9.19.2012

Currently Reading: Pawn of Prophecy

Pawn of Prophecy (The Belgariad, #1)“It’s still only a story,” Garion insisted.

“Many good and solid men would say so,” the old man told him, looking up at the stars, “—good men who’ll live out their lives believing only in what they can see and touch. But there’s a world beyond what we can see and touch, and that world lives by its own laws. What may be impossible in this very ordinary world is very possible there, and sometimes the boundaries between the two worlds disappear, and then who can say what’s possible and impossible?”

“I think I’d rather live in the ordinary world,” Garion said. “The other one sounds too complicated.”

“We don’t always have that choice, Garion,” the storyteller told him. “Don’t be too surprised if that other world someday chooses you to do something that must be done--some great and noble thing.”

Author: David Eddings

Synopsis: Garion grew up on a farm, happy and ordinary, unaware of his connection to the gods and the great sorcerer Belgarath. His primary problem is that his Aunt Pol doesn’t tell him anything. Worst of all, she continues to keep her secrets as they flee the farm with an old storyteller, travel with strange companions, and pay court to kings. But Garion can hardly stand around and mind his own business when he’s dragged along on great adventures, and he seeks the truth—and the truth suggests a great destiny.

Notes: Epic fantasy is well known for centering around simple farm boys with great destinies. There’s something of that even in the hobbit Frodo and the mistreated stepson Harry Potter, but there’s all of that in Rand and Perrin and Mat from The Wheel of Time, in Eragon from the Inheritance Cycle, in Taran of Prydain, and of course in Garion of the Belgariad.

Garion is the sort of character about whom the reader immediately cares, and therein lies nearly all the success of the book. The prose is not good, and the narrative is too prone to uninteresting details like arrival and departure moments, while being nowhere near prone enough to the sort of details which flesh out a world. The plot makes no attempt at being mysterious, and the reader shares Garion’s frustration at his aunt’s reticence not out of suspense—we already know exactly what’s going on—but out of sheer furious annoyance with her refusal to give her nephew a single consolatory truth, however difficult.

But if Eddings’ primary strength is in his characters, he at least withholds nothing of his power there. It took me three weeks to get through the 262-page book (comparison: I can get through a 700-page Wheel of Time doorstop in a few days), but I returned to it again and again for Garion, for good-natured Belgarath, for the Durnik and Polgara dynamic, and for Barak and Silk. Silk, in particular, is so hilarious that after a while, I read it for him nearly as much as Garion.

This is all the more notable because the characters are very simply drawn. Garion is an ordinary pubescent boy with the normal feelings and spirit thereof, despite his undisclosed destiny. Polgara is a bossy aunt with superpowers. Durnik is a hardworking, good-hearted farmhand. None of them are much more than this, but despite—or perhaps because of—their archetypal roles, they possess the strength to carry the story.

Once past the opening legend about the god Torak’s treachery against all the other gods, in which it is difficult not to think (perhaps unfairly) of Morgoth and the Valar as well as of Fëanor and the Silmarils, the story hooks the reader. It may be difficult to get through, but it may also be impossible to properly put down.

Recommendation: Read it for a simple, likable little version of the grand old fantasy storyline.

5 comments:

  1. To be fair, it's not like Tolkien invented the Treachery Against the Gods plot. . .

    It's hard to tell from this review whether I'd like this book or not. I really, really like well-drawn characters and find it really hard to read bad prose. And I *hate* withheld information with a bunch of different kinds of fire. But. . . I also like the idea of fantasy archetype characters who are extremely well-drawn. Should I give it a try anyway?

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    1. True!

      It's SO hard to judge anyone else's possible reaction to a book. Honestly, I thought the characters and plot were interesting in themselves but not really handled in an interesting way, so I had a tough time getting into it. Maybe check it out at the library first? :)

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  2. I read this book way back in high school. I think I read the first five books back then. It was an okay read, but looking back on it over twenty years later I can't remember anything particularly interesting about it. I really didn't find anything too exciting about it at the time either. At most I may have read the series twice.

    The series by Eddings I really liked was The Elenium.

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    1. Good to know, George! Thanks. I might be more likely to give The Elenium a try than to pick up the sequel to Pawn of Prophecy.

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    2. Well, you might not like The Elenium. Primarily because it's got religious issues. Now I don't mind them but I'm often rolling my eyes. Still the characters and the story are enough that the other issues don't bother me so much.

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