Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Pawn of Prophecy

by David Eddings


It's clear from the number of maps in Pawn of Prophecy that epic journeys will feature heavily in this story. And in case we don't already see the parallels with Tolkien, David Eddings introduces his world, the land of the Alorns and the Angaraks, with a ponderous creation myth. The prologue presents the various gods, and the story of the creation of the Orb of Aldur. It's a potted history that makes it very obvious how the story is likely to pan out.

The gist of the story is a holy war between followers of the jealous god, Torak, and everyone else. An immortal sorcerer named Belgarath is determined to protect the Orb, and to watch over a line of kings who are the only people pure enough to lay hands on it. If it falls into the hands of Torak it's the end of the road for everyone.

This prologue goes on for far too long, and it's full of ham archaic speech and fantasy clichés that would make even Tolkien cringe. "Horrible was the wrath of Kal-Torak", and so on. Thankfully the tone changes when we're introduced to Garion, a young boy who lives on a farm with his Aunt Pol. But Edding's world is still peopled with characters who are inclined to talk like hammy ancient bards unless someone stops them.

When we first meet Garion he's just 9, and on the surface an ordinary enough orphan boy. But this likeable kitchen boy has a strange birthmark on his hand, and he's shadowed by a murky stranger. Then an old storyteller going by the name of Old Wolf turns up and repeats the story of the gods, which is apparently "a kingly story, not usually wasted on ordinary people." It couldn't be any clearer who everyone really is if Eddings had given his characters crowns and pointy hats to wear. Pawn of Prophecy is an obvious fantasy full of stock characters, blatant clues and crude villains. However, because it sticks closely to a standard formula common to a lot of epic fantasy, it retains some of the appeal of the archetype.

The teenage Garion sets out on a journey in the company of his Aunt Pol, Old Wolf, the smith Durnik, and a few others they meet on the way. Pol and Old Wolf believe he's in some danger, and Pol in particular is very protective of the young man. But they aren't fleeing aimlessly. Old Wolf and Pol are in search of something or someone, although they judge Garion to be too young to share all that they know.

The journey has its moments, as their party goes from hiding in turnips to visiting a royal palace, all the while trying to avoid the treacherous Angarak people and their agents. The Angaraks stand for all that's bad, and even the names of some of their peoples (Thulls, Murgos, Nadraks, Grolims and Malloreans) manage to sound brutish and evil. Grolims engage in human sacrifice and mind control, so they're amongst the most feared of these groups.

All of these rather rough stereotypes thrown around in this tale wouldn't be so bad if the dialogue and characterisation made up for it. Unfortunately it's nothing special. Whilst Aunt Pol can be entertainingly sarcastic on occasion, and Garion has an endearing mixture of spirit and innocence, other characters just don't impress. Belgarath is like a pale imitation of Gandalf, and most of the other people are sketched too briefly for interesting facets of their personalities to emerge. And whilst the middle of this novel is pacy and full of adventure, the ending is bland and inconclusive. Pawn of Prophecy peters out rather than offering a big finale, leaving it to the rest of the Belgariad series to wrap almost everything up.

Book Details

Decade: 1980s

Categories: Books

  YA     Fantasy
  Male Protagonist  

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3 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson

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