Friday, October 26, 2012

The Belgariad [5] Enchanter's End Game

This is Part 5 of my retrospective for The Belgariad and The Malloreon. Please see this blog post for an overview of the retrospective. Warning: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE SERIES, AS IN BOTH THE BELGARIAD AND THE MALLOREON.  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

The best way to approach these blogs is via your own re-read. If you have not read the entire series yet and plan on doing so, you may want to wait on reading this.




Book 5: Enchanter's End Game (1984)
The final book of The Belgariad, we bring the two main storylines to conclusion.  Garion is still skulking his way across the Angarak kingdoms towards Cthol Mishrak to confront the god Torak, and Ce'Nedra and company are leading the armies of the West into Mishrak ac Thull to distract the armies of the Murgos and Malloreans.  For the conclusion of a five volume series, you'd think it would be exciting... however, much of the book is filler.

General Thoughts
This book provides the ending we've all been expecting (Garion killing Torak, we're all saved, happy ending yay), but it takes a while to get there.  Because there's not a lot for Garion to actually do (travel across mostly barren countryside in hiding and then fight Torak), the bulk of the book ends up following Ce'Nedra's storyline (and some of the Western rulers that were left behind to manage the kingdoms while the Kings are at war).

This makes for a book that starts out well, drags a bit in the middle, then ends excitingly.  When you get to the end you're truly sad to see these characters go; they are fun and personable, and their banter has rubbed off on you.  At least it did for me.  They aren't the most complex fantasy characters - but they don't need to be for the reader to care about them.  I think that's Eddings' greatest achievement with the series: as much as the world building seems lacking and plot elements are cliche, you still care about the characters.

Except for a few that are basically pointless.  Like Lelldorin.  He is mentioned in prophecy as the Archer, but ends up being worthless on top of stupid.  What does he do?  Gets hurt in Book 2 and disappears until Book 4, continues to be stupid, then goes with Ce'Nedra to fight like everyone else in Book 5.  Never really liked this character.  A bad version of Legolas from Lord of the Rings.

Lelldorin, being an idiot as usual.  Garion, wondering "Why me?" as usual.
If you are the owner of this picture, let me know so I can credit you, please.

This time I think I'll do the blog backwards: cover, maps and kingdoms first, then discuss different parts of the ending.

The Cover
The cover here is alright, though once again there is a massive spoiler on the cover (Polgara covering a dead Durnik) that those who have been paying mild attention to the prophecies in the series will immediately get.  She doesn't actually cover him like that in the story, but I suppose they were trying to hide his identity.  It would have been nice to see him, though.


We have the map of Mallorea, where the confrontation between Garion and Torak will be, as well as Garion and Belgarath looking travel-worn and weary, wearing the requisite furs from their journey across cold Gar og Nadrak and Mallorea.  Belgarath shouldn't have a long-ass beard, should he?  Pretty sure he's not described with one.

The silhouette here is another mask - this time Torak's, with the burning eye of fire (Sauron, anyone?).  However... the mask is supposed to just be one side of the face (the side that is disfigured).  So Schwinger messed up there.  Tsk tsk.

There are some other alternate covers of the series, but most are blah or not worth posting.  One set is comprised of landscapes that almost look like they were drawn for something else and just reused for The Belgariad because it was close enough.  However, I did find a few good covers for Enchanter's End Game - ones worthy enough to share.

The one on the left is very cool, I especially like the interpretation of Torak.  Even though he's described as handsome, I've always pictured him as dark and scary.  The one on the right is pretty much a copy of other young adult book covers out these days, colorful and catchy like those of Christopher Paolini or Rick Riordan novels.

Gar og Nadrak
This kingdom is home to one of the five Angarak tribes, the Nadraks.  They are by far the most likable of any of the Angaraks, almost akin to the Drasnians in their penchant for trade, money and information.  They have little love for Torak and the Grolims and later make for allies in the fight against the Murgos and Malloreans.


Garion, Belgarath and Silk travel through mining and fur trapping communities, are briefly captured by Mallorean army recruiters, then are captured by a Nadrak trader and taken to... none other than the Nadrak King, Drosta.  The Ruler Streak lives!

