Polgara the Sorceress
By David and Leigh Eddings
Published by Recorded Books for the Blind
Read by Roy Avers
Is it greed or laziness that leads an author or film-maker to produce prequels? They almost always fall short of the original and had the story been told correctly there really is no need to go back and tell the reader everything that happened leading up to the first story. What’s worse is that they frequently open up plot holes or become monuments to retcon (retroactive continuity) in the first place.
Sadly, Polgara the Sorceress and its immediate predecessor, Belgarath the Sorcerer, both fall into these traps. They are both written in the first person, which I will admit that, as a writer, can make story-telling an easier, faster flowing process, but when writing in the first person I think the author should be careful to establish a distinctive voice for their first person character. They should have distinctive speech mannerisms, – ways of saying things that are natural to them. They might not be entirely unlike anyone else, but the constant question when writing any dialogue ought to be, “Is this how this person would say this?” and a story told in the first person is, by definition, all dialogue.
Unfortunately, most of the Eddings’ character act and sound alike and no two are more closely alike than Belgarath and his daughter, Polgara, but that does not matter since all the characters have the same way of speaking in these two books, no matter who they are and where they come from, save for the formal and archaic Arends and also the god, Torak – he is pretty distinctive too. I will admit that there are further differences in the original series “The Belgariad,” and I think the books of that series are better written. Somehow as the stories progressed the writing sort of flat-lined and got a bit too informal at times.
Another problem with all the characters talking alike is that it kind of nullifies the authors’ claim that men and women think in entirely different ways. I am not sure I completely agree with them, but then I try to write a character as a person and worry about gender (and also gender alignments) later as I start to flesh the character out through their speech and actions. In the case of this book, Polgara goes on several times about the differences between how all men and all women think, but then goes on to be a near carbon-copy of her father. Sure, her magical abilities differ a bit, but when speaking or explaining how she feels, I just don’t see the difference.
And nothing is worse style, in my opinion, than having the character break the fourth wall and just suddenly turn and talk to the reader, which Polgara does frequently. She often claims to have done something and then turns to the audience and asks something like, “How gullible are you? Do you really think I am that sort of monster?” Well yes, at times I was forced to conclude she was, but not necessarily on those occasions. What bothered me even more in both books was when Belgarath and Polgara would snipe at each other and then say, “Got you that time, didn’t I?” It completely ruined the mood.
There were also several plot holes this book dug for itself, such as when Polgara reveal to Belgarath that the Crown of Sendaria is holding a vast amount of wealth in her name as the Duchess of Erat and yet in the first Book of the Malloreon, which takes place a century or three later, when he learns that it is obviously news to him. There are also a fair number of inconsistencies between this book and the main series as though the authors did not accurately remember what they had written.
All these issues are minor in and of themselves. It is only when taken as a whole that they made this a less than perfectly enjoyable experience. On the other hand, it was not completely terrible. I did enjoy the few bits and piece that were parts of the story that had not appeared previously and fans of the whole series will want to read this to fill in what they do not know, but be warned; there’s a lot of stuff that will be all too familiar.
I might not have found the story without flaws, but once again Roy Avers puts in a good performance. Last time I said his reading was best taken in small doses and while I felt that way as the beginning of the book as Mister Avers read in a rather stiff style, he loosened up quite a bit as he went on and the performance was actually better than in Belgarath the Sorcerer. In fact, he caused me more than a few “driveway moments,” in which I would sit in the car just to listen to a bit more. I don’t you can truly expect better than that. Are there better readers? Well, sure, but they weren’t reading this one and I don’t feel the need to listen to another’s recitation.
So, I have to grade the story as mediocre, but with a few interesting new details that, if reading, are worth skimming for unless you are an ardent fan. However, if you skim, you are likely to miss some of those interesting details, so, sure, go ahead and read or listen to the whole thing.