Book Review: The Belgariad Book 1 – Pawn Of Prophecy

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I’ve had a novel brewing in my head for some time now. It’s fantasy, even though I’ve never been the biggest fan of the genre. But I figured I’d find motivation in reading a few popular books in the line and I began with this one. I was right, as I’ve been banging through my writing and am on Chapter 3 already – and it looks good…

The first book in the series of five starts at the beginning. The VERY beginning of author Dave Eddings’ make-believe universe. A group of Gods create the world and everything in it. But one went bad, as they always do (Silmarilion?). What follows is a very basic premise: a fellowship bands together to recover a sacred orb that was stolen by a minion of the “bad” God. Let’s see how Mr. Eddings fares in the telling of his story, eh?

Young Garion lives with his chef aunt Pol on Falder’s Farm in the simple country of Sendaria. It’s a nice life full of hard work and well-meaning people. Every now and again, an old storytelling vagabond named Mr. Wolf would drop in and mystify the residents with elaborate fables. I imagine this is what not having television or radio is like. In return, they give him liquor and food. As the story progresses, Garion, Pol and Wolf don’t end up being who they’ve told us they are.

With such an easy plot to work with, the author fills the pages with lots and lots of traveling and character investigation. The traveling I could understand, having read and seen ‘Lord Of The Rings.’ I’m programmed now to believe that fantasy characters cover vast distances on foot or horseback and that’s all there is to it, but I wasn’t expecting to see such thorough character development. Most of it is hit, but some of it is miss.

For instance, when we meet Pol and Mr. Wolf, it’s painfully obvious that they were magic characters mentioned earlier in the prologue. If Eddings was even remotely trying to pull the wool over our eyes with that one, he utterly failed. Like situations happen periodically throughout the novel. A person is mentioned or a situation is eluded to, and the immediate thought is, “Oh they’re cryptically talking about so-and-so,” or “this sounds a lot like that war they talked about earlier.” Plot reveals aren’t necessarily a strong suit. Makes sense, as the writer did start this thing with a very pedestrian storyline. However, he is very strong when it comes to character. Except for one.

I was pleased to see how drastically the main players change throughout the read. Fellowship members Silk and Barak show up wearing certain hats and end up with entirely different ones. Mr. Wolf makes the change we totally expected him to, but it works. It’s good writing, unless you’re Aunt Pol or blacksmith Durnik. I couldn’t bring myself to like her and trying to give a damn about him was impossible.

Eddings depicts Pol as a badgering shrew, always on Garion’s back for one thing or another and constantly talking shit to somebody whether they have it coming or not. It’s so glaring that even her friends think she’s an asshole. I understand that poor put-upon Garion is a young and VERY important boy who must be protected, and that puts Pol in a tough spot as she absolutely has to react to the crap he gets himself into in order to make her character believable. It’s just so unfortunate that the strongest female in the novel has to come off as a jerk. It’s a cliched female trope, and since Pol is the victim of it, I didn’t like her. I must note, though, that Pol displays a rare wit around page 124, masquerading as a noblewoman. I needed more of that.

Durnik, however, is treated even worse. While everyone else in the book is either enjoying good lines or interesting changes, Eddings seems to completely abandon this guy. He’s got tons of potential from the start, opting to inexplicably leave the safety and normalcy of the farm to join the band on their mission. Yes, it is said that he’s romantically curious about Pol (guess he likes bitches) and wants to be near her, but none of that is ever explored later. He never says anything of merit, nor does he play an intricate part in the story’s flow. I kept expecting it to get better, but I gave up on him around page 171. The only times he even says anything worthwhile are when he’s talking about someone else, furthering their development. I was really surprised at how much he bored me because Eddings was nailing everyone else.

Lots more things keep this from being a perfect book. It’s tough to understand the mentalities, drives, and physicalities of the various races. I had to go to Wikipedia to learn all the different classes of the Angaraks, etc. Also, every other page seemed to have Garion inquiring about his origins, only to be shot down by the secretive Wolf and Pol. It quickly gets stale. Especially since the reader already kind of has the answers to his questions. Knowing what he doesn’t know for too long seems anticlimactic. Conversations like that are revisited time and time again. It was so tedious and made me wonder if Eddings would ever have anything else for the boy and his guardians to talk about. I mean, I get it…he’s special and wants to know why. Must we go over it so many times??

My final gripe goes out to other popular stories employing the same tired device: He Who Must Not Be Named. Like how Frodo couldn’t wear the ring without Sauron knowing his location, nobody can say the evil God’s name because he’ll hear it. I blame J.K. Rowling for blatantly stealing that one, but since she made it famous commercially, seeing it used here was eyeroll worthy.

It’s an alright book. I’m on Chapter 3 of Book 2 and not seeing much of the things that dragged down Book 1, so perhaps Eddings had found his footing after setting the stage. I’m hoping to like the second entry better.

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