Monday, May 8, 2017

Enchanters' End Game

Enchanters' End Game
by David Eddings
Recommended Ages: 12+

In the fifth and final book of "The Belgariad," a young king named Belgarion (just Garion to his friends) and his betrothed queen Ce'Nedra (you can call her, like, Ce'Nedra) make an interesting detour on the way to getting married. Actually the detour started in the previous book, Castle of Wizardry, when Garion and two companions sneaked out of their royal castle at the western end of civilization and began a long, perilous journey all the way to the eastern end. Armed with a sword that has an orb juiced up by the good god Aldur in its pommel, and propelled by a prophecy that says he must, Garion is heading toward the ruined city of Cthol Mishrak, where the evil god Torak lies maimed and comatose, awaiting a confrontation in which one of them must die. Meanwhile, Ce'Nedra has gathered up an army from all the nations of the west, and is starting a war with the eastern nations, where Torak is worshiped with horrible sacrifices. She's basically trying to distract the Angaraks (those eastern folks) from what Garion is up to. But the prophecy has a plan for her, too, and three of the people with her, ensuring all the people who need to be present when Torak awakes will do what they have to do so that the right prophecy comes true.

You see, destiny has been divided since Torak used Aldur's orb to split the world in two. His followers, the priest-wizard caste known as Grolims, are following a parallel prophecy that ends quite differently. They have committed themselves to making it come true on a really ghastly scale, enduring such things as a city of steel towers melting into puddles of rust under a huge, unmoving cloud that keeps them in permanent night. Some of them have even accepted transformation into non-human beasts, guarding the city of endless night with vicious brutality. You would think being a sorcerer, as are both Garion and his "grandfather," the eternal man Belgarath, would be an advantage, but no: sorcery makes noise that the Grolims can hear, and they can't risk anything that would lead the enemy to them. If they get caught, if the crisis that will unite two destinies into one tips the wrong way, Garion's beloved Aunt Pol will become the love-slave of a being full of hatred and deception. Half the universe will be destroyed, and the other half enslaved to Torak's will. And that's the nice part.

At her end of the double adventure, Ce'Nedra struggles to cope with the responsibility for a war that is killing more of her soldiers than she expected. She must face a Mallorean king who, like Voldemort of Harry Potter fame, believes in nothing but power - gaining it and using it. Aunt Pol is in for a heartbreaking loss and a temptation over which the fate of worlds will pivot. And many of the other characters who have been Garion's companions since Book 1 will come up against death, love, and other terrible forces.

The overall shape of this story will ring familiar to those, like me, who are fans of fantasy, myth, legend, and folklore. The details are what make it a special book: dialogue that sparks, characters who breathe, settings that overwhelm the mind's senses, and a grimly accelerating pace of action and tension. This is the book in which, for example, David Eddings conjures up a full-blown war. But it isn't all serious, either. It's funny, romantic, at times deeply sad, and at certain moments, just plain mindblowingly powerful. The image of a 7,000-year-old sorcerer raising his arms and crying, "It is finished!" is one that will probably stick with me. The narrative conceit of compressing a long series of anticlimactic events into scenes in a half-memory, half-dream is one I'll be tempted to steal, if I can think of a way to conceal the theft. And now that I've witnessed the almost completely satisfying resolution of The Belgariad, I'm on the hook to read the five-book sequel series known as The Malloreon, starting with Guardians of the West.

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