And just in case you think I have any literary street cred whatsoever, let me establish that this is one of my favorite books. I understand that there are plenty of issues with it. I don't care. I love every word of it, every wrinkle, every misogynistic turn of phrase, every recycled joke, character and plotline. If I want to look smart, I'll read A Breif History of Time or something. If I want to just clock out and not be bothered for a day or so, I'm hitting Eddings.
And just because I feel like rambling, the biggest difference IMHO between writers like Eddings and Nina Bangs and writers like LKH, John Norman and Anne Rice is Eddings and Bangs get it. They know they are limited writers. They're not going to write great literature, and trying to be something they're not (a good writer) is just going to take their writing from mediocure to "Werewolf Superhero wanna be taking selfies with their iPhone." Rice, Norman and Hamilton are all here to Impress You With How Great They Are. Eddings and Bangs just came to play. Beyond that, they don't give a fuck. It might be dreck (and I personally think Eddings is a couple steps above dreck. Not many, but a couple) but it's good-natured dreck.
But because I know there are problems with this book, I've invented a David Eddings drinking game.
Take a sip when:
-The Irascibly Old Racist Misogynistic Drunken Wizard
-The Lovingly Maternal Sorceress
-The Heroic Young Boy
-The Pale But Beautiful Waif
-The Burly Warrior
-The Theif's Door Prize (aka female love interest)
-The Warrior's Door Prize
-The Heroic Boy's INCREDIBLY Annoying Door Prize
-The Deus Ex Machina(s)
When events are started or resolved by:
-Stealing the Mcguffin.
-The incredible imbalance of power in the good guy's favor
-Critical information delivered by a country hick with a bizarre phonetically rendered accent
-The Deux Ex Machina
-Anachronistic Knowledge no one in this time period could POSSIBLY have
-The antagonistic character's own stupidity
When a Deity:
-Turns out to be a previously introduced character (two sips if a previously human character became the Deity)
-Joins the cast permanently
-Is adorably quirky
-turns out to be incredibly stupid.
When something problematic is played for laughs, ie:
-a character's misogyny
-Violence of any kind
-Murder (doubles up with violence)
Finish the drink and/or take a shot when:
-Somebody makes the defenestration joke
-The Lovingly Maternal Sorceress rolls her eyes and blames a character's behavior on their race
-Somebody gets hitched
-The Wizard and the Sorceress argue about bathing
Please note: I do not actually recommend playing this, especially if you intend to read more than one chapter of the thing in a sitting. You will probably die.
So without further ado, The Redemption of Althalus.
We meet Althalus in a tavern. We are going to be visiting a lot of taverns because Althalus is something of a one-trick pony. Althalus is also a thief with an overinflated opinion of himself. The book, delightfully, conveys said opinion via wanton abuse of a thesaurus:
So far as Althalus can remember, he has always been a thief. He never knew his father, and he cannot exactly remember his mother’s name. He grew up among thieves in the rough lands of the frontier, and even as a child, his wit had made him welcome in the society of those men who made their living by transferring the ownership rights of objects of value. He earned his way with jokes and stories, and the thieves fed him and trained him in their art by way of thanks.That chunk of sentence ought to be shot on sight...and yet I kind of like it. A lot. Because it's not stealing. Nope. It's just a transfer of ownership with non-con issues.
So Althalus is a thief, and he's an incredibly lucky thief. He's lucky enough that he makes his home base of Hule a little too hot, and he decides to take his one man show on the road one night when he hears a story delivered by a country hick with the most adorable accent:
“May all of my teeth fall out if they didn’t,” the storyteller assured him.I think that Eddings overheard a handful of sentences and one-liners and decided that they had to be in every single book. It manages not to be as annoying as Merry Gentry's endless recycling of little descriptive phrases, but "May all my teeth fall out" is a Sign Of The Hick. The Hicks all use it. FREQUENTLY. "Defenestration" in particular must have done something terrible to Team Eddings as a child because it gets rather thoroughly sodomized over the course of his writing career.
The Hick tells Althalus a story. The short version of that story is Kingdom sends soldiers down to take country with gold in it, soldiers become more interested in gold, kingdom sends more soldiers to make the previous lot of soldiers go back to being soldiers, and eventually the kingdom runs out of soldiers to send because there is apparently a lot of gold. Althalus decides that all that extra gold is just begging for him to drop on over and commence with the transferring of ownership, and he heads off south.
Unfortunately Althalus might be witty, but his planning abilities are roughly on a par with a rock. Maybe two rocks.
Thus, his adventures in civilization do not go well.
The city of Deika lay at the southern end of a large lake in northern Equero, and it was even more splendid than the stories had said it was. It was surrounded by a high stone wall made of squared-off limestone blocks, and all the buildings inside the walls were also made of stone. The broad streets of Deika were paved with flagstones, and the public buildings soared to the sky. Everyone in town who thought he was important wore a splendid linen mantle, and every private house was identified by a statue of its owner—usually so idealized that any actual resemblance to the man so identified was purely coincidental.You know, it's dry and bland, but that description gives you just enough of a picture to work with before it moves on to the important thing:
Althalus falling on his ass. Repeatedly.
See, his wonderful luck? It's decided to hate him. The entire first chapter in this book is dedicated to Althalus failing in every possible way a theif could fail, short of being actively arrested.
And that's the other thing I kind of like here. Althalus is an idiot, and he's meant to be an idiot. This is a part of the story. He's a kind of endearing ass with an overinflated sense of his own importance, and fuck if he isn't wallowing in how awesome he thinks he is. And because we're telling the story from his POV, every sentence is just dripping with "I am awesome".
Is he awesome? Well...
