>Review: Pawn of Prophecy, by David Eddings

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Pawn of Prophecy (The Belgariad, Book 1)

Pawn of Prophecy (The Belgariad, No 1)While the Dark God slept…

Long ago, so the Storyteller claimed, the evil God Torak sought dominion and drove men and Gods to war. But Belgarath the Sorcerer led men to reclaim the Orb that protected men of the West. So long as it lay with Riva, the prophecy went, men would be safe.

But that was only a story, and Garion did not believe in magic dooms, even though the dark man without a shadow had haunted him for years. Brought up on a quiet farm by his Aunt Pol, how could he know that the Apostate planned to wake dread Torak, or that he would be led on a quest of unparalleled magic and danger by those he loved – but did not know?

For a while, his dreams of innocence were safe, untroubled by knowledge of his strange heritage. For a little while…

Thus begins the first book of The Belgariad, a magnificent epic of immense scope set against a history of seven thousand years of the struggles of Gods and Kings and men – of strange lands and events – of fate and a prophecy that must be fulfilled!

A couple of things inspired me to break out the time machine again for this review of a modern classic of the high fantasy genre. One, it’s my feeling that reviews of new (and relatively new) books are a dime a dozen (although the best ones are, of course, to be found right here at PBD!). If you’re looking to expand your horizons a little, however, it’s sometimes hard to know where to start. It’s not like radio; if you want someone to serve you up the best music other eras have to offer, you’ve probably got an entire classic rock station on tap. But who’s keeping the flame alive for the great books of previous decades? If they haven’t made a bad Hollywood adaptation out of it recently, a lot of people probably haven’t heard of it. So, I feel like it’s a part of my mission to wave my pom-poms for the great books that helped turn me into the passionate book lover I am today. These are the books that have me coming back again and again – a proven track record of the best kind. (Also, it’s a lot easier to find great bargains at used bookstores on old books!)
That’s the general reason; the specific reason I picked this particular book is because of a fabulous Q&A author duo Ilona Andrews was kind enough to do for us Dolls just under a month ago. The one character they most wanted their heroine Kate Daniels to meet was Polgara the Sorceress, and they both listed David Eddings when asked which authors they admire. I was tickled pink by the idea of Kate and Polgara meeting, but then I got to wondering whether many readers even knew who she was or where to find her! So, just to make sure everyone is in the know, I now bring you the first book where Polgara can be found, all the way from 1982 – Pawn of Prophecy.

If David Eddings were to try and get The Belgariad published for the first time today, they’d probably try and market it as YA, just because one of the most important characters is under 21. Thankfully, nobody had invented this bogus distinction back in the early 80’s. (I love many YA novels, but am not a fan of arbitrary categories.) But since this book is so old that its cover price was only $2.95 when it came out, it’s labeled as it should be – fantasy. Pure, epic, high fantasy. It’s got all the ingredients: an invented world stage, magic powers, a huge struggle between Good and Evil, a sympathetic hero, and a quest to save civilization. What sets Pawn of Prophecy and its four sequels apart is the quality of the ingredients, a few extra ingredients Eddings threw in, and glue that hold everything together – amazing humor.

Pawn of Prophecy opens the story of the extraordinary destiny of Garion, a young man living on a small farm and being raised by his maiden aunt, Pol, the farm’s excellent cook. This farm is in the quiet kingdom of Sendaria, one of the eight kingdoms of the West. Sendaria is unique among the kingdoms in that its population is a mixture of the racial stock of all the other kingdoms, and Sendarians are ecumenical in their religious practices. Religion is very important in all the kingdoms, both of the East and the West, because religion isn’t just faith, it’s history. And if you live in interesting times, it’s not just the past, it’s the present, too. The gods have gone to war against each other with their people in the past, and the day is fast approaching when their differences will be resolved one way or another, for all time.

The world-building in The Belgariad is so intricate and detailed, to even attempt to sketch it out is beyond the scope of this review, particularly since, fascinating though it is, it still forms only the backdrop for the actual story. And that story gets started when the forces of destiny and prophecy jerk Garion the nine-year-old scullery boy out of his comfortable existence on a rural farm and into the affairs of kings and sorcerers and gods. One day, an itinerant storyteller Garion calls Mister Wolf comes to enlist Aunt Pol’s aid in recovering a mysterious stolen object. Pol won’t go without Garion, and the farm’s smith, Durnik, won’t let Mistress Pol wander the highways and byways with no one but an old man and a boy for protection. So the four of them set out on the trail of the thief, and are quickly joined by a giant of a man named Barak and a clever, weasel-like man called Silk. These two seem to have been waiting for them, and obviously know Mistress Pol and Mister Wolf. Garion’s world view is shattered when it becomes obvious that the people he’s known all his life apparently aren’t at all who he thought them to be.

What follows is part road trip buddy story, part coming-of-age tale, and a whole lot of swashbuckling, magic-wielding action. The Belgariad has all the compulsory elements for a fantasy story. That might make it sound tired and cliched, but Eddings’ craft is so superb, it allows each plot device to seem shiny and new, even almost 30 years later. But what makes Eddings’ work such a joy to read are the delightfully witty dialogues between the six main characters. Each of their personalities is so vivid, so carefully drawn, and so hilariously expressed through their actions and interactions with each other, you laugh out loud as you come to feel you know each of them personally. Eddings’ characterizations are so sharp and so consistent, you become completely immersed in their quest to defeat the Dark God and his minions. From Mister Wolf’s whimsical, wry humor to Pol’s tart efficiency, from Barak’s burly self-confidence to Silk’s shrewd cynicism, the characters interact with the liveliness of a pinball game.

Since Pawn of Prophecy is just the first of a five-part series, the plot doesn’t move forward at warp speed. A lot of page real estate is devoted to introducing the characters, the world they live in, the history of their peoples, and the gods they worship. Again, this sounds stale and dull, but it’s not, thanks to Eddings’ mastery of world-building and characterization. Sitting with these characters in an ale house and listening to them fire zingers at each other is so entertaining, you don’t mind that they’re not exactly breaking the land speed record.

Each of the five novels of The Belgariad checks in at between 250-350 pages, as the tale winds its way across continents and oceans to its epic conclusion. But just when you thought you had to say a regretful goodbye to the wonderful characters Eddings created, he wrote The Mallorean, another five-part series that continues their tale several years after The Belgariad ends. And then, when you really thought you had to say goodbye, Eddings wrote two companion novels filling in early history that was glossed over in the previous ten books. So, this #1 New York Times bestselling series actually spans a total of twelve books. And, lest you think that the quantity began to take a toll on the quality, let me assure you that my favorites out of the entire twelve books are numbers 10 and 11.

If you are a fantasy lover and you haven’t read The Belgariad and The Mallorean by David Eddings, you are missing out on a true treat. If you have read them, tell me who your favorite character is and why, or which of the books is your favorite! Discuss, people!

Elvie bought these books so long ago, she doesn’t even remember when it was.

Don’t miss the other four books of The Belgariad!
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