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[personal profile] helloladies
Today we're excited to welcome Ira to Lady Business to talk about Dragon Age: Inquisition! Ira is a kickass illustrator, writer, and web developer who gained their powers by consuming the bones of their enemies. They make art, comics, and writing when they are not distracted by way too many video games. You can find more of Ira's work at their tumblr.

So I suppose it's time to talk about Dragon Age: Inquisition! In the last 2-3 months I bulldozed my way through the entire DA game series, have arrived at the end of DAI, and boy howdy, I have opinions. Let's have a spoiler-free summary up here first, with spoilery details below the cut. Overall I feel like Bioware tried to add a lot of grey, particularly to issues they'd seen people getting pretty black-and-white over, and really overcorrected with the grey.
The Dragon at Emprise Du Lion

Grey for everyone!
(Image credit: Dragon Age Wiki)

Many thanks to [personal profile] owlmoose for helping me figure out some of what was bothering me and playing editor. She may not agree with all I say, but helped shape the saying.

Things I liked!
  • Cassandra Pentaghast. She is nearly perfect as a character, imperfections and all. She's determined, loyal, iron-willed, unwavering, and sees the faults in the systems she's part of. If only my lady Inquisitor could have romanced her! But overall? This is one part of DAI that gets no [disgusted noise] from me.

  • Josephine was a treat, and I appreciate the alternate approach she represents; I often find diplomatic or third-option solutions far more interesting and satisfying. Her romance is adorable, her character is great, and I just wish we weren't such a terribly, terribly underutilized gem.

  • Cullen grew a lot -- good work, buddy. Shame you're straight too.

  • It was great to see Morrigan again, with how she's matured and changed.

  • The game is beautiful and huge -- overwhelmingly so much of the time, but I think that has more to do with my sensory overload threshold than anything else. Whenever I was up to handling it, the scale and scenery were breathtaking.

  • DAI does... some... amount of work to correct some of the flaws in its inherently misogynistic worldbuilding. There are more and more varied women, gender is made less an issue of, and overall the treatment of women is improving.

  • Krem is fucking great and I will hear no words against him and his awesomeness.

  • Dagna! Scout Harding! Dwarf ladies!

Things that rubbed me a wee bit the wrong way
  • Oppression as a theme is treated with none of the care and gravity it or Bioware's own worldbuilding deserve. The mage-templar conflict is papered over with a bit too much "both sides are just as bad" hand-waving, and the elves, POC-coded as they are, are treated terribly by the narrative, painted as foolish and participants in their own demise and ongoing oppression.

  • There's a lot of tricky-to-icky racial subtext in the game, from Morrigan's blatant elfsplaining to the first Black playable female character being classist and supportive of oppressive regimes to a POC party member being a slavery apologist.

  • GSM people continue to be majority outcast or problematic in some way while straight people continue to be majority upstanding folk. The only to-date canonical gay companion romance is written deliberately as a questionable idea. One of the gay characters gets an arc about how very tragically gay and outcast they are.

  • Most returning or past characters and factions are treated poorly by the narrative. The Grey Wardens got some unbelievably bad writing, right down to a moustache-twirling villain. Characters who would have been thematically appropriate to return, such as Merrill, didn't, while characters who did show up are poorly used and executed, written into corners by worldstates.

  • The large-scale writing is poor. The antagonists were wildly uneven, culminating with Corypheus himself who, drop dead deeply satisfyingly awesome as his voice was, amounted to little more than a by-the-numbers, suitable-for-mass-consumption, uncomplicated Big Bad. The overall plot is thin and poorly tied together.

  • The Inquisitor themselves is handed some dialogue options that are homophobic and transphobic at worst, ignorant and clumsy at best. Why?

Let's just dive right in to the dirty stuff, right? SPOILERS AHOY.

Read more... )
renay: artist rendition of the center of a nebula (Default)
[personal profile] renay
This review first appeared on subverting the text in July 2010.

cover of Havemercy featuring a fire breathing metal dragon

The blurb for this story may bend the truth of this narrative, but the authors knew exactly what they were doing.

