Ghosts of Ascalon: Review

Spoiler Warning: This Ghosts of Ascalon review is spoiler free only up until the indicated point. 

So I finished reading GoA today on my commute to work. And well…. I was disappointed.

First of all, I thought this book wasn’t terribly well written. I’ve never been a fan of Jeff G’s writing style, at least not in his fantasy based-on-a-game books, even keeping in mind that it’s probably dumbed down to cater to gamers, not heavy book readers.

Ghosts of Ascalon ReviewThe awkward use of certain writing and plot devices at random points with no real use annoyed me (that ridiculously misplaced run-on sentence describing the scribe in the dungeon…), his abuse of repetition (trapdoor used 5 times in 2 paragraphs, “he said…she said…they said..said said said”), and random and terrible grammar (“They reached the top. Dougal feeling like a supplicant in the great temple.”) was really distracting from the story.

I also have a hard time enjoying when major plot points are told to us through characters but not shown. I understand that the book series’ aims to bridge the two games, but something about having a character go on for 2 pages telling the stale of what happened to this timeless hero of the past is dull, especially since it happened about four times. The book fell in this awkward no-man’s-land between trying to tell us of this current adventure that had a lot of potential while simultaneously bridging 250 years of lore.

The movement of the plot was slow; by the time real action actually started happening, it was 30 pages from finishing, and then it just -ends- abruptly.

That said, the characterization for the most part was great, and really what saved the book from being a total disappointment. I got a good feel for all the characters and races, although I’d argue it was almost stereotypical. I’d give this a C rating overall – enjoyable as a veteran Guild Wars player and fan of lore in general and decent characterization made it worthwhile. But it falls short in pacing and conclusion that left me feeling unsatisfied.

*Warning: Spoiler heavy beyond the jump….

So lets get to it. The issue I have with Dougal, the main character, is his unrealistic reactions to everything. He seemed to have his head on too straight considering everything he had been through. In his first trip to Ascalon, a city plagued by maddened ghosts, he witnessed his friends and wife die, brutally, right in front of him. And I mean brutal – we’re talking ripped apart limb for limb while still alive, as he watched, and then forced to mercy kill his friend to save him from further horrific torture.

We never find out what happened to Vala, his wife, either. I was sure she’d be coming back, considering he mentioned he didn’t see her die. I suspect the voice that lead him through the lock-picking was her spirit guiding him, or at least his mind manifesting her as a coping mechanism.

Ultimately, both humans were so-so as far as their personalities go. Riona’s betrayal would have been much more shocking and upsetting if she weren’t actually so shallow and cold from the get-go. I never felt anything towards her, so her death was unfelt. Dougal’s final reaction to Riona’s heel-face-turn was also unrealistically neutral. The only reason we really knew he was upset at all was because the author told us he was crying; but nothing about his actions or thoughts really indicated it. He seemed willing to sacrifice the traitor and pretty much got over it in 45 seconds. He just seems kind of wimpy to me: he’s just a generic reluctant hero that we’ve seen 100,000 times in fantasy whose success was more a result of his better comrades than himself. His purpose was simply to guide, since he had the most experience with the

I didn’t buy into the general feeling that we were supposed to distrust Ember, the party’s Charr guide. I trusted her from the start. I knew that she would not betray the group and was glad she survived. The Charr as a whole — I feel they act exactly how I would expect them to act. The inclusion of females and desire to fight a grander foe shows them softening, even a little, but their tensions with humanity remain and so it’s not all care-bear hugs and kisses. Very well done, in my opinion.

Grillok is a hoot, and probably the most charming and personable of the characters. Although I don’t remember the Norn being presented in such a goofball-Viking manner in GW1, I can accept a sort of softening of their persona over time. They still have that fool-hardy bloodlust which is pretty funny. It would make sense that all this is a natural reflection of what 250 years of immersion with humans and other races bring. Both the Asura and the Norn have been moved from their isolation and forced to mix with the world. Obviously slow and subtle cultural shifts will happen to them over time, thus the slight changes in their overall racial personality.

The way Killeen was expressed to us gave a lot of insight to the Sylvari. The innocent and brutal honesty of hers was really interesting, and having someone with the mentality of a child be a necromancer obsessed with death was an added bonus. She was at once creepy and lovable. A lot of people like her for her innocence but I’ve also become somewhat weary of their race. That subtle manipulation was there, and it was sometimes hard to tell if she truly felt guilty about some of her actions or simply registered them as something that causes a certain reaction from humans and other races. She said herself: she’s honest because it seems to ‘work the best’, not necessarily because it’s the right thing to do.

She is very much like a learning child, and we all know children can sometimes step over lines and do dark things simply to see what happens. Her noble sacrifice, though, to help save Grillok from the rock-monster was a surprising act of loyalty. It parallels I think that the Sylvari as a race have blossomed into the stage of emotional development where companionship starts to mean something more.

I really liked the dynamic differences between the two Asura in the story. We’re already familiar with their superiority complex and Clagg reinforced that, but having Knaxx as a balance gave us a little insight on the fact that they’re not all terrible creatures. Abandoning his lab and work, as Dougal noted, was a huge sacrifice on his part. Here we have an Asura who felt, truly, that the greater plan was more important than his own personal triumphs, and he died a true hero: saving his companions. He was, dare I say it, somewhat lovable.

So overall, the experience was lackluster but not a waste. I will look forward to seeing these characters or hearing about them in the game. It could have been transitioned better, but it is what it is.
For more (spoiler heavy) discussion, check out the GW2G Threads:

  • I look at a lot of the thing you had issues with differently than you.

    Dougals reaction to betrayal for instance, I saw as an attempt at subtlety, where as you seem to want a more obvious reaction.

    As the book is attempting to reconcile 250 years of history I appreciated the attempts to tell us tales of the past. I’m not sure how else you would have suggested laying out that ground work. Jumping around the timeline to be literally shown those stories would have been pretty jarring.

    But i do agree with you on other things, stereotypes, characterization, an all right story.

    • Hmm. You do have a point. I guess it’s like you said: different takes on the characters. Perhaps I just expected something a little more from a main character so I was particularly harsh to his reaction to Riona.

      Still, I thought he’d be more disturbed once he got to Ascalon and he did seem to get over that whole deal in favor of gold a little to quickly for my taste.

      As far as story telling: I guess they really had no choice. They’re trying to smash new story and old story into one decently long book. I would have rather seen legitimate flashbacks or excerpts from scrolls. I don’t quite know, just something felt lacking.

      I think the Divinity’s Reach book will be better, though.

  • mora

    I started reading the book as I never played GW and want to play GW2 and I quite like getting into the lore before I start playing. I read a lot of fantasy and sci-fi books. The book as a book is not very good, …..but it gave me a lot of history and background to the game and that is what I was looking for. I have a feeling that maybe that was exactly what they were aiming to do with this one.