Thursday, January 13, 2011

Read Lately: Edge Of Destiny by J. Robert King

  • If there is one problem with writing a book review after everyone else has, it's that all the best lines have already been written before you can get to them. I wonder if J. Robert King felt something similar when he sat down to write Edge Of Destiny, the second book leading up to the release of Guild Wars 2.
    A word of warning: there may be spoilers ahead. I'm not sure because I haven't written it yet. Of course, most of you have already read the book so it probably won't matter.

    While I'm making disclaimers, I should point out that there will also be an egregious overuse of comparisons between this book and Ghosts Of Ascalon by Matt Forbeck and Jeff Grubb. I can't help myself.

  • Edge Of Destiny tells the story of the famous guild, Destiny's Edge: how they met, their adventures together, and how they eventually broke apart. The book starts with a brief prelude with two sylvari, Caithe and Faolain, who have a philosophical argument in the middle of a burning village. But it quick turns to the story's most developed character, Eir Stegalkin, a wood and stone carver who laments the senseless deaths of her fellow norn at the hands of the Dragonspawn. She eventually meets the asura Snaff and Zojja with whom she concocts a plan to defeat the Dragonspawn once and for all. Along with the odd trio of Caithe, the human Logan Thackeray, and the charr Rytlock Brimstone, they are more than a match for a champion of the Elder Dragons. That gets you about halfway into the book. The second half deals with their further exploits and eventual dissolution.

  • Because the guild plays such a major part in the Guild Wars 2 storyline, it was great to learn more about the people we will be interacting with in the game. Unfortunately the format of the book really lets the story down. What could have easily been and 800 page book (or full trilogy on its own) is compressed down to 400 pages. The book starts off strong by introducing all of the characters, especially the norn Eir, and showing how they meet and come together as a team. But once everything is set up, it feels like King has discovered that he has to cram the remaining plot points into the last 150 pages. Luckily, the break neck speed of the story slows for the final battle and the book resolves nicely.

  • Unfortunately, the middle part of the book feels like a missed opportunity. Instead of building up the characters, we see them running from battle to battle. There are hints that the characters are building relationships in the gaps between, like the letters showing the growing bond between Logan and Queen Jennah. But we never get to know the characters all the well. So when the end comes it is difficult to be emotionally invested in the outcome. It was also hard to get interested in the combat scenes. Since there was a fight every couple of chapters, they eventually became tedious. The rote descriptions of the fights did not help matters either.

  • If I'm being hard on the book, it's because there was such potential at the start. Eir starts off as such a great character, right up until she becomes a superhero. And J. Robert King can actually write. His phrasing and word choices (outside of the fight scenes) were a joy to read, especially compared to the workmanlike prose of Ghosts Of Ascalon. I can't help but think he was given an impossible task and did with it what he could.

  • I wonder how I would have handled a similar assignment, where I had to hit certain plot points but had limited space in which to include them. I think that is why Ghosts Of Ascalon was slightly more successful. There the authors might have been a little ham-fisted with their lore inclusions, but the heist framework served them quiet well. You got to see the world and learn about the people in it and got a fun story out of it as well. With all of the plot points Edge Of Destiny is forced to hit, it feels like King is forced to spend his time setting up the plot of Guild Wars 2 instead of telling a story that stands on its own.

  • If I were a more charitable (or slightly more insane) critic, I might suggest that Edge Of Destiny is the perfect parody of the standard role-playing game. The book rushes from fight to fight with only a rough supporting story strung between to break up the monotony. Only I doubt anyone would let that get published as part of a game tie-in series. Nonetheless, it this had been released independently, I might be cheering it as an indictment of the type of stories we put up with in most games.

  • In the end, I still have to recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the Guild Wars world and will be playing the upcoming game. Although there are some rough spots, the first half of the book is strong and it ends quite well. And it does fulfill its commission to establish a major component of the new game. I just can't help but envision what the book could have been if King were less constrained by the page count.

  • As a side note, if I were a better artist, I would make a comic strip about Caithe going around and popping everyone's heads off with her stilettos. Someone needs to get on that for me.

© 2011 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.


  1. I had to consciously stop making myself compare EoD to GoA in my review too, otherwise, there would have been a lot more. I just felt the latter had more feeling, compared to the former, which as you've so deftly put it, reads more like a parody of our standard RPGs. It was the perfect "quest" book, adventurers forming a guild, fighting little fights, then fighting bigger and bigger fights, until you get to the scary main boss at the end.

    The one plot point I just couldn't forgive was when Logan ditches the group at the end. I can see where King wanted to go with that, though the build up between Logan and Jennah was so awkwardly done, I didn't buy his "feelings" for the Queen at all. It almost felt like he WAS indeed spellbound, except the book made it a point multiple times to say he wasn't. It would have worked a lot better if their "relationship" had been developed more as it would have made his departure understandable. As it is now though...I think I told Hunter once that I would have had an easier time buying it if Logan had left for the sake of his dying brother instead.

    And am I crazy for picturing Caithe popping off heads with stilletto HEELS instead of stilletto KNIVES when I read your last paragraph? I laughed my ass off. Now THAT'S a comic idea I'd take you up on :P

  2. @ MMOGC - Logan's betrayal of the group was the most poorly handled part of the book certainly. The letters are meant to imply that the relationship is growing over time. But hanging such a huge plot point on those asides really undercut it. If there had been a little more room, I'm sure it would have been much easier to swallow.

    As for Caithe, how about we meet in the middle and do one of each? :)