Baldur’s Gate was a fantasy novel by Philip Athans that depicted the story from the computer game of the same name. I already wrote my thoughts on Baldur’s Gate, the game. My thoughts on the book will be somewhat of a comparison between the stories in each. The book was generally panned by fans of the game. After reading the book, I can see why.
The book did follow the main plot points of the game. It even had many of the main characters from the game. The problem was in the details. The author took the names of the characters and a few parts of their backgrounds but mostly recreated them with different personalities. They were the same in name only. Many characters would do things that were out of character.
I could give some leeway to the main hero of the story. In the game, the player could create any kind of character for their hero that they wanted, good or evil, strong or intelligent. I didn’t mind that the author created his own hero. The choices he made here, however, made it harder to enjoy the book. In the game, I made a relatively good character. At times he was possessed by his heritage which caused him to do evil things, but he always regretted those times and hoped for a time when he could be in full control of his actions.
The character Philip Athans wrote here, Abdel, was the opposite. He recognized that killing invigorated him, but rather than trying to fight it, he embraced that evil. He only lived to kill, make money, and pay for woman to spend the night with him. He had no grand motives in life. He was a despicable person. It was hard to like Abdel. However, he did have some character development. He fell in love with a woman. His love for her caused him to lose interest in killing. At least there was hope at the end of the book that he could become a better person.
In many places the book felt like fan fiction. Fan fiction is where fans write their own stories based on the game. These stories are known for generally being poor quality. They also tend to have many out-of-character moments, especially with characters falling in love with the hero character. Players of the game have a fantasy that a character they found attractive would start a romance with them. Then they write a story of what would happen. In short, fan fiction stories tend to be low quality. This isn’t always the case (see below) but most times.
The book had many bad fan fiction scenes. In particular, the book took a character, Jaheira, from the game who was normally a strong-willed, no nonsense character and made her into a vulnerable damsel-in-distress with a thing for bad guys like Abdel. That’s fan fiction. Philip Athans changed the character to fit his fantasy. In many occasions Jaheira was struck speechless or frozen when Abdel was around. In the game, she was faithful and loyal to her husband. In the book, she appeared to go after any guy she wanted. She had forgotten about her husband within a week.
Another problem I had with the story was how often characters would join the hero’s group and get killed. The reader didn’t even have enough time to get to know them before they were dead. I felt like the author just put them in here as recognizable names for the fans. Maybe it was for the best as the reader didn’t have to suffer through the annoyance of characters they knew from the game acting differently than they would expect. That still happened, but no so much when the character died within a couple chapters.
Overall, this book wasn’t what I expected. I wanted a re-creation of my adventures in the game, but it was someone else’s story. I did like how the book dove into backgrounds for the enemy characters. The reader got to see both sides here, whereas the game’s story was necessarily one-sided. It had to follow the hero and his companions. I also liked towards the end that Abdel’s mercenary history made him friends with some powerful characters. In the game, aside from my party I felt all alone, but here Abdel actually got some help. Lastly, I found it enjoyable to visualize the locations in the game from a different perspective, that of Philip Athans’ descriptions.
So readers can pay for this book or they could just read fan fiction. Years back I found a good story online by the name of In The Cards. The hero in this version of the story was much more likable than Abdel was. I haven’t read through it all, but the few chapters I did read were quite good. The author, Laufey, created a robin hood type character named Zaerini. She was generally good but also okay stealing if she saw justice in it. Laufey had even continued the story into Baldur’s Gate II (Cards Reshuffled), but she unfortunately, never finished that one. Her novelization of Baldur’s Gate, however, is complete and better than this book. It’s also free.