Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Malloreon [2] King of the Murgos (1988)

History continues to repeat itself as The Malloreon continues with Book 2, King of the Murgos.  Our party treads familiar ground as the true quest for Zandramas gets underway (after a bunch of distractions in Book 1, which boiled down to nothing but an extended prologue) and finally moves into new territory about halfway through.  This is good, because that's when the story really picks up.

We'll finally have some new maps in this post as we journey into southern Cthol Murgos, an area of the western continent that we have yet to explore.  If you'll recall in my post for Magician's Gambit, Belgarath mentions that southern Cthol Murgos is shrouded in mystery and they don't even know all the names of the cities down there... which is clearly a mistake on Eddings's part, since Belgarath seems quite familiar with the area now.  And why wouldn't he... surely he's explored the area a few times during his 7,000+ years of life?

Before you continue:
  • This is part 7 of my The Belgariad and The Malloreon retrospective
  • See this blog post for an overview of the retrospective
  • These blogs are most effective with your own re-read of both series

History Repeats Itself (Again)

I feel like I've written about this before... oh yeah, in my post on Guardians of the West.  Once again, a similar sequence of events takes place in this book as in Book 2 of The Belgariad, Queen of Sorcery.  The party starts in Arendia and moves down into Nyissa, mirroring their previous journey almost exactly.  They stop at all the same places (Great Arendish Fair, Tol Honeth, Wood of the Dryads, Sthiss Tor, etc) and meet many of the same characters (or analogs of them).

George Santayana (1863-1952)

For example, a new character, Naradas, a Mallorean Grolim with white eyes, takes the place of Brill from The Belgariad, the footpad who was really a Dagashi.  If you remember, Brill had a lazy eye or some such, and Naradas pretty much serves the same purpose in this series.

You also have them bumping into the same minor characters: Delvor at the Fair, Jeebers in Tol Honeth, Xbel in the Wood of the Dryads, Droblek and Issus in Sthiss Tor... and so on.  Polgara and Garion visit Salmissra in Sthiss Tor, and that same scene is even reflected on the cover.  It's not a bad section despite the repetition, as Eddings throws in some new party members to make things more interesting.

What's nice is that Garion actually realizes that everything is repeating, which I find surprising, considering how completely dense he is when it comes to carnal knowledge of his own wife.  Garion mentions it to Belgarath, who says it make sense, as if he's suddenly realizing it himself.  The two prophecies have met numerous times over the millennia, so it stands to reason that they would be similar each time.  Obviously Eddings put this conversation in to address the reader's concerns directly, but I find the concept interesting... so does that mean that thousands of years ago, in a previous meeting, there was a group of people traveling through Arendia and Nyissa, etc etc?  Exactly to what does the repetition apply to?

The Cover

I'm not overly fond of this cover... it's okay, but too much like the cover for Queen of Sorcery to be interesting.  It merely shows Salmissra (a snake now, compared to the woman on Queen of Sorcery) on a pathetic-looking throne, along with Polgara and Garion.  A map of Nyissa in the background completes the look.  No silhouette this time.

I actually like the version of Garion on this cover, though.  Garion looks pretty much like I've always imagined him.  Polgara I'm not as thrilled with, though it is a nice portrait of a woman.  She should have longer hair and I'm not sure what's up with that headband... but oh well.  I don't buy the books for their covers.

New Faces

Since we left behind all of our warriors - regulars like Barak, Mandorallen, Hettar and Lelldorin - we need some new party members to fill the void.  We already have Toth, the mute guardian of Cyradis, the Seer, who becomes fast fishing friends with Durnik and takes on the role of hulking brute, previously vacated by Barak.  Now that we have Garion in the role of a warrior, we don't really need more.  Instead, we get more "thief" types.

First up is Velvet, true name Margravine Liselle.  Like Silk (Prince Kheldar), she is Drasnian and has many of the same skills and attributes Silk does.  It's good to have more women, since casts in these types of fantasy novels are usually male-oriented.  It's also obvious from the start that Silk is attracted to her, and their relationship blossoms over the course of the series, just one of a few love stories we'll read about when all is said and done.

Credit ereya

Next we have Sadi, formerly Chief Eunuch of Salmissra.  This is an interesting curve ball from Eddings, as he's the type of character you never thought would join our party of heroes.  Nyissans are generally not to be trusted (especially from the Alorn perspective) and you're hard-pressed to find a reason why Sadi would be useful to the quest.  But then the Voice of Prophecy tells Belgarath that Sadi must go, and that's that, much to Belgarath's disgust.

