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The opening volume in Leigh & David Eddings' new fantasy series. . .

Elder Gods: The Dreamers

And so it was that Bill Sherman, he who was known as the Pop Culture Gadabout, received via mail courier a review copy of the first book in “A Grand New Epic from New York Times Best Selling Authors” David & Leigh Eddings, creators of four earlier bestselling epic fantasy series. And though he had no prior knowledge of the Eddings’ writing – and scant patience for epic fantasies written in a portentous oral narrative style, the self-styled Gadabout felt it his critical duty to read and critique their tome. And while it would take him many months to actually plow through the 400-page fantasy novel, it eventually came to pass that our hero arrived at the point where he felt he could review it. . .
Now, based on the title of the Eddings’ new series, The Elder Gods (Warner Books), I was initially expecting something darkly Lovecraftian. Instead, I got a heroic fantasy set in the Land of Dhrall, a pre-industrial mythical setting where nobody doubts the existence of gods and everyone travels from country to country on sailing ships. In the Eddings’ cosmology, the gods of North/South/East/West cyclically age and are replaced by a younger quartet of godlings, who themselves age to be replaced by the now rejuvenated previous set of gods. The four deities rule over all of Earth with the exception of a vast Wasteland, which is the realm of an entity known as That-Called-the-Vlagh (you can tell the creature’s evil because its name sounds like phlegm, right?) Why not just “the Vlagh”? Doesn’t sound sinister enough, I guess.
As evil beings ever must, the TCtV is aching to expand the scope of its influence beyond the Wasteland. Sensing that things are in flux as the Elder Gods prepare to hand the reins over to their successors (a seemingly childlike foursome known as the Dreamers), the antagonistic entity prepares to attack each of the gods’ domains in their turn. In Book One of the series, The Dreamers, Zelana of the West and her fellow gods strive to halt the first attack by an army of hivemind creatures that are part human/part snake/part venomous insect. They gather their own army of pirates, mercenary soldiers plus an unerring archer who hails from the Land of Maag, goes by the name of Longbow and has a long-standing grudge against the venomous creations of That-Which-Is-Called-What-It-Is-Called. Though they wield great godlike power, the Elder Gods refuse to kill because – well, because the Eddings won’t let ’em, that’s why – so they have to recruit humans to do the wetwork.

A good portion of The Dreamers is devoted to this recruitment process, and we meet a lot of characters with names like Hook-Beak and Rabbit, along with more exotic sounding monikers like Keselo and Narasin. Of this crew, the only two to make much of an impression are Longbow, who has the taciturn hunter shtick down pat, and Rabbit, who is young, small and smarter than he presents himself. In the end, however, the Eddings are much more invested in their near-omnipotent gods and gods-to-be. Willfully eccentric and each uniquely ignorant of the humans living on their lands, they make a dandy filter for introducing us to the various civilizations of Dhrall.

In fact, just at the point in The Dreamers when I thought I’d never make it through what seemed like endless set-up, back story (every time you get a chapter that begins with the word “Now,” you just know that you’re in for additional discursive filler), and talk about the battle to come, the focus shifted to Veltan of the East and his somewhat satiric attempts at parsing human civilization. (The mischief-minded god has been spending his time banished to the moon and thus has had even less exposure to humankind than his sister-&-brother deities.) From there, the book attained a spriteliness that may’ve been at odds with the sense of impending conflict but sure made the prose easier to breeze through. The Eddings’ oral affectations lessened, and the book became a plain ol’ quick-read entertainment.

But this turns out to be a double-edged sword. Because the book’s best-drawn figures are the gods and not the humans fighting their climactic big battles, we’re never quite invested in the outcome. In the end, when we’re shown a human mourning the loss of his land in battle, it barely registers because we only vaguely know who he is. Too, there’s a lot of talk in the book’s final quarter about the seemingly naive Dreamers and the power they possess, but while much of this was supposed to pique our interest for volumes yet to come, all it sparked from me was a shrug since the Dreamer who receives the most page space is Zelana’s successor Eleria, a little girl so cutely over-precocious that it’s obvious her childishness is a smokescreen from the outset.
As heroic fantasy goes, Elder Gods lacks the pulpish energy of Robert E. Howard (or even a Howard imitator like Karl Earl Wagner) or the emotional pallet of that Ring guy or Mervyn Peake. When I finished the volume, I felt pleasantly entertained but had none of the burning investment to learn what happens next that I remember experiencing the first time I read, oh, Michael Moorcock’s original Elric cycle. But I wonder: would I have had a different response if I’d been listening to it as a Book-on-Tape? Perhaps all this faux oralizing has a purpose to it, after all. . .

About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.

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