Journeying onwards and leaving endings hanging: The Belgariad Book 3

You can find Tehani’s post over here, if you want to see what comments she gets. More spoilers ahead!

Magician’s Gambit: Book 3 of the Belgariad
David Eddings

Me
Ce’Nedra gets to star in this book a bit more than the others, and I’m sure she loved that. Firstly, I think it’s totally awesome that Durnik, of all people, gets to be the one to peg her for being lovelorn over Garion. It’s really a very cute scene, and Ce’Nedra’s dreadful acceptance that she belongs to the Empire and therefore cannot make her own choices in that regard is somewhat heartbreaking. Additionally, of course, it’s immensely amusing for the reader that she keeps refusing to understand who and what Belgarath and Polgara are, and the adventure that she’s got herself involved in. It’s like Eddings is allowing a sceptical reader – a reader who hasn’t been totally suckered by the story yet – someone to identify with.

TEHANI
I hadn’t thought of it that way! But you’re right, Ce’Nedra’s naivety in the ways of the gods does permit a certain scepticism in the reader. I like that we get a view here of Durnik as actually being rather wise in the ways of relationships – he’s always been portrayed as intelligent, but rather backwater and perhaps a bit stodgy, but his observations here offer another side to him, which is rather important later on.

Me
I think you’re right about Durnik. I found myself liking Durnik more and more this time around, partly I guess because I know how it all turns out, but also because I’m finding the ‘normal’ characters a bit more appealing than the exceptional ones, a lot of the time.

There’s a lot of journeying in this book. Firstly, the band has to go through Maragor, perhaps the most sobering of all the lands in this imaginary world. Grolims may butcher people all day every day – but they’re Angaraks, and we have no sympathy for them. Here, although we’ve never met a Marag, we know enough that their slaughter was totally unwarranted: especially with the heavy hint that the Tolnedrans did it for the gold, not to stamp out their ritualistic cannibalism. The concept of a god who weeps eternally is a staggering one.

TEHANI
It’s not a very flattering portrayal of the Tolnedrans, and this is interesting in terms of the rest of the nations. Nyssians are not shown in a very good light, but we as the reader are still able to find them likeable in some way – in fact, all of the other Western nations, while generally “good”, are given faults of some kind (however slight), but we find them quirky rather than not nice. With the extermination of the Marags, Tolnedrans are painted with a completely different brush, which is quite unusual, particularly as one of our main characters is from that background. Or is her Dryad nature what save Ce’Nedra? Or perhaps the message is that she overcomes such an acquisitive heritage?

Me
That’s a very interesting observation. I don’t think the Dryad aspect is emphasised enough – and we don’t know enough about them – for that to be the mitigating factor. So I’d go with the idea that it’s meant to show how much she changes. Huh. Paints her in a much better light, doesn’t it?

Also in this section we finally learn a bit more about Garion’s ‘friend’ – the one in his head – and exactly what this entire adventure is leading up to. I have to say I find the idea of a universe that has a purpose (although no guiding intelligence), and that purpose getting divided because of a little accident, one of the weaker parts of the whole plot. I have no problem with two destinies battling it out; I’m a Christian, I can do dualism. But that there was an accident, which managed to split the purpose? That just seems … silly. Especially if there is no overarching God to take notice of that accident. Anyway – I accept it for the plot-device it is, and continue.

TEHANI
It sometimes seems a bit of a cheat really – I wonder what mistakes Garion would have made if it weren’t for the meddling voice in his head?

Me
I’m sure someone has written that fanfic… or they should, if they haven’t ☺

We get to visit the Vale of Aldur, for the first time: it’s like hearing about someone’s house for ages and finally getting there. Seeing Polgara surrounded by adoring birds humanises her, I think, in a bizarre way. Garion’s attempt to move the rock – by lifting it, so that he ends up almost burying himself in reaction – is hilarious, and I really like that their magic actually does have physical repercussions like that. And have I mentioned yet how much I adore Beldin? I love him. I love his crotchetiness, I wish Eddings had actually written his oaths down, I love his insulting nature and that (we find out eventually) it hides an intellect both enormous and immensely caring. He makes me happy.

