Written by: David Eddings
Series: The Belgariad
Sequence in Series: 1
Publisher: Del Rey
Publication Date: June 1 2004 (first published March 12, 1982)
It all begins with the theft of the Orb that for so long protected the West from an evil god. As long as the Orb was at Riva, the prophecy went, its people would be safe from this corrupting power. Garion, a simple farm boy, is familiar with the legend of the Orb, but skeptical in matters of magic. Until, through a twist of fate, he learns not only that the story of the Orb is true, but that he must set out on a quest of unparalleled magic and danger to help recover it. For Garion is a child of destiny, and fate itself is leading him far from his home, sweeping him irrevocably toward a distant tower–and a cataclysmic confrontation with a master of the darkest magic.
The Pawn of Prophecy was David Eddings’ first foray into being published and attempt at writing high fantasy in the vein of Tolkien’s LOTR, which was also the inspiration for the attempt. The book was published in 1982 when fantasy novels were still a fledgling genre. The series of the Belgariad helped build the cliched stereotype characters often overused in modern fantasy tellings; though, if you were to ask my personal opinion, I would not say they are the quintessential examples of the tropes. There is too much sly wit and humor built into them. The books within the Belgariad also follow the pyramid story structure, each book taking one aspect of the structure on.
Because of this, book one, The Pawn of Prophecy, is heavy, heavy, heavy exposition to introduce the main character and the world in which he lives. The main character, Garion, is very young in book one, which describes his life of comfort and familiarity, his growth from toddler to pre-teen. Eddings deftly uses Garion’s sheltered life as a means of dumping information – Garion doesn’t know what’s going on in the world and thus the other characters have a reason to explain things to him and to the reader. The amount of exposition makes the pacing seem slow and sometimes the plot seems to wander. The plot itself is to many readers by now a familiar one under the theme of the orphan farm boy who is the one chosen via a prophecy to save the world from ultimate evil.
The characters are also familiar – the sly thief, the huge warrior protector, the wise and wizened wizard, the powerful sorceress, the orphaned farm boy. What Eddings does well with his characters is flesh them out with detailed back stories that make them more three dimensional than most. They each come with their own, distinct motivations, proclivities, and emotional reactions. The care that Eddings put into building his cast and the world in which they move through is very much evident throughout the book.
When I say they move through the story, I mean that in a literal sense. It is ultimately a quest based book, so the cast of characters is traveling from place to place to retrieve the object with the power to destroy the world. In book one, most of the world that is revealed is the farm on which Garion grows up. This serves the purpose of building the familiar which will be ripped away from Garion and compared to the array of places and peoples he is introduced to in the greater world and its machinations as the story progresses. The world that Eddings builds is large but limited, with whole nations of people generalized into certain characteristic behaviors. However, it is detailed in its description and again, the care with which it was built is evident throughout the book.
Overall, the book is a wonderful introduction to fantasy, especially for the young reader given that there is no gore, overt sex, etc. For those more versed in fantasy they will either find it a boring hack of a read that they’ve seen a million times without appreciating the place in the development of fantasy that the book holds OR they will find it an easy, entertaining read that is comforting in its familiarity. Personally, I find it the latter. The book contains enough detailed descriptions, wittiness, humor, and adventure that it is worth the read, and the re-read, to get to the next book of the story, The Queen of Sorcery.