All’s well that ends… : the Belgariad Book 5

See Alex’s post for the comments she gets!

Enchanter’s End Game: Book 5 of the Belgariad

David Eddings

Spoilery spoilery spoooooooiiiilers!

ALEX
Oh, the end.

Reading the last book in a series is a funny experience. I know someone who will often not watch the last episode or season of a show, or will not read the last book, because she doesn’t want it to end. I Could Not Do That. I need closure. I need to know how it all ends, how the strings are going to be tied together, how the characters could possibly, possibly get out of the bind they’re in. And, sometimes, I need the happy-ever-after, too. I’m that kind of girl.

TEHANI
Oh, completely agree! Not knowing how it ends, ESPECIALLY when you’ve invested in a lengthy series, is horrible! (I’m looking at you Melanie Rawn and Robert Jordan (with respect)). The happy-ever-after is nice, but not always warranted, as long as the resolution makes sense in terms of the character, world-building and plot that’s gone before – why yes, I’m still bitter about a certain Australian big fat fantasy quartet that ended in the most stupid manner imaginable… Fortunately, we don’t have that problem here.

ALEX
The final book of the Belgariad begins with Garion, Belgarath and Silk’s fairly tedious journey through Gar og Nadrak, on the way to what we have finally discovered is the whole point of the series: a showdown between Garion and Torak. One of the things that really appeals to me about this whole series is on the first page of the story: Garion admits, to himself at least, that he is afraid of this confrontation. I think this really struck a chord with the teenaged me, having perhaps watched a bit too much He-Man, Transformers, and similar, where no one is ever afraid. Garion is quite convinced that he is going to die – and yet he keeps on going. He is dubious about everything he’s discovered about his heritage, from being a sorcerer through to being a king, but he never really considers giving up. This sort of grim determination has become something of a staple in YA, and I think that’s a really great thing – but I still like it here, too.

TEHANI
It’s one of the real high points – demonstrating that it’s okay to be scared, and real courage means you keep going anyway. That’s a massive message, but it’s not preached at us, which makes it even more appealing.

ALEX
As an aside, I’m really glad that Eddings wrote both Belgarath and Polgara, to fill in some gaps. In the first few pages here we meet that random gold prospector in the mountains, and there’s a tantalising glimpse at both Belgarath and Polgara’s back story. I always really wanted to know more about Polgara being OWNED by someone, and the winter spent by the two of them with the prospector also sounded like it could be a good story. I’m still not entirely convinced by that Nadrak custom, but the prospector’s story was indeed worth it. I also really like the little vignette with Garion talking to the wolves – the idea that wolves have exquisite manners is very appealing – and again, Belgarath in particular gives a bit more about wolfish society.

TEHANI
Makes you wonder when they decided to write those prequels really – the old prospector’s not the only one whose story is explored in the two novels that tell the stories that came before – Vordai’s tale was another, and it makes me think about how much the Eddings team structured to set that up. It can’t have been on the cards from the beginning, because there are continuity errors between Belgarath, Polgara and the Belgariad and the Mallorean, but they either they’re really good at making use of little tidbits dropped in along the journey, or they starting planning that early on in the book writing.

ALEX
The only really interesting thing, for me, about the journey through Nadrak country – not being particularly keen on fur or gold mining – is our introduction to Vella, who gets much more of a part in The Mallorean. Her interaction with both her owner and her potential buyer demonstrate a really interesting take on how gender relations can function. It’s never explained, at least not sufficiently, why the custom is for men to own women; it’s also not explained at what ages ownership starts, and all those other messy legalistic things. However, the fact that ownership does not give automatic rights over a woman’s body, that she is well within her rights to defend herself with violence, and that a woman can dance incredibly provocatively and still be reasonably sure that no man will attempt to even grope her … well. That’s a mighty interesting idea. Problematic, in a number of ways, but mighty interesting.

Oh, I guess the other mildly fascinating part of Nadrak is its king, the absolutely revolting King Drosta. Debauched, alcoholic, and more than willing to be a two-faced traitor, he is really quite remarkable as a study in what monarchy can lead to. He’s still totally disgusting.

TEHANI
It’s funny on the reread, how small a part some of those characters actually play, because we know so much more about them from later books. Vella is great, but I remembered her being more present, because I’m confusing things from the Mallorean!

ALEX
From Nadrak our heroes pass through the land of the Morindim, making a rather interesting differentiation between magic and demon-summoning, and then finally we get back to the great big army that Ce’Nedra has gathered – with a side-trip through Cherek, to see Barak’s wife make the Cherek queen finally grow a spine, which is quite entertaining. So is Ran Borune finally being proud of his wayward child, rather than just doting.