From the Vale the troupe heads to Ulgo, with another of the more interesting groups of people in this world, and one that I can’t think of an analogue for. It’s curious, too, that they are less stereotyped than others. Admittedly we meet fewer Ulgos than members of other races, but nonetheless: Relg is a fanatic, but he’s clearly marked out as being different even from most of the other Ulgos in that respect. The trip into Ulgoland is marked by wonderful monsters, and I think Eddings did very well in this area. Flesh-eating horsey-looking critters? Respect, man. And we get to ditch Ce’Nedra for a while, leaving her with the Gorim. Aw, poor man! No, wait: the way he deals with Relg? He can deal with anything.

TEHANI
I’ve always felt like the Ulgos are analogous with Jewish people (and my little Wikipedia link suggests that too!).

Leaving Ce’Nedra behind also lets Garion miss her, I think, which obviously eases him into his feelings a bit more. Not so much in this book, but in the next…

Me
Finally, the adventure leads to Cthol Murgos. Various adventures ensue, and my favourite may be the encounter with Yarblek, if only for the facts that Polgara deals with his Nadrak ways – thinking she might be for sale – with such aplomb, and for the way she tells everyone else to keep their indignation to themselves.

TEHANI
That whole gender thing with the Nadrak people is a really interesting one – on the surface it looks like women are treated in a fairly negative way, but then you see Polgara take control of her situation and you start to wonder about the practice, and it’s eventually revealed (in a later book) that it’s most definitely the women who are in control, despite outward appearances.

Me
You know, I think the Nadraks may be one of my favourite groups of people, for exactly the same reasons that I adore Silk.

During their time in Gar og Nadrak, Relg has to rescue Silk by taking him through rock, and it’s not often you get to see Silk totally and utterly at a loss.

TEHANI
And that going through rock thing bothers Silk for quite some time to come – it REALLY puts him out of sorts! Gets a bit belaboured by the end of it, in fact…

Me
Belaboured is putting it mildly!

Finally, there’s the epic battle between Belgarath and Ctuchik, which is actually not so epic. That is, in concept it is, but Eddings doesn’t draw it out nearly as much as he might have. I’m in two minds about whether I would like to have seen more , or not. And the fact that Ctuchik essentially destroys himself … well. It’s a bit of a cheat, but it does make sense. I guess.

TEHANI
This book is pretty violent overall – lots of random Murgos being killed because they’re in the way of the group. It’s all rather bloodless though, which is probably why I never realised just how brutal the series is in general until this reread – lots of characters killed “off screen” and even those who cop their serve right up front don’t really seem to have an impact. I actually found the way the main bad guys have died to be more bothering, often because of the reaction of Garion and the others to how it happens.

Me
The fact that they are largely callous and coldhearted about it? Yeh, bothered me too.

TEHANI
There were some new (to become ongoing) characters introduced in Magician’s Gambit who bear notice. Yarblek, who Alex already mentioned, comes to be quite pivotal and who I like for his brassness, and Errand, the innocent raised by Ctuchik to steal the Orb. I tried to read the character of Errand with fresh eyes when he’s introduced in this book (which is a bit hard, knowing how his storyline concludes), to look at him as he’s presented, and to view his initial part in the story without consideration of where he ends up. Conclusion? He’s a little cutie! I love his seriousness in his efforts to hand the Orb to random people, and I love that he’s foreshadowed from the beginning to be important later.

Me
I too tried to see Errand with fresh eyes, and in some ways it’s easier this time around: last time I read it, I hadn’t been around young kids for a while! Makes it easier to imagine him as the cutie he’s described as when you’ve got a point of reference.

This book really does feel like the middle of a series, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We know all the main characters; now we get to see them interacting and meeting new people. We know the basic aim of the plot, and indeed the book finishes with the retrieval of the Orb, which for a while appeared to be the main point. But it finishes with Our Heroes in a building that’s crashing down around their ears, and the suggestion that there is yet more to do for this particular adventure to finalise itself. I’m so very glad that I wasn’t reading this series as it was being published, because the ending – everyone heading out of the citadel – is immensely unsatisfying if you can’t immediately go and read the continuation.

Which is, of course, what I did.

TEHANI
Ahem, and so did I. To the exclusion of much else, including these reread notes! Got very distracted by story and forgot to be critical! Will try harder…

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