Daughter of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts

Mara has to be one of my all time favourite protagonists. Brilliant book.

So we start with Mara about to undergo her rites of admission to a religious order. However due to circumstances out of her control, this is interrupted and she becomes Ruling Lady of the Acoma and is thrust into survival to both save herself, her House, and all the people she rules as her family’s enemies try to destroy her.

Mara has to be one of the best young female protagonists I have ever read about. She is not athletic, she barely walks anywhere. She is not good at weapons, the one time she tries to release an arrow she fails. What she is though is smart, and she uses that along with using the training and abilities of those she rules to move ahead in the game. She’s also self-aware enough to know her limitations though sometimes she takes a bit of time to get there.

It is a truly alien world she lives in, where ‘Honour’ is everything, or at least the appearance of it. Slavery is common and widespread, indeed the whole world’s economy is based on it. What is truly unique here I think is that, at least in this book, no one questions it. During a raid, a slave boy is killed and no one cares, not Mara or anyone close to her, they care more about the animals he was guarding. It can be hard to read sometimes but it is interesting and fairly unique as often modern sensibilities are put on it. Anyone who is associated with her house, slave or not, is totally at her mercy. She can order the death of anyone and it will be done instantly.

How Mara deals with her marriage is both brilliant and disturbing. Buntokapi is not a nice man but he was ruthlessly dealt with. How the plan came together was just astounding. And that’s not even going into the events at the Minwanabi House. There is a bit of Mary Sue about Mara, but honestly I don’t care. She makes mistakes and though there are fortuitous occurrences, she makes the most of them.

This is set in the world of Kelewan, which is part of Raymond E Feist’s Riftwar saga. It is not necessary to have read them, though it will definitely add more context to certain parts. This is an amazing world, dark but so interesting with a real feel of history behind it. It has lots of great characters, not just Mara, though nearly the whole book is from her POV. It’s been quite a while since I read this but it holds up as well as I remember.

5 stars

Polgara the Sorceress by David and Leigh Eddings

Parts of it were great but far too much repetition of events.

So after the ‘biography’ we had of Belgarath, we now have the same for Polgara. The same pretence is used in that Ce’Nedra wants to get the full story as she thought that Belgarath had left too much out of his so she enlists the aid of Poledra to get it. It’s done in the same narrative style with lots of asides, mainly to her father.

I was actually quite looking forward to this. I’ve read it before but struggled to remember exactly what happened in it that wasn’t already covered in Belgarath’s one. The short answer is not a lot. Pretty much all the events from her birth are covered again except from her POV. There is additional information of course, and the different viewpoint does colour certain scenes a little more but overall I found myself bored too many times. Like it’s an interesting premise to have the same events covered from another’s perspective but this is a hefty book and it was too much for certain periods.

There were parts that were great. I loved learning more about what happened during her time in Arendia and how she managed to continue fighting after the fall of the Wacites. Her love of Sendaria makes a lot more sense now after you learn of her involvement in the founding of it. I also enjoyed learning more about Garion’s predecessors and how Polgara managed to deal with them all through the centuries.

I’m still not sure of her ‘voice’ in the narrative. She was always quite enigmatic and composed (mostly) in the books but here she sometimes seemed too much like Belgarath, especially with the pithy asides. Also the constant comments about the differences between men and women got very tiresome.

I probably would have enjoyed this more if I hadn’t jumped into it directly after Belgarath the Sorcerer but it is what it is. This completely rounds out the ‘Belgariad’ universe but I wouldn’t recommend for the more casual fan as there is far too much repetition of events in it.

3.5 stars rounded up

Belgarath the Sorcerer by David and Leigh Eddings

A great story that expands on events referenced in the main books though it has its flaws.

The framing of the book is that Garion and Durnik basically badger Belgarath into writing his memoirs and it is in this style that it is written. It’s all told from his POV with lots of snide comments to the reader and his imagined audience. Like all biographies it starts with his birth and early life, then shows how he became Aldur’s disciple and covers all the major events that preceded the main series’ in great detail. For fans of the series’ it is brilliant.

As mentioned already the style on how this is written is very well done. The little digs that ‘Belgarath’ puts in to Garion, Polgara and co are great and really make the biography style of the writing work. And all those questions and thoughts you may have wanted answered on how a person can get through seven millennia are here, though there is a lot of brushing through centuries. It is simplistic, and we won’t even go through the lack of technological change, but it is still fun to read about. I loved getting more backstory on his fellow disciples and all the events leading up to the Breaking of the World were some of favourite parts.

The bits that annoyed me though are all towards the end of the book, basically everything after the Battle of Vo Mimbre. One of the main points of the first two books of the Belgariad is that Belgarath and Polgara claim no knowledge that Asharak is Chamdar though we find out here that it is known all along. I understand that there are always going to be continuity issues when a series goes on so long that wasn’t all planned out in detail beforehand, but I still found it annoying.

