Queen of Sorcery picks up where Pawn of Prophecy left off. Garion is still in the company of the sorcerer Belgarath and his daughter Polgara, as well as sundry other characters, including several new additions, most notably C’Nendra, the daughter of the Emperor of Tolendra who joins them after she runs away from home. As the novel progresses, we visit more of the lands of Eddings’ fictional world and get a firmer view of the politics at play, including the never-ending conflict between the Mimbrates and the Arendians, as well as the machinations of the Nyissans, led by their snake-like Queen Salmissra.
As with its predecessor, there are the familiar epic beats as it becomes clearer that Garion is not just a young boy brought along to keep him safe but is, instead, pivotal to the workings of prophecy itself. What’s more, it’s revealed during the course of the story that he, like his aunt and his grandfather, has the power of sorcery. For better and for worse, it’s a burden that he has to bear. The fact that he is going to be responsible for the functioning of prophecy just makes his responsibilities all the greater, even as he wishes that it weren’t so and that he could go back to living the simple life on Faldor’s farm that he was forced to leave behind.
Some people make the claim that Garion is a bit of a brat in this series, but I think that’s a bit of a misreading. True, he does seem to struggle unnecessarily against the changes that start to overtake his life, but who wouldn’t, in his position? After all, in a relatively short period of time everything about his life, his family, and his destiny have all been turned upside down, so it’s only natural that he would experience moments when he doesn’t want to do as he’s told, particularly since neither Polgara nor Belgarath seem particularly eager to tell him any more than they think he needs to know. And besides, there’s just something charming about his character that makes him impossible to dislike.
It seems to me that Eddings doesn’t get nearly enough credit for his ability to imbue his narratives with powerful feeling. In one particular instance, the company rides through a land that, as Garion is informed, has been the site of numerous conflicts between the Mimbrates and the Asturians. It’s a haunting moment, as he realizes that the land over which they are walking is literally filled with the graves of those who have given their lives to a conflict that seems to have no resolution. In fact, the entire conflict between these two powerful groups (which are very similar to the Anglo-Saxons and the Normans), is one that seems to have so thoroughly ensnared both groups of people that neither of them can see any way out of it.
This is also the novel in which Garion does the seemingly unthinkable and kills someone with his newly-found powers of sorcery. The fact that it happens to be the man who murdered his mother and father only partially cushions the blow that this has on him and on us as readers. It’s a scene described in almost painful detail, as Asharak the Murgo confronts them and threatens the life of everyone that Garion cares about. Unable to control his anger any longer, he unleashes fire and burns the man to a crisp, even as his victim begs him for mercy. This incident is the most important thing that happens to Garion in the entire book, and it is a reminder of the tremendous burden that his power entails, as well as the tricky nature of revenge. While he might have finally attained the vengeance that he sought for the murder of his parents, it leaves a scar on his psyche, one that will take quite a while for him to overcome.
It’s also an incident that reveals how ruthless Polgara herself can be. Ever since I first read this series when I was in high school, I’ve loved this character. In this book, she also gets one of her best speeches, when she reprimands Garion for his childlike behavior, pointing out that she has, in fact, suffered a great deal in order to make sure that he survived to fulfill his destiny. There are glimpses in this speech of the life that Polgara has led, of the many things that she has endured in her millennia-long life (many of which will be explored in her own novel, Polgara the Sorceress). It’s a reminder that there is much about this character that lies beneath the surface, and it’s precisely this texture that makes her so fascinating.
Queen of Sorcery also contains one of Eddings’ enigmatic creations, and she is, of course, the titular character. The novel clearly intends Salmissra to be seen as evil, and in many ways she is the id of the story, the dark woman of seemingly bottomless appetites that Garion must overcome in order for him to move into the next step of his maturity. This is, admittedly, a rather regressive way of looking at female sexuality, but it’s in keeping with fantasy conventions and pop psychology (upon which Eddings is surely drawing in the way that he constructs his character and his narrative). It’s also no accident that her inability to restrain her emotions and her desires are in marked contrast to Polgara who, as it happens, transforms her into a giant serpent as a punishment for her attempt to kidnap Garion and enslave him. However, for all that the novel wants us as readers to be more than a little horrified at this snake-woman, the fact is that she is a very compelling character. Like so many of the femmes fatales that have preceded her in literature, she exerts a powerful allure that the narrative (and, for that matter, Polgara herself) cannot quite control or contain.
I’m already making my way through the next book in the series, Magician’s Gambit, and I am looking forward to sharing all of my thoughts with you!