Review: Guardians of the West, by David Eddings
eagle at eyrie.org
Sat Jan 11 21:20:12 PST 2020
Guardians of the West
by David Eddings
Series: The Malloreon #1
Publisher: Del Rey
Copyright: April 1987
Printing: October 1991
Format: Mass market
Technically speaking, many things in this review are mild spoilers for
the outcome of The Belgariad, the previous series set in this world.
I'm not going to try to avoid that because I think most fantasy readers
will assume, and be unsurprised by, various obvious properties of the
ending of that type of epic fantasy.
The world has been saved, Garion is learning to be king (and navigate
his domestic life, but more on that in a moment), and Errand goes home
with Belgarath and Polgara to live the idyllic country life of the
child he never was. That lasts a surprisingly long way into the book,
with only occasional foreshadowing, before the voice in Garion's head
chimes in again, new cryptic prophecies are discovered, and the world
is once again in peril.
I can hear some of you already wondering what I'm doing. Yes, after
re-reading The Belgariad, I'm re-reading The Malloreon. Yes, this means
I'm arguably reading the same series four times. I was going through
the process of quitting my job and wrapping up projects and was
stressed out of my mind and wanted something utterly predictable and
unchallenging that I could just read and enjoy without thinking about.
A re-read of Eddings felt perfect for that, and it was.
The Malloreon is somewhat notorious in the world of epic fantasy
because the plot... well, I won't say it's the same plot as The
Belgariad, although some would, but it has eerie similarities. The
overarching plot of The Belgariad is the battle between the Child of
Light and the Child of Dark, resolved at the end of Enchanters' End
Game. The kickoff of the plot of The Malloreon near the middle of this
book is essentially "whoops, there was another prophecy and you have to
do this all again." The similarities don't stop there: There's a list
of named figures who have to go on the plot journey that's only
slightly different from the first series, a mysterious dark figure
steals something important to kick off the plot, and of course there is
the same "free peoples of the west" versus "dictatorial hordes of the
east" basic political structure. (If you're not interested in more of
that in your fantasy, I don't blame you a bit and Eddings is not the
author to reach for.)
That said, I've always had a soft spot for this series. We've gotten
past the introduction of characters and gotten to know an entertaining
variety of caricatures, Eddings writes moderately amusing banter, and
the characters can be fun if you treat them like talking animals built
around specific character traits. Guardians of the West moves faster
and is less frustrating than Pawn of Prophecy by far. It also has a
great opening section where Errand, rather than Garion, is the
Errand is possibly my favorite character in this series because he
takes the plot about as seriously as I do. He's fearless and calm in
the face of whatever is happening, which his adult guardians attribute
to his lack of understanding of danger, but which I attribute to him
being the only character in the book who realizes that the plot is
absurd and pre-ordained and there's no reason to get so worked up about
it. He also has a casual, off-hand way of revealing that he has
untapped plot-destroying magical powers, which for some reason I find
hilarious. I wish the whole book were told from Errand's point of view.
Sadly, two-thirds of it returns to Garion. That part isn't bad,
exactly, but it features more of his incredibly awkward and stereotyped
relationship with Ce'Nedra, some painful and obvious stupidity around
their attempt to have a child, and possibly the stupidest childbirth
scene I've ever seen. (Eddings is aiming for humorous in a way that
didn't work for me at all.) That's followed by a small war (against
conservative religious fanatics; Eddings's interactions with cultural
politics are odd and complicated) that wasn't that interesting.
That said, the dry voice in Garion's head was one of my favorite
characters in the first series and that's even more true here when he
starts speaking again. I like some of what Eddings is doing with
prophecy and how it interacts with the plot. I'm also endlessly amused
when the plot is pushed forward by various forces telling the main
characters what to do next. Normally this is a sign of lazy writing and
poor plotting, but Eddings is so delightfully straightforward about it
that it becomes oddly metafictional and, at least for me, kind of fun.
And more of Errand is always enjoyable.
I can't recommend this series (or Eddings in general). I like it for
idiosyncratic reasons and can't defend it as great writing. There are a
lot of race-based characterization, sexism, and unconsidered geographic
stereotypes (when you lay the world map over a map of Europe, the
racism is, uh, kind of blatant, even though Eddings makes relatively
even-handed fun of everyone), and while you could say the same for
Tolkien, Eddings is not remotely at Tolkien levels of writing in
compensation. But Guardians of the West did exactly what I wanted from
it when I picked it up, and now part of me wants to finish my re-read,
so you may be hearing about the rest of the series.
Followed by King of the Murgos.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Russ Allbery (eagle at eyrie.org) <https://www.eyrie.org/~eagle/>
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