TEHANI
Hmmm. Interesting statement “…to see Barak’s wife make the Cherek queen finally grow a spine…” Seems to me, on reflection, that a lot of the great actions by the female characters are orchestrated by someone else (often also female). Is that weird? I mean, I always knew Belgarath and Polgara were pulling the strings of most of the plot, but then there’s the way Islena is pushed around by Merel, and how Adara gently manipulates Ce’Nedra, and more and more examples. Is it a bad thing, or just an example of how women working together achieve more than they would alone? ☺

ALEX
Sadly, for much of the time Ce’Nedra’s army is just moving across the Algar plain, and then winching those enormous Cherek warships up the ridiculous escarpment that separates Algaria from the Angaraks. It is actually a fascinating study in medieval-ish warfare: the amount of time it takes to manoeuvre everything and everyone in to position, and then the battle takes basically no time. And I love, love, love that Eddings brought King Fulrach of Sendaria along, made him to be in charge of the supply train, and then actually thought about the practical necessities of an army the size of this one. Feeding one’s soldiers is, of course, of prime importance – but a lot of fantasy writers, when they set up big battle set-pieces, imagine that you can feed hordes on what they can scavenge. When that means stealing from family-sized farms, I think your army is going to get might hungry, and then mighty rebellious, awfully quickly. Anyway – Fulrach comes in to his own, in this section, and it’s a marvellous sight to see. However, I’m no tactician, but surely the idea of having basically every Western king along for the ride – in a land with no electronic communication – is a plan of utmost folly? Yes, the queens are at home, and most of them are able to run the kingdom as efficiently as their husbands, but they’re presuming their populace is happy enough that they won’t take the opportunity to try something like rebellion. That’s a lot of trust. I suppose the number of men they’ve taken away for their own army means there are fewer at home to do the rabble-rousing.

TEHANI
I think the role of the gods plays a big part in how all the kings can bugger off to war. The Western nations all seem pretty secure in their monarchies (barring a bit of dissent sowed by the bear priests), and it’s set up to be their heritage, so the people accept it? Also, I’m no historian, but didn’t the kings of old used to lead their armies in their conquests? I’m thinking of King Richard (ahem, mainly because of Robin Hood stories!) and Alexander the Great here, because my history is rubbish!

ALEX
Finally there’s fighting, although most of it is off-stage, which is just fine by me. Instead the reader is privy to intelligence as it comes in, and to the after-effects of the fighting: the death, and the injuries, and the bits that often seem to get ignored. And finally someone – Polgara, as it happens – voices what often annoys and saddens me about medieval battles, because it just seems so pointless: setting everything on fire. (Obviously I hate the killing and maiming too, but at least if you insist on fighting those things seem to have a point.) There’s a seriously awesome sorcerous battle at the same time as the fight between the West and the East (since that’s what it comes down to, OH THE SYMBOLISM), lots more fighting – some exquisite set-pieces that reveal rather interesting facets of character, and then OH LOOK how convenient Ce’Nedra, Polgara, and Durnik get kidnapped. SO CONVENIENT. But hey, this way we get to meet ’Zakath, and I love ’Zakath. So urbane, so crazy-violent-mad.

TEHANI
Oh yeah, ’Zakath is awesome! I have so many favourite characters in these books ☺ Am so pleased we get so much ’Zakath in the second series.

ALEX
Finally, the end genuinely approacheth. We meet Zedar at LAST, and Garion comes face to face with the once-impossibly beautiful god Torak. And then Durnik dies. Quiet Durnik, consistently useful, shrewdly insightful, over-awed by his companions and totally in love with Polgara: he dies. And if you’re anything like me, you’ve forgotten the name that a couple of people have given him over the course of 4.75 books, and it is just heartbreaking. Of course, then Belgarath does something impossibly horrible to Zedar, and the bloodthirsty wench that I am is as pleased as all get out that he gets his come-uppance.

TEHANI
I REMEMBERED what all those people had named Durnik and I STILL teared up! It’s a great scene, terribly sad because of Polgara and Garion’s reactions I think – Durnik’s such a stable part of Garion’s life (one of the very few, if not the ONLY, fixed point for him!), that this hits him right at the core. And poor Polgara ☹

ALEX
And finally, finally, Garion and Torak meet. If I was disappointed by Belgarath vs Ctuchik, and Belgarath vs Zedar seemed totally one-sided, this particular battle is quite a good one. I especially like that it really started with Torak trying to win Garion over, promising to be his father; and then he once again tries to seduce Polgara (EW), but of course it all comes back down to violence. It is pathetic, in the true sense of the word, that all Torak wants (it seems) is love and acceptance – but he can’t go about getting it in the normal way. Eddings does really interesting things with his gods, I think, and making Torak so very tortured allows the possibility that he’s not as completely irredeemable as the rest of the books would suggest. But, of course, he’s still the bad guy, and as a result he dies.

