When I was a youth, 99% of what I read was fantasy and science fiction. We didn't have the most money, so any such book that came into the house, I'd read over and over for years. In this occasional series, I take up some of those old and treasured titles and give them a read after fifteen or twenty years to see how I feel about them now.
Oh, lord. This thing. Well.
I read the Belgariad by David Eddings--all five volumes--over the span of probably a week, maybe even a couple days less than that, when I was in 8th grade. My mother had found the whole thing in some supermarket, all five books (which strikes me as very strange, but the book rack in supermarkets was a different place back in the day I guess). I didn't just read these books, I devoured them with a frenzy that has seldom been equaled. There was something about them: the giant prophetic nature of them, the boy hero barely older than I was, the absolute coolness of some of the characters, the vast and sprawling world.
As with all books in those days, I reread them many a time, probably at least half a dozen. Eddings wrote a bunch more books in several more series, but essentially all of them were the exact same story told again with diminishing returns: The Mallorean (and doesn't that sound like an apartment building?), the Elenium (again, apartments, a little nicer maybe?), the Tamuli (did you try that new Tamuli restaurant?). Later books were tacked on prequels to these various series, until finally late in life he tried a couple new things and had less success with them.
One other curiosity is that those later books listed his wife Leigh as co-author, which would eventually be revealed to have been the case on every single book he wrote. Why it took more than two decades to get her the credit is unclear to me, but better late than never, one supposes.
All right, so I've laid out that I loved the hell out of these books, and read them plenty of times. But compared to my last two rereads (here and here) it's been longer since I picked up Pawn of Prophecy, and my fondness for it was rather less. Having gotten it from the library, I flipped open the cover and dove right in.
Wow. Did I actually love this book? Did I even like it? Well, obviously I did. I can even remember talking about it with my friends Ben and Jeff at my middle school, which was not often done, discussing books, so that's saying something. Let me say something else: Pawn of Prophecy does not hold up well. It's very clear to me why, as a thirteen year old boy, I loved these books. There's a lot of shit going on, and there's mysterious badasses, and there's a hero who's fourteen for most of the book, which is pretty much my age when I read them, so that's cool, right?
Except for all the problems. One, the writing. It's workmanlike, I suppose; it moves along briskly, that's for sure. But there's so many adverbs. And so much repetition of characteristics. How many times must characters call one another "old friend"? And how often must a national trait be referenced (I'm giving you the side eye too, Robert Jordan)? And then there's the characters themselves, each one more ridiculous than the last: the all powerful, all wise, yet still crotchety old wizard; the beautiful, short tempered sorceress; the gigantic were bear nordic warrior; the too-clever thief/spy/acrobat/merchant/did I mention spy (Silk, who I remember really, really loving, and who now just comes off as too much, entirely too much); the villainous villains who are entirely one dimensional; and the boy hero who is always, always, always in just the right place at just the right time to spot a sneaky double agent, or overhear a conversation, or overhear a sneaky double agents conversation with a villainous villain. That last thing happens something like a dozen times in the book, and note, it happens when every other character in the entire book is supposed to be keeping an eye on the kid, all the time. Despite this, our Garion is able to be alone to catch crooks and find out important information every day or two.
It's all too much. Ridiculous. Outlandishly unrealistic even for a fantasy novel.
I'd like to say that I wanted to keep reading it. I'd like to say I found it entertaining still beyond the faint nostalgia value it possesses. But that's not true. I have little to no interest in picking up books 2-5, or any of the scads of related titles, and while I think I could still recommend the books to teenagers, I'd hesitate even to do that when there's so much better stuff out there. This was a bit of a dud, taken all in all, and I'm frankly a little embarrassed in retrospect to consider how much I liked Pawn of Prophecy and the rest of them, twenty five years ago.