I know these Arums, Em, so I know exactly what kind of story to tell them. Actually, that was a very good one. It had a threat of a civil war, a hero, a villain, and a quest fraught with danger. What more does a good story need?
A little bit of truth might have added something.
I don’t like to contaminate a good story with truth, Em.
-A conversation between Althalus and Emerald
It seems odd to finally be reviewing a book that stands alone, as opposed to a part of a series. It’s even more odd that it comes from David and Leigh Eddings.
The Eddings’s are best known for the stories of Belgarion the Rivan King and Sir Sparhawk, and I’ll confess that I’ve been a big fan of theirs ever since a friend of mine introduced me to them in high school (waaay back when). I’d heard a rumor after they’d written their last book, Polgara the Sorceress, that it was all over for them with writing. I remember being incredibly disappointed, but thankful for what they had already written. So when I learned that this book, The Redemption of Althalus, was a new Eddings book…well, I wasn’t going to wait for this in paperback, that’s for certain!
The story begins with a young man named Althalus, who believes himself the world’s best thief. Certainly, he believed himself the luckiest. So when he gets bored with life on the frontier, he goes to civilization to see if he can steal even more money. One of the best scenes in the book is when he actually passes by a vast amount of money, for reasons that’ll be obvious when you read that part. A run of bad luck convinces him to take a job from a fellow named Ghend to steal a book from the House at the End of the World. When he gets there, his life changes forever, as he becomes…well, not exactly a pawn, but certainly a foot soldier in a conflict with an evil god, where the battlefield may be all of time and all of space.
When the story began, I started to have doubts. Having read the inside front cover, I’d had a bad feeling that I’d read a portion of this book before when I read Belgarath the Sorcerer. Certainly, their origin stories and influence by deities seemed similar. I began to get more concerned when the goddess Dweia is introduced, who seemed far to similar to the character Flute in the “Elenium” and “Tamuli” series. I began to lose a great deal of faith when another character was introduced, a ten-year old boy named Gher, who is not overly bothered by scruples, and is unwholesomely intelligent (much like Talen from the two series mentioned previously). Things were shaping up badly.
Fortunately, there is much else that sets this aside. A priest, a witch, a soldier, a noblewoman are introduced as well, and I couldn’t easily draw any comparisons with them. The villains are matched well with the protagonists (although it shouldn’t be surprising that they don’t get along with each other), and keep the outcome of some conflicts in doubt. The one thing that sets this book apart from the Eddings’s other books, though, is the House at the End of the World, with doors that open up-for the right person-to Anytime, Anywhen. The bad news, though, is that the antagonists have something similar, making battles a far more dangerous prospect for either side.
As with previous works, The Redemption of Althalus has a lot of great moments, both humorous and dramatic. In many ways, its greatest similarity to the other books they’ve written is the ability of the heroes to stand up to the plans of deities, and make themselves count (sure, they’re aided by a deity themselves, but all the heavy lifting is done by them). Besides the House, there isn’t an overabundance of magic in this story-Althalus learns a great deal of magic from a book, but he hardly uses it to the same extent as Belgarath or Sparhawk did in their stories. Of course, when you work out of a House that transcends space/time, what more magic do you really need?
If you’re a fan of the Eddings’s previous books, pick this one up. If you haven’t discovered them yet, well-why not start with this one? I think this book would serve well as a great introduction to their storytelling style, and since it’s entirely self-contained, you can get a few nights of enjoyment and decide if you like it. And if you do, then you can go after the significantly larger series of books that they’ve written. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.
(Incidentally: the cover shown at the top is supposedly a “limited edition” cover; this means that it’ll only be around for the first printing of this book. You probably won’t be missing anything if you don’t get this cover, because a] it’s the exact reverse of the other cover, b] I wouldn’t count on too many printings for the hardback, and c] the first print run is probably so large that it’s not took likely to become a real collector’s item. But then again, time will tell!)