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:

Magician — Raymond E. Feist (Riftwar cycle #1)

This review has been a long time coming. It’s a long book, and I wanted to do the review justice. (Honestly, that means that I probably should have written it shortly after finishing the book, not two months later. Oh well.)

I’m going to crib the intro stuff from Wikipedia: Magician is a fantasy novel by Raymond E. Feist. It is the first book of the Riftwar Saga and was originally published in 1982. In 1992, it was republished with much of the edited revisions restored (something like 92,000 additional words.) It is the first of many books by Feist set in the world of Midkemia, which was the setting for this book and most of the subsequent Riftwar books. Magician was separated into two volumes for the United States market and published as Magician: Apprentice and Magician: Master. I read the UK (and Australian) edition which is a single volume (we’re not nearly as scared of long books as Americans ;))

Raymond E. Feist is an American author who primarily writes fantasy fiction. He is best known for the Riftwar Cycle. His Wikipedia page is here, his Amazon page is here. He was signing books at Supernova Sydney this year. If the line hadn’t been about one hundred metres long, I might have gotten something signed. Oh well.

Plot summary: Oh dear, this is going to be difficult. Above, where I said that the books is long? That’s not the half of it. It spans a huge amount of time too. Decades. The brief blurb is as follows: Pug, an orphan boy is apprenticed to a master magician. Suddenly the Kingdom is aswarm with alien invaders, destroying the peace of the kingdom. Pug and his friend Tomas are swept up into the conflict, with Pug’s destiny leading him through a rift to a new world.

Yup. That’s technically a summary. It lacks some details and nuances though. We’re introduced to Pug and Tomas, and the town of Crydee, and for a little while, it’s a standard coming-of-age story–there’s a brave rescue, an unobtainable princess, some magic, disappointment from Pug when he’s not chosen as an apprentice to the guards as he desires. It’s all very comfortable, and familiar, and I was very much looking forward to seeing how things develop with Pug’s apprenticeship to a magician, but then! War! Invasion! Rifts through to another world! Lots and lots, and dear gods, lots of characters. There is so much potential for this rich world to be explored, but we’re given such fleeting and tantalising glimpses that I was sulking at the book because I wanted more! I wanted more of the dwarves, more of the elves, more history of the worlds. (I realise that I’m sailing awfully close to Tolkien-esque levels of detail-orientated obsessiveness, believe me, I have no intention of getting there. I find the main series of Tolkien readable, but the surrounding paraphernalia is unreadable to me. (Yes, I know, I think I’m going to have to hand in my nerd card now, but honestly, I found the genealogy and endless histories far too dry and tedious.) I imagine that subsequent books revisit a lot of this, or, at least, I hope that they do!) Over the years, the Midkemians are losing the war with the alien Tsurani. Each year, the Tsurani eek out more and more territory. After a failed attempt to close the rift between worlds, Pug is captured and taken as a slave back to the alien world of Kelewan. Years pass, and he progresses from an ineffectual magician to obtaining the title of Great One. An attempt to sue for peace between the Tsurani and Midkemians is the focus for much of the second half of the book (that is technically true, but there is oh so much more!) We end on a fragile peace.

So, with that rather muddled plot summary done, I must answer the question: is it good? Yes. Oh my words, yes! It’s long, but there is so much detail, so much action, so much pure story that I cannot give any other conclusion than a very resounding positive recommendation. (Note, it’s fantasy. That should be clear–magic, elves, dwarves, alien races, etc, but just in case…. And, I’m not kidding about the decades. It is a little frustrating to be settling into the story to have the narrative yanked out from under your feet (metaphorically speaking), and finding yourself several years and a few dimensions away!)

I don’t understand why Amazon doesn’t let me link to their Kindle editions. Annoying. There are about a hundred versions, variation, and publications for Magician. I’m going to link to a few of them: (first, the separate novels in paperbook, US style)
Magician: Apprentice
Magician: Master (Riftwar Saga, Book 2)
I can’t get the Amazon Associates thing to work with the Kindle edition, so you can buy it from that link, but I don’t get the fraction of a fraction of a cent for you doing so. Huh.

The Last Dragonslayer — Jasper Fforde

This post was sitting in my Drafts since, oh, I honestly don’t remember. I’m going to finish it off and push it out. It may lack some length and quality…

There are some authors who hold a special place in a reader’s life. For me, the stalwarts of comic fantasy are there; authors such as Douglas Adams, and Terry Pratchett. (Though I have felt that Pratchett’s last few books didn’t have the same spark as his other work. An issue that Adams will sadly never have.)

Anyhow. My point is that I have some favourite authors. Jasper Fforde is one of those authors. I don’t buy the dead-tree versions of books anymore. A combination of reasons: the cost is higher, I don’t need to keep a hard-copy, and something about the environment. I will generally try to buy the paper copies of Fforde’s books.

