utterly mysterious, and seems to know more about what is happening that anyone else in the book. By the end, we seem to know even less, and much of what we do know is called into question at that point.

One thing I really dislike about the book is the fight scenes. They are overly long, and tedious to read through. Near the end of the book there is one scene that leads to three fights, one right after the other... followed by a brief respite, another fight, another break, and another fight. At that point, I really empathised with Ser Michel, desperately fighting through wave after tedious wave of devouring corpses...

The book has a very up in the air ending, and seems like it feeds into Asunder(the previous book), as well as foreshadows events to come in Dragon Age: Inquisition.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Zachary Taylor.
70 reviews18 followers
August 24, 2018
I'm aware of the criticism and comparison to Asunder that this book receives. This book feels less like a Dragon Age book of the past and more of an evolution. For example, you see very little in regards to cameos from party members of the preceding games and/or novels. It aims to stand on it's own and tell you the other side of the turmoil in Orlais leading up to DA:I.

It is important to note that the characters in this book are much more compelling than the characters in Asunder. It's not even close. I began the novel feeling so confident where I stood in regards to the civil war but after I finished I was hard pressed to say who I would side with in the civil war. That is, in my opinion, successful writing in regards to the characters and the situations they are put in.

I would rate this book a solid 4 and despite giving Asunder a 3.5, I'm willing to drop that rating to 3 to more properly reflect my feelings on where this book stands among the two DA:I prequels.
Profile Image for Magdalena.
262 reviews3 followers
June 7, 2022
Not gonna lie, I cared mostly about the lesbians and the elven lore. Full rtc.
Profile Image for Marlene Bentsen (Boggrippen).
639 reviews15 followers
October 31, 2020
Mere Dragon Age😍🙌

The Masked Empire hedder den fjerde roman i Biowares populære spil univers. Det er den første bog, der ikke er skrevet af hovedforfatteren David Gaider (manden bag skønne karakterer som Morrigan, Flemeth, Cassandra, Anders, Fenris og Dorian)og jeg var lidt spændt på om Patrick Weekes kunne løfte opgaven.

Jeg havde dog selvfølgelig ingen grund til bekymring! Weekes har været en fast del af Bioware siden 2005 og efter at have arbejdet med Mass Effect spillene (et andet yndlingsspil😍), kom han over på Dragon Age holdet, hvor han arbejdede på DA:Inquisition og blev den nye hovedforfatter efter David Gaider af uvisse årsager forlod Bioware i 2016.

Den fjerde bog er selvfølgelig tæt knyttet til spillet DA:Inquisition og omhandler det politiske spil i det franskinspirerede land Orlais.

Har du spillet Inquisition, så vil du genkende situationen i The Masked Empire. Krigen mellem mages og templars truer stabiliteten i Orlais og med elvernes oprør og Grand Duke Gaspards forsøg på at overtage tronen, hænger Empress Celenes magt i en tynd tråd.

Hun får dog god hjælp af sin spionmester og fortrolige, elveren og elskeren Briala, der forsøger at ændre systemet indefra og dermed gøre livet mere tåleligt for sit folk.

Men kampen om tronen er et forræderisk spil og Empress Celene bliver tvunget til at forråde sin elskede for nationen og sin trone.

Denne historie er forhistorien til den main quest i spillet, der hedder Wicked Eyes And Wicked Hearts. Den afgør hvem, der får tronen og ved at læse The Masked Empire, får man en større indblik i karaktererne og deres bevæggrunde. Det er spilleren selv, der bestemmer udfaldet af quest’en, så det er meget fedt at læse lidt baggrundshistorie😃👍

The Masked Empire var en spændende historie, der blev bedre jo længere jeg kom ind i den og jeg var ret begejstret over, at man udover at lære om Celenes og Brialas fortid, så får man også en del information om elvernes historie. Den sidste del af bogen og specielt slutningen var virkelig interessant!

