Fantasy Classics: “Sorceress of Darshiva” (by David Eddings)

We’ve now come to the penultimate volume in The Mallorean, and things have begun to reach a crescendo. Garion and company have to increasingly confront the perils of prophecy as they grow closer to the moment foretold for eons, when Cyradis the Seer will have to make a dreadful choice between the Child of Dark and the Child of Light. In the process, they make a number of fascinating discoveries.

One of the novel’s most fascinating sequences occurs when Garion and Belgarath visit the University of Melcene, where they encounter a man who has learned the secrets of sorcery on his own. It’s a useful reminder that there are quite a few other people in this vast world that Eddings has created, and not all of them have a major part to play in the major events of the series. (In this case, the sorcerer does help them understand more of the Sardion, the gem that is the evil counterpart to the Orb of Aldur).

It would be very easy to paint both The Belgariad and The Mallorean as paint-by-numbers fantasy. As readers, we already know the beats that the story is going to hit going in, and we also know that certain characters who are going to fulfill certain functions. There are times in this book, however, where we realize that Torak, for one, isn’t nearly as one-dimensional as we might have assumed, particularly when the Garion and Belgarath read the prophecies that Torak himself was obliged to deliver. These sequences where we hear Torak’s voice, however, reveal that there is something more complex going on. As in all great fantasy, Torak isn’t just a malevolent force devoid of any complexity. In fact, he ultimately has no more agency in the unfolding of his destiny than Garion does. In some ways, in fact, his burden is even heavier, since he must largely carry it alone.

I also particularly appreciated this book’s efforts to portray Emperor ‘Zakath with more depth and complexity than did The Belgariad. One gets the sense that part of this series’ attempts to right some of the wrongs of its predecessor in terms of its rather simplistic portrayal of the Angaraks. He’s wry and amusing, and he clearly has had a great burden on his shoulders as the Emperor of Mallorea. Though he has had some of his emotions stripped out of him by various struggles and personal setbacks, he still emerges from the book as someone who really does do the best that he can for his people.

Though the storytelling in Sorceress of Darshiva is as streamlined as its predecessors, it does continue the practice of occasionally zooming out to give the reader a sense of what’s going on in the rest of the world. This is a neat little device, a way of reminding us that, though the quest of Belgarion and the rest is, of course, the most important thing going on in the world, there are other characters who are also playing a key part in the events that are about to shape the world. I liked the emphasis on Queen Porenn in particular, if for no other reason than that it’s nice to see some attention paid to one of the few female monarchs in the series.

Two other positive things are worth noting. First, we finally get to see Durnik attain the reward that he’s been moving toward (unconsciously) since the ending of The Belgariad. He is at last welcomed as one of the disciples of Aldur. It’s fitting that he be given this status, since he has worked as hard as any to make Garion into the person that he is. What’s more, he is a genuinely good man who genuinely loves Polgara and Garion. The other positive development is the inclusion of the character of the female wolf who inexplicably joins their company. Though her identity isn’t revealed until later, the canny reader will no doubt quickly guess who she is and what he role in the coming confrontation will ultimately be.

However, that being said, this book (like so many of the others in this series) tends to lean a bit too heavily on the witty banter and what Eddings seems to think are charming affectations. If you thought that just because Mandorallen wasn’t going to be part of the narrative that you were to be spared his archaic dialogue, you would be mistaken, because we still get it in the person of Cyradis. (I’m fairly sure that he was using this device to poke fun at Tolkien, but it ends up becoming very trite and, frankly, irritating). What’s more, Eddings is often a bit simplistic in his narrative devices. The mysteries aren’t really that mysterious when you get right down to it, and the solutions to the central enigmas (such as “The Place Which is No More”) are, in the final analysis, quite easy to figure out. No wonder so many of the characters seem perplexed that they hadn’t thought of it sooner. (Most canny readers will have figured out the secret pretty early on).

Overall, I quite liked this book. Eddings continues to demonstrate that he has a keen eye for what makes a story work. Narratively, the book has its own story to tell and its own bits of character development, even as it manages to connect with what came before and what follows in the next, and final, book in the series. Just as importantly, while you’re reading one of the books in this series you can’t help but feel swept up in the narrative. At the same time, he knows how to slow down long enough so that the reader really gets a sense of place, and I for one really enjoyed the fact that the company gets to travel around the eastern continent, exploring new peoples, places, and customs.

I’ve already finished The Seeress of Kell, and I can’t wait to share my thoughts with all of you. It’s going to be a blast!