I’ve been a bit behind in updating y’all with my readings of David Eddings’ Mallorean, but rest assured I’m back at it. I’ve now finished Demon Lord of Karanda, the third volume in the series, in which Garion and company continue on their quest to track down Zandramas, the sorceress who has kidnapped Garion’s son and plans to use him in a ritual that will bring about the end of the good prophecy. Once again, Eddings spins an eminently captivating tale, one that sweeps the reader along in a breathless adventure for the salvation of all of the cosmos. The characters are the same ones that we’ve met before, though the challenges that they face are somewhat different than those they’ve encountered before, even as they continue to tread a path of prophecy eerily similar to that which they encountered in The Belgariad.
However, there are a few things that mar this novel, most notably the dialogue. As I’ve written in my other reviews for this particular series, Eddings has this annoying habit of thinking that his writing is more clever than it is. Most obviously, this manifests as the constant banter among the characters. It’s cute once in a while, but he leans so heavily on it in this novel that it really does break up the narrative flow. One can’t help but think that his editors fell down on the job a bit on this one, or perhaps Eddings was already so successful as an author that he could get away with this sort of lazy writing without someone taking him to task and demanding that he make the experience a little more pleasant for his readers. By the end of the novel, I’m sure that I’m not the only one who was wishing that something particularly awful would happen to either Silk or Liselle, just so they’d stop interrupting what was happening with their inane chatter.
Then there’s the juggler. Whew. It’s really hard to convey how absolutely infuriating his accent is. I’m pretty sure that Eddings thought it was cute and quaint, but the thing about dialect is that it requires a truly adept writer to write in such a way that it doesn’t make the reader want to either pull their hair out or throw the book across the room. Alas, that writer is not David Eddings. It ends up coming across as very cloying and irritating, to an extent that it’s very tempting to just skip the parts where he goes on and on (I definitely sympathize with Belgarath, who finds the brogue equally irritating).
Whatever his flaws and shortcomings as a writer, there’s no question that Eddings really does know how to craft a scene that sticks in the mind. There’s one in particular that stands out, and it involves the sorcerer Urvon and his madness. By this point, he’s quite thoroughly under the thrall of the titular Demon Lord, a creature named Nahaz. As Garion watches, they stage a religious ceremony in the ruins of the ancient city of Ashaba, once the haunt of Torak. It’s a haunting sort of image, as we realize that the various evil powers are jockeying for position, each of them seeking to be the one who will rise as the god of the Angaraks.
The scene that really struck me, however, was one that largely occurred off-stage. As they make their way toward Kell, the company come across a group who are preparing for a woman to give birth to a child that will be an unholy amalgam of demon and human. Polgara, being the woman that she is, intervenes and, while the reader doesn’t know exactly what happens, it’s very clear that whatever it is takes a tremendous toll on her. It’s a moment made horrifying by the fact that we as readers are given just enough of an image to know that this poor woman, deceived by the poisoned words of a demon, has given up her body (and, ultimately her life), for a broken promise. Eddings’ brilliance as a writer is that he only gives us enough of a glimpse of what’s happening to know that it’s truly terrible without indulging in the prurient.
By this point in the narrative, the stakes are growing ever higher, as it’s clear that the cloven destinies that have competed for so long will at last come to a final, fatal confrontation. Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what will happen here. Say what you will about Eddings, but the man isn’t a cynic (or, at least, his works aren’t cynical). It’s a pretty safe assumption that the story will end happily, with the evil side of destiny banished, the world returned to a balance that it hasn’t had for some time. The joy of the novels, however, is in experiencing how we get to that point, and it’s to Eddings’ credit as a storyteller that he periodically makes us doubt whether, in fact, good will win out in the end.
At the same time, I continue to be astounded at the philosophical richness of the series’ fundamental conflict. It’s really rather disturbing to contemplate the idea that the all of one’s actions are being directed by a prophecy, that individual free will is a figment, a convenient truth that people tell themselves in order to make the world make a little more sense. Since so much of the novel is told from Garion’s perspective, we as readers get to see the toll that it takes on his psyche. However, at the very least he has the consolation of his burgeoning friendship with the Mallorean emperor ‘Zakath, who continues to emerge as a fully-developed character in his own right. I just hope that he survives until the end of the story.
All in all, I quite enjoyed Demon Lord of Karanda. It does show some signs of being the middle volume in a five-book series, but it largely manages to overcome its flaws to be an entertaining yarn. My review of Sorceress of Darshiva is coming soon!