We’ve reached the middle of the five book series, the Belgariad and as such, one significant event must happen in the story that changes the way the main character views the overarching goal of the series.
If you’re just joining us, here are handy links to the reviews to the first two books in the series:
At the end of the Queen of Sorcery, we left Garion after he is rescued from the snake people and is reconciled with his “Aunt” Polgara, who happens to be a powerful sorceress. At this point he’s just coming into a vague understanding that he possesses the ability to do magic, through a process called the Will and the Word.
It is in Magician’s Gambit that Garion finally receives his formal magical training, as Polgara judges that if he doesn’t, he might end up killing himself or someone else by accident. The critical moment of this decision comes when Garion brings a dead foal to life, something that the sorceress didn’t believe possible.
The party, now consisting of Ce’Nedra, Polgara, Belgarath, and Garion, learn of the Orbs resting place and spend the bulk of the book traveling through strange lands to get there, including the land of Maragor, who’s vengeful god Mara drives any invader insane, the Vale of Aldur where Garion practices mastery of the Will and the Word, and then to Ulgoland where the Orb is hidden.
The dramatic ending includes lots of magical fighting between the Angarak sorcerer Ctuchik who stole the Orb and Garion’s party. There’s a nice twist in how the fighting ends, which I won’t spoil for you.
I’m partial to books with magical training and deeper dives into how the magic actually works (which is exactly why Stonebearer’s Apprentice exists – I had to have that element in my own series). In the Magician’s Gambit training sequence, there’s a hilarious bit where Garion tries to move a boulder and ends up burying himself neck deep in the ground. There’s also this idea of spending eons studying something small, such as a feather, until it becomes more than an item but a study in studying.
As with all good stories, each of the stakes are raised as the party moves into more dangerous situations among more violent people. I mentioned that there had to be a critical change in the goal because this is the middle book in the series, and that change happens in a way that doesn’t feel forced, which is always nice. The party finally recovers the Orb, and now the remaining books of the series will be spent returning it to its rightful place.
There is still a feel of a fantasy trope checklist being checked off as the story moves from land to land. A pitfall of many fantasy stories is that they get stuck in one place. Part of the wonder in any fantasy novel is the nature of the place where the characters must move closer to their goals. When there are no new elements or places to explore, the interest of the story falls solely on the shoulders of the characters and their problems, which is more challenging.
The story, which up to this point has plenty of adventure and some peril, takes a darker turn as we get closer to the malice of the big villain that eventually must be conqured, Torak. The monsters get uglier, the motives behind actions get more malicious, and the bad guys get stronger. That said, this is still a safe read for young teens and up.
I give Magician’s Gambit 4/5 stars for being entertaining, although there are a few slow bits.
Dive straight into the next review of the next book in the series:
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