Magician’s Gambit — David Eddings (Belgariad 3)

“I thought Ctuchik was a sorcerer”, Garion said, puzzled. “Why do you keep calling him a magician?”

“It’s a term of contempt,” Belgarath replied. “It’s considered a deadly insult in our particular society.”

Or, as Tolkien put it: “Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger.” (Fellowship of the Ring.)

Book 3 of the Belgariad series (I’m tempted to call it a saga, but that to me requires Vikings and Norse mythology.) Magician’s Gambit by David Eddings continues the adventures of Belgarath, Polgara, Garion, Silk, Barak, Durnik, and Mandorallen to recover the Orb of Aldur before it is used by the god Torak to destroy the world.

See my reviews of Pawn of Prophecy and Queen of Sorcery (the first two books of the series) for the background on the author, the series, and an overview of the story. The short version is that a Thing has been stolen, and the sorcerer Belgarath, his immortal daughter Polgara, and the boy with the mysterious background who may just save the world, Garion, (along with a bunch of companions) are attempting to recover it.

Again, there is no real beginning to the story; there is a minor attempt at introducing the characters, but we are expected to have a reasonable understanding of the situation.

The princess Ce’Nedra has been left behind (her destiny follows a different path), which isn’t the worst thing. Her stubbornness and obstinacy was almost overtaking Garion’s petulance. In her place, they acquire the religious fanatic Relg, who is very unimpressed to be there. Eddings uses him for some heavy-handed comment regarding religion and faith and extremism. But, his character is molded to fit the story, and some of the actions that he takes don’t always seem to fit the character.

I mentioned that I was reading the Belgariad, and I got the following quote from a literary friend: “[Eddings’ work is enjoyable] … despite the fact that he only has one plot, and one and a half casts of characters.”

As I’ve only read the Belgariad series, I can’t comment just yet. Feel free to add your thoughts below.

Acquisition of the novels: Eddings’ books can generally be found in second-hand book shops, or in dead-tree editions in most book shops (or can easily be ordered in, most of them are still in print), or you can click on these Amazon links! Here to look at some options for the series, or a collection of the first three books of the Belgariad series:

Queen of Sorcery – David Eddings (Belgariad 2)

Queen of Sorcery by David Eddings, the second book of David Eddings’ Belgariad series.

For author biography and series background, see my previous post. In brief: David Eddings was an American fantasy writer. His Wikipedia page is here and his Amazon page is here. The Belgariad is the first of Eddings’ fantasy series: it follows the exploits of the sorcerers Belgarath, Belgarion, Polgara, and their family and companions.

We run into a common issue with multi-volume fantasy tales. That is, it is not a story in the traditional sense. Normally, we have an introduction, the story develops, the characters progress, and there is a denouement. Often fantasy novels span a few thousand pages, and are roughly chopped into book-sized chunks. This means that the second, third, fourth books don’t really see that beginning, middle, end structure–it’s all middle. Queen of Sorcery definitely “suffers” (whether it’s really a problem or not is a little debatable) from this “problem”.

Queen of Sorcery sees our petulant hero (he’s a teenager who is struggling with his destiny, is permanently sulking, and is fairly constantly in denial), Garion, lost and bewildered, but realising that he is a sorcerer. And then denying this fact. Honestly, a smack around the head would be a kindness (he does collect a few along the way).

We continue our journey across the lands, finding races of people who are distinguishable so easily by one over-arching personality trait. It allows got simple, cookie-cutter characters. The stereotypes aren’t too offensive: the sneaky types, the brave heroic types, the snake-people, the political types, the honest solid types, and so on.

We meet Lelldorin, a very silly young man (but very skilled archer) who becomes a firm friend to Garion. Unfortunately, he is only briefly in the story. Lelldorin has a serious effect on Garion, but only so far as what not to do. His other foil is a spoilt princess, named Ce’Nedra. She has the unquestionable ego and sense of self that is stereotypically typical to princesses. It is most unfortunate that her will and command over the common people is completely worthless against Garion, Belgarath, Polgara, and their companions. These companions helpfully provide a mirror for us to consider Garion and the plot. Not that we need help seeing that he’s struggling.

