David Eddings wrote the five books that comprise The Belgariad while I was still in high school. I remember seeing them on the library shelves, and passing them by for other things. Frequently during those years, I would re-read novels that captivated me. So in 1983-1985, I entirely missed this series. I will blame the font because, in those days, I truly did judge a book by its cover (especially if that book was a fantasy novel, and the cover wasn’t designed by Darrell K. Sweet). Now that I’m no longer fifteen years old, I’ve decided to read some of the titles I remember, but never actually settled on. I found The Belgariad in the “free” bin at my library and decided I needed something light. I hadn’t been reading recently. I’ve been bogged down in a few heavy novels (literally. One book weighs several pounds). THis is an omnibus edition, comprised of the first three novels, Pawn of Prophecy, Queen of Sorcery, and Magician’s Gambit. The books run smoothly from one to the next without much break in action.
Enough backstory. The Belgariad is quite good. It never won any awards, I believe, but has firmly established itself smack in the middle of 1980s fantasy literature. It’s about an orphaned boy called Garion, who finds himself pulled into world-changing politics. Along with his companions, his Aunt Pol, an old storyteller called Mr. Wolf, a huge, bearded warrior (Barak) from the north, and a smooth talking thief who goes by the name of Silk, all the archetypes are there. Hovering over it all is the deformed god Kal Torak, whose evil priests and soldiers control the eastern half of the continent.
The story is good. The characters are solid and interesting. Eddings holds our interest in the plot through the interactions between his characters. Most of the three books’ perspective is through Garion’s eyes, and he’s constantly struggling in that age where a boy isn’t quite a man. His Aunt Pol hovers and nags. He is at times belligerent, as a fourteen year old boy would be.
Edding’s Universe is complex and had me referring often to the maps, (there were three) and the book’s prologue. His Realms are rigidly constructed, with peoples varied in personality, if not lifestyle. Sendari are pragmatic to the point of obnoxiousness; Chereks celebrate in warlike mead-hall fashion. The Nyissans are swamp-dwelling snake worshipers. Each land opens up a glimpse of Edding’s Universe, and usually, had me scampering back a hundred pages to remember where I’d heard the name of that Realm before. This wasn’t a bad thing, but the book probably would have benefitted from a brief gazeteer.
I read through the six-page prologue of each book. I wish I hadn’t. It gave me knowledge of Eddings’s cast of characters that, afterward, spoiled aspects of the plot. You knew who the cast was (or could easily guess), and you understood their purpose. Mostly, the story reminds me of a very well-written novelized depiction of a Dungeons and Dragons game, complete with the wizard, the healer, the warrior, the thief, the paladin: even the cave-dwelling gnomes eventually make their way into the story. It doesn’t detract from the story; it does enrich the genre.
I liked the novels. The characters were engaging enough to hold my interest, despite being cut from a predictable mold. For those who enjoy an easy, somewhat predictable, read, I’d recommend the Belgariad series. In fact, I passed them on to my fifteen year-old son, who’s already started reading Eddings’s followup series. I’m not quite sure of their staying power in my memory. I have a feeling it will slip, like many stories, into my subconscious, and in a year I won’t have anything but the vaguest recollection of the works. That said, they work. They’re certainly not the best in Fantasy literature, but not the worst either.