The Diamond Throne
By David Eddings
Published by National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
Read by Jon Beryl
I was already a fan of David Eddings when this first was published in hardcover and I wasted no time in buying the book. I enjoyed reading it although I did not really like most of the characters. They seemed far too cliché. Almost every one of them was a fantasy meme or one flavor of the other, so I suppose that sketching them out did not take long. Whether it’s the honor-bound knight, his professional squire, the “King of Thieves” character who seems to have more influence than can be believed or the young pickpocket with a talent for drawing, there are no surprises. We know these people. We’ve seen them many times before. The story is a bit more promising and yet it too is a typical fantasy epic. Even the name of the series – “The Elenium” hints at aspirations of being likened to “The Iliad.” Well, that’s the Eddings’ style of series naming, I guess. I still enjoy it, but it’s not the Iliad by a long shot.
What saves this whole series from being yet another thud and blunder or stolid Conan style of sword and sorcery is the sense of humor behind the characters. They talk like normal people and are capable of joking. Sometimes they speak in something that sounds just a little too modern, but I catch myself doing that too, so maybe I should not complain over much.
In this story we meet Sir Sparhawk, the sworn defender of the throne of Elenia, who has been in exile for the last decade or so for reasons of political nature so they do not have to make sense. Frankly, I think a king’s champion who had found himself on the wrong side of the throne would have been more than merely exiled regardless of whose machinations set it up or how stupid the king was. At the very least the title should have been stripped from him.
Regardless, the former king has died of a mysterious disease and with his daughter now on the throne, Sir Sparhawk has returned to the capital city, Cimmura to find that the new queen has fallen ill from the same sickness but in order to preserve her life has been encased in a magical crystal or some sort. The problem is that she will only live as long as all of the twelve people who cast the spell live and they are dying at the rate of approximately one a month.
To complicate the matter, the corrupt local high priest is running for that world’s version of Pope and would prefer his own pawn was on the throne so he could buy enough votes with the kingdom treasury. It’s more than a bit murky and frequently I find myself wondering why the plots need to be as convoluted as they are, but I suppose Lex Parsimoniae is not a guiding philosophy on this world.
The entire volume serves to set up the rest of the story so that by the end of the running around, all Sparhawk and his company learn is that they need an “item of power” to cure the queen, who has been poisoned by something to which there is otherwise no cure. At the very end of the volume, Sparhawk confronts the dead king, who has suddenly become wise and all-knowing and who tells him that in order to save the queen Sparhawk will need the most powerful gem in the world; a sapphire called the Bhelliom, even though others have been cured with a lesser item of power. So it is never explained why only this one will do. It is also not explained why the dead king could not have told Sparhawk this several months earlier (I can think of a several good justifications, but it really is never mentioned) before he started wasting his time crossing half the continent. Furthermore, after all this other volunteered information, the dead king admits he isn’t allowed to say where it is and since no one else does either, you know it’s going to take at least one more very thick book to find it.
Jon Beryl puts in a passable performance reading this book. In some ways I am disappointed he did not try to make Sir Sparhawk sound like John Wayne. He always did in my mind. Instead of “Pilgrim” he calls everyone “Neighbor” and it takes very little imagination to hear the drawl in his voice. Then again I likely would have been very annoyed if he had done that and would have accused him of resorting to funny voices.
Instead, Mister Beryl puts in a solid, if not exciting reading of the story. His style does loosen up every so often so it is not bad, just not wonderful. Honestly this is a story that can be ruined by the wrong sort of reader and Jon Beryl is not that sort of reader. And yes, he is reading the story, not performing or narrating and that makes a difference too.
So you have the start of what could be a very good story (yes, I have read it through but I’ll leave my further comments for another time) and a solidly passable reading of it. If you can find a copy, go ahead and listen for yourself.