Monday, 23 December 2019

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Review: The Redemption of Althalus by David and Leigh Eddings

The Redemption of Althalus by David and Leigh Eddings

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The Redemption of Althalus by David and Leigh Eddings

Published: 2001 | Publisher: Voyager | Source: Bought

Althalus, burglar, armed robber, is paid to steal a book by a sinister stranger named Ghend. Althalus sets off to the House at the End of the World where the book is kept. There, in the same room as the book Ghend described, he finds a talking cat. What he can't finds when he turns around is the door by which he entered.

By the time he sets out again, Althalus can read. He's read the book and discovered that the evil god Daeva is trying to unmake the world. The cat, whom Althalus calls Emerald, is in fact the god's sister, and she needs Althalus to prevent Daeva returning them all to primordial chaos. Althalus will have to teach her what she needs to know, whih is how to lie, cheat and steal - 'Whatever works,' Emerald reflects.

Althalus is the first and foremost of a band of colourful helpers who will battle Daeva and his bizarre, deadly minions. The existence of the worls hangs in the balance in this glorious epic fantasy.
From the blurb.

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Trigger Warnings: This book features animal death, murder, death, sexual harassment and war.

The Redemption of Althalus is a standalone novel written by one of my favourite authors, David Eddings, and his wife, Leigh. I've re-read this novel more times than I can count, to the point where it's now falling to pieces, and I love it. But it's been quite a few years since my last re-read, and not only have I learnt a lot since then, but high fantasy has also grown since then, and I've read quite a few incredible books. And sadly, this time round, while I enjoyed in on the whole, I was a little disappointed after this re-read, as it doesn't really hold up to more recent high fantasies.

The Redemption of Althalus has all the things I love in a high fantasy: good vs. evil, the fate of the world in the balance, magic, war and strategy, and a band of great characters. But it has to be said that there a number of characters who feel very similar to characters in Eddings' other books. Andine is really quite similar to Ce'Nedra in The Belgariad and The Malloreon series. Emmy/Dweia is almost, but not quite, a carbon copy of from Flute/Aphreal from The Elenium and The Tamuli trilogies (especially when you consider they both like to take forms that will encourage people to love them), with a hint of Polgara from The Belgariad and The Malloreon series. Eliar has elements of Belgarion in him. It's just a little samey, you know?

And then there's the length of the book. I really have no problem at all reading an extremely long book - in my opinion, the longer, the better. At 913 pages, The Redemption of Althalus is pretty hefty. But this time round, I noticed a lot of elements that were undeveloped, in my opinion, and so the book needed to be longer - maybe even made into a trilogy. There is a hell of a lot that happens in this book, and I'm not sure enough time is given to each element. Some things were just too convenient, others that weren't explained well enough (I guess my reading of better books has me now wanting to know all the answers, rather than just accept something because magic), other things were dealt with far too easily or quickly. I love that every character in Althalus' band has a specific role and part to play in saving the world, that they all have their own individual conflict in some form with their counterpart in Ghend's band, but most of the time, these conflicts weren't developed enough, didn't go into enough detail, or just weren't explained properly.

Then there's the tired trope of good people being beautiful and bad people being ugly - especially when it comes to women. There was a lot of sexism and misogyny in this particular area. Gelta, Queen of the Night, from Ghend's band, is treated especially badly. Women can be villains, and when done right, they can be amazing! But to link their evilness with looking a certain way, acting a certain way - ways women "shouldn't" look or act - perpetuates the idea of who women should be and what they should be doing, and they shouldn't be ambitious, or rude, or speak their mind, etc. etc. It actually really wound me up. I mean, look at this:

'Now that he was closer to her, Althalus could see how truly ugly [Gelta] was. Her face was a mass of deeply indented pock-marks, and her nose had obviously been broken several times. She had pig-like little eyes and more than a hint of a mustache. She also had shoulders like an ox and a rancid fragrance about her.' (p618)

Now we know that there are a number of medical conditions that could lead to Gelta looking the way she does, and people who have those medical conditions, or just generally have similar features, are not going to feel particularly good about themselves when reading this. And it just makes me so mad! She's often described as "the pig" or "the sow", there is shock and disgust when certain characters discover that she's a woman and not a man, there is derision over a woman leading an army, and disgust at her sexuality - and all of this comes from men and women. It's just tired, lazy writing, such a cliched trope, and really problematic. And, frankly, I kind of expect and demand better now.

There's also an instance of heteronormativity. Certain relationships between older character change over the course of the story, and young Gher, who's 9, finds them quite confusing, and it's brushed off as a "boy-people/girl-people thing" that he'll understand when he's older. While it isn't out right discriminatory towards anyone who isn't straight, there is definitely erasure of other sexualities going on. Whether that's intentional or just not something that was even considered during writing and editing, I don't know, but it stood out quite a bit to me.

But I do love the characters and the general story. I love Dweia, and all the mentions of her as a goddess of love and fertility, and how there are a lot of Pagan ideas surrounding her character. I love how clever it is, and the plotting that goes into it, especially regarding 9-year-old Gher and his grasp of big ideas, and the solutions he comes up with. I do still love this book, I just love it quite a bit less than I did before. I probably will re-read it again at some point, but I really am quite disappointed this time round.

You might also like:

Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb Furyborn by Claire Legrand

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Have you ever been disappointed by a beloved book after a re-read? How long is too long when it comes to books? How do you deal with older high fantasy and their problematic elements? Have you read The Redemption of Althalus, and if so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments!

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