The last part of this section deals with the party traveling across Morindland, a tundra-like waste far to the north.  This is actually a really cool section, as the Morind worship and summon demons, and the people are somewhat savage, making for an interesting diversion from the norm and which sets up some background for more demon fun in The Malloreon.

Mishrak ac Thull
And finally, we visit the last kingdom in the western continent.  Home of the Thulls, the idiot tribe of the Angaraks, this country is mostly hills and farmland once you get out of the mountains on the western border.  Thulls are belittled throughout the series, considered stupid and good for nothing but manual labor and potential Grolim sacrifices.  Thullish women are constantly pregnant since Grolims will not sacrifice pregnant women.  This results is a proliferation of lackwit Thulls.


Anyway, Garion does not visit this country.  Ce'Nedra and the armies of the West do.  They end up in a big battle they weren't planning on and Ce'Nedra and company get captured by Malloreans and taken to their Emperor, 'Zakath.  Some minor, 1D characters die in the fighting and we're a little sad.

As for the Ruler Streak... Garion does not meet King Gethell, but Ce'Nedra does.  So it kinda ends here?  Crap.  Although Ce'Nedra is acting in Garion's stead as Overlord of the West.  Still, he does appear on screen, which is the most important thing.

On a side note - why such a "stupid" people are allowed to govern and maintain a large nation never made much sense to me.  You'd think the Angarak rulers would just take it over and use Thulls as slaves throughout Angarak, rather than letting them have their own huge country.  *shrug*

Another side note - what's with the "og" and "ac" in the country names?  Never understood that.  It sounds cool, I guess, but it's like apostrophes sometimes (i.e. the one in 'Zakath, which we learn later actually stands for "Kal")... they look exotic but are generally pointless and a fantasy cliche at this point.

The Portage over the Eastern Escarpment
Before we move on to the last kingdom, I wanted to talk about this separately, as I've always felt it was a little ridiculous.

Part of the Western armies' plan involves portage of the massive Cherek warships across the Eastern Escarpment - a huge cliff that comprises the eastern border of Algaria.  They plan to sail the ships down the River Aldur as far as they can go, then cart them across leagues of grassland, then up and over the escarpment using sophisticated pulley systems created by the Drasnians, then cart them again over leagues of mountainous western Mishrak ac Thull until they get to the River Mardu, whereupon they can sail into the Sea of the East and start having fun sinking Mallorean ships.

Really?  Weren't not talking about canoes here, these are huge ships that have a crew of at least a hundred.

Here's a real portage

It has always struck me as ridiculous and implausible.  These people are not that advanced and practice little science.  There is not a lot of detail on how they do this, it just kind of happens in the background, with some clever suggestions by Durnik.  It's true that the Angaraks would not expect such a bold and daring move - yet all the same, the ease with which it's pulled off has always been one of my little gripes with the realism of the series.  Maybe it's just me.

Mallorea
Ah, boundless Mallorea, as they refer to it sometimes.  Mallorea is much larger than what is shown here, as we'll learn in The Malloreon.  Here we only see the barren northwestern portion, where Torak's dead city of Cthol Mishrak lies.  All the major characters conveniently meet up there, as 'Zakath turns Ce'Nedra and the others over to the Grolims, who bring them across the sea to Zedar the Apostate, guardian of Torak's body, in Cthol Mishrak.


Other than the fight with Torak, the only interesting thing that happens here is Garion, Belgarath and Silk being chased by the Hounds of Torak, Grolims who were transformed into giant hounds and left to guard Cthol Mishrak.

The Ruler Streak kind of came crashing down in the last kingdom, but Ce'Nedra does meet the Emperor of Mallorea, 'Zakath, so... whatever.

Garion vs. Torak
And now we come to it... the final confrontation, what we've been building up to for... a book and a half.  When you read it for the first time, you might be a little disappointed.  Thousands of years of prophecy for a mere sword fight?  It's like when I first saw The Matrix (and Roger Ebert summed up my thoughts on that movie more succinctly) - when Neo learned who he was, it all came down to a little fist fight with Agent Smith.  In the context of the story it just didn't fit for me, but I can understand why they did it.

