Sorceress of Darshiva

by David Eddings

Cover image

Series: The Malloreon #4
Publisher: Del Rey
Copyright: December 1989
Printing: November 1990
ISBN: 0-345-36935-1
Format: Mass market
Pages: 371

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This is the fourth book of the Malloreon, the sequel series to the Belgariad. Eddings as usual helpfully summarizes the plot of previous books (the one thing about his writing that I wish more authors would copy), this time by having various important people around the world briefed on current events. That said, you don't want to start reading here (although you might wish you could).

This is such a weird book.

One could argue that not much happens in the Belgariad other than map exploration and collecting a party, but the party collection involves meddling in local problems to extract each new party member. It's a bit of a random sequence of events, but things clearly happen. The Malloreon starts off with a similar structure, including an explicit task to create a new party of adventurers to save the world, but most of the party is already gathered at the start of the series since they carry over from the previous series. There is a ton of map exploration, but it's within the territory of the bad guys from the previous series. Rather than local meddling and acquiring new characters, the story is therefore chasing Zandramas (the big bad of the series) and books of prophecy.

This could still be an effective plot trigger but for another decision of Eddings that becomes obvious in Demon Lord of Karanda (the third book): the second continent of this world, unlike the Kingdoms of Hats world-building of the Belgariad, is mostly uniform. There are large cities, tons of commercial activity, and a fairly effective and well-run empire, with only a little local variation. In some ways it's a welcome break from Eddings's previous characterization by stereotype, but there isn't much in the way of local happenings for the characters to get entangled in.

Even more oddly, this continental empire, which the previous series set up as the mysterious and evil adversaries of the west akin to Sauron's domain in Lord of the Rings, is not mysterious to some of the party at all. Silk, the Drasnian spy who is a major character in both series, has apparently been running a vast trading empire in Mallorea. Not only has he been there before, he has houses and factors and local employees in every major city and keeps being distracted from the plot by his cutthroat capitalist business shenanigans. It's as if the characters ventured into the heart of the evil empire and found themselves in the entirely normal city next door, complete with restaurant recommendations from one of their traveling companions.

I think this is an intentional subversion of the normal fantasy plot by Eddings, and I kind of like it. We have met the evil empire, and they're more normal than most of the good guys, and both unaware and entirely uninterested in being the evil empire. But in terms of dramatic plot structure, it is such an odd choice. Combined with the heroes being so absurdly powerful that they have no reason to take most dangers seriously (and indeed do not), it makes this book remarkably anticlimactic and weirdly lacking in drama.

And yet I kind of enjoyed reading it? It's oddly quiet and comfortable reading. Nothing bad happens, nor seems very likely to happen. The primary plot tension is Belgarath trying to figure out the plot of the series by tracking down prophecies in which the plot is written down with all of the dramatic tension of an irritated rare book collector. In the middle of the plot, the characters take a detour to investigate an alchemist who is apparently immortal, featuring a university on Melcena that could have come straight out of a Discworld novel, because investigating people who spontaneously discover magic is of arguably equal importance to saving the world. Given how much the plot is both on rails and clearly willing to wait for the protagonists to catch up, it's hard to argue with them. It felt like a side quest in a video game.

I continue to find the way that Eddings uses prophecy in this series to be highly amusing, although there aren't nearly enough moments of the prophecy giving Garion stage direction. The basic concept of two competing prophecies that are active characters in the world attempting to create their own sequence of events is one that would support a better series than this one. It's a shame that Zandramas, the main villain, is rather uninteresting despite being female in a highly sexist society, highly competent, a different type of shapeshifter (I won't say more to avoid spoilers for earlier books), and the anchor of the other prophecy. It's good material, but Eddings uses it very poorly, on top of making the weird decision to have her talk like an extra in a Shakespeare play.

This book was astonishingly pointless. I think the only significant plot advancement besides map movement is picking up a new party member (who was rather predictable), and the plot is so completely on rails that the characters are commenting about the brand of railroad ties that Eddings used. Ce'Nedra continues to be spectacularly irritating. It's not, by any stretch of the imagination, a good book, and yet for some reason I enjoyed it more than the other books of the series so far. Chalk one up for brain candy when one is in the right mood, I guess.

Followed by The Seeress of Kell, the epic (?) conclusion.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2022-04-26

Last spun 2022-06-01 from thread modified 2022-04-27