The first thing he does is hit a tavern to get a rich guy's name and address. Then he picks pockets until he gets enough for local clothes and heads on over to the rich guy's house to do some reconnaissance. Which he does by knocking on the door and asking for the name of another rich person because "Sorry, wrong address" actually works pretty well. He hangs around until nighttime, breaks into the house and runs right into the rich guy's massive dogs:
Althalus immediately changed his plans. The open air of the nighttime streets suddenly seemed enormously attractive.No shit.
So he moves on to plan B: get the fuck out of town and go somewhere else. He robs random people, complains about robbing the random people because it's not what a Totally Awesome Theif does, and heads to the next city in line, Kanthon.
Naturally, he drops into the nearest tavern, where naturally people are arguing over who the richest person in the city is. Althalus becomes very interested in their conversation, gets names and addresses and heads off in that general direction...only to discover that neither house contains anything of value. It turns out that the new fad among the rich people in Kanthon is to buy horrible furnature and shabby clothes so that the tax collectors don't decide to up the ante and, you know, actually collect taxes. Also, everybody is hiding their money in their floors, under really good stonework.
This becomes important later.
Althalus is now two for two.
He heads on down into the next city, Perquaine. He spends a few minutes looking into the big fancy temple set up to the Goddess Dweia, and the fertility goddess statue, which is not exactly attractive:
Fertility meant motherhood, and motherhood involved the suckling of the young. The statue suggested that the Goddess Dweia was equipped to suckle hundreds of babies all at the same time.Althalus repeats his usual act: Go to tavern, get name and address, go to house, fail to aquire money. You know, Al, the defintion of insanity is repeating the same behavior over and over, expecting a different result. I don't think this plan of yours actually works.
This time he breaks into a merchant's strong box and finds that it's full of paper. Just chock full of the stuff, and nothing else. He takes a couple random sheets of paper and heads back out. A random passer-by tells him that the paper is what Perquaine is using for money right now.
Our Heroic Theif, boys and girls: Confused by paper money.
This hits on one of the things that does bother me about this book: I cannot figure out its time period. It's consistent, whatever it is, but I have no idea what that consistency is. Is this the barbarian period? Are we Medieval level? WHAT IS THE TECH BASE?
These questions will never be answered.
Althalus decides that paper money is the last straw, and civilization can go hang itself. He heads into the nearest clothier to get something that will survive the trip back home, and comes out to discover that somebody has stolen his horse.
Our hero, the master thief: Cannot hang on to his own livestock.
Althalus hikes through the nation of Arum and overhears a conversation about a dude named Gosti Big-Belly. He decides that he'll steal things from Gosti since Gosti is apparently rich and Althalus is not. He also liberates a wolf-skin tunic with ears on the hood from its former owner.
He manages to charm his way into Gosti's house by telling stories, and decides his best bet is to winter in the place. Gosti is Jabba-the-Hut level fat, but his place is warm and Arum is basically Norse/Viking territory and moving into winter. Althalus has no desire to hike through the mountains of Not-Greenland in the snow.
Which is why it takes Althalus until spring to realize Gosti doesn't actually have any money. Althalus gets pissed and flips tables in Gosti's storeroom before taking off. Gosti then tells everybody that Althalus robbed him blind, because Gosti wants the reputation of being a rich man more than he wants to be actively rich. Sadly, Althalus gets rid of his wolf-eared tunic and spends the rest of his hike back home thinking nasty thoughts about Gosti.
Althalus gets to Hule and, you guessed it, immediately heads for the nearest tavern. It's run by his buddy Nabjor, And it's less a tavern than a collection of tents wrapped around a fire and a still. Nabjor sells mead. Althalus likes mead. Althalus and Nabjor sit down to discuss how much civilization sucks over a jug of mead. They mourn his luck's departure. They wonder what the hell is making that very strange screaming sound, but neither of them can be arsed to go very far into the dark woods, which is probably the smart move given that guns do not exist yet.
A guy with glowing red eyes shows up at Nabjor's fire. For some reason Althalus decides it's a smart idea to wander over and say hello.
DUDE. GLOWING. RED. EYES. HE LOOKS LIKE A CORPSE AND HIS EYES ARE LITERALLY GLOWING RED. ALL HE NEEDS IS A NEON SIGN SAYING "VERY BAD GUY". WHY ARE YOU TALKING TO HIM?
His name is Ghend. Pronounce that. I fucking dare you.
He tells Althalus that he's been looking for him. Althalus is far too interested in transferring the ownership of Ghend's cape and horse to be creeped out by the glowing red-eyed guy actively looking for him.
Althalus is dumber than a post.
Ghend and Althalus review his adventures in civilization, and Ghend finally brings up that he wants Althalus to do something for him. He needs to go to the House at the End of the World and steal a book.
Althalus's response is kind of priceless:
“What in blazes is a book?”I can't decide if Althalus is supposed to be that stupid or if this time period doesn't have books. It would help if I knew what the fucking time period actually was.
Ghend takes out his book, which is a big, black box full of paper. Althalus handles the pages and decides that they are greasy and that the marks Ghend calls "writing" are ugly. Ghend describes the book he wants as being a white box full of paper that is just a little bit bigger than his.
Yeah, this is the McGuffin for this series. Drink up.
Also, apparently the book is the manuscript for War and Peace.
“How much bigger than yours is the book we want?” he asked.
“It’s about as long and as wide as the length of your forearm,” Ghend replied, “and about as thick as the length of your foot. It’s fairly heavy.”YOU DON'T SAY.
The House at the End of the World is in Kagwher (Again: PRONOUNCE THAT I DARE YOU) where "the sun doesn't shine in winter". So it's either Alaska or Siberia, and either way Althalus is hiking there. On foot.
The next morning he asks Nabjor to keep Ghend drunk enough not to notice that Althalus took his cloak and heads off to the House at the End of the World.
Total number of drinks required this review: Four