The Ruby Knight
By David Eddings
Published by National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
Read by Jon Beryl
This is the second book in a trilogy called “The Elenium,” which I suppose was supposed to make it sound like it should be ranked up with the Iliad and the Odyssey. This was actually typical of the Eddings’ first few series and it gave them concise and interesting names, and although I enjoyed reading them, timeless classics they were not.
The story was, in a way, a tribute to Murphy and his infamous law in that while Sparhawk and his oddly assorted team had a rather straight-forward quest; get a magical sapphire called the Bhelliom swop they could use it to cure Queen Ehlana of an otherwise incurable poison. They only have a few months left to cure her before everyone who cast a different spell that keeps her in a form of suspended animation dies and they know where they want to start looking. After only a few minor side trips they manage to get there and discover that their enemies have been there searching for centuries. They logically conclude that if it were there, it would have been found by now so it must be somewhere else. After raising a few ghosts (which includes a somewhat slapstick scene when they raise the ghost of a supernatural monster) they learn that the crown into which the magic sapphire was set (as well as the king who wore it) never arrived in the area he was thought to have died.
So they start asking every story-telling in several countries. This eventually leads them to a nobleman who has taken it on himself to compile all the folk tales of the war in which that king died. Before they can reach his castle though, one of their number contracts a contagious curse from a wandering minstrel to tells them the noble had done terrible things to his innocent sister. It turns out that the noble is a sad but good man, whose sister has embraced an evil god, gone mad, and been conducting cannibalistic rites in that god’s honor. Rather than killing her, they brick her up in her tower, to be fed through a slot for the rest of her life and in gratitude(?) the noble tells them what they want to know and off they go to find the magical gem.
The problem is, everyone has been watching them. The evil god who inspired the nobleman’s sister has been one of those looking for the gem and has sent a variety of minions out to retrieve it, included a large insect horror called a “Seeker” who is capable of taking over the minds of many people (and does so in a wholesale manner. Another observer turns out to be a troll who originally carved the Bhelliom. Well, they quickly narrow down the are a crown and gem must be and then decide they’ll be attacked if they try to retrieve it right away, so they ride away. That night the troll retrieves the gem (from servants of the dark god who find it first – so much for strategy, huh?) and starts making his way to the north with it. The knights rush off to stop him, but have trouble following the trail and soon run into two of the local kings and find themselves being conscripted into an army to drive invaders out of one of the southern realms and… well as you see, for every step forwards they seem to take two backwards and away from their goal.
Add to this the fact that they have two children (a young thief and a strange little girl who is obviously more than she seems) and a woman (who happens to be a powerful magician) in their company and the conscripting kings see no reason why they shouldn’t be included in the army (although it is obvious that this army is not equal opportunity). Anyway, they eventual get clear of the army and continue on as to how their quest turns out, well, I’m trying not to throw out too many spoilers. However, the story does anything but get straight to the heart of Sparhawk’s mission.
The climax of this volume, however, come suddenly and with no denouement. The story just suddenly stops moving on a literal cliffhanger, which was about as satisfying as the cliffhangers in the old serials. The rest of the story so far (including book one was entertaining although it seemed stretched out as though the whole tale should have filled only one book (maybe two counting the third book in the trilogy). The characters are okay, but they are not all well-drawn and most sound like echoes of each other. They all have the same sardonic sense of humor and off-handed speech mannerisms, so while the story is pretty good, it could have been enhanced to excellent with a more diverse set of characters.
Jon Beryl again puts in a good solid performance once again. There is no particular sparkle to the performance, but neither is it sub-par in any way. I would rather listen to him than any of those readers who try funny voices and fail. He does vary his voice slightly from character to character, so you can tell if the speaker is male or female and I suspect that if the characters did not all speak alike, Mister beryl would have had an easier time making them sound different as well