An Audio-book Review: A Tale Seven Thousand Years in the Making?

The Belgariad:

Pawn of Prophecy
Queen of Sorcery
Magician’s Gambit
Castle of Wizardry
Enchanters’ End Game

By David Eddings

Published by Books in Motion

Read by Cameron Beierle

The Stories:

I first became aware of this series when a friend slipped me some illegal coverless books. For those who may not know what I’m talking about, when a bookstore returns unsold paperbacks they do not send back the whole book. Instead they pay one of their employees to  rip off the front covers and those covers are sent back for credit. It’s cheaper and save the publisher on disposal costs. The bookstore is then supposed to have those coverless books destroyed, generally by tossing them in their local dumpster, but every once in a while a store manager allows his or her employees to take the books instead. This is not legal, but it happens.

Anyway, so I had copies of these books and started reading them and liked them enough that even before I was finished, I was ordering legal copies for myself. If you’re going to read a book, do it legally and also support the author who wrote it. Authors get no royalties from a coverless book. I used to consider this a sort of try, “before you buy” option, but these days you can read excerpts from just about anything on line. Also being an author myself, I think it would be terribly hypocritical to be reading coverless books.

Like I said, I quickly replaced my illegitimate copies with legit ones and continued reading. I enjoyed these stories; they were fun to read. Edding’s writing style is simple and avoids the verbal diarrhea some authors seem to feel it is their duty to subject their readers to.

They center on a young boy and the people around him. Very early on, you are hit by the sledge hammer of subtlety that young Garion is not just a simple farm boy, despite his upbringing. Just who and what he is, we learn gradually over the couple of books, but by the time we reach the big reveal, you pretty much have to have been blind not to see it was coming. After that one realizes that the rest of the story has already been summed up in the back story and that, like any true prophecy if such exist, it can only go one way. That it takes another two and a half books to get there, however, does bog the action down a fair bit. However, the characters are interesting enough and there are enough twists and turns to the story that you keep expecting to be surprised.

The main weakness of the series, in my mind if Eddings utter reliance on standard fantasy memes. Belgararth is the standard irascible ancient  wizard (Gandalf unfettered by a gaggle of hobbits and without a fancy script writer). Garion is the kid who knows nothing and therefore is perfect to ask all the dumb questions to inform the reader. Ce’Nedra is the Disney princess type who instantly falls in love with Garion and then spends every waking moment denying it, Silk is the stereotypical noble thief/spy/conman. Barak is this Viking warrior type, Mandorallen is the knight so noble he trips over himself at times, Hettar is the strong silent one and so forth. There really aren’t any truly original characters in any of the five books, but once again with them all mashed up together we wait for something new and original to happen.

About the only original thing I can remember from the series is the notion of the Prophecies of Light and Darkness being sentient characters in their own rights. It is a nice touch, but somehow there was something lacking there. The Least believable aspect was the scale of time involved. Ancient Belgarath  is supposedly seven thousand years old. That, I should mention is far older than all recorded history in the real world and yet his world is set in an improbable mishmash of medieval, ancient and perhaps Renaissance-like cultures. The explanation in a later book that all history is doomed to repeat itself until the differences between the two Prophecies are resolved just does not ring well. If human development is being held in a sort of stasis the whole world ought to be in the early Palaeolithic period.

Strangely, the stories are no surprise to the experienced reader and yet somehow I still enjoyed reading them. Well, I sometimes enjoy Disney animated movies too. The writing style is clean and in many ways this is a literary palate cleanser, so maybe that’s why. Or maybe this is just a story-telling technique for the current generation. It is not literary and the style will probably not stand the test of time well, but for now, at least, it is an easy and sometimes fun read.

The Recordings:

I think that Cameron Beierle’s readings saves these stories as audio books. In my first review, “Will Someone Please Shut the Hobbits Up?” I pointed out how we often skim over sections that can be long and boring or just not conducive to  dwelling on at times when you are more interested in the plot. I felt that way about many of the songs in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Most are fascinating to read on their own and certainly worthy of study should your interests go that way, but they frequently slow down the story telling process.

Consequently, the casual reader will skim past such sections to get to the meat of a story. If it’s a good story they will often go back and read it in more depth, but first you need a good story. Because of this, the long prologues with their pseudo-religious/mythic content were difficult to get past the first time in audio book format, whereas in normal reading, you can skim past and flip back to it later if you think you’re missing something.

Authors, beware! This is how some people read your books. If you put something vital in a long prologue they are likely to miss it, at least on first reading. On the other hand if your readers go back and read the story all over again, you have a winner.

The prologues of the books in The Belgariad have a lot of essential information in them, but the writing in them is a little dry in what I think was a successful attempt to  difference them from the main story by making them sound like something from another age. They are far more interesting after you know the basic story.

Mister Beierle’s readings, however, get the listener past these passages and into the more interesting main story. Also he reads very well, indeed. He clearly delineates each character from the rest and brings them to life in an easy-to-listen-to manner.

All in all, the stories, while seemingly derivative of the Fantasy genre in general, are written in an interesting  contemporary style with warmth and humor, bringing epic fantasy to a wider audience than many darker stories could. Cameron Beierle’s readings match the story and the characters wonderfully, so in spite of the flaws, these are still fun books.


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