There is something of a climatic scene to close the book, but the Big Picture plot doesn’t really feel like it has advanced all that far. The Orb of Aldur is still kidnapped, our heroes are still trekking across the world.

Like I says previously, it’s light fantasy, quite straightforward, and perfect for holiday reading. (At time of writing, my flight home departs in just over 18 hours.) Eddings’ books can generally be found in second-hand book shops, or in dead-tree editions in most book shops (or can easily be ordered in, most of them are still in print), or you can click on these Amazon links! Here to look at some options for the series, or a collection of the first three books of the Belgariad series:

Pawn of Prophecy – David Eddings (Belgariad 1)

True fantasy. Not the high stuff with elves and dwarves, but gods and destiny and detailed lineages and magic and politics, mystery and intrigue. And characters that you want to reach through the page and shake. I’m sure that I’m not alone in that feeling towards the titular teenage petulant protagonist.

This series was recommended to me on the grounds that “it was highly enjoyable as a teenager, as that was the target audience”. A little unfair (but only a little). It’s fantasy, and that’s always been the realm of young men. (We dream of heroic deeds. It’s in our DNA. I don’t think that’s a big surprise to anyone!)

Author stuff: David Eddings was an American fantasy writer. His Wikipedia page is here and his Amazon page is here. Along with his wife Leigh (she gets co-author credit in his later works) he wrote more than twenty fantasy novels, most of which were best-sellers. He is regarded as a staple of the fantasy genre.

Pawn of Prophecy is the first novel in the five-book Belgariad series. This was the first of his novels in the first of his series. There were plenty of other Eddings books set in this universe, with his next series, The Malloreon, acting as a sequel. The books follow the exploits of Belgarath, Belgarion, Polgara, and their family and companions. I’m going to borrow from the Wikipedia page for a background summary: One of the seven gods, Aldur, creates an orb from stone and creates within it a “living soul”. One of the other gods, Torak, seizes the Orb from Aldur and tries to have it submit to his will. The Orb retaliates, burning and maiming Torak. The Orb of Aldur is later recovered by Belgarath the Sorcerer, King Cherek, and his children. Cherek’s youngest son Riva, is able to hold the Orb unharmed; wherefore all of his descendants are responsible for guarding the Orb from Torak.

So, over the course of the book (and its sequels) we are introduced to the lore of the land: gods squabbled, mysterious artifact was created, stolen, used, betrayed, given the a line of humans to protect. There are Heroes (with a capital H), destined to control and shape the effects of the world. To meddle. Belgarath, an ancient sorcerer (who of course wanders the land as a storyteller vagabond) (maybe there’s a school pumping out Gandalf figures for use in fantasy stories?) seeks to protect the Holy Macguffin (check TV tropes if you’re uncertain as what a Macguffin is), lest the god Torak awakens, and seeks to destroy the world. His daughter is also part of the job, but it a much more emotional manner.

Our protagonist is the young (time passes, but let’s take him as a teenager) Garion, whose role in this book is to be young, angry, petulant, moody, bewildered, lost, and generally kept in the dark for his own safety. This is, of course, anathema to a teenage boy. He doesn’t know who he is, he is ignorant of the Big Picture, and manages to be in mortal peril at nearly every turn. It’s exhausting just reading about it. He brings a lot of it upon himself, as is the way of teenagers.

The Important Object is stolen by an unnamed thief (who will remain unnamed, as he can hear his name when used, another standard device), and our story involves the storytelling vagabond (really the most powerful sorcerer alive), the over-protective aunt (the daughter of the sorcerer and immortal), the village blacksmith (ah, actually the village blacksmith), and two scruffy ruffians (a prince skilled in espionage, and a brother-to-another-region’s king who is magically connected with the bear-god of his people). And Garion, whose main purpose is to be overwhelmed.

