Voidhawk.com Book and film reviews


“The Elenium” by David Eddings

sapphire rose

Eddings' most famous series is The Belgariad, and in total he wrote twelve novels set in that world. Eddings' other major fictional world is the setting for two trilogies - “The Elenium” and “The Tamuli”. The setting is again analogous to medieval Europe, although rather than having a loose collection of different peoples, the setting for the Elenium is a series of roughly similar Kingdoms all ruled over by the powerful Elene Church. Most of the main characters are members of an organisation known as the Church Knights – a religious army whose members are generally well meaning but does have a tendency towards violence. The main character is Sir Sparhawk, a middle-aged Knight who returns to his homeland of Elenia after a lengthy exile in the desert Kingdom of Rendor. On his arrival back home Sparhawk is shocked to learn that the young queen Ehlana has become seriously ill with a mysterious ailment. He soon comes to suspect that a scheming churchman Primate Annias is responsible, in an apparent bid to seize power through his puppet Prince Lycheas – the Queen's nephew. Sparhawk and some of his old companions set off on a mission to find a cure for the Queen's illness, quickly discovering that an ancient artefact named Bhelliom may be the only possible cure. Unfortunately the Bhelliom was lost during the last war against the neighbouring Zemochs, so Sparhawk and his companions have to track it down. Complications arise when they discover that they are not the only people with a desire to track down the artefact – magical creatures serving the Zemoch's God Azash are also searching. Behind that there is the ever-present threat of another Zemoch invasion as the evil (and vaguely Lovecraftian) Azash strives for world domination.

As before, this is again a fairly standard fantasy story, although the plot isn't quite as cliched or predictable as that of the Belgariad (Eddings even shows some willingness to occasionally kill off a character) there are still more than a few clichés along the way and the Quest that makes up most of the first two books does seem a bit contrived. The overall tone is a bit darker and more grown up than before, there are even some mild horror elements at times particularly in the subplot dealing with an insane demon-worshipping noblewoman and the characters are generally more ruthless than before, particularly the scene where they abandon the defence of a large portion of a city to concentrate on the more defendable citadel in its centre, leaving most of the city’s population at the mercy of the invading army. Whereas the Belgariad was a coming-of-age story for its main character, here Sparhawk is already a veteran warrior by the start of the book and is much more cynical about the world than Garion was. There are some good battle scenes and some political intrigue in addition to the standard fantasy questing and it also features the best end confrontation of any of Eddings' series. Again, the characters are entertaining and the dialogue is fun and the overall quality of the writing is probably better here than in previous books.

In summary, another likeable fantasy series which is somewhat more original than the Belgariad, with a little bit more depth but a similar amount of entertainment value.

Rating : 8/10


“The Losers” by David Eddings


Eddings is best known for his fantasy novels, but he has had occasional forays into mainstream writing – his first novel “High Hunt”, a contemporary adventure, 2002's mystery novel “Regina's Song” and this book, originally written in the 1970s but not published for a couple of decades.

The setting is modern day (when it was written) small-town USA, specifically the grim small city of Spokane, Washington. A young sports prodigy named Raphael Taylor is tempted into misbehaviour by his college roommate Damon Flood. After a railroad accident leaves him crippled, Raphael retreats into himself, renting a small flat in Spokane and refusing to have anything to do with his former friends. He passes the time by observing the lively and unconventional characters that live in the street below his flat that he nicknames 'The Losers', eventually starting to come to terms with his injury and managing to edge towards being able to restart his life. However, his life is thrown into turmoil by the reappearance of Flood, who starts to meddle with the local residents after Raphael tells him about his fascination with their lives. Soon, Raphael begins to realise that Damon is a malevolent influence on his life, but can't see any way to deal with him.

It is a big departure from Eddings' usual work, this is slow-moving emotional novel with little action but a fair amount of depth. It is well written, with a quality of writing that puts to shame most of his other efforts. The dialogue and characterisation is more serious and less witty than in his fantasy novels, but is still very effective making the characters that populate this tale strangely likeable despite their unsuccessful lives. Throw in some symbolism and some acerbic social commentary and the result is probably Eddings' best work.