Havemercy is not about metal dragons. Havemercy features metal dragons, but it is more about the culture that has the need for them than the dragons themselves. Their presence drives the plot, but they are not the plot. This is the part of the book that surprised me, because I expected it to be more adventure, metal dragons, aerial battles! But it was actually a political mystery with a romance all up in your face, a psychology experiment with more romance on the side (regardless of what anyone out there says, there is UST all up in this! UST!!! THEY ARE FANGIRLS THEY DID IT ON PURPOSE). However, there are downsides, like one of the most important characters being an unrepentant, unlikable cockrocket (unless you are like me and like characters like this for how screwed up they are).

This is a dude book. It is a book where the story is about dudes and how they screw up, where those screw-ups lead them, how they are knowledgeable yet clueless, how they all both love and refuse love, and how complicated it can be to accept it.

Okay, and there is also making out, featuring: dudes! Let's not split hairs. I am pretty sure my underwear caught on fire it was so ridiculously hot in some of these scenes.

Royston is an exiled magician, Hal is a clever tutor being wasted in the countryside where Royston comes to live with his estranged brother. Thom is a university student being asked to do the impossible and Rook is...well, Rook is Rook, the pilot of Havemercy, one of the prizes of the Dragon Corps. He has an ego to match the size of his dragon. Also, he is a flaming asshole at all times.

I enjoyed all these men, for their strengths, their weaknesses, and their complete and utter fail, sigh.

Lady business: Misygony soup. It is terrible up in here. I have struggled with liking this book because of the fact that's the ladies featured are either whores, stereotypical nags, background characters, or dead. The men are insanely misogynistic, because the culture is a testosterone fueled fantasy culture where men have most of the power. There are some female magicians, who have their own agency, but no other ladies speak to each other, or even have a role in the story beyond decoration/catalysts for the men to show off. The book doesn't pretend, and the authors make it fairly clear what's happening but—!. I would like to have my awesome gay romance that doesn't also feature many of the male characters verbally abusing woman and equating gay sex with femininity, as if being female is a terrible, terrible thing. If it is obvious something is problematic, does that make it okay to enjoy it? The best advice I have is don't read this for the ladies and be prepared either way for epic amounts of casual sexism. By "casual", I mean it is going to hammer you in the face with a bag of bricks. Vigilance!

Minority report: It is pretty white, too, exampled by author-approved fanart, although gay relationships! There is a depth to them, cross-cultural opinions on the validity, and that was really nice to see (cue depressed-homo stereotype in full effect, unfortunately, but at least there are nice plot reasons).

....I am still sad about the ladies. *weeps*

There are hints at more diversity in the Ke-Han, the enemies pitted against the Dragon Corps and magicians, who act as part of the army, but we don't see them for any length of time for it to matter.

Ink notes: The first person narratives skipped around to each character to provide perspective. It was always clear who was who, except Royston and Rook had the strongest personalities, and therefore the strongest voices. Hal could almost disappear from the narrative he was so quiet and shy, yet I liked his sections very much. The only one I could never decide on was Thom. I still don't know whether I was interested in his parts. Considering I kept sneaking ahead to the bits with Royston and Hal...probably not. The parts where I wanted Thom's perspective, it was denied. I am bitter.

Shelf impact: It's very striking and catchy! I assume it's meant to be Havemercy herself on the cover, but it's very strange because it suggests she's a large feature of the book, when she's not. Also, this isn't steampunk as much as it is fantasy in steampunk underwear. It takes it off for us, but there's not much there to begin with which makes it all very anti-climatic. The cover is awesome, it just misrepresents what's in the book, which is unfortunate. Everyone knows how I feel about Expectations Developed Based on Cover Art. Publishers everywhere are lying to me! STOP LYING TO ME, PUBLISHERS.

I do not know how much of a spoiler it is to discuss the romance! I will cut it just in case! )

This book makes me ridiculously happy on tons of levels but leaves me with a weird feeling for enjoying it when it is so problematic in its handling of female characters, on purpose or not. I do think that authors did a lot of things in this book deliberately, such as the relationships between characters and the structure of the society. However! How many more fantasy books do we need where the society is all about the men and women are second in every way, insults to be lobbed, objects to be used and discarded? I have to say I think the number is -9999999. We have reached our quota, world! We can now move forward with more diverse representation and queer sexy times.

I assume there's a point, because this is not the first book, and they get to expand their world in Shadow Magic and Dragon Soul, both of which I want to read because I am curious. I hope for better times and more ladies in the future, but am not really holding my breath. >.>


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