Same for here... only it's not about a sword fight, which is good.  It's about rejection.  The first is from Polgara, who has to resist him somehow.  She is able to do this because of Durnik's death and the realization of her love for him.  The second is from Garion, who shows him how no one, not even his Angarak people nor his parents (UL and the Universe) love him.  With the realization that he is utterly alone, this allows him to grow sloppy, providing the opening for Garion to kill him with the Orb-flamed sword of the Rivan King.

And so the God who never should have been dies, and the mistake was corrected... or as we find out, not just yet.

I stumbled across a blog by Zach Alexander with some decent fan art / character designs. Below are Garion and Torak, by far the best ones I've seen (although I think Garion looks like Joffrey in the Game of Thrones HBO series). Check the link here for more (Silk, Barak, Ce'Nedra).



Durnik and Polgara
This is probably my favorite part of the series.  Not because Durnik has to die (we know he's coming back, he's The Man With Two Lives, remember?), but because their love is finally realized.  Durnik has always loved Polgara, but they could never be.  He is a mortal, not a sorcerer - the union could not last.  And Polgara has never had a normal life or love, and she's spent centuries sacrificing herself to ensure Garion came into being.  So to finally see them both get what they want - it's heartwarming.

And even though you know Durnik will be back, the anguish Polgara shows when he dies is very touching.  It's a completely different Polgara than we've seen.  We already know about Belgarath's grief over his wife, Poledra, and he felt more human than Polgara throughout most of the series.  She doesn't get too emotionally attached to people outside the sorcerer's circle since she knows she will outlive them.

Then later, when we discover that Durnik was given the Will and the Word after his resurrection rather than Polgara having hers removed... very nice moment.  I immediately wondered if he was going to be called Beldurnik, like the other "good" male sorcerers.  As we find out in The Malloreon, that doesn't happen.  Which is good, because I think it sounds awkward.

Also found some fan art of Durnik and Polgara by an artist named Oboe.  There are some others there too; Ce'Nedra, Barak and Mandorallen.  Durnik is so plain and unassuming you probably wouldn't even know it was him unless I said so... the portrait could be of any normal person.  Polgara, of course, is easily recognizable with her distinctive white lock of hair.


What's Next?
I'm sure Eddings did not have The Malloreon planned when he wrote The Belgariad, based on the way some characters act and what they say (referring to Garion vs. Torak as the final confrontation).  The great success of the first series surely prompted Lester Del Rey to ask Eddings for a sequel of some sort.

So... we're not done just yet with Garion and Friends.  Another meeting of the Child of Light and Child of Dark is in the works.  This time to completely fix the mistake that was the birth of Torak.

In the next series, The Malloreon, our heroes travel the breadth and width of the eastern continent, Mallorea, giving us a whirlwind tour of the rest of Eddings' world.  There will be more maps and more peoples to discuss, many of them godless, and many new friends and allies.  I actually like the sequel series better than The Belgariad, which to me is now just an extended prologue, a setup for the much better sequel.  The Malloreon is more adult in focus and more entertaining in general, in my opinion, since Garion is an adult now - much the way the second half of the Harry Potter series is so much better than the first half because Harry is older and has more serious adventures.

Next:

The Malloreon
Book 1 - Guardians of the West

Previous:

The Belgariad
Book 4 - Castle of Wizardry
Book 3 - Magician's Gambit
Book 2 - Queen of Sorcery
Book 1 - Pawn of Prophecy

All maps by Shelly Shapiro

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Hope of Memory [Update 8] Chapter Names

I'm over halfway through the second book of The Hope of Memory, entitled Wilders.  The book is split into two distinct parts just like the first one is, but I can't really say more than that without spoiling the story.  The first ran a little long and probably ended up around 100K words - 10K over my goal of 90K.  But that's okay, I should be able to trim it down a bit in the next revision.

I'm on the fourth chapter of part two, chapter 23 of a planned 38 in total.  So it's coming along, though I've been working on an iPad app the last few months, which has been taking up some of my time.  But I try to write at least a few pages each day, aiming for four pages a day at minimum.  I usually don't have a problem writing at least something - I force myself to write if necessary and will just revise it later if I don't like it.

