The Seeress of Kell

by David Eddings

Cover image

Series: The Malloreon #5
Publisher: Del Rey
Copyright: May 1991
Printing: May 1992
ISBN: 0-345-37759-1
Format: Mass market
Pages: 374

Buy at Powell's Books

The Seeress of Kell is the conclusion of the five-book Malloreon series and a direct sequel to Sorceress of Darshiva. You do not want to begin the series here (or, to be honest, at all).

We have finally finished the relaxed tour of Mallorea, the second continent of Eddings's remarkably small two-continent world. The heroes have gathered all of their required companions and are headed for Kell, where the seeress Cyradis awaits. From there, they and the new Child of Dark must find their way to the Place Which Is No More for the final confrontation.

By "find," I mean please remain seated with your hands, arms, feet, and legs inside the vehicle. The protagonists have about as much to do with the conclusion of this series as the passengers of a roller coaster have control over its steering.

I am laughing at my younger self, who quite enjoyed this series (although as I recall found it a bit repetitive) and compared it favorably to the earlier Belgariad series. My memory kept telling me that the conclusion of the series was lots of fun. Reader, it was not. It was hilariously bad.

Both of Eddings's first two series, but particularly this one, take place in a fantasy world full of true prophecy. The conceit of the Malloreon in particular (this is a minor spoiler for the early books, but not one that I think interferes with enjoyment) is that there are two competing prophecies that agree on most events but are in conflict over a critical outcome. True prophecy creates an agency problem: why have protagonists if everything they do is fixed in prophecy? The normal way to avoid that is to make the prophecy sufficiently confusing and the mechanism by which it comes true sufficiently subtle that everyone has to act as if there is no prophecy, thus reducing the role of the prophecy to foreshadowing and a game the author plays with the reader.

What makes the Malloreon interesting (and I mean this sincerely) is that Eddings instead leans into the idea of a prophecy as an active agent leading the protagonists around by the nose. As a meta-story commentary on fantasy stories, this can be quite entertaining, and it helps that the prophecy appears as a likable character of sorts in the book. The trap that Eddings had mostly avoided before now is that this structure can make the choices of the protagonists entirely pointless. In The Seeress of Kell, he dives head-first into the trap and then pulls it shut behind him.

The worst part is Ce'Nedra, who once again spends an entire book either carping at Garion in ways that are supposed to be endearing (but aren't) or being actively useless. The low point is when she is manipulated into betraying the heroes, costing them a significant advantage. We're then told that, rather than being a horrific disaster, this is her important and vital role in the story, and indeed the whole reason why she was in the story at all. The heroes were too far ahead of the villains and were in danger of causing the prophecy to fail. At that point, one might reasonably ask why one is bothering reading a novel instead of a summary of the invented history that Eddings is going to tell whether his characters cooperate or not.

The whole middle section of the book is like this: nothing any of the characters do matters because everything is explicitly destined. That includes an extended series of interludes following the other main characters from the Belgariad, who are racing to catch up with the main party but who will turn out to have no role of significance whatsoever.

I wouldn't mind this as much if the prophecy were more active in the story, given that it's the actual protagonist. But it mostly disappears. Instead, the characters blunder around doing whatever seems like a good idea at the time, while Cyradis acts like a bizarre sort of referee with a Calvinball rule set and every random action turns out to be the fulfillment of prophecy in the most ham-handed possible way. Zandramas, meanwhile, is trying to break the prophecy, which would have been a moderately interesting story hook if anyone (Eddings included) thought she were potentially capable of doing so. Since no one truly believes there's any peril, this turns into a series of pointless battles the reader has no reason to care about.

All of this sets up what has been advertised since the start of the series as a decision between good and evil. Now, at the least minute, Eddings (through various character mouthpieces) tries to claim that the decision is not actually between good and evil, but is somehow beyond morality. No one believes this, including the narrator and the reader, making all of the philosophizing a tedious exercise in page-turning. To pull off a contention like that, the author has to lay some sort of foundation to allow the reader to see the supposed villain in multiple lights. Eddings does none of that, instead emphasizing how evil she is at every opportunity.

On top of that, this supposed free choice on which the entire universe rests and for which all of history was pointed depends on someone with astonishing conflicts of interest. While the book is going on about how carefully the prophecy is ensuring that everyone is in the right place at the right time so that no side has an advantage, one side is accruing an absurdly powerful advantage. And the characters don't even seem to realize it!

The less said about the climax, the better. Unsurprisingly, it was completely predictable.

Also, while I am complaining, I could never get past how this entire series starts off with and revolves around an incredibly traumatic and ongoing event that has no impact whatsoever on the person to whom the trauma happens. Other people are intermittently upset or sad, but not only is that person not harmed, they act, at the end of this book, as if the entire series had never happened.

There is one bright spot in this book, and ironically it's the one plot element that Eddings didn't make blatantly obvious in advance and therefore I don't want to spoil it. All I'll say is that one of the companions the heroes pick up along the way turns out to be my favorite character of the series, plays a significant role in the interpersonal dynamics between the heroes, and steals every scene that she's in by being more sensible than any of the other characters in the story. Her story, and backstory, is emotional and moving and is the best part of this book.

Otherwise, not only is the plot a mess and the story structure a failure, but this is also Eddings at his most sexist and socially conservative. There is an extended epilogue after the plot resolution that serves primarily as a showcase of stereotypes: baffled men having their habits and preferences rewritten by their wives, cast-iron gender roles inside marriage, cringeworthy jokes, and of course loads and loads of children because that obviously should be everyone's happily ever after. All of this happens to the characters rather than being planned or actively desired, continuing the theme of prophecy and lack of agency, although of course they're all happy about it (shown mostly via grumbling). One could write an entire academic paper on the tension between this series and the concept of consent.

There were bits of the Malloreon that I enjoyed, but they were generally in spite of the plot rather than because of it. I do like several of Eddings's characters, and in places I liked the lack of urgency and the sense of safety. But I think endings still have to deliver some twist or punch or, at the very least, some clear need for the protagonists to take an action other than stand in the right room at the right time. Eddings probably tried to supply that (I can make a few guesses about where), but it failed miserably for me, making this the worst book of the series.

Unless like me you're revisiting this out of curiosity for your teenage reading habits (and even then, consider not), avoid.

Rating: 3 out of 10

Reviewed: 2022-05-31

Last modified and spun 2022-06-01