A basic concern in marketing everything from Coca-Cola knockoffs to ballistic missiles: who’s the product for? That was a bit of a mystery for me reading Dragon Age: Last Flight.
We have a novel tie-in to Dragon Age, the video game arm of the grimdark movement (I hate that word, but it has better connotations than trend) in fantasy. Fine idea. Fantasy fans have long attention spans and open wallets. It’s free money.
Yet the style, plotting, and choice of protagonist are very young adult. Which, I suppose, makes it a young adult novel by default. That’s a positioning choice the fine folks at Bioware and Dark Horse are free to make, and more qualified than me to judge. But on the creative front, it leaves me with a story that’s a touch strange.
Let me draw a comparison. Back in my imageboard days —before that milieu was devoured by the ever-widening gyre of reactionary American politics — there was an in-joke among tabletop gamers called “Warhammer 40K: Kids.” The wisecracks wrote themselves, playing off the natural dissonance between the tropes of youth media and the blood-soaked excesses of Warhammer 40K. Imagine pursuing the high school lightness of, say, Fillmore, while Imperial Guardsmen are being eaten by the hundreds.
Last Flight walks head-first into that dissonance, but it’s not looking for comedy. It describes high magic and low-tech devastation with the same limp tongue as a stock math class scene. And that makes for uninspiring fare. The world of Dragon Age may have flavor, scope, and intriguing details, but you wouldn’t know it thumbing through Last Flight.
I should, as a preemptive defense for my general churlishness, point out that I don’t have a specific bias against the young adult literary approach or merchandising complex. Simplicity in plotting can work, concision and restraint in language can work, and it’s not a bad idea to give the most eager demographic in fiction something geared specifically towards them. But there has to be something for your brain to do in there. Eoin Colfer understood that point, and rode it into an ever-expanding pile of money.
Which brings me back to marketing. I’ve spent a little time in advertising, and picked up some wisdom between happy hours. One lesson: nothing hurts a good brand like a quick, thinly thought-through cash-in. Considering the equity that Dragon Age still carries to this day, I’d recommend that the powers that be keep that in mind. Especially after what Andromeda did to their golden ticket.
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