I couldn't find a fan picture of Sadi... but one's not really needed.  He's essentially the same type of character that Varys is in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire.  So just imagine Conleth Hill as Varys from the TV show:

Finally, we have Zith.  She's a snake of Sadi's... a small little snake he owns, who looks cute and purrs, but is the "deadliest snake in the world."  That's her in the picture of Velvet, if you were wondering.  I mention Zith only because she does have a role to play in the story later.

More Random Creatures

Like the previous series, Eddings throws in some random magical / mythical creatures to break the monotony of the quest.  In The Belgariad, you had things like Algroth, Eldrakyn, Dryads, Hrulgin, and a lonely dragon (the only one in existence, fruitlessly searching for her dead mate) that was heard but not seen.  According to Belgarath and popular lore, these creatures were "mistakes" by the Gods, created and then left to fend for themselves or die out.

In this book, we get some more.  There's the reappearance of the dragon from The Belgariad, only this time it attacks our party.  Later we learn that this was actually Zandramas herself (who is revealed to be a woman in this novel, much to everyone's amazement... apparently women can't be evil to them).  Much like our good sorcerers have their own animal forms (wolves, owls, etc), so do the evil ones.

There's also the mysterious Raveners they encounter in the Great Southern Forest, which are essentially zombies.  So out of nowhere our party is being chased down by hungry zombies and our sorcerers must shield everyone for days in order to survive.

Raveners = Zombies

Lastly, they encounter a madman in the woods on the Isle of Verkat, who is nothing more than a sorcerer who never had proper training and went crazy because of it.  Not exactly a random mythical creature, but in the spirit of hermits I decided to include it.  All these encounters are rather pointless, but add some excitement and keep the action going.

Rak Urga

Finally, we get to some new, uncharted territory.  Rak Urga is the seat of the Urga Military District, one of nine total Districts.  It's also the capital city of the country, housing the palace of the King, the Drojim.  It's also home to the Hierarch of the Grolims in Cthol Murgos (kind of like their religious leader) and surprisingly, we discover that despite the death of Torak, Grolims are still sacrificing people at their altars.

Before we get there, though, our party (in the guise of Nyissan slavers, led by Sadi) passes through the Araga District, where they are beset upon by some Dagashi (trained assassins) and are taken to Kahsha, their mysterious fortress in the middle of the Araga Desert.  So Eddings conveniently finds a way to get our party to this locale, which would otherwise never be shown.  The party is tasked with escorting a Dagashi assassin from Rak Urga to Rak Hagga so he can assassinate Emperor Zakath.

So obviously, our party has lots of fun in the Urga District, visiting both the Drojim and Temple of Torak.  Eriond continues to evince strange abilities, like being able to douse the sacrificial fires in the Temple at will, freeze people and command the Grolims to stop their sacrifices.  It should be obvious at this point who Eriond will become.  We even have a demon battle at the docks, between Polgara and a Grolim sorceress named Chabat.  To make a long story short... Chabat loses.  Not only the battle, but her soul.

The most important part of Rak Urga, though, is the revelation that Urgit, King of the Murgos, is actually half-Alorn... and Silk's brother!

The Changing Angaraks

Urgit is a minor character in the overall scope of the series, but I suppose he's important enough here to warrant naming the novel after him.  Since he's Silk's brother (same father), this means he will not meet the same fate as his Urga predecessors (most notably Taur Urgas, who went mad and died on Cho-Hag of Algaria's sword in The Belgariad).  This also means that he's someone Garion and the other Alorns can relate to - a Murgo they can like.

As such, he's a very weak king, and Emperor Zakath and his Malloreans have been eating up his kingdom, district by district.  Garion ends up having to give him advice and help even though he doesn't want to, since that in turn is the only way to further his own quest.

Credit frozenneko

The death of Torak began many changes, and this is the first of many.  Soon there may come a time when Alorns can be friends with all Angaraks.  This already started with the Nadraks at the end of The Belgariad, when they switched sides at the Battle of Thull Mardu.  Now the Murgos are coming around with their new king, and as the series progresses, our party will make a very good Mallorean friend - which will essentially change the relationship between Alorns and Angaraks for good.

What about the Thulls, you ask?  Who cares about the Thulls.  They're stupid.

The Isle of Verkat

Despite the title of the last section of the book, we don't spend that much time there.  Our party (along with Urgit) travels by ship part of the way around the southern end of Cthol Murgos, gaining some considerable time on Zandramas before becoming shipwrecked and travelling the rest of the way on horseback.

