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Jul 12

Eddings Reread! The Diamond Throne

EDDINGS RE-READ: The Diamond Throne, BOOK ONE OF THE ELENIUM

Because we just don’t have enough to do, Alex, Tehani and I have decided to re-read The Elenium and The Tamuli trilogies by David (and Leigh) Eddings, and – partly to justify that, partly because it’s fun to compare notes – we’re blogging a conversation about each book. We respond to each other in the post itself, but you can find Alex’s post over here and Tehani’s post here if you’d like to read the conversation going on in the comments. Also, there are spoilers!

TEHANI:
I was feeling a little book-weary yesterday so thought I might as well start my reading for this conversational review series, given it’s usually a soothing experience. Within a single PAGE, I was reaching for Twitter, because SO MUCH of the book cried out to be tweeted! Great one-liners, the introduction of favourite characters, and, sadly, some of the not so awesome bits as well. I was having a grand time pulling out 140 character lines (#EddingsReread if you’re interested), but the response from the ether was amazing! So many people hold these books firmly in their reading history, and it was just lovely to hear their instant nostalgia.

ALEX:

And I read those tweets and everything was SO FAMILIAR that I immediately started reading as well. And finished a day later.

JO:
Ok. A) You people read too quickly! B) Tehani those tweets were enough to start me feeling all nostalgic. I was in the middle of cooking dinner and had to put everything down, run upstairs and dig the books out of their box hidden in the back of the wardrobe.

TEHANI:
I am not at all repentant! :) Also, did you both find this a super easy read? Is it the style, or just that I’ve read it several times before? It really was like sinking into a warm fluffy hug, hitting the pages of this book again. I actually can’t remember the last time I read it, but it’s got to be over a decade, yet I felt instantly at home again. Eddings was one of the authors who caused my addiction to the genre, and even in the very first chapters, it’s easy to see why. The light and breezy writing style is instantly accessible, and the way we’re thrown straight into the action, with our hero Sparhawk leading us through, makes the book start with a bang.

ALEX:
Reading that first page was a little bit like going back to my high school, many years after graduating. It just felt so familiar, and comfortable. And like high school, I know it’s not without problems – but it’s still somewhere that has a lot of ME wrapped up in it. I also don’t remember when I last read these, but it’s not for aaaaages… And yes, super easy to read. TOO easy!  ;D

JO:
Oh yes, absolutely. As soon as I started reading it all came back to me. I remembered the moment I found The Diamond Throne in the library, and the first chapter and intro of Sparhawk hooked me instantly. While I think as a teenager I identified the most with Polgara from the Belgariad (I wanted to BE her) I have always loved Sparhawk.

ALEX:
Polgara is still one of my absolute favourite characters! Sparhawk is too, though – one of the great characters for me in my early teen years. I adored that he was older, and cynical, and world-weary. When I was 14 I thought I was all of those things…now that I am 34 I still absolutely empathise! This story also shows that his cynicism is cut with a very large streak of sappiness, which I think serves to make him just a bit more relatable. His love for Sephrenia, his respect for Vanion and Dolmant and Kurik – he’s actually a fairly well-rounded character, as these things go. His habit of calling people ‘friend’ and ‘neighbour’ is why I call everyone ‘mate’ to this day. True story. I also adore the relationship he has with Faran, that ugly roan brute; I love Faran unconditionally.

TEHANI:
He is so pragmatic, completely prepared for violence at all times, and yet from the very early pages where he gives the street girl some coins and calls her “little sister”, we see he’s an absolute marshmallow inside. I’m with you Alex, I adore him.

JO:
I have an admission to make. I still love him, but Sparhawk’s making me a little uncomfortable in this reread. For all his neighbours and his giving money to the scrawny whore, I’m starting to feel like he’s a bit of a bully. He gets what he wants because he can and does threaten violence if he doesn’t get it…and it feels like Eddings thinks this is ok because he’s Sparhawk. He’s a Pandion (not only a Pandion but the best of them, as we are repeatedly reminded) and the people he threatens are ‘evil’ anyway so no harm done… I dunno, it’s just made me feel a bit squeamish this time round.

TEHANI:
That’s a really good point. I’ve had a similar discussion with my Doctor Who reviewing buddies Tansy and David about David Tennant’s Doctor – he does and says some pretty awful things, but we accept it generally without question a) because he’s the Doctor, but more importantly b) because David Tennant plays him so charismatically. Sparhawk has the same sort of issues – we know (or are given by the narrative to believe) that he’s on the side of right, and that he is the Champion, therefore we accept his behaviour because it’s presented as being for the right reasons.

ALEX:
*sigh* you are of course both correct – Sparhawk’s use of “might is right” is totally accepted by the novel because he is so awesome. And if that’s not an abuse of power, right there, then nothing is.

