The Masked Empire is the fourth Dragon Age novel, released on April 8, 2014.The book was scribed by Bioware writer Patrick Weekesnote : Weekes previously wrote Jack, Tali, Kasumi, and Mordin's storylines across the Mass Effect series, as well as the Rannoch and Tuchanka sections of Mass Effect 3 and takes place in Orlais some time after Dragon Age II and concurrently with Asunder.The novel centres around the events leading to the Orlesian Civil War with Empress Celene I struggling to hold on to her throne whilst Duke Gaspard, the commander of the Orlesian Chevaliers, leads an insurrection against her. Despite Gaspard having one many battles in her name, he now believes Celene's leadership has grown too weak in the face of ever growing chaos.Meanwhile the Empresses' Elven spymaster and lover Briala, begins to unravel some mysteries she wish she'd never uncovered...
The novel provides examples of following tropes:
Affably Evil: Imshael is rather polite for a demon who likes to burn and flay people alive.
All Take and No Give: Briala achieves high station from her relationship with Celene, but it becomes increasingly apparent that the buck stops there. The vast discrepancy in power, their society's abusive treatment of elves, and Celene's willingness to throw the city elves under the bus demonstrates that she values Briala as a spymaster first and a lover second, and even as lovers, places little importance on what Briala thinks on the elves.
Automaton Horses: Averted. Ser Michel mentions how important it is not to run their horses too hard, especially when they have only one to carry both himself and Celene. A few paragraphs are also devoted to Michel rubbing the horses down and tending to their hooves, and Michel mentions that he's having to make do with rather poor tools.
Celene is trained as a bard and has some enchanted rings which give her an edge in combat.
Gaspard is an exceptionally skilled Chevalier. Subverted in the epilogue, when Gaspard tells Michel that the wound he received during their duel will likely mean that his fighting days are over.
Badass Creed: "Death before dishonour," the creed of the Orlesian chevaliers.
Badass Normal: Briala, Michel, and Gaspard are ordinary people with no magical powers or enchanted items. Each of them are capable of greatly impressive physical feats.
Boomerang Bigot: Michel is very bigoted against elves. It quickly turns out that this is an attempt to mask the fact that his mother was one.
Brick Joke: Back in Dragon Age: Origins, Loghain dismissed the idea of peace with Orlais, claiming that peace just meant "fighting someone else's enemies in someone else's war for someone else's reasons." Cue to the early chapters of this book, where Celene reflects on her reasoning for wanting to marry Ferelden into Orlais; to drive back Nevarra and keep Tevinter from getting any ideas.
When Briala finally meets the Dalish, she learns that they care nothing for the plight of the city elves, whom the Dalish consider to be hopelessly corrupted by the humans. It's implied that the clans led by Marethari and Zathrian are the rare exception to this bigotry.
Briala is horrified to learn that the ancient elven empire was just as corrupt as Orlais and that the elven nobles enslaved other elves.
Finally, Briala realizes that Celene was the one behind the murder of her parents.
Chekhov's Gun: Early in the story, Briala promises to keep Michel's secret in return for a favor. Briala calls in this favor in the climax to force Michel to yield the duel with Gaspard, prolonging the civil war so she can launch her rebellion.
Childhood Friend Romance: Briala has been Celene's handmaid since they were children, and has used her position to subtly help elves throughout Orlais.
Civil War / Mêlée à Trois: Not only is the ongoing Mage-Templar War engulfing Thedas, but Orlesian instability has caused the entire nation to descend into civil war, in addition to the oppressed Elven population taking advantage of the situation to launch their own uprising.
Conflicting Loyalties: As Celene is forced to choose between the rights of elves and her hold on the throne, Briala has to question where her loyalties lie. Ultimately, Briala finds that she can't accept Celene's willingness to sacrifice the well being of her elven subjects to secure her power and goes rogue.
After Gaspard loses his duel with Michel, he congratulates Michel on his victory and calmly awaits the killing blow.