If you’re a fan of the series’ I would definitely recommend this book. It’s titled as a prequel but do not read it until after you’ve read all the other books as it will give away all the main plot points. I hadn’t planned on it but I think I want to spend some more time in this world so Polgara the Sorceress is up next.

5 stars

Seeress of Kell by David Eddings

Great end to the series, all wrapped up and tied with a bow satisfactorily.

Again there’s no time jump here, we’re straight into the action from where we left off. The endgame is almost in sight and there are just a couple more places to go before the meeting at the Place Which is No More.

Honestly there’s not a great deal of dramatic tension here. The Choice is between Light and Dark, Good and Evil and though the authors’ try to make it seem more profound than this I don’t think they pull it off too well. Maybe if the villains were a bit more nuanced it would have been more gripping but since they’re literally almost evil personified and have spent the previous four books committing one atrocity after another it’s not really going to work. The only real tension is finding out who is going to die as had been prophesied.

Saying that I still loved it. I know I’m probably blinded by my nostalgia but it is what it is and there’s nothing I can do about it. These books are probably my number one go to comfort read when I’m stuck in a bit of a rut reading wise and I’m sure I’ll read them again.

I have read about the issues people have with the slightly dodgy gender politics going on but as it later came out these were all co-written by David Eddings with his wife Leigh and it was she who wrote all the female parts. They’re still dodgy but it must be acknowledged that at least it was a woman writing this and not a man, so if this is how they wanted to portray the interaction between man and woman so be it. There are other issues with the authors’ that much more troubling than this if you do a quick google search. Finding out about all of that really took a shine off but luckily I was able to separate the work from the author and can still enjoy the story.

As I’ve mentioned before, there’s nothing really original here across all ten books. These latter five are almost a copy of the first five in some ways, which is actually a plot point in them. However the story is gripping, the characters are all great and the dialogue and banter is even better. They are an easy read and I love them.

4.5 stars rounded up

Sorceress of Darshiva by David Eddings

Great continuation of the series.

Again there’s no time jump here, we start immediately where we left off. There’s a few POV’s from familiar characters in other parts of the world before going back to Garion and the gang for the rest of the book. Here we get to explore Melcene and then move on to the greater Melcene empire.

Some of my favourite bits of the series are in this book. I love the trip to the Melcene university. Something about the reactions of Senji to Belgarath, Beldin and Garion always gets me. Also the note still gives me goosebumps. We get back to Zakath too, one of my favourites as mentioned in a previous review, and I love his capitulation when he realizes that he is still a relatively minor player in the grand scheme of things.

There is not much character growth in the books to be honest, especially in each individual series though there is a bit between the Belgariad and the Mallorean. It’s not a problem though, at least in my opinion, the characters are so well formed that it seems largely unnecessary. If anything they become even more themselves. Saying that, Durnik really gets his moments to shine in this book and it’s about time. He’s mostly a fairly background character but really stands out throughout this one.

Most of the main mysteries behind events and the motivations of the Zandramas and her underlings are explained here though there a few things still unanswered. Roll on the final part.

5 stars

Demon Lord of Karanda by David Eddings

Great book, especially considering it’s the middle of a five book series.

Continuing on exactly where we left off, Garion and Co are being brought to Emperor Zakath and from there, the scene moves to the continent of Mallorea.

I just love this book. Zakath is probably one of my favourite characters in the series. Yes he is a stereotype, one of the cold hearted, ruthless and ambitious ruler scarred by a distant tragedy. Of course he begins to change in the company of our band of heroes but I think it’s done brilliantly and always look forward to this part of the books. Mallorea is an interesting place and I love the reactions of the characters as they progress through it.

Like all good books there are parts that resonate more at different times of your life. I always appreciated how the authors showed the plague beginnings in Mal Zeth and how easily these things can spread and get out of control. However in the modern times and everything the whole world has been going through in the last two years it is even more poignant and frightening. I now know how reckless it actually was that they snook out of the city and the potential devastation they could have caused if even one of them had been affected.

This is a great entry in the series and as always, looking forward to the next one.

5 stars

King of the Murgos by David Eddings

A solid second book though there are issues.

Events continue almost directly where we left them at the end of the previous book. The hunt for Zandramas is on and more like The Belgariad, the team go on a long journey through various countries on the trail of her. Some familiar countries are explored until we start getting to new places.

So after spending the first series exploring the West, Eddings starts to explore other countries here, starting with Cthol Murgos. The beats are familiar though at least we get some (kind of) new characters in Toth, Liselle and Sadi. They add some freshness as the party as we are missing some old favourites.

Though I enjoy these books there are some uncomfortable stereotypes as I mentioned in the review of the previous book and it is very apparent here. The generic barbaric ‘Easterner’ is a feature of the series’ and it gets worse here as we explore their country. We finally spend some quality time with them and then it turns out that the most likeable person they meet is not actually quite what he seems and kind of reinforces the West is the Best narrative. The books are the products of their time somewhat, especially due to the age of the authors when they wrote them but it is still annoying and will probably bother others more.