In summary, this is possibly the best piece of writing that Eddings has done. However, the radically different setting from his other novels may put some of his ordinary fans off a bit.

Rating : 8/10


“The Elder Gods” by David and Leigh Eddings


After the disastrous single-volume “Redemption Of Althalus”, Eddings went back to the familiar multi-book fantasy series, in this case a series called “The Dreamers”. The first book in the series was 2003's “The Elder Gods”.

The plot does have some potential to be better than that of the terrible “Redemption of Althalus”. In this world, the land of Dhrall is ruled over by eight Gods – four of whom are 'awake' at any one time. Every few millennia the Gods swap with their sleeping counterparts – unfortunately this period of changeover leaves their land briefly vulnerable. A nasty evil God called The Vlagh, who rules the wastelands at the centre of Dhrall, is poised to strike with his mutant armies while the land of Dhrall is vulnerable. To counteract this problem, one of the awake Gods cunningly awakens his sleeping counterparts early, they are incarnated as small children who lack the knowledge they usually have, but also benefit from not having to be constrained by the laws that usually govern the Gods. In a rare move, the main focus here is on the various Gods as they gather up a bunch of assorted mortals to recruit for them a foreign army to defend the land of Dhrall from The Vlagh's invasion.

The plot is relatively original by Eddings’ standards, although there a few traditional Eddings elements incorporated. It also makes a change for the main characters being the Gods manipulating the situation rather than the mortals being manipulated. Eddings also breaks with his tradition by not having one main character. Unfortunately, while the plot may be a bit better than his last effort, some other aspects of his writing have gone downhill. Some of the prose is decent, unfortunately Eddings' former strong point of dialogue has gone horribly wrong. This is compounded by the flat simplistic characterisation of the mortal characters, with the result that Eddings' previous strengths are absent here. The dialogue is lazily written and seemingly no effort has been put into the characterisation – it is therefore impossible to care about the bland characters that populate the tale.

In summary, the plot has the potential to be interesting but the potential is wasted by some awful dialogue writing and lazy characterisation.

Rating : 3/10


“The Redemption of Althalus” by David and Leigh Eddings


Eddings is best known for his long three or five book series. It was therefore something of an experiment for him to try and write a stand-alone fantasy novel that resolved everything in one volume. Unfortunately it wasn't a very successful experiment.

The plot involves amiable master thief Althalus, who one day comes into contact with Emmy, a powerful Goddess. For some reason that is never satisfactorily explained she resolves to redeem him and teach him the error of his ways, while Althalus simultaneously has to teach her about deceit and subterfuge – things she thinks she needs to  know to defeat the evil God Daeva who is (inevitably) a threat to world peace. They set off on a quest to thwart his not particularly cunning plan, a quest which in the time-honoured fashion of David Eddings books involves lots of travelling around to every single location on the map and collecting assorted companions to assist in the quest.

It starts off well, Althalus is an entertaining well-drawn character and his early adventures are quite fun. Unfortunately, he is just about the only well-drawn character in the book, Eddings does have a tendency elsewhere to re-use characters but never to the extent he does here. The plot is really quite poor, there are occasional interesting ideas but there are also a host of problems. In Eddings' books the ending is usually quite predictable but in this good guys seem to have an insurmountable advantage right from the start and a lot of things they do seem frankly unnecessary. Some plot points seem to be forgotten about, others aren't exploited and some don't make much sense. It all builds up to one of the most anti-climatic endings ever, in a brief and rather dull confrontation. On the plus side the book is readable and generally reasonably entertaining, but that doesn't made up for the fact that the plot is nonsense. Eddings' strength is usually his characters, but apart from Althalus the characters in this are barely developed and the dialogue is overloaded with irritating catchphrases.

In summary, a poorly-written, poorly-plotted fantasy novel that at the times it was released was probably the worst thing the Eddings had ever written. Occasionally it is entertaining, but overall this isn't worth reading.

