Classic Review is a feature where I pull a book that is over 20 years old from my collection and re-read it, then review it…
Reading Time: 6 hours
Pawn of Prophecy is the first book in the Belgariad, a series of five books that tells the story of a young boy named Garion. It opens with a sort of “history of the gods and the world”, in which the basis for the story will be set. From this we move to a narrative centered around Garion, a farm boy who lives with his Aunt Pol, and who is shadowed by a mysterious figure on horseback. When the eccentric Mr. Wolf shows up with some startling news, the quest to recover a stolen object begins. The story reveals that every one is not who they seem, including Garion, who is struggling to find his place in the world when he is uprooted from his home. Much has been written about this book…you can find reviews of the plot in many different places. I won’t re-hash the plot or provide spoilers here, but instead just give you some impressions of my re-read, and how it feels to revisit this book more than 20 years after I first read it.
This first book is, in my opinion, the worst of the series. For pages and pages, nothing really interesting happens. We are introduced to the characters and their personalities, and see some of the countryside as they travel, but significant events are few and far between. Only towards the end of the book does the pace and action pick up. A person who had never read this book before could be excused for thinking that this book is full of tropes and stereotypes, a “coming-of-age” tale, the sort I would later come to detest. If, however, you consider its release in 1982, around the same time as Magician: Apprentice by Raymond Feist, you must consider that these stories were the basis for creating the tropes, not followers of such. Had the Belgariad and Magician books not been so popular, and thus not so emulated, they would stand alone on their own merits as quaint and enjoyable romps.
Eddings does some things well in this opening book. His characters, while at times one-dimensional, are likable and consistent. They communicate well, and the dialog is crisp and snappy. His world breathes with different cultures, each with their own political motivations, rituals, and beliefs. Too many authors these days set their stories in one culture, with people who either believe in the culture or are at odds with it. Eddings tries to populate his world with multiple cultures and should be commended for the attempt. My favorite character here is Silk. Witty, whiny, sarcastic, an actor and a thief, Silk is a great character, kind of a precursor to The Fool in Robin Hobb’s Assassin Apprentice.
Now, as an adult, I freely admit that when I approached the book, I fully expected the charm and esteem I once held it for it might have rubbed off a little. There were so many coming-of-age stories released in the 80s and 90s that I grew sick of them and vowed not to read them anymore. However, with the current trend towards darker fiction, I found my way back to such stories through series like Hobb’s Assassin Apprentice, Delaney’s Spook’s Apprentice, and Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice series. What I have discovered is that between massive tomes of epic stories or dark volumes that are now popular, there is a place in my reading for light-hearted stories that are a nice diversion and quickly consumed. When I go back and read Pawn of Prophecy in this context, that it where the story shines. For despite its flaws, it has far more depth and consistency than many of the coming-of-age stories of today. I wonder if reading the series as an omnibus – as one complete story – might actually be better than individual novels.
So did the re-read work for me? From a nostalgic viewpoint, it did, but others won’t have that same experience. If you enjoy YA books, and can struggle through the first book, you will be rewarded with a series that gets a little better in each book. If you can’t get into YA, coming-of-age stories, or a slow plot that exists only to explore the lands and cultures of the author’s imagined world, you’ll want to avoid this. For me, it is a revisiting of my youth, a nostalgic reminder that once upon a time, I was not so critical a reader…