This has probably my least favourite so far in that until the final half there is little new going on. The next book heads to Mallorea which I have always liked so I’m looking forward to moving to the next one.

3.5 stars rounded up

Guardians of the West by David Eddings

Good opening to the series.

Set a little after the events of the Belgariad, the first part of the book covers quite a few years until the latter third or so moves along at a more normal pace. Though the events of the previous series were pretty definitive, there are hints and portents that the conflict between the Light and the Dark might not be over.

So the story in this is very much a retcon and the author spends a fair bit of time scrambling around trying to show how the previous events didn’t necessarily show that the confrontation between Garion and Torak was the final event. To be fair they do a pretty good job of it if you take it with a leap of faith, there are a few bits in the previous series that may have shown this.

We also start with another POV in Errand, though Garion does take over for the rest of the book after this. The pace is quite leisurely at first but does pick up for the last half or so. All our favourite characters are back and still retain our affection even though circumstances might have changed for them. Garion is well done in that he really feels like a more mature version of the kid from the first series.

There is nothing new in these books, and modern readers might struggle with the pure stereotypes and archetypical plot points of them but they will always retain a special affection for me. They are a light, easy read though sometimes it kind of be a bit jarring as some pretty dark things are done, mostly by the bad guys but sometimes our heroes do some very questionable things. Looking forward to the rest of the series.

4 stars

of Ants and Dinosaurs by Cixin Liu

A decent read but the style made it difficult to invest.

This is an imagined history of the Cretaceous Period where Ants and Dinosaurs set up a kind of symbiotic civilization based on mutual needs. It covers around two thousand years of history and details how the relationship between the two species started and developed and of course goes into the conflicts too.

This is a pretty unusual but interesting book. It’s told in a kind of dry and humorous tone that jumps through time periods fairly quickly, spending a little more time with the major moments of civilized breakthroughs. There are not too many ‘characters’ or POV’s and is mostly told via a kind of dry narration.

I am pretty much a ‘surface’ reader when I read books, particularly if it’s my first time reading them and often miss a lot nuance. However the allegory here is brick heavy and even I picked up on it. I’m pretty sure the ‘West’ or the developed world are the dinosaurs but not totally sure if the ants are the ‘East’ or just developing worlds in general. But this is a hit you over the head warning to all of us to get co-operating on the climate and sort out conflicts and egos. It makes the point that all of us need to live in the world and respect it and thinking only about your own country/civilization often has unintended consequences.

I don’t really like being lectured at in my reading but I didn’t mind it here to be honest. The tone helped of course though it got a bit much by the end. What didn’t help though for my overall enjoyment of the book was this same feature, it was so dry and impersonal that it made it hard to really connect with the book. You can imagine an amazing world, or have a great idea, but if there are not characters that I’m invested in as well you are going to lose me and that happened here. Great idea but there were little to no personal moments that build an empathy to a story.

It was a decent book and I’m glad I read it but I do wonder if I’d ever go back to it again. It’s short though, and a standalone, so they are some very good plus points to it.

3 stars

The Call by Peadar O’Guilin

Had potential but didn’t quite get there.

This is set in Ireland in a future where the Sidhe, or the Tuatha de Danaan, have reappeared to get their vengeance on all Irish people after being trapped in a kind of hell for the last few thousand years. Ireland has been cut off from the rest of the world and all teenage children are ‘called’ to survive in the Grey Lands for twenty-four hours, though back in Ireland they will only be gone for three minutes. No one knows when they will be called.

Our main POV is Nessa, who is crippled, isn’t expected to survive but we get most of the story from her perspective. The story is set in a training camp/school which is set up to train kids to survive the experience, with some chapters from a person’s perspective when they called.

I don’t know what I expected from this book but it wasn’t this. It was billed as a kind of Irish Hunger Games (very original) and there were definite elements of that. The harsh training and the fact that the chances of survival are minuscule all add to that comparison. I think I was hoping for more from the Sidhe point of view or that there would be more time spent in the Grey Lands but there was hardly any of that. Instead most of the book’s focus was on the training and the interpersonal relationships between the students. That again could have been fine but it all came off as more the stereotypical bully and lackeys up against our noble hero protagonist and friends. There was also lots of mooning over relationships.

Honestly I just thought the whole Conor arc was pointless. Like there is enough menace and danger to the protagonists in the story anyway without having to take up more than half of the book dealing with the social pecking order at a school. I found it boring and unnecessary. The Sidhe were severely underused and I hope they are explored more in the sequel. The problem is I read the blurb for the next one and couldn’t face it. Maybe some day I’ll get around to it.

There are good points. What we do learn about the Sidhe and the treaty are really interesting and I love that the author has portrayed them more true to legend; they’re vicious, cruel and mercurial. The glimpses we get on how Ireland has had to adjust to be being cut off, and the loss of so many young is also tantalising but again not enough time is spent on it which is a shame. There is a brilliant book in here somewhere but was kind of wasted by throwing in too many tropes.

2.5 rounded up.

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