Rating : 4/10


“The Tamuli” by David Eddings


Inevitably, the next series to appear was a sequel to the Elenium. It is set several years after the end of the Elenium, when Sparhawk is settling down to married life with Queen Ehlana. The first signs of trouble are some hints of a rebellion in his home Kingdom of Elenia, as well similar problems as some of the neighbouring Kingdoms. In addition, legends start to spring up of legendary heroes of past ages coming back to life, and inciting the local populace to revolt against their masters. Following a trail of clues seems to indicate that the problems may originate in the distant Tamul Empire – a vast country of several different races. Ehlana cunningly contrives a state visit to the figurehead Emperor Sarabian, and Sparhawk and assorted companions traipse off on a journey towards the Tamul capital. They discover that the problem of potential rebellion is much more acute in the Tamul Empire, and a vast conspiracy seems to be in operation – even reaching up to the higher levels of Tamul government. Naturally, there's also a supernatural element to it all, involving long-forgotten Gods, treacherous sorcerers and a mysterious race known as 'The Shining Ones' – whose mere touch will cause a normal human to dissolve.

The first book, “Domes Of Fire”, sets the scene, possibly taking an unnecessarily long amount of time to do so with the result that it is a bit tedious. The second book, “The Shining Ones”, is the best of the trilogy as Sparhawk and friends start to get to the bottom of the conspiracy, and also encounter the unusual race that provides the title of the book, the Shining Ones themselves are probably the most interesting element of the series although ultimately they seem slightly peripheral to the main plot. The final book, “The Hidden City”, is marred by some unusual plot twists – such as randomly introducing Klael, a world-threatening superme bad guy in the last book of the series without any foreshadowing. The plot line is a lot less focused than in Eddings' other books and it feels a bit rushed at times. Eddings could be criticised in the past for the predictability of his plots, but The Hidden City seems to replace the predictability with some occasionally slightly bizarre plotting which is often unconvincing.

The characterisation and writing are of roughly the same standard as other Eddings books – although “The Elenium” is probably better written overall. There are some memorable moments, but also quite a few moments that don’t really work, particularly in the final book.

In summary, a patchy series with a slow first book, intriguing second book and rushed third book. Some interesting moments but not Eddings' best work.

Rating : 6/10


“Belgarath The Sorcerer”, “Polgara the Sorceress” and “The Rivan Codex” by David and Leigh Eddings


Belgarath the Sorcerer

Several years after finishing the Malloreon, Eddings returned to the world of the Belgariad to write a prequel to the events in the two series. This is essentially a autobiography of Belgarath, the wise but slightly disreputable old man that advised Garion throughout his journeys. By the start of the Belgariad, Belgarath was over seven thousand year old – so this book effectively doubles as a history of Eddings' fantasy world. It starts off in the days when humanity was a primitive collection of tribes, one day a young Belgarath set off on a journey to discover the world. Eventually he ends up starving and lost in a forest, where he comes upon a tower occupied by a strange old man. It turns out that the tower's inhabitant is actually the God Aldur, who has decided to train Belgarath as his first disciple. A few years later, a wiser Belgarath begins to go out into the World and manipulate its people in such a way that millennia in the future the world will be in such a state that the events in the Belgariad will occur. The plot this time is comparatively innovative by Eddings’ standards – there is no grand quest here, instead there are lots of small events, each of which Belgarath has to manipulate in such a way that the Prophesied future will come to pass. Along the way there is a bit of sarcastic commentary from Belgarath as he makes observations on past events and takes a few opportunities to bring up old arguments with his daughter Polgara.

Again, this is quite well written with plenty of likeable characters and the fact that Belgarath is narrating the tale leads to some entertaining narration. The plot is a bit convoluted considering it takes place over several millennia and makes numerous references back to Eddings’ previous works, but it all seems to make sense.

In summary, this an entertaining book that provides an interesting insight into the background behind the events in the “Mallorean” and “Belgariad” series. This is possibly Eddings' best work.

