Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Magician's Gambit

by David Eddings


By the third book in The Belgariad, certain patterns are beginning to emerge in this sprawling fantasy series. Firstly, there's the usual creation story in the prologue, introducing an aspect of the history of the gods. In this case we're told about Ul, the reluctant god of a race of cave-dwelling people, as well as all of the monsters that the other gods rejected because they were too unattractive.

Eddings' world is littered with gods, with more or less one for each country. They turn up in various states of repair and sanity. The group of questers occasionally run into them, just as though they are notable monuments on a sightseeing tour. Indeed, a tour is exactly what the author seems to want to give readers. His characters travel up and down the lands, taking the scenic route whenever possible. In theory they are on the trail of a magic orb and preparing to fulfil a certain prophecy, yet more often than not this just seems like an excuse to introduce more novelty creatures in increasingly fantastic environments.

Some of the story is told from the point of view of the young, spoilt and none too bright Princess Ce'Nedra. She takes her time when it comes to figuring out what is going on around her, and this includes her slow recognition that Garion is more than a mere farm boy. Her growing affection for him is obvious to everyone but herself. Soon enough her obtuse nature gets tedious, however, and you end up wanting to hear the story from someone a bit more switched-on.

As in the first two books, the party of adventurers hurtle from place to place, constantly pursued by various followers of the evil god Torak. Two conflicting prophecies are due to converge, and Belgarath and Polgara are determined to save the world by ensuring that the right one will come true. So far we haven't heard many specifics other than who is supposed to be involved in them, so there's a sense that Eddings has been making things up as he goes along. For a novel that's so concerned with prophecy, there's a lot less foreshadowing than you might expect.

The villains of Magician's Gambit are disappointingly one-dimensional. Everything from their table manners to their choice of abode serves to emphasise their badness. Take, for instance, this description of the enemy fortress Barad-dûr Rak Cthol:

"It perched, brooding, atop its peak, looking out over the savage wasteland of sand, rock, and sulfur-reeking bogs that encircled it."

This really isn't the kind of adventure that's big on subtlety, or characters with shades of grey when it comes to morality, or toned-down settings. Instead David Eddings treats readers to more of the same kind of action as he offered in the first two instalments of the series. Only by now, the formula is starting to wear thin. Ce'Nedra comes across as a little drippy, whilst most of the other characters are far too true to traditional stock types to be interesting. This episode of The Belgariad smacks of a filler novel. It's as though Eddings was merely going through the motions, and the end result is a joyless and tired story.

Book Details

Decade: 1980s

Categories: Books

  Male Protagonist  

If you like this, try:

Prophecy cover    

Prophecy by Elizabeth Haydon
The second book in the Rhapsody series.


Myrren's Gift by Fiona McIntosh
The first novel in the Quickening series finds a young general given a strange gift by a woman condemned for witchcraft.

2 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson

Read more about David Eddings