Once again I have to say that this book has the most magnificent cover. The art is fantastic. The border just screams fantasy novel. The map in the background makes the whole thing feel epic — like a world-spanning story. Then there is the subtle image of an owl in flight and Polgara being scary and it leaves no question who the titular character is.
In Queen of Sorcery David Eddings decided to double his cast of female characters by adding one more. Now Polgara is no longer the only one. Ce’Nedra has a bit of a convoluted story for why she is with them but it mostly holds together, especially in the world it takes place in.
Once again we see that everybody in any given country can be defined by certain racial stereotypes and those stereotypes are not wrong. This time we get to pass through Arendia, where the people are excited about being medieval and self-absorbed and chivalrous (they have many good qualities but they are kind of dumb and overly pretentious). Next is Tol Nedra which is a money obsessed version of Rome, complete with Legionnaires and a succession war that has started before the Emperor has died. These people are defined by their love of money. Then we go to Nyissa where the people all wander around naked in the swamp and do lots of drugs and poison people.
Honestly I’m not sure why we’re supposed to think the Nyissans are any better than the Murgos. They have presented much more of a problem so far and are significantly creepier.
For that matter, why is racial prejudice okay in these books?
I enjoy the story. I like the books. I love the dialogue and the characterization — Eddings is truly a master at dialogue. Everything comes out natural, humorous and with layers of expression with only the words and no description needed to explain how it was said.
But everybody is racist.
Hettar kills Murgos because they are Murgos and never gets tried for murder. In fact they joke about killing Murgos as a pastime. Any time they find out a Murgo has been in the city they immediately jump to the conclusion he is up to no good. And they are never wrong about that.
In fact, now that I think about it. The entire group of ‘good guys’ is a mess of sociopaths. Barak is constantly offering to kill people for their convenience. Silk will barter a beggar out of his last penny before stabbing him in the eye and hiding the body. Hettar kills Murgos simply because they are from the same country as the people that killed his parents (it was brutal and he’s got a lot of emotional baggage from it, but it’s still murder). Even Polgara encourages Garion to burn a man to death by manipulating him and then expressing pride when he goes through with it.
At least Garion and Durnik show a little restraint.
That brings me to something else. I’m not sure who is the protagonist of this story. Garion is ostensibly the point of view character but there doesn’t seem to be much that he wants, other than to grow up and be independent in that way that most fifteen year old boys want. There is very little hindering him from that except himself and his own maturity. Perhaps Belgarath or Polgara. They want to reclaim the Orb of Aldur from Zedar who stole it from the throne of Riva.
Which might be the problem with this book. The point isn’t very clear. I know they are following Zedar south until he turns east into Cthol Murgos (which, why didn’t he do that to start with — oh, that’s right, we needed a tour of the western kingdoms). Other than that the characters have little motivation to be there. Barak just likes to kill things I guess. Silk likes to be devious. Hettar must think they offer him a better chance of meeting Murgos that he can kill. I know that there is a prophecy that says they will be together at some future point but I can’t decipher why they are together right now, other than that they are an entertaining bunch of characters and Eddings is brilliant at rolling them together so that friendships seem natural and the banter is truly delightful to read.
And that’s really all I have to recommend this book. I do think that some of the ridiculous is still meant as a satire. The single trait shared by everybody from a single country could be nothing else. I also think Eddings has imagined a world that, while simplistic in many ways is also very nuanced in others. There is a sense of history here that stretches back millennia and it feels right, somehow, like this is how things would happen in a world like this.
But the casual racism and the psychotic main characters aside, the dialogue is great. This book is worth reading just to watch how smoothly Eddings can layer meaning into a few spoken words. Most of the personality of these characters comes from the words they speak and few authors can do it as well as Eddings.