Review: The Seeress of Kell, by David Eddings
eagle at eyrie.org
Tue May 31 21:56:15 PDT 2022
The Seeress of Kell
by David Eddings
Series: The Malloreon #5
Publisher: Del Rey
Copyright: May 1991
Printing: May 1992
Format: Mass market
The Seeress of Kell is the conclusion of the five-book Malloreon series
and a direct sequel to Sorceress of Darshiva. You do not want to begin
the series here (or, to be honest, at all).
We have finally finished the relaxed tour of Mallorea, the second
continent of Eddings's remarkably small two-continent world. The heroes
have gathered all of their required companions and are headed for Kell,
where the seeress Cyradis awaits. From there, they and the new Child of
Dark must find their way to the Place Which Is No More for the final
By "find," I mean please remain seated with your hands, arms, feet, and
legs inside the vehicle. The protagonists have about as much to do with
the conclusion of this series as the passengers of a roller coaster
have control over its steering.
I am laughing at my younger self, who quite enjoyed this series
(although as I recall found it a bit repetitive) and compared it
favorably to the earlier Belgariad series. My memory kept telling me
that the conclusion of the series was lots of fun. Reader, it was not.
It was hilariously bad.
Both of Eddings's first two series, but particularly this one, take
place in a fantasy world full of true prophecy. The conceit of the
Malloreon in particular (this is a minor spoiler for the early books,
but not one that I think interferes with enjoyment) is that there are
two competing prophecies that agree on most events but are in conflict
over a critical outcome. True prophecy creates an agency problem: why
have protagonists if everything they do is fixed in prophecy? The
normal way to avoid that is to make the prophecy sufficiently confusing
and the mechanism by which it comes true sufficiently subtle that
everyone has to act as if there is no prophecy, thus reducing the role
of the prophecy to foreshadowing and a game the author plays with the
What makes the Malloreon interesting (and I mean this sincerely) is
that Eddings instead leans into the idea of a prophecy as an active
agent leading the protagonists around by the nose. As a meta-story
commentary on fantasy stories, this can be quite entertaining, and it
helps that the prophecy appears as a likable character of sorts in the
book. The trap that Eddings had mostly avoided before now is that this
structure can make the choices of the protagonists entirely pointless.
In The Seeress of Kell, he dives head-first into the trap and then
pulls it shut behind him.
The worst part is Ce'Nedra, who once again spends an entire book either
carping at Garion in ways that are supposed to be endearing (but
aren't) or being actively useless. The low point is when she is
manipulated into betraying the heroes, costing them a significant
advantage. We're then told that, rather than being a horrific disaster,
this is her important and vital role in the story, and indeed the whole
reason why she was in the story at all. The heroes were too far ahead
of the villains and were in danger of causing the prophecy to fail. At
that point, one might reasonably ask why one is bothering reading a
novel instead of a summary of the invented history that Eddings is
going to tell whether his characters cooperate or not.
The whole middle section of the book is like this: nothing any of the
characters do matters because everything is explicitly destined. That
includes an extended series of interludes following the other main
characters from the Belgariad, who are racing to catch up with the main
party but who will turn out to have no role of significance whatsoever.
I wouldn't mind this as much if the prophecy were more active in the
story, given that it's the actual protagonist. But it mostly
disappears. Instead, the characters blunder around doing whatever seems
like a good idea at the time, while Cyradis acts like a bizarre sort of
referee with a Calvinball rule set and every random action turns out to
be the fulfillment of prophecy in the most ham-handed possible way.
Zandramas, meanwhile, is trying to break the prophecy, which would have
been a moderately interesting story hook if anyone (Eddings included)
thought she were potentially capable of doing so. Since no one truly
believes there's any peril, this turns into a series of pointless
battles the reader has no reason to care about.
All of this sets up what has been advertised since the start of the
series as a decision between good and evil. Now, at the least minute,
Eddings (through various character mouthpieces) tries to claim that the
decision is not actually between good and evil, but is somehow beyond
morality. No one believes this, including the narrator and the reader,
making all of the philosophizing a tedious exercise in page-turning. To
pull off a contention like that, the author has to lay some sort of
foundation to allow the reader to see the supposed villain in multiple
lights. Eddings does none of that, instead emphasizing how evil she is
at every opportunity.
On top of that, this supposed free choice on which the entire universe
rests and for which all of history was pointed depends on someone with
astonishing conflicts of interest. While the book is going on about how
carefully the prophecy is ensuring that everyone is in the right place
at the right time so that no side has an advantage, one side is
accruing an absurdly powerful advantage. And the characters don't even
seem to realize it!
The less said about the climax, the better. Unsurprisingly, it was
Also, while I am complaining, I could never get past how this entire
series starts off with and revolves around an incredibly traumatic and
ongoing event that has no impact whatsoever on the person to whom the
trauma happens. Other people are intermittently upset or sad, but not
only is that person not harmed, they act, at the end of this book, as
if the entire series had never happened.
There is one bright spot in this book, and ironically it's the one plot
element that Eddings didn't make blatantly obvious in advance and
therefore I don't want to spoil it. All I'll say is that one of the
companions the heroes pick up along the way turns out to be my favorite
character of the series, plays a significant role in the interpersonal
dynamics between the heroes, and steals every scene that she's in by
being more sensible than any of the other characters in the story. Her
story, and backstory, is emotional and moving and is the best part of
Otherwise, not only is the plot a mess and the story structure a
failure, but this is also Eddings at his most sexist and socially
conservative. There is an extended epilogue after the plot resolution
that serves primarily as a showcase of stereotypes: baffled men having
their habits and preferences rewritten by their wives, cast-iron gender
roles inside marriage, cringeworthy jokes, and of course loads and
loads of children because that obviously should be everyone's happily
ever after. All of this happens to the characters rather than being
planned or actively desired, continuing the theme of prophecy and lack
of agency, although of course they're all happy about it (shown mostly
via grumbling). One could write an entire academic paper on the tension
between this series and the concept of consent.
There were bits of the Malloreon that I enjoyed, but they were
generally in spite of the plot rather than because of it. I do like
several of Eddings's characters, and in places I liked the lack of
urgency and the sense of safety. But I think endings still have to
deliver some twist or punch or, at the very least, some clear need for
the protagonists to take an action other than stand in the right room
at the right time. Eddings probably tried to supply that (I can make a
few guesses about where), but it failed miserably for me, making this
the worst book of the series.
Unless like me you're revisiting this out of curiosity for your teenage
reading habits (and even then, consider not), avoid.
Rating: 3 out of 10
Russ Allbery (eagle at eyrie.org) <https://www.eyrie.org/~eagle/>
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