I first read this book about half of a lifetime ago. It was one of the first fantasy novels that I read (wait, surely that can’t be true!) Okay, it was one of the first stupidly-thick, can-be-used-to-club-seals fantasy novels that I read. It was described to me as nine hundred pages of Fetch Quests. (Gather your party, go to a place, do a thing; rinse and repeat, making sure to check in with the Quest Giving Non-Player Character often enough.) I don’t remember whether I thought that this was fair at the time, but that description has definitely influenced how I’m approaching this reading of the novel.
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 is getting co-author credit by now–Wikipedia and Amazon) he wrote more than twenty fantasy novels, most of which were best-sellers. Their partnership is regarded as a staple of the fantasy genre.
Athalus, burglar, armed robber, is paid to steal a book by a sinister stranger named Ghend. Althalus sets off to the House at the End of the World where the book is kept. There, in the same room as the book Ghend described, he finds a talking cat. What he can’t find when he turns around is the door by which he entered.
By the time he sets out again, Althalus can read. He’s read the book and discovered that the evil god Daeva is trying to unmake the world. The cat, whom Althalus calls Emerald, is in fact the god’s sister, and she needs Althalus to prevent Daeva returning them all to primordial chaos. Althalus will teach her what she needs to know, which is how to lie, cheat and steal — ‘Whatever works,’ Emerald reflects.
Althalus is the first and foremost of a band of colourful helpers who will batlle Daeva and his bizarre, deadly minions. The existence of the world hangs in the balance in this glorious epic fantasy.
That’s pretty much it. And damn you person who is going to remain anonymous who fifteen years ago described the book as an epic series of Fetch Quests, as I couldn’t not view it in those terms upon this reading! Althalus is presented as a likeable rogue, but he is a thief, he is an (occasional) murderer, he fraternises and cavorts, and generally leaves people worse off! Dweia (Goddess of Change, sister to Deiwos (God of Creation) and Daeva (God of Destruction), for reasons absolutely unknown sees him as the saviour of the world, and spends two-and-a-half millennia somewhat falling to break him of his unsavoury habits. From there, it’s finding his companions, who are presented well-enough, but eventually (sadly!) become caricatures who occasionally don’t quite ring true. It honestly felt like the authors had the big plot points written, and wrote the bridging parts later. There is nothing wrong with this, nothing at all! But, it doesn’t quite integrate naturally in places. The motivations sometimes just feel a bit “off”.
It’s an easy nine hundred pages, mind you. There cast of characters, both main and supporting, are well-presented (barring some minor motivation problems, as mentioned above), and the mixture of literary styles is well done. Using the mental link between the members of the group and Dweia allows the story to nudge up against the fourth-wall at times, which generally works quite well. There is a heavy emphasis on the importance of stories, and the importance of narrative, which is quite interesting.
So, should you read it? Sure. It’s not the best example of fantasy literature, but it’s light, it’s enjoyable, the characters are fun enough, the plot is uncomplicated (a very nice way of saying completely linear with almost no subplots whatsoever), and the authors generally did a good job.
It’s available in hardcover, softcover, and is probably available in your local second-hand bookshop. Well, if you’re lucky enough to still have one of those!