The Belgariad: Volume I - Pawn of Prophecy
Written by: David and Leigh Eddings
Reviewed by: Brad Williamson
The Belgariad resides directly at the midpoint between classic prophetic fantasy and new-age epic tomes; you’ll find it somewhere between the Lord of the Rings and The Wheel of Time, but it often gets lost in the discussion of all-time best series. In fact, despite consuming science-fiction and fantasy novels for the last 20 years, and knowing about the Belgariad all that time, I’ve only just now gotten around to enjoying it. And I can say for certainty after reading just the first installment: you don’t want to wait as long as I did to read it.
There are an almost infinite amount of fantasy tropes that have been used, and overused, throughout the years, but in “Pawn of Prophecy” David and Leigh Eddings do something I’ve never seen anywhere else: they make every scene, every word count. Patrick Rothfuss comes close to doing this, James Enge is pretty good at it, and M. John Harrison would like a word while we’re on the topic, but with the first volume of the Belgariad David and Leigh perfect it.
It’s not simply how they write — it’s in how deftly the entire story arc is constructed. Every chapter clearly furthers the storyline such that a table of contents and chapter titles become unnecessary; the world is so concisely described along with the simplistic yet thoughtful maps that the reader has no problem following the heroes’ journey in either place or plot. It is modest yet entertaining, deep yet simplistic, and beautifully written.
Many reviews over the years have criticized the use of racial features and coarse descriptions of the various peoples living in the world of the Belgariad, but I strongly disagree with these opinions. In fact, I think David and Leigh were very far ahead of their time; at first glance, it would appear many of the species are introduced insensitively, but on a deeper level they are being used to depict humanity’s issues as a whole instead of individually singling out each one.
Rarely do they focus on physical features. Sure, some of the characters are bigger or smaller, or have certain quirks, but without these differences you’d have a bunch of clones. The focus, however, shines directly on the beliefs, mental fortitude, and shortcomings of each race, and how they overcome such handicaps. And with the “bad” always comes some “good”, even among the villains. To me, when describing people and races, David and Leigh are trying to simply and without bias or judgment describe how each and every individual can become something better. No matter who you are or what faults you have, you can improve.
I loved the thematic elements, the prose, the imagery, the history, the hints at a magical system, the pace, and the sheer enjoyment it provides. To distill and encompass the perfect description of fantasy into a single novel is an impossible task, but “Pawn of Prophecy” is one of the best attempts at doing just this that I’ve ever read. Recommended to all fans of any kind of fantasy, and anyone who can enjoy a great book regardless of genre.