Pawn of Prophecy marks the first book in the five book sequence of The Belgariad - and I confess to being surprised by the slightness of the novel. It is a mere two hundred and fifty or so pages in my copy. Compared to the over bloated fantasy epics we see these days, it is a very swift read.
The prose helps with this immensely. It is smooth and readable, with lively characters and clever dialogue. We follow the adventures of Garion, a farm boy growing up in the depths of Sendaria, learning solid Sendarian values of practicality and honesty. For the first third of the book, Eddings builds a rural picture of bliss and harmony, presenting Garion's life as peaceful and fulfilling. His Aunt Pol rules the kitchen, and an itinerant storyteller occasionally visits, bringing mischief in his wake.
One night all this changes, as Mister Wolf (as Garion terms the storyteller) comes to sweep Aunt Pol and Garion away to try and find 'something' that has been stolen. As they travel across Sendaria and into Cherek, Garion learns that he travels with important people and that he is living through a time of epic prophecy.
So far, so cliched, right? Of course, this book was written way back in 1982 - a world away in terms of how far fantasy has since travelled. Now the farmboy who saves the world is sneered at in terms of plot device, and the epic quest is left aside in favour of grimy warfare. At the time, Pawn of Prophecy would have felt fresh and new, showcasing a humorous team of questers who bicker and snark. The bad guys can be easily identified as such by their squinting eyes and body odour; the good guys are all loyal and clever.
Equally, to the 14 year old girl that I was, Pawn of Prophecy was like nothing I had ever read. I fell in love with the characters, particularly Silk, and devoured each book at a rate of knots. I loved the gentle romance and the moments of high fantasy. I didn't care that the characters were straight out of a D&D game, with the wise old wizard, and the barbarian, and the sneak thief - I just delighted in the snappy dialogue and the sweeping descriptions of the world these characters inhabited.
I still read it through rose-tinted spectacles to an extent - but I can see the limitations of the novel these days as well. It certainly won't feel fresh to an adult who has read a number of fantasy novels; it will feel tired and ever so slightly ridiculous. Some of the dialogue is a little too self-consciously clever, and there are moments when it seems as though Eddings thought of something good and shoehorned it into the novel.
However, there are still lovely points in the novel, and the comedy can still bring a smile:
"What of me, Aunt Pol?" Garion asked. "What do I do?"
"You can be my page."
"What does a page do?"
"You fetch things for me."
"I've always done that. Is that what it's called?"
As I mentioned, Pawn of Prophecy is a warm and cosy read, perfect when you don't want to have to think too hard. It is akin to drinking hot chocolate with marshmallows in the winter. A lot of people will become bored with the novel, comparing it unfavourably to more recent novels, but I adore it thanks both to nostalgia and appreciation for a book that almost stands the test of time (even as cliche-ridden as it is). I would recommend it for those who are a) starting out new into the fantasy genre b) those who enjoy gentle high fantasy, where the bad guys wear black and the good guys are always good and c) those people suffering the break-up of a relationship. For those people, this is a damn near perfect read.