TEHANI
Reading this again, I really felt sorry for Torak. And while I know that he’s not even portrayed all that well in the prequels, it gives you one of those, “Oh, if only someone had helped him see the light when he was young…” moments! Silly, I know, but that’s the reaction I had this time around!

ALEX
It’s a cataclysmic finale, and in some ways anything after it is always going to be a let-down. But, just like I love the end of The Lord of the Rings because it shows everything going back to normal, I do quite like the end of this book, and the series. Most importantly, of course, we are reminded that Durnik is The Man with Two Lives, and it’s all okay in the end. He and Polgara get together (at LAST), and – skipping right to the end – she doesn’t even have to give up her magic. I was pretty unimpressed that the gods would make her do that, originally; now I actually find it kind of funny, to imagine Polgara going through those weeks and months without trying magic, only to discover it was there all along. Is that mean of me? I have always wondered, though: if you can hear a fellow sorcerer doing magic, why hadn’t Garion or Polgara heard Durnik practising? Surely his first few attempts would have sounded like all the bells on the island.

TEHANI
Maybe Belgarath muffled the sound – or mucked about with his own noisiness while Durnik was practising, or, or … heh, maybe we just have to accept this part as one of those little mistakes we find when we revisit our darlings ☺ I always thought it was funny though – her reaction when she finds out she’s been all selfless for no reason is actually rather restrained really!

ALEX
Garion and Ce’Nedra get married. Yeah yeah. Like that wasn’t always going to be perfect.

And, of course, there’s teasing hint from Polgara that maybe the story isn’t finished yet – that the Mrin Codex doesn’t finish with Garion’s battle, so maybe there’s still something left to do. OH REALLY?? How convenient! An opening for a further series of books!

TEHANI
Such a cynical thought! But for all its faults, and the Mallorean has definite faults (the main one, for me, being that it’s actually the entire plot of the Belgariad retold with some different characters!), I’m really glad we got the second series, because I love all these characters! I think that’s why the reread, despite the issues we’ve talked about as we’ve gone along (hey, the Suck Fairy came to visit in the years since we read it last!), was so easy to do – we love the characters, and they still deliver on their awesome.

ALEX
All up, I was pleased at having done this re-read. I still enjoyed the characters that I enjoyed the first two times around – especially Polgara and Silk – although their mannerisms did get a little tiresome after a while. There’s only so many times Silk can turn white at Relg going through stone, and say exactly the same thing each time. I was certainly more aware of the problems inherent in this story than I was originally, especially in the men vs women stakes – and so often they did seem to be a confrontation. That Ce’Nedra would threaten tears at Garion so frequently was quite off-putting, but then – she is only sixteen, so perhaps allowances can be made. Although not many. Actually, I was struck this time by just how many strong women there actually are, and strong in different ways: Polgara, Porenn the Drasnian queen, Vella, the Dryad queen, Vordai in the swamp, Barak’s wife Merel … it’s actually quite a good list.

A number of people have tried to convince me that re-reading The Mallorean is A Very Bad Idea. I’m not convinced. I won’t be doing it immediately, but perhaps in the medium-term future….

TEHANI
Oh, I reckon we go visit Sparhawk first!

This reread has been great fun – it’s been ages since I’ve gone back to any old favourites (simply too many new books to read to go back to the oldies, although the old darlings still get pride of place on my bookshelves!), so I was glad to have to make time to get through these again. It’s such a comfort read, but it also helps me to see where I’m at with my reading now, and examine my baseline for my current favourites, which is interesting in itself! Maybe I’ll put some Anne McCaffrey or Raymond Feist back on my To Be Read shelf and see if the experience is the same!

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “All’s well that ends… : the Belgariad Book 5

  1. Anonymous

    Oh yes, visit Sparhawk next please 🙂

  2. Anonymous

    The punishment of Zedar gave me nightmares as a kid. I know we’re not supposed to care what happens to him but I found it horrific.
    Thanks for these guys, I’ve really enjoyed reading them! It’s brought back lots of memories, without me having to reread them myself 😉

    • Anonymous

      I think one of the things Eddings did really well was make us care just a little about all the bad guys. Even though they are all pretty horrible in their own ways, we still get to feel sorry for them, or sad for them (as adults at least).
      And you’re welcome! It’s been fun 🙂

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