The story gallops along, is perfectly fun, very light (I read half the book on a three-hour ferry crossing between the south and north islands of New Zealand), and was very clearly intended as part of a series. A lot of pieces are now on the board, and I’m sure that the next book (Queen of Sorcery) will advance the game.

For fantasy, it plays a lot of the tropes, which isn’t a bad thing necessarily. The characters are very much hero builds, but again that’s a standard fantasy arrangement.

Eddings’ books can generally be found in second-hand book shops, or in dead-tree editions in most book shops (or can easily be ordered in, most of them are still in print), or you can click on these Amazon links! Here to look at some options for the series, or a collection of the first three books of the Belgariad series:

Buying through Amazon, you support this writer (ie. me), and it costs you nothing extra. In fact, if you ever plan on buying something through Amazon, let me know, and I’ll get an Associate link for you :)

Dracula – Bram Stoker

Dracula by Bram Stoker, published in 1897. The wikipedia page is here.

The question always becomes whether you should evaluate a piece of art (whether it be traditional media, or literature, music, films) within the context of its period, or whether it should be expected to stand on its own. Dracula, by Bram Stoker, is unquestionably a classic of popular English literature, but it is equally a product of its time.

Dracula may not have been the absolute first vampire novel (the Wikipedia page has some examples of earlier fiction), but it definitely was the first truly popular work. Dracula was part of a short period of English literature known as “invasion literature”–stories that tell of other-worldly or just straight-up foreign entities that threaten the British empire. Other proponents include Rudyard Kipling, Robert Louis Stephenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, and H. G. Wells. It is widely-claimed that Dracula was inspired during time spent with Mary Shelley (Frankenstein), Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Lord Byron.

Viewed without the background of its revolutionary nature, Dracula must compete with the recent flood of vampire novels and films. Buffy the vampire slayer, a hundred Anne Rice novels (and films), Twilight, True Blood, Vampire Academy, and so on. If Dracula was to compare directly with these works, it would still hold its own. It is well-written: the story unfolds through five or so people’s diaries, and some miscellaneous devices such as telegrams and newspaper articles (a technique known as “epistolary storytelling“. In this it is different to many other books, where the story consists of he said, she said, he brooded, she pined, and the author clearly had a thesaurus open next to them.

The story: Jonathan Harker, a solicitor from London has traveled to Eastern Europe (Romania and Transylvania) to assist a nobleman with property acquisition in London. This noble is the locally-feared Count Dracula. Virtually taken prisoner, Harker eventually escapes, but suffers greatly for his efforts. In the meantime, his fiancée, Mina, is with a friend Lucy at the seaside. An abandoned ship crashes ashore, with the last crew-member mad with fear. (At this point is it hinted that Dracula had been aboard, but the reader is expected to make some connections.) Sadly, Lucy becomes one of the Count’s first victims, bringing the renowned Professor Van Helsing into the story. Eventually Mina travels to Romania to collect Jonathan. The rest of the story is the efforts to track and destroy Dracula.

It’s well-told, but (and this is a huge product of its time), there are a lot of religious overtones and preaching. There is a lot of His mercy and devotion unto Him, and protection with the host. It’s a little distracting.

But! Dracula should not be compared directly, as it is not a derivative of other works, but is the founding work from which all other vampire stories are derived. It invented the lore and the mythos that we take for granted: the fear of Christian symbols, the inability to cross running water except at the turn of the tide, being able to turn into a bat, command wolves, turn others to vampires through the exchange of blood, the superhuman strength, the look of a vampire, the name of Nosferatu. It is because of this story that vampires sleep in coffins, fear garlic, require a stake to the heart and separation of head from the body.

As one of the progenitors of the horror genre, it is an excellent work. It is nearly impossible to read it without thinking how it has influenced nearly every vampire story in the last century.

Dracula is long out of copyright, and should be found in a wide variety of places. Amazon has a few versions (Dracula is a free Kindle version), and the excellent Project Gutenberg does too in a wide variety of formats..