Rating : 8.5/10

Polgara The Sorceress

For his next book Eddings decided to write another prequel – this time covering the life of Belgarath's daughter Polgara. To some extent it seems a bit unnecessary, since many of the same events occur in this book as well – although from a different perspective that sometimes contradicts Belgarath's version of events. There are also a few new sections, covering periods in Polgara's life where Belgarath wasn't around to observe events; these sections are probably the most interesting parts of the book. Again there is quite a long stretch of history covered, over three thousand years, but by this stage most of the major characters are familiar from previous books so it is easy to ignore the size of the timescale.

As with all the other books in this series it is reasonably well written with good dialogue and decent characters. One slightly irritating feature is that Polgara herself is quite arrogant and gets a bit annoying at times which can be an issue since she is the central character.

In summary, another reasonably well written book but it doesn't really add all that much to the overall story.

Rating : 7/10

The Rivan Codex

The final book in the world of the Belgariad is not a novel at all, instead it is a background book containing information on the geography, peoples and history of the series, as well as come commentary from David Eddings himself. Most of this information is taken straight from the preliminary notes Eddings made when writing the Belgariad, unfortunately some of this information had been changed by the time the books were written. The result is therefore that some of the information is inaccurate which makes the book a bit pointless as a source of information about the fictional world. Eddings' introduction is probably the most interesting part of the book, although he does seem a bit arrogant about his achievements.

In summary, a pointless background book that isn't particularly interesting and is also inaccurate.

Rating : 3/10


“The Malloreon” by David Eddings


Eddings' second series was another five book fantasy series, this time a sequel to the Belgariad. The Western kingdoms have been at peace for several years since Torak's defeat, with King Garion of Riva happily married and doing a fairly good job of ruling the small island kingdom of Riva. However, things start to go wrong as a fundamentalist cult starts to gain followers in the neighbouring Kingdoms and the sorcerer Belgarath starts to get hints that the contending 'Prophecies', whose conflict is mirrored among the conflicts of the world's Gods and mortals, aren't finished their millennia-spanning game quite yet. When Garion's baby son Geran is kidnapped by a mysterious former priestess of Torak named Zandramas, Garion is forced to go in pursuit – however he is hampered by the thread that if he uses too much of the Orb of Aldur's power to assist him in the chase Zandramas may kill his son rather than let Garion reclaim Geran. Again Garion has to assemble a group of companions, some familiar and some new, and set off in pursuit of Zandramas – a pursuit which inevitably involves a multitude of adventure and much travelling to any location they managed to miss out in the previous series. Again, Eddings cunningly rigs his world so that the similarity to the previous series and the contrived nature of some of the journeying is explained by the plot device of two contending 'Prophecies' playing games with the universe. Eventually it all comes down to a Choice, which inconveniently has to be made by a neutral party – although it is never really in much doubt which choice will be made, since Garion and his companions seem to win every single confrontation. The ending is a bit more complex than the fight that ended the previous series and there are some interesting subplots, meaning that this second series probably has a better plot overall than the original “Belgariad”. The characterisation is fairly similar, although one of the new characters, the Emperor of Mallorea, ‘Zakath, is one of the more intriguing characters in the story, and actually has a small amount of moral ambiguity which is a rarity in the series. A couple of the subplots are a bit darker than anything in the Belgariad, showing the effects of a deadly plague sweeping Mallorea as well as the effects of demonic possession.

Eddings' writing style doesn't change much, so all the comments that applied to the Belgariad also apply here, with more entertaining characters and good dialogue. There are also plenty of Epic Fantasy clichés again, and although the plot isn’t quite as predictable as in The Belgariad it is similar enough that it could attract some accusations that it is just a retread of the first series.

In summary, again a light read that is unchallenging but entertaining, although again people looking for originality or depth may be advised to look elsewhere.

Rating : 7.5/10


“The Belgariad” by David Eddings


The late David Eddings was an American Fantasy author who achieved great success through the 1980s and 1990s. He attracted a lot of fans, as well as a fair amount of criticism of his by-the-numbers approach to writing Epic Fantasy.

Eddings’ fantasy work was the “Belgariad”, a five-part series published in the 1970s and 1980s. Although he had published a non-fantasy novel several years before (“High Hunt”), his first real success was in the fantasy genre.

