Most helpful critical review
Sorcery Without Magic
on 11 January 2015
“Belgarath the Sorceror” is a prequel to the Belgariad series. It was written a few years afterwards, and the set up for the novel was that it was written afterwards as well. The prologue to the book is the main characters from the series sitting down after it’s all over, and saying to Belgarath “you’ve been around for a lot longer than the rest of us. What happened before?” And the novel is Belgarath’s story. There’s a fair amount of reading here. After all, Belgarath is about 7000 years old at this point! “He’s what?” I hear you exclaim. I see I have some explaining to do here.
The Belgariad follows thirty wears in the life of Garion, who is born to be a great sorceror and to reunite a world divided many years before by the God Torak, one of seven Gods who created the world. Much like Tolkien’s ring, there is a powerful object in this world, the Orb of Aldur, which has been stolen by Torak and his disciples several times over the years, and usually reclaimed. At the start of the Belgariad, the orb is currently in Torak’s hands, and Garion, along with a number of friends, which include his “ultimate” Grandfather Belgarath (you see where the title comes from now?) must set out to reclaim this. Garion doesn’t know it, but the whole adventure has been prophesied many, many years before and Belgarath has spent centuries chasing around trying to ensure that these prophesies are made to come true, and has tried to keep the world in one piece (or, at least, it’s current two) until Garion comes along to reunite it. Belgarath, as a disciple of one of the other Gods, Aldur, has been taught/studied sorcery and granted immortality. Well, not immortality as such, but the ability to live for a very long time.
There have been many stories told in this world, of Belgarath’s life and the things he has done which have included stealing the Orb back from Torak on a number of occasions. Most of these stories have passed into legend or become part of the world’s religious teachings.
At the end of Garion’s adventures, he wonders how much of the things he’s heard about Belgarath, or has been told, were really true. So, he asks Belgarath to write his autobiography and set the record straight. After all, he was the only person who has been there at every event he’s heard of, and stories get twisted, embellished, or have bits missed off over the years. Seven thousand years of “Chinese whispers” is going to have an effect on even the simplest story. Belgarath, reluctantly, sits down to write.
For readers of the Belgariad, what then follows is a different perspective on what is probably a well-loved story. The stories of many of the major events that Belgarath has had a hand in are told at the start of each of the five books that make up the Belgariad, but in the third person, and with the embellishments I’ve already mentioned.
For a new reader, there follows a tale of Gods and magic, wars and a world created and divided. Belgarath, during his long lifetime, has seen every corner of the world, and has performed some amazing acts. Anyone who has lived for seven thousand years will have some stories to tell, as anyone who ever asked an older relative about the war will be well aware. Belgarath comes from a time when the world was in a single part, before the Orb of Aldur was created, before the prophesies were required as the Gods still lived in the world amongst their people, and guided them as needed. He witnessed the evil God Torak take up the Orb and split the world in two, and has set to reclaim it. He has created new countries, and has advised rulers. He has seen himself be a pawn of the prophecies, has seen many of his friends die, has been a teacher and a father, a matchmaker and a thief.
Fans of fantasy novels will no doubt be expecting an epic tale at this point. Even non-fans might be expecting something special. I hate to disappoint anyone, but it doesn’t quite work out that way. What you get is, without a doubt, a very good story. But you can’t escape the feeling that all of this has already happened and that what you are reading is merely a recounting of events. What you have here are two very good storytellers, with Eddings feeding the story through the mind of Belgarath, who has made a living, and a disguise, out of storytelling over his many years. You can read with great pleasure, but it’s difficult to get yourself involved in the book.
Eddings, as any fan will tell you, has an easy writing style. Add this to Belgarath’s ever present, and sometimes slightly cynical sense of humour, and you find yourself with a novel that seems to fly by. There are any number of little asides, and little jokes spread throughout this book. Unfortunately, most of them are “in” jokes that you have to be a reader of the Belgariad to get.
For fans of the Belgariad, this book is a very useful and entertaining addition to your library. For everyone else, however, this book may well disappoint. If you didn’t enjoy the Belgariad series, this book feels a little like an attempt to cash in on its success. The characters are familiar, but many of the stories Belgarath tells are told in other places. Perhaps not as entertainingly, but they’re there.
For fans of “hard” fantasy, such as Tolkien, this may prove deeply unsatisfying. This really is “soft” fantasy. Yes, there are knights in shining armour, a dragon gets and a mention, very briefly, and there are some strange creatures around which, again, feature only briefly. However, most of the characters are men, by and large, and a large amount of the incidences of magic involve nothing more exciting than changing shape, or communicating telepathically.
If you haven’t read the Belgariad, there is very little point in bothering with this book, especially at £8 a go. You won’t get it. The reason why it’s being written, as explained in the Prologue, will be lost on you, and a lot of the bits that Belgarath skips over, and the little jokes and snide references to other people he scatters about will go over your heads. It’s a shame really, as thanks to Edding's flowing style, reading this is an enjoyable experience.
If you’ve read and enjoyed the Belgariad, and are already familiar with Eddings’ style and the events described, this is almost essential. It’s just about different enough to be worth the investment, although it is from a single perspective. You’re looking at the world with a limited view, rather than from the outside, as in the Belgariad. It’s limiting, but entertaining. Had Garion been writing this, it would have been a complete waste of time, but as it’s Belgarath, it seems to work. For those of you who didn’t understand that last sentence, either read something else, or start with “Pawn of Prophecy”, the first book of the Belgariad, and come back later. For those that did, but haven't read this book, you really must!
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