They stop at an abandoned watchtower Eriond knows about - where he lived with Zedar as a child - a sequence reminiscent of the cave in Magician's Gambit, where they find shelter when they need it most.  Later, Urgit leaves the party to start being king (and lead an attack against a Mallorean army) and they make their way to the Isle of Verkat.  Some Dals live there - the race of the Seers, originally from Dalasian in Mallorea - and they are betrayed to the Malloreans by Toth (on purpose).

Finally, after two books... we are off to Mallorea and a whole new continent!  Eddings did an admirable job taking us to every part of Cthol Murgos, though, much like he did for every kingdom in The Belgariad.

Still, Why Can't We Just...?

As I mentioned in the previous blog for Guardians of the West, sorcery gets shrugged off as a solution far too often.  As prophecy repeats itself in the series, so do my blog posts it seems.  This time Garion actually brings the topic up as frustration sets in.  In Chapter 17 (pg 290, paperback) he says:

"I don't care about what we're supposed to do.  I want my son back.  I'm tired of creeping around trying to satisfy all the clever little twists and turns of the Prophecy.  What's wrong with just ignoring it and going right straight to the point?"

Belgarath succinctly points out that usually it only puts one farther behind.  Following the prophecy is truly the fastest way to get to where it wants them to go - which is to Zandramas and Geran.  A good way to explain it, and one that is plausible within the confines of the story.

It's A Small World

One last thing.  Look at the map in the Rak Urga section again.  You'll see the Equator at the top, and the Antarctic Circle at the bottom.  I don't know about you, but based on the relatively short time it takes them to travel from Nyissa, down to Rak Urga and then around the southern edge of the continent... it doesn't seem like this planet we're on is very big at all.  

On our world, the distance from the Equator to the Antarctic Circle is some 6,000+ miles (I'm just guessing from a glance at Google Maps).  Using that same scale, the distance from Nyissa to Rak Urga should be around 3,000 miles.  There is no way they traveled that far.  In the text it feels like 500 miles or so, based on the time and method of travel.  Which leads me to believe that this planet is extremely small.

Essentially, the entire western continent is probably smaller than the whole of South America, if I've got the distances down correctly.  This makes me think of a post on The Wertzone, about comparative distances between famous fantasy worlds.  The complete continents in The Belgariad and The Malloreon are probably about the size of Randland from The Wheel of Time (middle right).  And if you look at the entire map of The Wheel of Time world, you'll see that Randland is only a small part of it.  I don't recall specific distances from the texts, I'm merely going off the length of time it takes them to travel (primarily by horseback).

Credit The Wertzone.  Can you guess which is which?

Not that there's anything wrong with a small world, though I don't know if a planet that small could be habitable and comparable to Earth.  In my opinion, it's an oversight on the part of Eddings.  Unimportant in the grand scheme of things, but a huge oversight.  Or small, depending on how you look at it.


The Malloreon
Book 3 - Demon Lord of Karanda

The Malloreon
Book 1 - Guardians of the West

The Belgariad
Book 5 - Enchanter's End Game
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

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Greatest Jigsaw Puzzle of All Time

My wife and I do puzzles on occasion.  These days we look for interesting and unique puzzles, as regular ones don't always cut it.  I've blogged once about a puzzle (BĂ©atrice Coron's "All Around Town").  We did another one recently that was interesting enough to prompt a short post.

Challenge Accepted

We occasionally go to this really cool used bookstore in Mountain View, CA called BookBuyers (they have 4 total locations, in CA and HI).  It's a huge place - not as big as something like Powell's in Portland, OR, but still quite large.  They have more than just books, selling used VHS tapes (who buys these?) and puzzles, among other things.  You can easily spend an hour or so in there just browsing around.

Anyway, we were browsing their puzzles and found one called "The Greatest Jigsaw Puzzle of All Time":

It's double sided, and features a "piece within a piece," which means each regular piece has a square hole in the middle that can be filled with a separate square piece.  The front side of the puzzle is a simple picture, while the back side features a ton of clock faces - one for each piece, in fact, the face being on the square insert pieces.  The back of the box touts:
There is a pattern to the order in which the little clock hands are inserted into the hundreds of faces.  Unfortunately, you can't discover the patterns until the puzzle is assembled and you can't assemble the puzzle until the pattern is known.  Does this sound mildly difficult?
I don't know about you, but when I see something like that, and it's only $6, I go into "Challenge Accepted" mode.  