On a more positive note, I think I like all of the other characters, too. Sephrenia is delightful although definitely not rounded out enough here…and I do have a problem with her “we Styrics are so simple and you Elenes are so complex” thing. I want to believe that she’s just serving back to the Elenes what they believe about themselves, so that she can manipulate them, but I’m not sure if that’s knowledge of the rest of the series or wishful thinking (more on that below). Talen is already totally amusing and reminds me a lot of Silk, from the Belgariad, which is unsurprising. The Merry Men really are dreamy; Ulath and his blonde plaits will always be my favourite, because who doesn’t love the quiet cryptic type?

TEHANI:
And I adore Kalten, because he’s always needling Sparhawk yet they clearly love each other. Talen was a definite favourite from early on too, and Kurik is marvellous – a definite father figure, or maybe more an uncle…

ALEX:
The classism and the racism…ouch. The Rendors are meant to be Arab analogues, right? Because everyone knows that living in the heat makes your brain go soft. OUCH. Also, why have I always thought the Styrics were analogues for Jews? Is it just that the Elenes burning their villages is frighteningly similar to pogroms in Christian Europe in the Middle Ages? (But of course there’s no religious similarity at all, and the only ‘real’ similarity is the refusal of pork.)

JO:
I always thought that about the Styrics too.

TEHANI:
Oh yes, that was the first thing I picked up on in terms of the negative stereotypes – completely over my head when I read these in my late teens, front and centre now. I actually wrote a uni paper on representations of reality in Eddings and Feist, but I’ve sure learned a lot since then! I could easily IDENTIFY the real world correlations, but did I notice the negative aspects of this? No I did NOT. *sigh* Bad past me, bad!

This time around, the classism was just as interesting too – I think I was so indoctrinated into the usual process of high fantasy in my 20s that this would never have even occurred to me to see. This time though, Sephrenia’s derision about the intelligence “common” Elenes and Styrics is, ugh, just awful. And when it’s other races as WELL as commoners, well, that’s terrible.

ALEX:
The class aspect is ugly as all get out. When they’re in the council chamber confronting Vanion, Dolmant – the lovely, gentle Dolmant – says why believe an untitled merchant (his words!) and a runaway serf over and above the honorable Preceptor (code: titled)? Now we know that those are both lying, but that’s beside the point. I dunno, Dolmant, maybe because truth and honesty aren’t actually the privileges of the wealthy and titled?

JO:
Oh goodness yes. I have to admit this is something that passed me by the first time I read these. Maybe because in the world Eddings writes it does feel so natural. Which is disturbing.

TEHANI:
It really is, isn’t it! And once you see, you can’t unsee…

ALEX:
This is one of the first real instances I remember of the Crystal Dragon Jesus trope – taking what can be broadly recognised as a version of the medieval Catholic Church and transporting it to a secondary fantasy world.

TEHANI:
I’ve not heard of the “Crystal Dragon Jesus trope” – please elaborate?

JO:
Neither have I!

ALEX:
Instead of creating your own religious system for your magical fantasy world, you take the broad brush strokes of (usually) the medieval Catholic Church – because hey, everyone knows that medieval stuff is bad, plus Catholics are easy to laugh at, right? It generally involves a monotheistic religion with a convoluted hierarchy, seemingly-pious churchmen (and only men) who are meant to be celibate but often aren’t, because that also makes them easier to turn into evil characters. The only thing that the Eddings missed is the saviour/messiah/ someone who sacrificed themselves bit, of the religion. It irks me because it is so lazy.

JO:
I did not know there was a term for that :)

ALEX:
Tehani, you said there was a Lord of the Rings reference early on – did you mean Ghwerig the Troll-Dwarf being like both Sauron and Gollum, with the whole rings thing? (Also, how did Ghwerig ‘casually’ smash a diamond?) There’s also a Hamlet reference, at the end, when Sparhawk comes across Annias praying in the chapel and chooses not to kill him.

TEHANI:
Yes, exactly! I missed the Hamlet reference, and I think there were a couple of others in there!

I could hand-wave the diamond smashing – I figured if he was working under the influence of the gods, he could pretty much do anything!

JO:
You know, there’s a lot of repetition in this book. It almost feels like any time anything happens, it has to be reported back to the group in the next scene, and discussed. Same goes for any time they meet a new character, we have a recap of events up until this point. All done with amusing dialogue, of course. But still!

TEHANI:
You’re right, but it’s so breezily written I hardly notice it! I do quite like the way travelling actually takes a significant amount of time, even when that slows down the action.

ALEX:
Thanks to your tweets, Tehani, I noticed every single time the word ‘peculiar’ was used.

