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March 17, 2011

THE BELGARIAD SERIES, by David Eddings, 1982

The Belgariad, Vol. 1 (Books 1-3): Pawn of Prophecy, Queen of Sorcery, Magician's GambitIt all begins with the theft of the Orb that for so long protected the West from an evil god. As long as the Orb was at Riva, the prophecy went, its people would be safe from this corrupting power. Garion, a simple farm boy, is familiar with the legend of the Orb, but skeptical in matters of magic. Until, through a twist of fate, he learns not only that the story of the Orb is true, but that he must set out on a quest of unparalleled magic and danger to help recover it. For Garion is a child of destiny, and fate itself is leading him far from his home, sweeping him irrevocably toward a distant tower—and a cataclysmic confrontation with a master of the darkest magic. (Amazon)


Review by Laura Madsen, mom, veterinarian and writer

I don’t remember where or when or why I first read this series, but I have reread THE BELGARIAD every few years over the last decade or two. The series is like an old friend; even though I know the plot and the outcome, it’s comforting to return to the story again and again.

The series is classified as fantasy, although if it were published nowadays I suppose it might instead be categorized as Young Adult because the protagonist is a teenage boy. I think the series would be enjoyable for adults, teens and tweens.

The story arc follows the general fantasy theme of “young man learns how to use magic and/or finds a magic item, is taught by a wise old man, goes on thrilling adventures, and saves the world,” but the characters make the story original.

The first book in the series is PAWN OF PROPHECY (1982), in which we meet the pawn: a farm boy named Garion. The first fourteen years of his life have been spent living with his Aunt Pol in pastoral simplicity. But the forces of evil draw near, and Aunt Pol rushes Garion away from the farm, accompanied by Durnik the blacksmith and Mister Wolf, a disreputable traveling storyteller. They meet up with Barak, a red-bearded Viking-esque berserker, and Silk, a specialist in thievery, disguise and espionage.

Garion gradually learns that Aunt Pol is the legendary sorceress Polgara, and Mister Wolf is Polgara’s father, the immortal sorcerer Belgarath. The Orb of Aldur has been stolen and they must recover it before it can be used to wake the evil god Torak. World events are swirling around Garion and he is prophesied to confront Torak.

In the second book, QUEEN OF SORCERY (1982), several more people join the group, including a fiery teenage princess named Ce’Nedra. She is running away from home and the prospect of an arranged marriage to the King of Riva. Garion and Ce’Nedra bicker and fight but eventually begin to fall in love. At the end of the second book Garion’s latent sorcery abilities begin to manifest. He gains the prefix to his name which is bestowed on sorcerers and becomes Belgarion.

Throughout the third book, MAGICIAN’S GAMBIT (1983), Belgarion learns more about his abilities. Meanwhile, the group continues to follow the Orb of Aldur as the thief carries it across nations. They run afoul of assassins, a grieving god, carnivorous horses and the menacing followers of Torak, and finally cross into the lands of their enemies to reclaim the Orb.

In the fourth book, CASTLE OF WIZARDRY (1984), we learn that although Belgarion and his friends have recovered the Orb of Aldur, war between the forces of good and evil is inevitable. The group takes the Orb back to its home in Riva, where Belgarion is shocked to learn that he is the last heir of the long-ago-murdered King of Riva. Ce’Nedra is also stunned, because she realizes that after he is crowned King she will be bound by treaty and prophecy to marry him. Belgarion leaves with Belgarath and Silk, heading with heavy heart to the prophesied meeting with Torak, while Ce’Nedra raises an army at home in Riva.

The series concludes with ENCHANTERS’ END GAME (1984). Belagarion, Belgarath and Silk travel deep into enemy lands to the city of darkness where Torak is waking from a millennium-long sleep. Ce’Nedra, Polgara and their allies gather a huge army and march onward, distracting the enemy forces. All of the major characters are swept by the winds of prophecy to the City of Night, where Belgarion uses the Orb to defeat Torak.

Eddings’ characters sometimes verge on caricatures, but they are always memorable. All of the supporting characters are fully fleshed-out with quirks and weaknesses and sub-plots. There is playful banter amongst the characters, which adds flavor to the story. For example, in this scene, Barak is explaining boar-hunting:

He gestured at a rack of stout, broad-headed boar spears. “When the boar sees you standing in his way, he charges you and tries to kill you with his tusks, but instead you kill him with your spear.”

“I see,” Durnik said somewhat doubtfully. “It doesn’t sound very complicated.”

“We wear mail shirts, Durnik,” Barak said. “Our hunters are hardly ever injured seriously.”

“’Hardly ever’ has an uncomfortable ring of frequency to it, Barak,” Silk said, fingering a mail shirt hanging on a peg by the door.

“No sport is very entertaining without a certain element of risk.” Barak shrugged, hefting a boar spear.

“Have you ever thought of throwing dice instead?” Silk asked.

“Not with your dice, my friend.”

Or this scene, after one character admits on her deathbed her love for another character, only to find out that she isn’t actually dying:

Adara closed her eyes. “How inconvenient,” she murmured, a faint blush coming to her cheeks. She opened her eyes again. “I apologize, Hettar. I wouldn’t have said any of this if I’d known that my meddling physicians were going to save my life.”

I also like the point of view. Although it is usually standard third-person, the POV occasionally pulls back to become more omniscient. The omniscient narrator is a character unto itself, wry and clever, as in this passage:

In the early autumn just before Garion’s fourteenth birthday, he came very close to ending his career. In response to some primal urge all children have—given a pond and a handy supply of logs—they had built a raft that summer. The raft was neither very large nor was it particularly well-built. It had a tendency to sink on one end if the weight aboard were improperly distributed and an alarming habit of coming apart at unexpected moments. Quite naturally it was Garion who was aboard the raft—showing off—on that fine autumn day when the raft quite suddenly decided once and for all to revert to its original state.

There is a second five-book series by Eddings, THE MALLOREON, which follows THE BELGARIAD, but the two series can largely stand separate.

Market: Adult fiction (fantasy)
Sensuality: mild
Violence: moderate (swordfights, poisonings, bows and arrows, attempted assassination)
Language: mild

5 comments:

Amy Finnegan said...

This sounds like a great series!! How am I ever going to make it through all these awesome books everyone keeps recommending?????

I can't wait to try! :)

Thanks for the great review, Laura!

Kim said...

I love the excerpts you shared, Laura--especially the embarrassing non-deathbed scene! I've been wanting a fun series for a long time (there's something about characters you can love for several books), and this looks like it might be right up my fantasy-loving alley!

Kathryn Magendie said...

Wonder well-written/though-out review! I've not read this book -but now I want to!

Charlie Pulsipher said...

Yay! Another book (series) I have read. Always happy to see these classics make their way to your blog. I also loved that the orb took on the role of a character, even blushing in the other room on the wedding night. The magic system may have been the first I remember sticking to me and has influenced my own writing and ideas about how the physics of magic might work.

Laura said...

Amy,

I know what you mean--my To Be Read list keeps getting longer and longer; I'm spending more money at Barnes&Noble; and the librarian probably recognizes me now.

At least books are a harmless and legal addiction :)