Chapter Names
In this trilogy I'm using chapter names, unlike Bonebearer, where I just had numbers.  Coming up with interesting but cryptic titles can be tough... you want to make the reader wonder what the title means and want to read the chapter - without giving the next plot point away.  You don't want them to figure out the story just by looking at the list of chapter names.

With the first book, The Distant, I added the chapter names later, after the 2nd draft of the book.  With Wilders, I'm adding them as I go along, usually taking a phrase out of the text itself.  There are a few that might be too revealing, but they fit very well and generally I'll leave those if it's obvious what's going to happen.  For The Distant, though, I'm probably going to redo some of the titles.  Too many are generic. 

Something I found interesting in recent years about The Wheel of Time: Robert Jordan did not create his chapter names.  His editor (and wife, Harriet McDougall), added the chapter names later.  I wonder what Jordan thought of them.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Belgariad [4] Castle of Wizardry

This is Part 4 of my retrospective for The Belgariad and The Malloreon. Please see this blog post for an overview of the retrospective. Warning: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE SERIES, AS IN BOTH THE BELGARIAD AND THE MALLOREON.  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

The best way to approach these blogs is via your own re-read. If you have not read the entire series yet and plan on doing so, you may want to wait on reading this.





Book 4: Castle of Wizardry (1984)
I like to call this book the "Book of Alorn."  That's because it's completely centered on the Kingdoms of Aloria and it's current purpose in the world (protection of the Orb and the West).  We visit three of the four Alorn Kingdoms, discover who Garion really is (as if we didn't already know) and learn that he has to undertake a new, more dangerous quest.  The story also splits into two storylines, providing more of an epic feel.

General Thoughts
I like this book the best out of The Belgariad, for a few reasons.  One is the recurring themes of home, belonging and finding your purpose, which I'll talk about more later.  Many characters suddenly realize their place / purpose in the world, and that's always something that I've gravitated towards in books and film.

The other reason is that the story expands, and it's not just told from Garion's viewpoint anymore, but from both Garion and Ce'Nedra's viewpoint.  The last section of the book is entirely Ce'Nedra's, and it's a welcome change of pace and provides a dimension to the story that previous volumes were lacking.  While there's nothing wrong with seeing things through Garion's eyes, his "why me?" attitude and innocence about the world does get old after a while.  Ce'Nedra, on the other hand, loves to be the center of attention.

In terms of the title - Castle of Wizardry - I feel it's the most poorly-named of all of the books.  I guess it's refering to the castle in Riva?  Except that Garion is not a wizard.  He's a sorcerer.  And there's nothing wizardly about the castle.  It's never made any sense to me and is one of those generic, throwaway fantasy titles that doesn't really mean anything.  (Like Knife of Dreams from The Wheel of Time.)  Surely Eddings could have come up with a more apt name, though I know the titles are chess-themed, since it's supposed to be part of this cosmic chess match between the two Prophecies.

What sucks is now when you search for "castle of wizardry" images in Google, after a page or so you mostly get Hogwarts references.

The new Castle of Wizardry: Hogwarts.
Credit: Universal Orlando Resort

Prologue
As I mention in the blog for Magician's Gambit, Eddings makes good use of each prologue to impart critical history that the reader will need for the coming volume.  This time we have an account of the murder of the Rivan King by Nyissa.  This is important because obviously, taking Garion and the Orb to Riva is going to reinstate the line of Rivan Kings long thought dead.

The whole hiding of the Rivan King's family is addressed in much greater detail in the Polgara the Sorceress memoir.  Polgara is reluctantly forced to keep watch over the Rivan line, moving them around for hundreds of years.  Only one male child is born in each generation (prophecy, I guess), and they lived and died in obscurity, each knowing that they were the Rivan King, but unable to do anything about it.  That would kind of suck, if you ask me... but at least they knew their purpose in life was to keep the line going, that in the end they would make a difference.

