Reviews: The Belgariad
Fans are going to hate me for this.
The Belgariad/Malloreon is a Crapsaccharine Series. It starts off looking like a great fantasy epic, and then you reread it and catch all the bits you missed. Most of these bits lie with the characters. My chief complaint can be summed up as 'They pulled this kind of shit, and they're the good guys? We're supposed to support *them?*' Want some examples? Sure thing!
- Barak raped his wife. But of course it turns out fine, because she becomes a much better person and sees the error of her ways and their marriage becomes better and- NO. I don't give a fuck what happens as the result, rape is still rape.
- Zakath tried to commit genocide. Did he repent? Yes. Does it make a difference? No. I don't give a damn how sorry he was, try telling that to all those Murgos he had killed for no other reason than that they were Murgos.
- Polgara is supposedly a warm, motherly character, when in reality she's a massive bitch. I personally would not allow her to care for a child, because she raised Garion to be completely dependent on her and didn't prepare him for any kind of responsibility, even when she knew his destiny, and refused to answer any of his questions, even the harmless ones. Her smug superiority makes her almost totally unlikable.
- Ce'Nedra. Apart from her managing to pull a fast one and bring in the Western Armies, her entire contribution is to be a bitchy, whiny, useless, hypocritical lump. If she was supposed to be some kind of strong female role model, that went epically wrong.
- Sadi. Likable? Oh, sure. Good? Hey, remember all those people he poisoned? And all the drugs he was handing out like candy?
- Silk: Likable? Absolutely. Good? Yeah, remember how he killed all those Honeths for no other reason than that they happened to be related to a family who killed someone he liked? There's a difference between 'make an example of the murderers' and 'wipe out the whole family', dude.
- Zedar gets encased in rock forever. His crime was doing exactly what the prophecy said he would do. He killed Durnik in self defense. Does Belgarath care? No, of course not. He's a hero, he can do no wrong. Drunken lecherous pervert.
A Biased Review
Like many other people I read this book during my teens. Since I first picked it up I have read it some 15+ times, after the 13th I stopped counting, and listened to the entire series read by Cameron Beierle. This is a biased review and the short of it is that despite the many flaws and few plot-holes in this book I enjoy it to this day. To start, this book is a generic fantasy novel written with a pre-designed template that could be easily guessed. With that sentence alone you probably know how the book is going to end, and in fact David Edding's foreword spoils the ending in the first pages. This book, however, is an amazing example of "it's the Journey, not the Ending." The core of this book is the characters who are flawed, and until the later part of the series, The Malloreon, are somewhat one-dimensional. You spend a great deal of time growing up with the main characters, and continue well into their lives over the course of the ten books in this series, then loop right back around to the final two books which are more of an prologue that restart the whole series. The characters are all lively and detailed, each standing with their own personality that is only marred by the idea that each person from one or another nationality is very similar to anyone else who shares that nationality. The unfortunate side is that a book series this old and long has several moral issues stated by other reviews, such as a rape which, while not described in detail, is also glossed over and ultimately "Forgiven" that causes me to cringe to this day. Though many characters on the "good team" have many flaws (theives, murderers, lechers, drunks, drug dealers, spies, slave trade and I could go on) nearly each one has owned up by saying that they understand they do bad things and are not necessarily good people. The other major strike by this series is its sexism. While not outright rewards, as both the women and men in the couple situations are supposed to be being rewarded with each other, it frequently appears that getting a girl to settle down with is the reward from the Prophecy. I do however appreciate certain strong females such as Bethra, who is a harlot, among other things, and has no problem asserting herself as such. Ultimately this is a light read spread out over some couple million words. It won't change your life, it won't shock you with some revolutionary ideas, but it may help you feel good to read a brightly worded and frequently humorous novel filled with light hearted banter. From the words of my favorite character, "I've looked at the world for quite a few years now and I've found that if I don't laugh, I'll probably end up crying."
Ugh. Not aged well.
I first read this when I was a teenager, and termed it a "bathroom read": nothing deep, just light escapist fantasy to read when one needed a distraction. Re-reading it again, years later, as an adult, and all I feel is horror and disgust. The stories are poorly written (I'm talking "Twilight"-level bad writing), filled with shallow, cliched characters who are horrible examples of humanity, who we're somehow supposed to root for on this endless, padded-to-boring-extreme fetch quest. Even worse, you start seeing all the things these supposed heroes did, and how awful they truly are — Barak is a drunken brute who rapes his wife, Hettar a sociopathic killer who slaughters people simply for being the wrong nationality, Llelldorin a terrorist, Polgara a vindictive, controlling jerkass who has no business raising a child, and Ce'Nedra a narcissistic brat who resorts to emotional abuse to get her way. They're all poster children for Protagonist-Centered Morality and What the Hell, Hero?, I swear. Worse is seeing this book continually get hailed for its "strong female characters"...yet every woman in it is treated as a baby-making machine & reward for the male heroes, and are mostly shallow, emotionally-manipulative jerks who delight in verbally abusing the men. Every single woman is "rewarded" by the Prophecy with a mate & children, no matter what she actually wants (and Merel, Barak's wife, is an especially horrifying example.). Give this series a pass. There's too many other well-written fantasy series with awesome female characters to give the Belgariad & the Mallorean more than a first glance.