Jeg troede ærlig talt ikke jeg ville bryde mig om historien, for Wicked Eyes And Wicked Hearts var en lidt træls og lang quest, men heldigvis overraskede den mig ganske positivt. Ikke mindst på grund af Celenes champion Ser Michel de Chevin, som man også støder på i DA:Inquision😊😃

Profile Image for Jen Hoskins.
80 reviews
June 1, 2019
The Masked Empire is the first published (and first I'd read) Dragon Age tie-in novel that wasn't written by David Gaider—but the story is in safe hands with Patrick Weekes. By the time this book was released, Weekes was already a published SFF author in his own right. Though I've never read anything else of his, I was excited to see what he would do in this book. I wasn't disappointed!

The novel's driving force is the relationship between Celene, empress of Orlais, and her elven handmaid and spy, Briala. It's a really good depiction of a long-term relationship, complete with serious, untalked-about issues. As you might expect from the situation, very little between Celene and Briala is flowers and rainbows—except that they are one another's refuge, the little bit of peace and happiness that they each have for themselves.

But Celene takes Briala for granted, and Briala has subsumed herself into Orlais and her empress' desires for far too long. The book dives into the world-shaking implications of this for its denouement.

Moreover, I'm so glad I read this before replaying Dragon Age: Inquisition again. The context it provides is absolutely essential to understanding the state of Orlais and of Thedas, context I missed entirely while playing the game the first time around.

A winding quest of a tale that culminates in events with serious implications for the Dragon Age world at large, I loved The Masked Empire more than any other DA novel so far, and that's in large part down to Weekes' writing style. Plus, the novel opens with a dedication to Dragon Age's LGBTQ+ fans, and I was super happy to see the acknowledgement of all the love that us queer fans have poured into DA for all this time. All in all, I thoroughly recommend this book if you want more insight into the events that shape Inquisition.
Profile Image for Vakaris the Nosferatu.
759 reviews16 followers
March 29, 2019
all reviews in one place:
night mode reading
skaitom nakties rezimu

Wow, this was one damn well written book, with character dynamics and development that I’ve not yet seen. The story pacing was perfect, the intrigues were tightly knitted, but allowed the reader to figure things out on their own too, if they paid attention. On top of that, I believe the Dread Wolf, Solas, himself made a very prominent appearance. All you have to do is watch for the details, the acts, the views, and you’ll spot him easy enough. I loved the dimensions of people too: the bad evil men with sense of honor as solid as steel; the good and gracious heroes full of delusions and selfishness; the nobles with deep dark secrets; and the nobodies with power enough to break empires. But it was Duke Gaspard’s story that made me want to re-play Dragon Age: Inquisition the most, and attend that Orlaisian ball again. Just so I could see and speak to the people present here.

So, yes, I have enjoyed this book very, very much. It’s definitely one of the best in the series so far. I can give it a solid 5 out of 5. You don’t need to play the games to enjoy these books, but you do need to read them in order. And now, wish me luck, for I truly do need a new pc. Or, better yet, buy me a coffee?
Profile Image for Nessa.
3 reviews
October 27, 2018
Das maskierte Reich ist ein Traum von einem (Dragon Age) Roman! Patrick Weekes zeigt mal wieder, was für ein herausragender Autor er ist - die Geschichte von Celenes Werdegang bis zum aktuellen Punkt in Dragon Age Inquisition ist spannend und lässt einen von Anfang bis Ende nicht los, die Schauplätze sind wunderschön beschrieben und zudem kommt Weekes' größtes Talent mal wieder deutlich zum Vorschein: Charakterentwicklung. Felassan und Briala waren als Elfenfan der ersten Stunde meine Favoriten, aber ich war auch absolut begeistert von Gaspard und Michel de Chevin. Es ist schwer, einen wirklich klassisch "bösen" Charakter zu finden, was ich persönlich ganz wundervoll finde - jeder Charakter hat seine ganz eigenen Ziele, gute und schlechte Seiten, das Grauspektrum ist atemberaubend. Man muss auch dazu erwähnen, dass Weekes auf eine unglaublich schöne, vielschichtige und respektvolle Art die Liebesbeziehung zweier weiblicher Charakter dargestellt hat. Definitiv das bisher beste Buch zu Dragon Age (aus einer Reihe guter Bücher)!
Profile Image for Jack.
90 reviews
July 25, 2021
Dragon Age: The Masked Empire is the 4th mainline entry in the novel series for the Dragon Age franchise. It also serves as the first entry in the series written by someone other than the series veteran David Gaider. The Masked Empire is written by the current head writer on the franchise; Patrick Weekes who is renown in the fandom for being the main writer behind the heart-breaking Elf that is Solas from Dragon Age Inquisition.