The plot takes place in a fantasy world consisting of a number of civilisations, most at a technological level comparable to Europe in the middle-ages. The world is divided into two major factions – who are separated by both racial and religious differences. The Western kingdoms are largely the more advanced, consisting of a number of people who worship various Gods and who generally manage to live alongside each other in relative harmony, with only occasional wars. For millennia they have been in conflict with the Angarak race who live to the East of the other peoples. The Angaraks worship the God Torak, who isn't a particularly pleasant God, favouring such ideas as human sacrifice and his worshipper's right to global domination. Fortunately for the world, Torak has been in a coma for five centuries, ever since a Westerner struck him down in battle using the magical Orb of Aldur – an artefact with powers to match the Gods that was the original cause of the conflict between Torak and his fellow Gods. As the book starts, however, there are signs that Torak may not remain unconscious for much longer after the supposedly unstealable Orb of Aldur is stolen.

The main character is a young teenager named Garion. As is traditional in such stories from The Lord of the Rings to The Wheel of Time he starts off as a naive young man looking forward to a long and dull life working on a farm in the pastoral land of Sendaria. However, his destiny is to recover the Orb and eventually confront Torak – whether he wants to or not. He soon discovers that the woman he thought was his Aunt Pol is really an ancient sorceress named Polgara, and the scruffy old man who occasionally visited her is her father Belgarath the Sorceror. Their responsibility is to guide Garion through his journey as he slowly grows in power and wisdom. This journey involves comprehensive travelling through every country in the West, all on the trail of Belgarath's old colleague Zedar – who defected to Torak's side and masterminded the theft of the Orb. Along the way they face many challenges, both large and small, and are joined by a varied group of companions – all of whom have their own part to play in the story.

Eddings' stated aim is to produce entertaining novels that use as inspiration medieval heroic literature such as the tales of King Arthur. Therefore, he can't really be accused of originality, and it is quite easy to map out most of the plot from merely knowing the premise. There aren't really any great surprises along the way, and people who demand innovation in their reading may want to read something else, but it seems a bit pointless to complain about how generic the plot is when the author isn't aiming for originality. The plot is admittedly a bit contrived, but in the context of a fantasy world ruled by sentient 'Prophecies' it is perfectly reasonable that his would be the case – Eddings has set up the world that the fact that the plot is predictable is an integral part of the plot.

The world-building is adequate but unimaginative. Probably the biggest issue in the series (and one that reappears in some of Eddings’ other books) is his tendency to define people by their nationality, suggesting that most of the people in a particular nation all share a particular trait, which is a dubious way of thinking when that trait happens to be a negative one, particularly when applied to the various Angarak nations. This is partially counteracted by the introduction of some Angarak characters, even some of the Angarak leaders, who are decent people despite their race’s generally poor reputation.

The writing is simple but effective and fortunately avoids the excessive descriptiveness that mars certain other fantasy series. It is a light, unchallenging read that is perfect for someone wanting some light reading – although anyone who wants challenging, complex reading matter may again want to look elsewhere. One of Eddings’ trademarks is his dialogue – producing witty banter that is a reasonable approximation of the irreverent way many people do talk to their friends. In other author's series conversations can often seem to end up being a bit stilted, with a lack of any friendly chatter. This can lead to characters seeming a bit dull whereas Eddings' approach to dialogue makes his characters seem generally likeable people. Occasionally the attempts at being witty can be slightly overdone and therefore irritating, but there are also quite a lot of memorable quotes in the dialogue. Probably the biggest criticism concerns the unnecessarily slow pace of the first book, although the plot demands that Garion is largely ignorant of what is going on around him, his ignorance is slightly irritating when the reader can easily see what is going on.

In summary, the Belgariad is an entertaining light read despite the frequent clichés and predictability of the plot. It couldn't really be accused of being great literature or having any great depth and it doesn’t really compare to more complex Fantasy series such as “A Song of Ice and Fire” but as entertainment it works well.

Rating : 7/10

Filed under: David Eddings No Comments