One of the recurring motifs in high fantasy is the idea of the average villager actually being the lost prince of Somewhere, or the reincarnation of the great sorcerer Whoever. Unsuspecting mortals who are suddenly confronted with a destiny that is larger and more important than they realized. Maybe that is part of the reason that people enjoy high fantasy. For the average-Joe, who may feel powerless to change their own lives, the idea of secretly being the heir to the kingdom of Everywhere is pretty attractive.
David Eddings has created just such a scenario in his epic fantasy series, The Belgariad. The first book in the series is called Pawn of Prophecy. It introduces us to Garion, a young boy living with his Aunt Pol on a farm in Sendaria, a peaceful kingdom of the west. His world is narrow but comfortable, with Aunt Pol and the blacksmith Durnik to guide him. But Garion is haunted by visions of a dark rider who casts no shadow-a rider that no one else ever sees. One day, a storyteller named Mr. Wolf comes to the farm, and it becomes clear that he and Aunt Pol know each other. Mr. Wolf brings news-something important and powerful has been stolen, and Mr. Wolf and Aunt Pol (who are clearly more than they seem), leave the farm with Garion in tow. Durnik insists on accompanying the party to protect Aunt Pol. They meet up with two shady characters in the woods-Silk, a crafty, sly man, and Barak, an enormous warrior. Together they embark on a journey to find the lost artifact, and to stop the war that may be coming if they don't. Somehow Garion is connected to this artifact, but at an angsty 14 no one tells him anything.
This first installment does an excellent job of setting up the background for the future books. The reader is in the position of having information that Garion does not have as the result of a short prologue, which allows the reader to understand the strange events that surround Garion even when he can not. While the roles played by the main characters are pretty common for epic fantasy-the powerful sorcerer, the witch, the rogue, the warrior-there is at least decent character development, especially for Garion's character. Despite the fact that the characters are in fact hiding or following a trail of the artifact, there is enough action to provide some relief from the tedium of constant travel. The only real criticism I have is the same criticism I have for most high fantasy-apparently women in fantasy land will have to wait a little longer to be released from their oppression, as the only woman in the story so far that has any real power is Aunt Pol, who we discover is more than a simple cook. I'd like to see a good female warrior or two, or a queen who has the same power as her husband the king. But while we wait for the feminist movement to come to the various kingdoms of the Land of Fantasy, we can enjoy well-crafted stories like Pawn of Prophecy.