Having plowed through three multi-volume fantasy series in a row, I thought this single-volume tome, the first standalone fantasy adventure by the husband-and-wife team, might be a welcome respite. I haven’t read any book by the Eddingses, but their reputation as prolific and popular authors is well-known. I was further intrigued by the “#1 international bestseller” plug emblazoned on the hardcover.
The title character is a thief and occasional highwayman and murderer whose skills are legendary. He’s also a braggart and a liar of epic proportions. Plagued by a streak of uncharacteristic bad luck, he accepts a job from a shady character to steal a Book in the House at the End of the World. He finds the Book but is detained by a talking cat, who is in reality the goddess Dweia in disguise. Dweia persuades him to be her agent, and they recruit others to join their team, including a warrior, a priest, a queen, a mind-reader, and a young thief. Together they engage in epic struggles with agents of the Evil God, who seeks to undo all creation and return the universe to nothingness.
That the names of the authors are in larger fonts than the title of the book should have been a warning bell, I suppose. To be fair, the story is somewhat interesting. The concept of a House that compresses space and time, and that allows one to travel vast distances or time by simply going down the hallway, is a novel idea. Throw in a few modern concepts, such as the time-space duality and even the procedure for rudimentary brain surgery, and the story has a distinct sci-fi feel. Nevertheless, the plot is more or less predictable, straightforward action-adventure with a smattering of romance: Althalus and friends recruit an army, goes here, repel an invasion, fall in love, goes there, fight another war, go some place else, defeat the bad guys, etc. The pace is, for lack of a better word, unchanged. It’s the same whether the characters are cuddling or fighting for their lives. The authors seem to be on cruise control throughout; they seem to be recounting a story fact by fact, instead of portraying it, making it come alive. The feeling is comparable to watching a documentary film versus an action movie or drama. The cookie-cutter characters are rather flat and two-dimensional. So they are all different in their attributes and abilities, but nothing else distinguishes one from the other. They all make the same cliche wisecracks, punts, or sarcastic remarks. Some merit a chuckle or two, but after a while one is left to wonder whether or not there is anything else to them. In fact, I can’t even envision what each character looks like; I’d like to see more than just tall/short, big/tiny, dark-haired/blond, beautiful/ugly, etc. Contrast this with the works of some other authors, such as George Martin, who lavishes attention on the description of the wardrobe alone. Of course, characterization goes beyond superficial appearance. There are other means, such as describing how events unfold from the character’s point of view, that can bring the point across. Unfortunately such richness and attention to details are absent here. Similarly, the writing is competent, but lacks a certain sophistication and seriousness demonstrated by some other authors. The book is entertaining if you’re in the mood for casual reading, and I feel that it would be most appropriate for a younger audience rather than a serious fantasy fan.
Originally posted January 5, 2003 on Amazon.com