Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Magician's Gambit

Magician’s Gambit contains pretty much everything that is both good and bad about The Belgariad and David Eddings writing as a whole.

I’ll start with the bad and to be honest that will be the longer list.

Garion and Co spend most of their time wandering around trying to get their hands on some magical artefact called the Orb of Aldur. Big Fat Fantasy authors seem to love aimless wandering through their worlds, fans don’t for the most part like it. Eddings breaks up the meandering with regular explosions of violence. Sometimes the fights add to the narrative, but mostly they seem to be there to try and hold the reader’s interest. A particularly pointless and ridiculous example featuring Mimbrate knight Mandorallen taking on a lion springs to mind immediately.
While I’m on Mandorallen; his accent slips throughout Magician’s Gambit. When the character was introduced in Queen of Sorcery he spoke an exaggerated form of ‘old English’, peppering his speech with thees and thous, either it got too hard or the author just forgot at times, because sometimes he does it other times he doesn’t.
You never worry about anyone important to the plot being killed off when reading Eddings, he simply will not do it, he won’t even let his major characters get scuffed up too badly. An example is fan favourite Prince ‘Silk’ Kheldar of Drasnia. He is captured and put in a prison made of natural rock, awaiting a pretty nasty execution. His prison is virtually impenetrable, the only way in is to go directly through the rock. How fortunate that the newest member of the team (the religious zealot Relg) can phase through rock and even take someone with him. Later in the book Garion finds himself in a spot of trouble with Brill (whose real name was Kordoch and he was some sort of ninjaesque assassin) and Silk comes to his rescue. Silk’s always been good with throwing knives and creeping up on people unawares, but apparently he’s also The Belgariad’s answer to Jackie Chan. All of this completely ignores the fact that by now, with his growing magical talent, Garion should be able to kill Brill/Kordoch before the assassin even gets close to him.
You can’t think too deeply when reading any of Eddings work, if you do you ask yourself why when the group contains two members with godlike power (Belgarath and Polgara) is any of what you’re reading necessary. They also meet two actual Gods in Magician’s Gambit who appear to be completely powerless to help them in any way shape or form.
I think a lot of people quite liked Belgarath’s sorcerer ‘brothers’. I have to admit I didn’t mind Beldin, he occasionally crosses the line from humourous into parody, but he’s rather amusing. The twins who speak for each other were absolutely cringe inducing, though.

Now the good. Unfortunately there’s not a lot. One is that large parts of this book were told from the point of view of the tiny half dryad Tolnedran princess; Ce’Nedra. Of all of Eddings’ creations Ce’Nedra would have to be my favourite, and I appreciated seeing things from her naïve, self centred, bratty perspective. Ce’Nedra really should have been the central character, she’s far more interesting and multi dimensional than the drippy farmboy Garion.
No one reads an Eddings for character development, it’s non existent for the most part, they're all walking cliches, but there was a little bit of it in Magician’s Gambit and from a most unlikely source. Durnik actually shows a ruthless streak if pushed. Up until that point I’d barely even noticed him. He’d only really been mentioned when they needed someone to chop firewood or get angry when Beldin threw a particularly offensive insult at Polgara.
There were a couple of interesting magical creations. The carnivorous horses; Hrulgin, were both nasty and tough, as was the ogrelike Algrak; Grul. Shame that Grul perished, because he was a more interesting villain than the stereotypical Ctuchik.

Side note: I was a little disappointed to find that the term ‘magician’ in Eddings’ world is an insulting way of saying ‘sorceror’, because the title of Magician’s Gambit is my favourite of the five books in the series.

I’ll keep going, but only because I’ve promised myself that I will.

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