In the book, The Rivan Codex, David Eddings all but admits he's following a generic plot structure. The books, are, of course, quite generic. But that doesn't stop them from being absolutely awesome. The real strength of both The Belgariad and The Malloreon lies in their characters. When everything else feels incredibly cliched, the characters still come across as real and sympathetic, three-dimensional and well-constructed. Of course the books are extremely plot-driven, but the characters, from Garion to Ce'Nedra to Silk to Zakath, can at times almost make you believe that the books are character-driven, and that's a real accomplishment. All in all, Eddings has done some very good work with all of these books. No, he's not the next Tolkien, but who on Earth wants to be the "next" anything? It's better to be remembered for yourself rather than aping someone else's style. ncfan
Generic but Awesome fantasy.
You know how on this series' page, it states that if you've never picked up a book, played a game of D&D, blah blah blah you're probably itching to get your hands on this series? I hadn't done much serious fantasy reading when I first started reading these books. That made them awesome. I hadn't been exposed to the fact that the books were packed with cliches and formulaic storytelling. So I thought they were the best things since sliced bread. And you know what? I still think they're awesome. David Eddings knew that he wasn't going to become the next Tolkien when he sat down to write this story. He did it with the intent of publishing it and making a lot of money. Hence the tone of the book, which so delights and abounds in snarky language and clever banter that it quite frequently lampshades its own use of wit. He mined real-world cultures and stereotypes to populate his fantasy world, and added a generic magic system and a dash of assorted D&D monsters. Not a great deal of effort, I imagine. However, what he did put a lot of effort into was the characters, particularly Garion, Belgarath, and Polgara, and the dialogue as I mentioned before. To sum up, this series contains a generic plot, completely formulaic worldbuilding, and is cliched in just about every way you can imagine except where it counts. The dialouge is wonderfully witty and fun to read time and again, and the characters are awesome. They range in scale from stuckup princess to the honest blacksmith to pure Bad Ass, but they're all individuals and complex. So go read these books, and buy them for your kids so that they can get all the cliches packed into condensed format before they realize that they're cliches.
An Excellent Fantasy
The Belgariad is, in a word, triumphant. It’s awesome. It’s jaw-dropping. It’s an amazing fantasy series. What's strange is that you won't start out thinking that way. The plot seems generic fantasy and not worth your time; and honestly, you won't read this series for plot. You'll read it for the characters and their dialogue. Eddings is a fantastic character writer who fleshes out each and every one of his creations: the protagonists, the antagonists, the secondary protagonists, the minor characters, the one-off people...they all have amazing depth and a definite flair to their character that makes each one seem truly individual. Eddings uses a lot of tropes and cliches in his writing and spins them upside down by putting his own unique twist on them. He is shockingly self-aware, and lampshades just about everything possible in his writing. He manages to take fantasy cliches such as "runaway princess" or "almighty ancient wizard" or "haughty sorceress" and make them so wholly his own that you forget that his characters technically conform to an archetype. What really gets me about The Belgariad is the banter. Everyone who reads the series remembers the banter. Every character has snarker elements to them, and the party engages in constant back-and-forth dialogue that will entertain the reader through all the books. Even the characters who are stoic or otherwise unfunny have their moments, often acting as straight men to the more snarky members of the team. Eddings' ability to constantly keep his dialogue fresh and entertaining through all his novels is a marvel. The sequel series, The Mallorean, is—as noted above—“more of the same”. But here, “the same” is a good thing. The characterization and dialogue is as excellent as before, but better yet, The Mallorean is where Eddings shows off his worldbuilding abilities best. While The Belgariad had plenty of Fantasy Counterpart Cultures, here he takes the formerly Always Chaotic Evil races of his previous series and creates from them interesting and intriguing societies. The books’ weakness is their plot. If you read Eddings for story, you’ll be disappointed. He didn’t write to tell a unique story; he wrote to make interesting characters with witty and self-aware dialogue, and in this respect, he doesn’t disappoint.