Sunday, April 14, 2019

Guardians of the West

Guardians of the West
by David Eddings
Recommended Ages: 13+

The first book of five in The Malloreon begins more or less where the five-book series The Belgariad left off. Belgarion, formerly just plain Garion, has grown from a farm boy tied to the apron strings of his Aunt Pol to a young man, powerful in sorcery, experienced in battle, wearing the crown of a kingdom and bearing a sword of destiny, with a powerful stone in its pommel. He knows a 7,000-year-old sorcerer as his Grandfather, has the voice of a prophecy living inside his head, and is married to a half-dryad imperial princess. And lest we forget, he has recently returned from a quest that culminated in his slaying of an evil god. So, a wee bit of happily ever after would seem to be in order. Naturally, it proves wee indeed.

Only a few years later, the courtiers of the kingdom of Riva are nervous about the fact that Garion and Ce’Nedra haven’t produced an heir yet. Their relationship is strained by the petty misunderstandings that can turn love from sweet to bitter. Their alliance with the neighboring Alorn kingdoms is strained by an assassination attempt against the queen. A cult is rising, devoted to an interpretation of ancient prophecy that emphasizes the racial purity of the Alorn royalty and their authority to crush and dominate all other kingdoms in the world. At least equally terrible is a leader of one of the Angarak nations, who is waging a war of extermination on one of his people’s historic allies, and who aims personally to fill the void left in his empire’s ancient religion by the slaying of their god. And then there’s the rumor of a prophecy opposing the one in Garion’s head – the prophecy that supports the ambitions of the Child of Darkness. Garion thought he had sent that one packing already, but it seems to come back with even nastier plans than before, and a new source of power equal to the stone in the pommel of Garion’s sword.

This book charts the beginning of Garion’s second major quest, in which he revisits the cultures, characters, battlefields and courts brimming with intrigue that he previously passed through in The Belgariad. This time, the stakes are somehow even higher than before, both on a cosmic level – I mean, we could be talking the end of all things, here – as well as personally. No longer a mere boy, Garion suffers the agony of returning from the battlefield too late to prevent his own child’s abduction. The search for that child, with many delays, becomes tied up in his quest to save the world. And in that quest, once again, he is accompanied by a diverse group of companions selected by destiny (or by whomever) for reasons beyond his knowing – including a spy, a mute, a sometime blacksmith who has stumbled upon sorcery, and a strange boy who seems just as likely as Garion to become the champion of the Light in adventures to come.

At the risk of some repetition, fantasy pioneer David Eddings takes opportunity in this series to re-explore the already richly developed world he created in The Belgariad, full of endearing characters, complex geopolitics, delicious dialogue and thrilling action. The magic, when it happens, wows. The emotions, when they stir, run warm. The adventure, in both its horizontal geography and its penetration into multiple vertical layers of reality, can be called epic without fear of challenge. The opportunity to enjoy another quest with the same world at stake provides a rare opportunity to experience a sense of comfortable familiarity at the same time as gripping tension and excitement. Seeing the same old characters and places again, but in a different light, provides an intriguing blend of old and new. And remembering what Garion was, when we first met him – a child bursting with raw promise – makes us care all the more about what he has become, is still becoming, and will go through in this new series.

The books following this are King of the Murgos, Demon Lord of Karanda, Sorceress of Darshiva and The Seeress of Kell. Eddings is also the author or co-author of the Elenium and Tamuli trilogies, several other companion books and stand-alone novels.

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