Long ago, the Storyteller claimed, in this first book of The Belgariad, the evil god Torak drove men and Gods to war. But Belgarath the Sorcerer led men to reclaim the Orb that protected men of the West. So long as it lay at Riva, the prophecy went, men would be safe.
But Garion did not believe in such stories. Brought up on a quiet farm by his Aunt Pol, how could he know that the Apostate planned to wake dread Torak, or that he would be led on a quest of unparalleled magic and danger by those he loved–but did not know…?
Pawn of Prophecy is the first of five books in The Belgariad series. In this book we meet our hero, Garion and most of his companions: Polgara, Belgarath, Durnik, Silk, Barak and Hettar. Garion is an orphan farmboy who is being raised on a farm (of course) in Sendaria by his aunt, Pol. This trope – the orphan farmboy – is one that the seasoned fantasy reader is quite familiar with. The big difference here is that Eddings’ Garion is one of the first of his kind. Pawn of Prophecy was published in 1982 – a time when fantasy had very few titles and readers were clamoring for this type of epic fantasy.
I absolutely love this series. I read this series and the sequel – The Mallorean – at least once a year (sometimes more). As much as I love this series I feel that I see it with [somewhat] clear eyes – I can see some faults. I can also say that reviewing this book (and the series) will be difficult for me. I’ve read it too many times – the entire series is basically one book to me – and I like it too much. Every time I read this (book and series) I feel like I’m visiting old friends. It’s like…one big, warm and comfortable hug to me.
The Belgariad (and The Mallorean) has a quest based plot. This plot requires a character/group of characters to go on a search for some item/person/information that is considered extremely important – often the fate of the world depends on the outcome of the quest. The Belgariad is also something like a travelogue as well – the characters’ quest will eventually take them through most of the countries in Eddings’ world.
Pawn of Prophecy starts with Garion’s earliest memories but quickly moves to the beginning of Garion’s quest. It begins with Garion, his Aunt Pol, an old vagabond storyteller that Garion calls Mister Wolf and the farm’s blacksmith Durnik hurriedly leaving the farm one night. Garion is not sure why – only that something important has been stolen and must be recovered. After a long and exhausting walk the trio join with two others: Silk, a small and wiry man from Drasnia and Barak, a large warrior from Cherek. As the group sneaks its way thorough Sendaria in search of this unknown item, Garion knows that his life is changing but he’s given absolutely no information. Aunt Pol refuses to tell him anything about who or what [race] he is, his parents are a mystery to him and he doesn’t know where they are going or why. By this point the reader has been given several hints that all is not as it seems. Aunt Pol mentions “waiting one hundred years for the circumstances to be right again.” Mister Wolf is able to follow this important item with his mind alone and the group is chased by enemies.
Being kept in the dark, Garion is shocked to learn that the “simple people” he was traveling with are nobles of the highest rank. Silk is Prince Kheldar of Drasnia and Barak is the Earl of Trellheim. Most shocking of all is that his Aunt Pol is the 3,000 year old Polgara the Sorceress and Mister Wolf is the 7,000 year old Holy Belgarath the Sorcerer – people Garion didn’t even believe existed. These new identities – revealed to Garion by a stranger – rock Garion’s sense of self. Who was he? Why was he traveling with such people? If Aunt Pol was really Polgara the Sorceress and 3,000 years old, how could she also be his aunt? If she wasn’t his aunt – was he alone in the world? These questions plague Garion for most of the book. Garion feels confused and alone – a feeling that a lot of readers have had at least once in their lives and can identify with – but Eddings makes a big deal of this issue only to dismiss it in the text by the actions of the characters. Garion is described as childish when he lashes out in confused anger but no effort is made to discuss the deception by omission of Garion’s elders. I have to admit that this characterization disturbs me every time I read the book.
This is pretty characteristic of the rest of the book. Hints are dropped (thrown at the reader’s head, to be more accurate) – both to the reader and Garion – and then questions are dodged. Garion sulks because his life has been irrevocably changed without explanation while the text calls him childish. I never really understood the need to keep Garion in the dark quite so much. Why not explain to him who they were before it was announced? Why pretend that he is unimportant without explaining to him why it is necessary? That killed the poor kid’s heart and caused most of his acting out. It feels like an attempt to create angst for Garion but it’s a shallow effort.
This first book then ends on a quiet note: Garion and his companions travel to the country of Cherek to meet with kings of the West and he knows that their quest is far from over. Hettar, son of the Algarian king, makes plans to join Garion’s group later in the country of Arendia. The kings have made plans to begin mobilization for a war and Garion is given even more hints as to his mysterious parentage. The book ends with the companions on another ship bound toward Arendia to complete the rest of their quest.
One of the biggest issues I hear about this book (from other readers) is how slow the book is. While the group does a lot of traveling in Pawn of Prophecy there is not much going on. There hints of magic and mystery sprinkled here and there among descriptions of a slow trek from place to place. A lot of today’s readers – used to more action and a faster pace – often get irritated with the slowness of this beginning book. If there is a spot where someone would DNF this series, this would probably be the place. My husband tried to read it and this book really tried his patience. If you are the type of reader who gets impatient or who prefers more action, I would suggest reading the omnibus edition of this series. That way you can turn to book 2 when book 1 is finished. It won’t speed up the pace but it will help give the reader a little more payoff for the read, especially readers who can consume books the size of GRRM’s works.
Another (small) issue that some readers have is the prologue. The prologue is written as a history of the world as adapted from the holy book of the Alorns. This history is a huge info dump that I find enjoyable as I enjoy learning the history behind different events. It’s rather short and can be skipped so I wouldn’t let it bother me too much as a reader.
I do recommend Pawn of Prophecy and the entire Belgariad series, especially to readers who enjoy classic fantasy.
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