The Easiest Jigsaw Puzzle of All Time

So one night we sat down to do it.  We got out the puzzle mat out because we figured the "greatest" jigsaw puzzle of all time should be hard, right?  No way we'd finish it in a single sitting, we'll have to roll it up for later.


We finished it in two hours.  It wasn't hard at all.  We did the front face, of course, and the square pieces were a cinch to insert, expect for a few places.  Some spots looked very similar, like the red dress of the woman.  For these we guessed on some of the placements, figuring it looked okay.  But altogether the puzzle was a breeze.  Somewhat disappointing.  We didn't need to look at the other side at all, like the box said we would.

Still, we decided to flip it over (which was fun) and try to figure out the "pattern" that is supposedly key to solving the puzzle we just solved.  The back was all golden and shiny, with 512 clock faces.  Somewhat intimidating, and you can easily see how it would be impossible to assemble the puzzle from only the reverse side, as each clock face was tilted at some random angle... but wait a second, maybe it's not so impossible...

It was really hard to get a good picture of the
back because of the reflective surface didn't take us long to figure out the pattern of the clock faces.  Starting in one corner and spiraling into the center, the clock hands are all black, and move from 12 o'clock onward, at 5 minute increments for each.  It was hard to notice at first since each clock face was rotated at a different angle.  Once it nears 12 o'clock again, the pattern resets, but with white hands.  With this new knowledge in hand, we discovered that we had only 6 of the square inserts in the wrong spot.  Not too shabby.

So in a way... the back really was necessary to verify that the puzzle was solved correctly.  But hardest of all time?  Pfft.

It's About Time

That's when I realized it wasn't about difficulty.  It was about time.  Literally.  The various clocks and timekeeping devices, time-themed books on the shelves and Father Time on the front image, and all the clocks on the back... it's just the "greatest" one regarding time.

Which is kind of funny, considering that it took no time at all to put together.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Wheel of Time is Complete

A couple of days ago, the 14th and final volume in The Wheel of Time, titled A Memory of Light, was released.  If you been following my retrospective on the series, you'll know that I'm a long-time fan, having started the series way back in 1992.  I got this new book on the morning of release as usual, spent the first day reading it (I took off work), and finished it a few days later, reading whenever I could instead of doing more responsible things.

I plan on reading it again before I do a proper retrospective entry, but I wanted to do a quick post about my impressions first, now that the dust has settled and I finally - after 20 years - got to read the ending.

This book is incredible.

I've read a lot of fantasy, and this is one of the best fantasy books I've ever read, period.  It is amazing.  It is a completely fitting end to this series.  Whereas some series will have the final climax in a few chapters, The Wheel of Time has a climax of an entire book.  The battles in this book put other famous fantasy battles to shame in terms of scope and emotional impact.  Pelennor Fields?  The Black Gates?  Mere skirmishes compared to this.  The 200 page chapter entitled "The Last Battle" will blow your mind and put your emotions to the test.

I laughed, I cried, I gasped in surprise and shock - it sounds like a cliche, but it is true, my wife will attest to that.  No WoT book has moved me like this one.  It was all I hoped for and more.  Many will analyze every word and line and point out inconsistencies and incorrect troop totals and out-of-character moments and blah blah blah - forget all that.  It's not going to be perfect so don't waste your time or energy.  Just read it and enjoy the greatest ending to any fantasy currently out there, and know that Sanderson found a way to get it to the ending that Jordan wanted.

Is the book exactly what Jordan would have done?  Who cares.  It's an awesome book and I can't say enough about it.  After all the build up in the previous 13 volumes, this was the WoT book I've been waiting for.

If you are someone who has quit the series out of frustration, and don't know whether it's worth finishing - trust me, it is.  It is completely worth the journey.  I'm so glad I didn't quit after Crossroads of Twilight.

Thank you so much to Brandon Sanderson and everyone else involved in completing this series.  It means a lot to me.

He came like the wind, like the wind touched everything, and like the wind, was gone.


Book 14 – A Memory of Light – Part 1


Reference  The Big White Book
Prequel – New Spring
Book 13 – Towers of Midnight
Book 12 – The Gathering Storm
Book 11 – Knife of Dreams
Book 10 – Crossroads of Twilight
Book 9 – Winter's Heart
Book 8 – The Path of Daggers
Book 7 – A Crown of Swords
Book 6 – Lord of Chaos
Book 5 – The Fires of Heaven
Book 4 – The Shadow Rising
Book 3 – The Dragon Reborn
Book 2 – The Great Hunt
Book 1 – The Eye of the World
Retrospective Overview