Felassan reports to his master, knowing that he will almost certainly be executed for his failure to get the Eluvian password. He remains completely calm.
Grey and Grey Morality: It's made abundantly clear that Celene and Gaspard are both flawed people who truly believe that they are doing the right thing for their country.
Heroic Sacrifice: It is strongly implied that Felassan knew that his master would kill him for refusing to let Briala tell him the passphrase to use the Eluvians.
Honor Before Reason: Downplayed with Gaspard. The Grand Duke believes strongly that honor does not preclude tactics and is skilled at interpreting the Chevalier's code to his advantage, but there are some situations where the code forces him to do the disadvantageous thing. In those cases, Gaspard will always choose the code over victory.
Insistent Terminology: "Choice. Spirit." This is later exploited to foil Imshael's disguise of possessing Mhiris.
It Can Think: While investigating the remains of the Dalish camp, Lienne notes that demons typically stick to one or two methods of killing their enemies; for instance, if they like fire, then they'll always use fire to slay others. The Dalish elves have been slaughtered by Imshael in a dozen different ways, including being set ablaze, impalement, being flayed alive and other methods too gruesome to recount.
Kiss of Distraction: Towards the end of the novel, Celene is surprised by an untypically forceful and long kiss by Briala—and only later realizes that Briala pickpocketed the Eluvian activation stone from her at that moment.
Lady and Knight: Celene and Ser Michel are a platonic version of this, with his familiarity to her in public spaces proving at least a certain level of comfort and friendship.
They have a wonderful new plan! It ends with the shemlen killing each other off, leaving the Dales free for the elves to rule. [It begins with] riding around in wagons pulled by deer. They're still working out the middle.
Mundane Utility: Celene has an enchanted teapot that always keeps her tea warm without need for a fire.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Michel's attempt to cheat Imshael results in the demon escaping from his wards and slaughtering the Dalish.
Noble Demon: Gaspard may be ambitious and a warmonger, but he is a strong believer in the Chevalier's code. He will not torture prisoners, he treats his enemies with respect, and he will honor truces. He even goes so far as to kill Duke Remarche, his most politically powerful ally, for attempting to kill Celene during a truce.
Passive-Aggressive Kombat: The main feature of the Grand Game. It appears the Orlesian nobility does little else than fire undercover jabs at each other.
Sequel Hook: The ending sets up several plotlines to be resolved in Inquisition: Celene and Gaspard are both still alive and the Orlesian Civil War still rages, Briala uses the Eluvians to create an elven revolution that just might succeed in overthrowing the Empire, Michel goes on a quest to hunt the demon Imshael, and Felassan is revealed to be working for a mysterious being who was after the Eluvians.
Sherlock Scan: Briala can figure out a person's secrets and plots just by looking at them.
Shoot the Dog: Celene does a lot of nasty things for the sake of the Empire. For instance, she burns down the elven slums of Halamshiral, killing 3,000 elves, to put down an elven rebellion so Gaspard can't use it to start a civil war.
Straight Gay: Celene and Briala's sexuality doesn't shape their personalities. Gaspard is genuinely shocked to learn that his allegations that Celene was sleeping with a female elven servant were actually true—even so, he finds the "elven servant" part more shocking than the "female" part, of which he merely remarks that his own proposals to Celene must have been rejected due to lack of proper "tools".
Throwing the Fight: Briala forces Michel to yield (after almost winning, no less!) to Gaspard in return for her not going public with the news of his elven ancestry.
Too Dumb to Live: Briala stabs Lienne in the stomach and tells her that she should be fine if she gets medical attention. The latter calls Briala a knife-ear instead and gets a slit throat for her trouble.
Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Celene staged an assassination attempt on herself that killed most of her servants (including Briala's parents) so the nobility would be outraged that Emperor Florian tried to kill a recently orphaned sixteen-year-old girl and rally behind her.