(Originally published February 2, 2009)
David Eddings and his wife, Leigh, are responsible for two of the best high-fantasy epics of all time – the “Belgariad” and the “Malloreon.” Filled with compelling characters, complex philosophical and spiritual underpinnings, and gripping suspense, these two five-book sagas consumed the bulk of my reading time during November and December. That’s why I was intrigued when I saw that this husband-wife team had written a standalone novel…”The Redemption of Althalus.”
The novel follows the titular Althalus as he abandons his scoundrel ways and becomes a mature leader, helping a ragtag group of misfits in a quest to stop history itself from being altered. In the process, he learns how to use magic, fights a variety of unpleasant thugs and other villains, and teams up with a wisecracking sentient cat named Dweia.
From a purely literary standpoint, “Redemption” is nowhere near as good as either of its predecessors. At nearly 800 pages, it’s probably too long for a stand-alone novel. The whole concept of “time manipulation” is not particularly compelling, nor are the shallow, thinly drawn villains. I found it difficult to follow the story or even care about the characters.
First off, it should be noted that “Redemption” is much more lighthearted than either the “Belgariad” or “Malloreon.” Generally, I’m not a big fan of fantasy that borders on the satirical, and “The Redemption of Althalus” is no exception. There are virtually no truly dramatic moments in the novel, and the humor oftentimes feels forced and insincere. But the biggest issue in “Redemption” lies elsewhere:
The Eddings’ attitude towards religion, and their worldview in general, has no doubt been the subject of much complex analysis. Their stories generally take a deistic view of the world – specifically, God (or, in some cases, a pantheon of deities) does exist, but He has little or no active role in human affairs. Organized religion is unequivocally portrayed as oppressive and unpleasant…a more casual “do-your-own-thing” mindset is held up as laudable. Oftentimes, the Eddings’ deities appear willing to overlook minor sins and transgressions, so long as their followers are generally on the right path.
Of all these, by far the most disturbing concept is the attitude towards religious institutions. While the Eddings are accurate in that sometimes churches can become corrupt, their works continually depict the priesthood as a group of one-minded, murderous zealots reminiscent of Islamic suicide warriors. Religious fervor is decried as a corrupting influence that leads to fanaticism and evil.
That’s not to say that “The Redemption of Althalus” doesn’t have its positive moments. Althalus’ transformation is a good example of how even the worst of humanity is still worth trying to save. By the end of the book, he has become an effective leader and, in many ways, a father figure to his companions. Refreshingly, the book has no offensive language and, for the most part, lacks any sexual innuendos. Also, the violence is generally subdued rather than gratuitous.
“The Redemption of Althalus” was not one of my favorite books. While it lacks many of the moral flaws inherent in other fantasy novels, the attitude towards religion is somewhat disquieting. Although it starts with an interesting premise, the plot never really gets interesting. There are definitely better ways to spend your time.
A mediocre effort from two of the best fantasy writers around.