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July 2003
© 2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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The Elder Gods by David and Leigh Eddings
Voyager Hardcover: ISBN 0007157584 PubDate: 07/03
424 pgs. List price £17.99
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Review by Iain Emsley

It would be easy to lambaste The Elder Gods, the latest offering from the Eddings paring with its bold new style and the tag line puffery which invites the reader to “Set sail on an Epic Journey of Adventure”. Bold and bright it may be on the shelves, displaying its new livery in stark contrast to the standard fare for fantasy artwork, but the honest truth is that what is between the covers lets this novel down.  

There are eight Dreamers who control the world through their dreams yet remain childlike in appearance. At any one time, only four are awake, a cycle which changes every 25,000 years. It is during this change that they are at their weakest. The Lord of the Wasteland knows this and so begins to marshal an attack that must be repulsed. Zelana, one of the Dreamers presently awake receives a baby who is au fait with the world around it, rapidly taking to the world and discovering a pink pearl. This turns out to be an isolated experience as Zelana begins to coerce a force to repulse the Lord of the Wasteland and from their island, previously uncharted.

One gets the sense that we have been here before with these characters, despite this being a new world in a brand new novel. Fantasy is supposed to bring worlds to life, to allow the reader to escape from reality and the writer has a responsibility lift the characters off the page, to bring to the reader a sense of enchantment and wonder, whether positive or negative. In The Elder Gods, each major character, including Zelana and her charge, suddenly accepts that they are necessary, that they can easily give up their own ways of life and essentially be bought for a supposedly higher purpose. Herein lies another pitfall that Eddings falls into - higher purposes and Gods are essentially unknowable, they are designed/created/formed to be supernatural and thus should not be easily explained nor understood nor described. Each Dreamer or Deity comes across as a purveyor of homespun wisdom and authority, with the mere mortals running around as small children to be praised or punished on a whim and come across at best as ‘good, old timers’ sitting in their rocking chairs dispensing largesse, rather than representing the tension between essentially terrific cosmic forces. Perhaps Eddings  should be introduced to the work of David Zindell who is a master at dealing with this problem of describing greater powers or to Jacqueline Carey who is wonderful at creating this sort of tension and allowing the characters to carry to the action, rather than vice versa.

Twenty years ago, plot driven fantasy was in order, a fantastic breakthrough which allowed “Epic fantasy” to thrive, and thus we do have something to thank Eddings  and company for. However, whilst the sub-genre has since moved forward, they still seem to inhabit the same worlds and the same old mode of writing. The story may rattle along at a fair pace, but with wooden characters and flat dialogue, it totally fails to shine . More tea, Vicar?

© 2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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