I first read David Eddings as a teenager when I came across the books in the library and the covers completely captured my imagination. I still think these are some of the best covers of any fantasy book. There’s something about the map and bear shadow and the woman who looks like she’s part of the Addam’s family… It just makes me want to read it. Even now, twenty years later I love to just look at that cover and think about what might be inside.
I read these books multiple times as a teenager and never picked up on many of the more troubling aspects of these books. Once I was old enough to understand what people complain about I avoided reading them in the hope that they would remain good in my mind.
Jo Walton calls it the suck fairy — when a book you used to love is suddenly not good any more. It’s because we are different people from one year to the next and what we love as one person we will hate as another. (As example, Terry Brooks, who I loved at least as much as Eddings when I was younger and who I find completely unreadable now.)
David Eddings has problems. His male and female relations are juvenile at best and he seems to be the president of the stereotypes club. Every nation in his world has a national obsession and there are no deviants. There is a country of spies, a country of sailors, a country of nomadic horsemen, a country of shrewd businessmen, a country of drug addicts, etc. There are no dark skinned people of any kind which is probably good because they would have ended up with some very unfortunate stereotypes that would have really made the books uncomfortable.
I knew all these things from memory and so avoided the books for the longest time, wanting to preserve them as good books. Well I finally gave in to those wonderful covers and discovered something that I never knew about Eddings. Eddings was a genius. This is not a serious fantasy that follows all the tropes, though it feels like one at times.
This is a parody of all the fantasy but not just of all the fantasy that came before it, because really before Eddings there was basically Tolkien, Brooks and Donaldson with some Dragonlance books thrown in. There wasn’t much to parody in other words. Eddings parodied all the fantasy that came after him by writing something that sounded serious at the time but is obviously a comedy playing with all the silliness that was fantasy for the next decade after.
This is obviously just a theory but this book becomes something new when you see it that way and suddenly the stereotypes are hilarious and the dialogue is almost self referential and almost always amusing.
If I’m wrong, then at least Eddings has written a book that holds up, thirty years later because it has become, however unintentionally, satire of so much fantasy from the late eighties and early nineties.
It is better than I expected if only because of his wonderful dialogue. People talk to each other so smoothly and with such great emotion that I was surprised that there was very little description of facial expression. Just lines of dialogue, frequently without even a tag to say who spoke, because you don’t need it. Eddings is a master of dialogue that is at once revelatory, smooth, natural and funny and that alone makes this book worth reading again.
It’s not a life-changing book and it obviously has problems that I had to come to terms with but I enjoyed it and am much relieved to know that I still like this book after all these years.