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“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

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