The story for The Masked Empire is layered heavily within the political hierarchy of the region of Orlais. It follows the perspective of several key characters like Empress Celene, her handmaid Briala, her champion Ser Michel and her cousin Grand Duke Gaspard. Each of these characters are embedded in the political game being played for the sole control of the kingdom, with Celene facing notable opposition from her cousin Gaspard. Their quarrel starts out relatively small through ballroom intrigue all the way to massive full scale battled and conflicts and it really does a good job in reflecting another aspect of Thedas we don't often see.

The character development in this book is great as well. I love how it gives some really detailed insight into the backstories and motivations behind Celene, Briala and Gaspard. These three characters were a bit of a non-entity for me in Inquisition so having their characters play front and centre here and given some brilliant definition makes me look on them all a bit differently now. Each of the main characters all have their own desires for Orlais and like the masks that they all wear, we learn just how much of a facade they put on before they reveal what they are truly after.

The world building in this book is brilliant in many ways. I adored how Patrick Weekes get's down the unique political landscape Orlais is famous for. He paints some beautiful pictures with his words on how "The Game" is being constantly played through words and actions through the course of the story. You get a very clear sense of how Orlais differs notably in how it's governed and maintained when compared to regions like Ferelden and the Free Marches. It's not just the people or Orlais who get some nice reflection too, it's also gives the Elven races of Dragon Age some much appreciated backstory which adds a layer of mysticism and hints for where the Elfs are heading in the future of the franchise. It makes for a very nice contrast on having this high-class society of Orlais being compared along with the impoverished and lower class societies of Elfs across the region. It brings up some great conversation pieces that in a way mimic societal issues we face in our own world too.

While the story was good, I do take a minor issue with the pacing of the book near the start. The political intrigue takes centre stage for the first third of the book and while I can acknowledge it's integral for setting up the main course of the story, I do feel it drags it's feet a lot and can be notably difficult to keep invested in. Once you push through the slow first third though the story does pick up pace quite a bit and you have a lot easier a time getting to the latter two parts of the book.

I was a bit apprehensive with David Gaider no longer writing for these books, but I should have had more trust in Weekes. His writing style is just as good as Gaider's and you can tell he understands the world of Thedas brilliantly. I look forward to seeing what else Patrick will do with the world in books and in games.
Profile Image for Jenny T.
808 reviews39 followers
October 16, 2019
God, Orlesian politics are an absolute train wreck, and it makes for some great reading. Certain aspects of Dragon Age, especially the fight between Empress Celene and Duke Gaspard and the rocky relationship between the Dalish and the city elves, are given more depth and background, and I won't be able to play the game the same way again. Folks who seem fairly benign in the game are more complicated here (I need to have words with Ser Michel de Chevin...) and one side character in particular, Felassan, really steals the show.
Profile Image for Emily Woodbeck.
66 reviews5 followers
February 1, 2020
While I enjoyed all the tie ins to Inquisition, I spent a lot of this book thinking “ugh, Orlesians”.
Profile Image for Catherine.
44 reviews2 followers
October 7, 2020
Made me want to play Dragon Age again. And now I guess I know what the best decision is in wicked eyes and wicked hearts.
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