Every Thursday, Nathan at Fantasy Review Barn leads a group of fellow bloggers on “Tough Travels”, a trip through the tropes that populate the fantasy and sci-fi world, using Diane Wynne Jones’ hilarious The Tough Guide to Fantasyland as a guide.
This week’s subject is “Chessmasters”:
The problem with this week’s Tough Traveling is that it can be a bit spoiler-iffic. You’ve just started reading the book, you see this harmless character mentioned but you haven’t finished. Then you read my entries and scream “FUCK!!!!” So be warned, most of these entries are spoilers by nature. Tread lightly for this week’s Tough Travels.
The Prophecy — The “Belgariad” by David Eddings
We start, as always, with the master of tropes, David Eddings. The Prophecy (and it’s dark counterpart) are the ultimate influences of Belgarion and his friends’ adventures. Just look at the names of the books in the series! At one point Garion even dreams his actions are part of a giant chess match, if the chess motif wasn’t already obvious enough. Whether leaving clues scattered through prophetic scriptures, or inspiring a drunken soldier to heckle Queen Ce’Nedra, the Prophecy does whatever is necessary to assure that his chosen one, Belgarion, is prepared to meet the Child of Dark.
Father Yarvi— Half the World by Joe Abercrombie
Yarvi was the young, disabled king in last year’s Half a King. Despite being born with a mangled hand, he was able to stop his uncle from usurping the throne of Gettland, using his wits to assure it passed to the rightful heir. In the sequel Half the World, he is now “Father Yarvi” a minister from Gettland to the court of the High King of the Shattered Sea. His diplomatic skills, loyalty and keen eye for spotting talent help him continue to thwart the machinations of the High King and his loyal ministers. By the end of the novel, it becomes clear just how far his hands reached, how far ahead he plotted his moves, and how ruthless he was to achieve his goals.
Taravangian — The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
Taravangian is the kindly, somewhat dim-witted king of Kharbranth. He hosted Jasnah and Shallan while they were researching the origins of the Parshendi, allowing them access to his library, the massive Partheneum. He had a secret however (SPOILERS!!!!). Turns out Taravangian had made a deal as a young man to help him solve the world’s problems, this resulted in him having an intellect that varied from day to day, from complete idiocy to pure genius. He arranged to keep himself locked away whenever he was at either extreme, but while he was intelligent he laid the groundwork for a conspiracy to reshape the world according to his “Diagram”, a massive document he wrote on the day of his highest recorded intelligence. To achieve these ends, he has taken to assassinating other world leaders and quietly murdering his citizens to gain further prophetic insights.
Il Tornja — The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley
Another spoiler-iffic Chessmaster. He is a brilliant general, the leader of the Annurian army, and with the tragic assassination of the emperor, he has been appointed regent until the young heir Kaden is summoned back from the monastery where he is studying. Il Tornja helps Kaden’s sister Adare, the only member of the imperial family still in the palace, to ferret out her father’s assassin, eventually becoming her lover. As other assassins strike at Kaden and the third sibling Valyn it becomes clear that the conspiracy is much larger. And, of course, Adare discovers just who is behind it at the end of the book. And if you’ve only read The Emperor’s Blades, you may not see the extent of Il Tornja’s long game — his influence and plots become even farther-reaching in The Providence of Fire.
Ares — Red Rising by Pierce Brown
Life on Mars is rigidly stratified, with citizens born to specific color castes, Golds on the top and Reds on the bottom. But Ares is looking to shake things up. The mysterious leader (at least in Red Rising) of the terrorist group the Sons of Ares works in the shadows, elevating the Red teen Darrow to Gold, genetically modifying and training the boy to become the leader that frees all of the Solar System’s citizens from the shackles of tyranny. We don’t get to find out how his plans all turn out for another book, but the end of Golden Son certainly proves that chess is a long game. And the whole series proves that winning strategies are built on sacrifices when necessary.
Ron Weasley — Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone
by J.K. Rowling
I had to include Ron here. After all, he did play the best game of Wizard Chess that Hogwart’s had ever seen.
— Michael Senft