JO:
By the end there I was getting a little sick of “I’m (terribly) disappointed in you, ___.” Or something similar. I noticed it a couple of times then couldn’t unsee it!

TEHANI:
Yes, Eddings has several “tics” of writing that once you notice them, you ALWAYS see them! “Flat stares” are my favourite :)

JO:
Particularly when they come from Faran. I love that horse and his flat stares.

TEHANI:
That horse is practically human.

ALEX:
That horse and his prancing make me happy.

JO:
I’m having a strange and conflicted reaction to the female characters in these books. On the one hand, they are such wonderful strong people. Sephrenia is powerful, but that’s almost not what makes her strong – rather her pacifism compared to the bloodthirsty knights around her, and her determination to do her duty to her goddess. And her relationship with Vanion. Ehlana’s still encased in diamond at this point, but the effect she had on Sparhawk pretty much says it all! Even Arissa has her own desires and knows her own mind. But…but… I dunno, something feels off to me. Maybe because there are few of them? Maybe Lillias’ rather large hissy fit soured it all for me. I just don’t know. Would love your reactions.

TEHANI:
I actually thought the Lillias thing was reasonably well handled – it was made pretty clear it was a cultural “norm” rather than her personal feelings, which made it okay for me, I guess. The female characters are interesting though; I wonder if it’s because they are constantly stamping their feet at the men and pretending to be less powerful than they are to get their own way that’s the problem? Possibly I’m getting ahead of myself though – this is only the first book!

ALEX:
I loved Lillias’ melodramatic turn – and that Sparhawk played to it for her sake. I am conflicted about Sephrenia: are the knights looking after her because they love her, or because they see her as weak? Or is that an “and” situation? I don’t like Arissa but I admire her strength. For me, I think it’s that this is such a boys world the women feel a bit out of place. The other female character of course is Flute, and she’s quite funny, but one thing I wanted to point out: she ‘somehow’ escapes the convent where they leave her, and meets the crew further on…and no one goes back to tell the convent she’s ok?! Seriously??

TEHANI:
Don’t look too hard Alex, there’s all SORTS of little nitpicks like that! I think we’re almost ready to move on to the next book. I don’t suppose it really matters that we’ve not talked about the plot, right? It’s your basic high fantasy quest, with lashings of barriers thrown into our hero’s journey, a cast of thousands (seriously, it gets quite large in the end…) and lots fun dialogue that means you completely don’t notice that sometimes nothing really happens for several pages *cough chapters cough*.

ALEX:
Things happen! Characters develop! Banter is committed!  :D

JO:
Yeah, what more could you possibly want? Lots of riding horses to get to places. Things go wrong for our heroes all the time. I do think Eddings is good at that in particular. Just when you think they might finally achieve something, *bam* something goes wrong. Usually involving Martel. And yes, lots of banter. Banter is awesome.

TEHANI:
Hey, have you two seen this? http://42geekstreet.com/fantasy-casting-agency-the-diamond-throne-the-elenium/

ALEX:
omg. How awesome. One big nitpick: they CANNOT make David Wenham Martel! Nononononono. No. Kalten maybe?

JO:
LOL ‘who could play Sparhawk in a movie’ is my husband’s favourite pastime. It drives me nuts.

Also, Gerard Butler? Gerard Butler? That’s it, I quit the internet. *walks away from the internet*

TEHANI:
What’s WRONG with Gerard Butler! *wanders off whistling* See you both back here for the next exciting instalment of our reread!

 

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  1. ashleycapes

    Hi Jo (and team!)

    Wow, this is an awesome idea and I really enjoyed reading your comments and observations. I’ve read the two series a fair few times and I’ve never really seen some of the aspects you mention – though my eye always snags on the word ‘pious’ in the Elenium :D

    One thing that always bugged me was the ‘husband/wife’ jokes that go on a bit at times, especially between Vanion and Sephrenia – gender cliche jokes I guess? It’s all part of the enjoyable banter though – something Eddings does so well I reckon.

    And I love the point about Sparhawk and his position as good guy, allowing him to behave in ways we’d not accept if he wasn’t a good guy.

    1. Joanne

      Hi Ashley,

      Thanks for commenting, so glad you enjoyed the posts. We definitely enjoyed writing them!

      It’d been so long since I read the series, although I read them so much when I was a teenager, and it’s interesting the different things you pick up on after all that time. But I think what it’s hammered home the most is that it’s perfectly ok to see the flaws in something, but love it anyway. Probably obvious, but there you go.

      :)

      1. ashleycapes

        Definitely enjoyed them :)
        I agree, maybe that’s the mark of a true fan – that ability to recognise a work’s faults but appreciate it anyway?

        1. Joanne

          Definitely :)

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