Family
Continuing on that, one of the main focuses of this volume is family.  When Garion discovers that Adara, a girl he meets in Algaria, is his cousin, he no longer feels orphaned or so alone in the world.  A relative of his own generation is very important to him, compared to one like Polgara or Belgarath - both of whom he is technically related to, though generations upon generations removed.

This theme continues with some of the other characters.  Barak and Merel reconcile due to the birth of his first son.  They are finally the family that Barak wanted.  Relg and Taiba frequently share each other's company, both finding something in a human bond that they never thought they would find.

Finding Your Place
Along with the theme of family, there's the theme of "finding your place."  In other words, what is your purpose?  Everyone probably asks themselves at some point, "Why am I here? What is my purpose in life?" Knowing that can be very fulfilling for some people.

And even though we knew it, Garion didn't, and when he finally takes the Orb in Riva and is crowned king, he learns what his place in the world is.  He finds home - Riva - and a new family in the Rivan people.  This was what he was born for.

Of course, learning this comes with the price of having to go fight the god Torak, which Garion decides to undertake in secrecy.  But his departure provides Ce'Nedra with a new purpose as the incumbent Rivan Queen.  She decides to help gather the forces of the West and be their figurehead, so they can distract the Angaraks while Garion, Belgarath and Silk sneak into Mallorea to meet Torak.

The Cover
As much as I like this volume, I'm not a fan of the cover.  Even though it's the same arist, Laurence Schwinger, Garion looks kind of weird here.  What he's doing is also a massive spoiler, but of course you knew who he was from the beginning (and if you didn't, there's no hope for you, sorry).


Ce'Nedra looks fine, and it's nice that Schwinger paid attention to the details once again, like the armor with the breast forms (which makes for a somewhat amusing exchange between Ce'Nedra and an armorer).  The map in the background shows Riva, the Isle of the Winds (of course), and the silhouette this time is a crown.  Gee, I wonder what that means?

Gibberish Prophecies
Throughout the series they frequently mention how the prophecies they follow are "gibberish" and make no sense, and how Belgarath and the others have looked at them forward, backward and sideways over the millenia, yet still have no clue what some of them mean.  Some line of prophecy is quoted in the book and some other character is like, "Phaw, absolute gibberish, that doesn't mean anything."

Really?  In The Belgariad - where nothing's really a secret to the reader - none of the prophecy reads as gibberish to me.  My reaction is, "seriously, you can't understand what it means?"  I always find it amusing.  Take this exchange, near the end of Castle of Wizardry, when Polgara is telling Ce'Nedra what the prophecy says about her, after she's been speaking to crowds and gathering armies for the West (chapter 26, pg. 343 of the paperback version):
Polgara ran her eyes down the crackling parchment.  "Here is it," she said, lifting the scroll into the candlelight.  "'And the voice of the Bride of Light shall be heard in the kingdoms of the world,'" she read, "'and her words shall be as fire in dry grass, that the multitudes shall rise up to go forth under the blaze of her banner.'"
"That doesn't mean anything at all, Lady Polgara," Ce'Nedra objected.  "It's absolute gibberish."
I don't know about you, but that's not "absolute gibberish," and it makes the characters sound dumb when they say that - especially when someone like Belgarath says it.  Gibberish should have no actual meaning to it, whereas here it's perfectly obvious what it means, even if you haven't even read this book.  Whether you know what/who the Bride of Light is is irrelevant to understanding.  A true gibberish version of the prophecy above would be something like this:

"And the Light Bride hearing far the world voice, fire words over grass, a multitude banner rise forth from blazing kingdoms."
Now that would be gibberish to the reader.  Usually gibberish is reserved for bad poetry.  Which I suppose prophecy kind of is.  But Eddings's prophecies are kind of weak, if you ask me.

Algaria
It's somewhat interesting that a book with themes of family and finding your place take place in countries that are very bleak, empty and desolate.  Algaria is the first of the three we visit in Castle of Wizardry.

Algaria is where our heroes escape to after recovering the Orb in Cthol Murgos.  It's a huge country, mostly grassland, and the Algars are nomadic. The Vale of Aldur (from the last book, Magician's Gambit) comprises its southern tip.  They have only two permanent cities: the Stronghold, a huge stone fortress near the Vale; and Aldurford, up by the Fens (which we visit later).


