We’re all familiar with the concept of comfort foods, things we eat when we’re feeling anxious or depressed. Familiar things that help us feel better in the short term. True Scotsmen, er, I mean, hardcore readers are also familiar with comfort books. They aren’t brought out just to lift our spirits in times of depression, but they can do that too. I may have mentioned this before, but David Eddings’ books are comfort books for me. I’ve loved them since I was a kid, though now that I’m older they’re just adventurey sort of fun. Now I’m sure I’ve told this story before. Eddings was pretty clear that he wrote for money, and there’s no literary pretensions anywhere in his work. Still and all, if his books were even half as much fun to write as they are to read, he had one hell of a good time making that money. Most Eddings fans will tell you that his first high fantasy epic, the Belgariad, is their favourite, but I much prefer the Elenium, of which The Diamond Throne is the first volume.
There’s a lot of your typical high fantasy flotsam and jetsam in the Elenium. There’s a beautiful young queen who fell ill and was encased in crystal by a magic spell (that’s the titular diamond throne), a heroic knight, and a powerful magic MacGuffin called the Bhelliom. Seen in those broad strokes, there’s not that much to get excited about, but those don’t really have much to do with why I love this series. The Belgariad has its own grand pantheon of gods and goddesses, but it never dealt with organized religion in any serious way. In the Elenium, Eddings does what I think is one of the most clever things I’ve ever read in a fantasy book (I’m not saying he’s the originator of the concept in fantasy ficiton, only that he’s the only author I’ve seen who’s used it). He takes the concept of cloistered orders and combines it with concept of crusading defenders of the faith to create militant orders, their purpose being to defend the Church from worldly threats. Eddings drops these militant orders into a world not just full of magic and mysticism, but also full of political and religious intrigue. There’s a few too many echoes of the Belgariad floating around in the world, but I think Eddings succeeds in building his strongest, most realistically complex society in the Elenium.
For those of you that want to hear about plot, I can tell you that The Diamond Throne opens with my favourite scene in all of Eddings’ work. An exiled Pandion knight, Sir Sparhawk, returns on a dreary, rainy evening to the city of his birth in response to his queen’s summons, to serve as her champion. Sparhawk reunites with some companions, learns that the queen has been poisoned and encased in crystal to prolong her life, and discovers that her poisoning is part of a plot to steal her throne (as well as part of a pseudo-Satanic religious plot). Knights from the various militant orders band together with a variety of other plucky adventurers to ride out into the world and find a way to cure the ailing queen and restore her to her throne. And stuff. My advice is to seriously not be a genre snob and just chill out with a book that’s a shitload of fun.
Next is The Ruby Knight, by David Eddings.