The Dreamers: Book One of The Elder Gods by David & Leigh Eddings (2003)
The Dreamers by David & Leigh Eddings reads like it could have been published twenty or forty years ago rather than in 2003. There are no thematic references to the real world, which is not necessarily bad, but the story feels out of touch with modern fantasy fiction, which often uses fantastic elements to reflect on contemporary issues, such as the abuses of power or social stereotypes.
In this case, the Eddings have created an alternative world with eight gods (with a small ‘g’), a hoard of monsters, and humans. The gods bring three groups of humans together to help them fight the monsters. One group of humans resembles Native Americans, another pirates, and the third a hybrid of feudal and military cultures.
After painting the big picture––the four primary gods decide they need help to fight the evil monsters, the authors build the world with chapters that highlight each of the three groups of humans. Bridging the humans’ differences requires some trickery, but eventually it is accomplished and finally the war begins. Then, instead of letting the humans win the war on their own, the authors’ employ a deus ex machina technique. Two gods exercise their powers (while dreaming––hence the title) destroying the invading monsters. In the end, we discover this is only the first battle in the war. The same forces must come together to do it again in books two through four, where presumably the one who gives birth to the monsters will meet its demise.
Fantasy stories don’t have to be about anything other than themselves, but when they seem divorced from modern concerns or when the references are vague, as is the case here, there is less reason to read them. We don’t identify with the human protagonists because they are not put in situations we humans face in the real world. Nor can we identify with the gods because their attitudes seem so idiosyncratic. The result is a lack of tension, the lack of the feeling we want from a fantasy that we have to read the next chapter to find out what’s coming. Here we know what’s coming and although it may not be predictable, it’s easy to greet it with a blasé––so what––response.