Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Belgariad, Volume Two, by David Eddings

This week we finish the Belgariad saga with volume two, which covers the last two books in the five part series, Castle of Wizardry and Enchanters' End Game. In a way, these almost form a second story from the first three books, so I can actually understand the decision to separate them as such. In the end of Volume One the mystical Orb of Aldur has been recovered by our heroes and while they're still deep within enemy territory, you honestly don't have any doubts they'll make it home safely, do you? I mean, with two whole books left? Yeah, that's what I thought. For me these books kind of were all over the place, going from really interesting when we explored the political complexities of the different fantasy kingdoms and how they actually had to prepare for a full-scale war, to boring with Garion continuing on his epic quest as the Chosen One and heading towards the final confrontation, to downright infuriating with the behavior of Ce'Nedra. The result for me is an all-around middle feeling with this book. Not terribly good but not terribly bad either.

We'll start with Garion and his hero's quest, which is not yet done at all. There is of course the requisite scene where he realizes he can never go home again, and then eventually the revelation that he's secretly been the Chosen One all along and if you hadn't figured that out by now you need to get a better education in tropes. Garion is confronted with the fact that the war against the different countries of Agnaraks will take decades, if not centuries, and an incalculable cost in both blood and treasure. When he learns that there may be a way he can avoid those millions of needless deaths he heads off to his final battle with Torak, the Shadow of this particular monomyth. In a way, I feel like the author himself kind of gets bored with Garion because we eventually leave him behind and all focus shifts to the other characters who have to prosecute a war against the hordes of Agnaraks.

The war bits themselves actually prove fairly interesting, perhaps at the expense of everything else. Ce'Nedra actually becomes interesting when she has to rally and unite the disparate people of the West into a unified fighting force and field an army in the millions capable of holding off the hordes of the East. Plus, one of my favorite chapters showed all the political jockeying going on back home between the people left behind, trying to take advantage of the fact that queens are ruling in the stead of their husbands. It is really interesting and probably could have been an entire story on its own that could have been deeply fleshed out, but like so many things eventually falls to the wayside and gets consumed by the monomyth in the end.

My biggest frustration was definitely Ce'Nedra, the female lead who's destined to fall in love with the hero, but you know those parts. What irritates me the most is that while Ce'Nedra undergoes some character development and actually becomes an inspirational leader for the army, she remains in many ways a spoiled, manipulative princess. Before the war we're explicitly shown how she plans to emotionally manipulate Garion into doing what she wants him to do and once the war's over she goes right back to emotionally manipulating him. And I get the feeling we're supposed to just be....fine with all of this. And, at least in my opinion, that's not how people should behave. Any sort of manipulation is just wrong but here it's depicted as funny because "Women, amirite?" I'm probably putting too much into this and at least the book remains readable, but jeezalpete, man.

Anyway, overall Belgariad is very much middle of the road for me. It's not bad, but it's not terribly good either. There's potential and some really good bits with the political intrigue and the fleshing out of countries beyond the basest description, but much of that is squandered on a Hero's Journey story that even the book itself becomes bored with and a spoiled princess you sometimes just want to chuck out a window.

- Kalpar

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