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David Eddings – King Of The Murgos

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The search continues, and this time they’re heading east.

Publisher: Corgi (Random House)
Pages: 436
Type: Fiction
Age: Young Adult
ISBN: 978-0-552-14803-0
First Published: 1988
Date Reviewed: 26th September 2012
Rating: 3.5/5

Garion, his wife Ce’Nedra, and their friends, are still on the journey to find baby Prince Geran who was kidnapped by Zandramas. Fate unknown but destiny acknowledged, the company enter the land of the Murgos on the next step of their trek across the world. It will take them back to the Ulgos and land them in danger with the sacrificing Grolims, but there will be one or two surprises also.

Eddings’s story here is more of the same, which is a very good thing if you like his work in general but likely off-putting if you are looking for difference. There is, as always, the continuation of self-indulgent humour, coincidences that take away all worry that people will not survive a battle, and the unfortunate tendency to present murder followed by yet more humour. And whilst the latter can and often does work in television and other works of fiction, sadly in the case of Garion and company it can feel a little insensitive. Indeed of the humour one must find it particularly enjoyable for it to not become ingratiating, given that it is used in every book in exactly the same manner.

And yet in many ways this book surpasses the previous, Guardians Of The West, and the entire first series, The Belgariad. There is far less info-dumping – where Eddings has always included an entire battle strategy multiple times in one book, here he simply includes a few sentences or paragraphs, meaning that the afore-mentioned lack of worry that the reader has, considering the battles never end in tears, is less of an issue; it’s easier to accept the lack of true thrills when there isn’t any unnecessary logistical planning beforehand. The story features fewer instances of characters suddenly appearing to save the day, and more interesting conversation and revealing background context.

But the additional angles linked to battles and complications can be a disappointment. Indeed complications are never really complications – a ship is wrecked, magic heals, a holy fire is put out and the accused is easily let off. Magic and coercion are obviously going to be used, this is a fantasy book, but it does make conclusions more unbelievable than they would be otherwise.

Eddings has a view on women, but what is it is anyone’s guess. On the one hand we have an author who creates strong women who have no qualms about raising an army and leading it, but on the other we have a group of male characters that worry about their womenfolk seeing the bodies of slaughtered people. A woman will go into battle and kill, but her male friends will still worry about how “the ladies” might get upset over less than that. And in these series it could be argued that the women are far stronger than the men. One could say that Eddings was writing before gender equality became such a big issue, but this book was only released, if one may make a reference to popular culture, a few years before Girl Power entered the 90s. In addition to this there is the constant usage of “yes dear” both as a term of endearment and irritation and given the quasi-medieval yet futuristic landscape of the world Eddings created, it doesn’t sit right.

But for all this there is one striking element in this book that is not as apparent, if indeed it exists, in the others. This is the way Garion and Eriond react towards those who kill violently for no good reason. They, Garion and Eriond, have their values but these are never thrown at the reader, resting steadily with the characters. The reader is a mere observer; there is no lesson in morality, which is just as well because on one occasion there is quite a lot of violent retaliation. What is striking, then, is the way Eddings allows the feelings of the characters to pour onto the page – the way that whilst they will kill without thought when need arises, they see the difference between needs-must and glorified hatred, but their thoughts of action are in most cases given a lecture by the older members of their party.

For the most part, King Of The Murgos is surely a better work than any of the previous, but as it comes to a close the incidences that suggest otherwise rear their ugly heads all at once. One certainly needs to appreciate Eddings’s style considerably in order to find the book a spectacular success, but such appreciation is not required for simple enjoyment. There are a lot of issues with the book, but it is still a solid example of fun fantasy fiction that will appeal to various age groups and both genders.

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October 12, 2012, 9:45 am

Interesting. I was thinking today that I am seeing ‘Mary Sue’ used a little differently across the bloggo/twittersphere than my understanding of it as describing a female lead whom every one likes, solves every problem perfectly and saves the day because she can do no wrong. It looks like ‘MarySue’ is expanding to include women characters who are acted upon or to whom the story happens. It seems to imply that by definition a Heroine is a woman who has agency/takes action.

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