We don't do much in Algaria.  The group reunites with Hettar, our Horse Lord,  meet up with King Cho-Hag and travel to the Stronghold.  There Garion meets his cousin, Adara, the first "real" family he has found.  He also meets King Cho-Hag, keeping the Ruler Streak going - but then, he already met all the Alorn Kings in Pawn of Prophecy.  Still, it's good to see them in their own country.

Riva
Riva only came about as a nation because the Alorns needed somewhere to keep the Orb safe.  It consists of a single fortress city on the Isle of the Winds, a bleak, forboding place in the western ocean, mostly mountainous with some pasturelands.  We don't go any place other than the city in this book, though, so it doesn't really matter.

Lots o' water, not much land.

Garion has suddenly found himself the ruler of this small country, now that he has come into his inheritance.  He discusses war with the Alorn and Sendarian kings, learns that he has little privacy anymore and that he is to marry Princess Ce'Nedra - something she is pissed about because he will outrank her.  Lots of drama, not a lot of action - until Garion learns what he must do: fight the God Torak.

Since Garion himself is the ruler of this country, the Ruler Streak lives!  If you don't think that counts, well... he meets Brand, the Rivan Warder, a position that has ruled in Riva ever since the Nyissans killed the Rivan King and Polgara hid the heir.  So there.

Drasnia
Like Algaria, our stay in Drasnia is rather brief and forgetful.  Garion, Belgarath and Silk have snuck away from Riva and are cutting through Drasnia on the way to Mallorea.  It's a very short section (60 pages) and there's not really much to see or do here.  Now we understand why Silk hates his homeland so much.  There are marshes and moors and a whole lot of nothing in Drasnia.  The map only shows one city, Boktor.  Yawn.

We do spend some time in the marshes / fens in the southwest, where our small party is stuck in a swamp and need "help" to get out.  Help = witch woman Vordai who will ensure they stay lost until they give her creature friends (fenlings, I guess they're kind of like squat sea lions or something?) the ability to speak human words.  Nevermind that Belgarath and Garion are sorcerers and can just open a path and leave rather than waste time.  Garion even mentions this to Belgarath, but he said they had to - prophecy required it of them.

Booooring.

That's about it.  They are briefly stopped in the capital, but tell the Queen there to leave them alone (Polgara has been trying to bring them back to Riva after they snuck off) and eventually continue on.  I'm keeping the Ruler Streak alive here because Garion has met King Rhodar a couple of times now, and he does see the Queen while in Boktor - who is ruling in his stead.  So it counts, I don't care what you say.

You do learn a little more about Silk's past - how he's got a crush on his aunt, the Queen, and about his mother - but it's not that important to Garion's story.  He is the trickster / comic relief in this story.  His past becomes more important in the next series, The Malloreon, but here it's just nice-to-know info.

Not my favorite version of Silk, but one of
the better ones out there.

The Rivan Queen
The last section of the book deals with what happens to Ce'Nedra after Garion sneaks off to deal with Torak.  There's no special map or need to check the Ruler Streak, since they visit a number of countries here.  The West needs to draw the attention of the Angaraks from Garion, so they are mobilizing troops and planning for war.  Little Ce'Nedra decides she's going to be the figurehead of this army, wanting to live up to her new title, The Rivan Queen.

This is a welcome change of pace.  Ce'Nedra is a lot different than Garion; she's more willful, more manipulative.  At first she's not sure she can pull it off - doing the speeches, getting people to follow her - but she manages it quite well, even stealing the Tolnedran Legions from her father, all the while feeling guilty for leading so many to their deaths.  For many will die; though it's all supposed to be a diversion, war is inevitable.  Blood will flow.

Next:

Book 5 - Enchanter's End Game

Previous:

Book 3 - Magician's Gambit
Book 2 - Queen of Sorcery
Book 1 - Pawn of Prophecy

Hey guess what?  This was my 100th published post!  Yay me.

All maps by Shelly Shapiro