Friday, 5 August 2011

Queen of Sorcery by David Eddings

Legends told of how the evil God Torak had coveted the power of the Orb of Aldur, until defeated in a final battle. But prophecy spoke of a time when he would awake and again seek dominance over all the world. Now the Orb had been stolen by a priest of Torak, and that time was at hand.

The master Sorcerer Belgarath and his daughter Polgara were on the trail of the Orb, seeking to regain it before the final disaster. And with them went Garion, a simple farm boy only months before, but now in the focus of the struggle. He had never believed in sorcery and wanted no part of it. Yet with every league they travelled, the power grew in him, forcing him to acts of wizardry he could not accept.

Thus continues Book Two of the Belgariad.

I really really like the David Eddings books, and they were where I properly started out reading in the fantasy genre, back when I was thirteen or so. I adore them and have read them time and again. However, Queen of Sorcery is far from the strongest entry in the Belgariad, and this time during my re-read it was very hard to prevent myself seeing the many faults. I still love the whole series, but struggle with this particular book.

One problem I have is the character of Garion. With all the (many, many, many) clues that are dropped we know already that he is destined for greatness. Even if it wasn't prophesied, the fact that he is distantly related to Polgara and Belgarath should mean that he is something out of the ordinary. And yet this clever boy (it is pointed out a number of times in the text that he has a great deal of intelligence) is completely oblivious to what might be coming to pass. I really struggle to comprehend how this could be.

Sticking with Garion for now, Eddings (in this book) employs the tactic of "tell, don't show". We are told that Garion is seeking vengeance for the murder of his parents. And then the matter is dropped entirely until he meets said murderer and then Eddings reminds us that Garion is mightily annoyed at this person. That sense of hatred should have been carried through the novel in a better manner and shown through Garion's actions.

Other than Garion, the other characters irritated me more than pleased me in this outing. Barak and Silk are very interesting and entertaining characters. Silk, in particular, is a complicated little fellow - and I could have stood to see much more character development, and motivations for their following Belgarath (apart from being told to!) Instead we are introduced to yet more characters who seem to have absolutely no reason to be on-page at all, such as Lelldorin. He turns up, he shoots a few arrows, he tells Garion about a plot to kill the king, and then he is left behind with a near-fatal injury. Why? And the trip across Arendia seemed futile, including a scene in the Arendish throne-room that felt incredibly repetitive after a *very* similar scene in book one of the series, in the Cherek throne-room.

Speaking of Arendia and Cherek - isn't it useful for the reader that you can completely recognise where a character is from by their appearances and foibles? Chereks all have bristling beards, drink ale and hold grudges (dwarves, anyone?), while the Algar are all brilliant horsemen, with flowing scalp locks. And so it continues across every race of man. This just seemed far too lazy on the part of the world-builder - it makes a novel far more interesting when race is not so heavily defined.

The story itself suffers somewhat from middle book syndrome - we are still gathering characters together, and discovering the overall arc of the plot. There is a lot of travelogue-style fiction - namely, wandering around from place to place and having episodic adventures.

And we have the PROPHECY and the VOICE. Neither of these plot points were in Pawn of Prophecy at all (despite the title) and it feels as though Eddings felt they would be good additions to the overall story. I know this isn't so, thanks to reading The Rivan Codex, a novel where Eddings describes how long it took him to develop the world and story, but it reads as such. Suddenly we hear about the prophecy about Torak rising again, and the Tolnedran princess who will marry the returned Rivan King.

As a personal preference I find prophecy to be a very tired device (maybe it wasn't when the Belgariad was written, but it just creates such innate plot problems). It takes away all freewill from the characters and is essentially one big deus ex machina if the author gets into any problems - "oh, that happened because the prophecy said it needed to..." Add to this the 'dry voice' that speaks in Garion's mind - "don't mind me, I've always been here, I can show you how to use the magic you never knew you had etc etc." Again, a very cliched manner of moving the plot along - need to explain to a dense boy what is going on? Use the mysterious internal voice that is never adequately explained....

So, rather scathing all round. The thing is, this book is essential reading in the quintology that makes up The Belgariad. You can't really skip it, unless you've read these books before. And, well, it's Eddings - the prose is still smooth and very readable, the dialogue is still amusing and sometimes very touching. I LOVE Eddings. But this one, I'm afraid, was a wee bit of a struggle.


  1. Heh. In 2008, I had just come off my first read through books 1-6 of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, and was stumped over what to read next before I did my first MBotF reread. My wife recommended The Belgariad. :) I ground it out but, man, did I hate those books. Partially because the comparison to Erikson is vastly unfavorable to Eddings, but also because, although I was at the time still a relative fantasy newbie, I had already sampled and loved the darker, heavier, less-traditional fare like Erikson and Stephen R. Donaldson.

    I bet if I had read these when I was 10 (probably around the time I first read LotR) I would have loved them, or at the very least enjoyed them.

  2. I've been rereading the Belgariad and reviewing them as I go. I had much the same reaction as you did with QoS. It was fun, but only as long as you didn't think too much about it. The one thing QoS has in it's favour is the introduction of Ce'Nedra, who is probably my favourite Eddings character.