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde

I’m going to recycle some Brief author notes: Jasper Fforde is a living British author, quite prolific (twelve full-length novels in as many years, with at least another four in various planning stages), who writes alternate history, comic fantasy, surrealist humour fiction. He is currently working on books in four series: the Thursday Next novels, the Nursery Crime Division novels, the Shades of Grey novels, and the Dragonslayer trilogy. And yes, I’ve read all of them.

(Meta note: this is as far as I got with my draft. Maybe this is going to be a little harder than I expected to push out…)

So, we’re once again in the realms of things fantastic. The world has magic, but it’s mundane, boring, dwindling, and so tied up in red-tape that most of the time it’s not worth the effort. Jennifer Strange is nominally in charge of the wizards, seers and sorcerers of the Kazam Magical Agency. When the death of the last dragon is predicted, she is revealed by ancient prophecy to be the last Dragonslayer, and must do her duty. However, when the dragon itself wishes to be slain, things seem a little strange.

(More meta notes: honestly, the plot is a little straightforward, but if I was going to try to explain it properly, I’d have the mention Tiger Prawns, a foundling sent to Jennifer, from the Blessed Ladies of the Lobster, and why he must face nine years of indentured servitude. I’d have to explain about Quarkbeasts, and why they shouldn’t eat galvanised steel. About the history of magic, and why magicians generally are devious. About thinly veiled social criticism about avarice, greed, power, democracy, the role of the media in the forming of opinions, and just how quickly people can become accustomed to the bizarre. Oh wait, it looks like I’ve accidentally provided a strange summary regardless.)

The book is fun. It’s a bit of a departure from Fforde’s other work: it is far less literary-based than the Thursday Next novels (see reviews here and here (more to come, I’m sure)). Tt inhabits a different world from the Colours novels (one, happily, quite less dire and dystopian), and is more approachable to young readers than the Nursery Crime books.)

(More oddness: my spellchecker suggested that I replace ‘dystopian’ with ‘utopian’. That’s, uh, strange.)

This is possibly the most scattered review I’ve done. The story is good, the world is well-rendered, and it’s not overly heavy in either prose or themes. Good fun.

Shilling myself

Purchasing through these links earns me fractions of cents.

Paperback:

Kindle: again, Amazon won’t let me link to the Kindle version. Use the Paperback version above, and change formats.

Children of the Night (Mercedes Lackey)

Following straight on from my review of the first Mercedes Lackey book I read comes Children of the Night, apparently the second book in the Diana Tregarde series.

Mercedes Lackey has a personal website, a wikipedia page, and an Amazon page. She is a prolific author of mainly fantasy novels. (Though she has ventured into Sci-fi as well.)

Children of the Night confused me a little, as it was part of the same file as Invasion (The Secret World Chronicles Book 1), which ended on a terrible cliff-hanger, so I figured that the second half of the file was the second book in the series. (These books and files were part of the Humble Bundle eBook bundle, so I should be allowed a little leniency for my confusion.) Given the number of characters in Invasion, the introduction of a new narrator in Di Tregarde didn’t set off alarm bells. The presence of magic and being set during the Nixon administration did, however.

Having not read the first in the series, I was initially a little lost regarding the main character, Di Tregarde. She is introduced as a powerful magic practitioner, wary of intrusions into her space. Slowly, she is revealed to be a Guardian, a witch of extreme power, who is duty-bound is assist the helpless. She is currently making ends meet working in a magical supplies store whilst her career as a writer struggles along. Our other protagonist is a musician by the name of Dave, who has the misfortune to be transformed into a psychic vampire who feeds off the emotions of others. Despite his transformed state, he maintains his morality and sense of ethics to some extent, and has a rather cliched battle against his own transformed self, and the other psychic vampires that attempt to drag him down. A ridiculously handsome genuine vampire by the name of Andre enters the mix, and completes the obligatory love triangle between Di and Dave. (The obvious comparison to Twilight shall not be made. Perhaps I’ve not read enough romantic paranormal fiction, as the dark-and-mysterious good vampire is still a novelty to me.)

The rise of the psychic vampires must be thwarted, a task that Di, Dave, and Andre handle admirably over the climactic chapters of the novel. Romance blossoms. In a quite linear tale, dots are connected.

Reading back over what I’ve written, I sound quite down on this book, which is actually a little unfair. It’s generic sure, but is it any good? Well, yes and no. I found that it was light and non-taxing, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing in a story. There are definitely times in one’s reading life where such things are required. I don’t feel that my time was wasted, but I don’t feel the need to put it on my To-Be-Read-Again list. The story and the world were set up sufficiently well that if the first or third books of the series happened to cross my path, I’d most likely have a go at them.

Obligatory Amazon Links

The Di Tregarde trilogy is available in a collection: .

Or you can pick up the first book Burning Water, the second book Children of the Night, and the third book Jinx High from Amazon in paperback formats. (No Kindle versions appear to be available, sadly.)