David and Leigh Eddings, The Elder Gods (Warner Books, 2003; also published as an e-book)

They're back! After stand-alone books The Redemption of Althalus and Regina's Song, David and Leigh Eddings return to series fantasy with The Elder Gods, the first volume in a new tetrology entitled The Dreamers.

Briefly, and insofar as one can tell from only a quarter of the series, Mother Sea and Father Earth are the great creative forces of the planet. One continent, the Land of Dhrall, is ruled by eight gods, four Elder and four Younger. The two groups follow a cycle of activity and rest. In the present cycle, Zelana rules the West, Dahlaine the North, Veltan the South and Aracia the East. The Wasteland in the central part of the continent is the domain of That-Called-the-Vlagh, an evil being who has created insect-reptile-human hybrids and wants to conquer the whole Land of Dhrall, and then the rest of the world. Each of the gods has been entrusted with a child, a Dreamer, who is not quite what he or she seems. To thwart That-Called-the-Vlagh, the four gods have called in people from the other continents to defeat the hordes sent against them. There will be four great battles, one for each cardinal Domain. The Elder Gods sets the scene and tells of the assault on the West.

In the Introduction to The Rivan Codex, David Eddings lists the ten central elements of good fantasy: a theology, the quest, the magic thingamajig, the hero, the wizard, the heroine, the diabolical villain, the (male) companions on the quest, the ladies in attendance on these companions and the rulers and government officials. How do he and his wife use these elements in this new series?

Theology: The Elder and Younger gods share dominion over the Land of Dhrall. Mother Sea and Father Land personify the creative forces of the planet. The four Dreamers, Eleria, Lillabeth, Yaltar and Ashad, are gods unaware.

Quest: To defeat That-Called-the-Vlagh and save Dhrall.

Magic thingamajig: There doesn't seem to be one.

Hero: Several get equal time — Longbow and Red-Beard the Dhralls, Keselo and Narasan the Trogites, and Rabbit and Sorgan the Maags.

Wizard: No one really has this role, unless it is the four Dreamers.

Heroine: There isn't one.

Diabolical villain: That-Called-the-Vlagh. Unlike the Elder and Younger gods, who have allowed the creatures in their Domains to evolve according to their natures, this being has made unholy hybrid creatures combining the nastiest aspects of insects, reptiles and humans.

Male companions on the quest: Several armies' worth.

Attendant ladies: None. There are almost no females in the book at all.

Rulers and government officials: The western Dhralls live in tribes with chiefs. We are introduced to White-Braid and Old-Bear. The Trogites have an emperor, but he and his government are basically useless and the various armies run things. The Maags don't seem to have a government.

The Eddingses break several of their own rules, but the book works anyway. The Eddingses excel at creating plausible worlds (once you get past the basic implausibility of all epic fantasy) inhabited by engaging characters. It's dangerous to pick up one of their books unless you know you have time to devote to reading it — they suck you in and you emerge, hours later, bemused. There is a wry humour, sarcastic without being nasty. There is plenty of violence, but they don't dwell on or glorify it.

It's too early to tell whether The Dreamers will be as much fun as the Eddingses' previous works, but so far so good.

[Faith J. Cormier]

Warner Books, the publisher of The Elder Gods, has put together an e-postcard regarding its release.

David and Leigh Eddings don't have an e-mail address or an official Web site, but there are plenty of sites devoted to them. A few good starting places are here, here and here, especially for information about their earlier works. These are the series The Elenium and its sequel, The Tamuli, as well as the mega-series consisting of The Belgariad, The Mallorean and their companion volumes, and various stand-alone works.