Usually there are two ways that it can be difficult to read the works of a Problematic. It could be that the author is racist in a way that doesn’t impact the story, and it just feels slimy to give them your money so they can use it to buy gold and obnoxious bumper stickers. Then there are stories where the racism seeps into the character descriptions, reinforcing harmful stereotypes and prejudice. But it usually doesn’t weaken the actual plot or story structure in any quantifiable way. If you can turn off the part of your brain that handles basic human empathy, you’ll find plenty to enjoy in Lovecraft or Stoker or Haggard. But sometimes the racism is so insidious that it dissolves the basic logic of cause and effect and turns the book into Jello. That happened once in The Diamond Throne by David Eddings.
In The Diamond Throne, there is a point where the main party goes on a quest to find a magical artifact. Just to set the stage, this is a world where magic is demonstrably real. People have various religions, but they seem to agree that magic ultimately comes from the gods, even if there is no consensus on who those gods are. Anyway, our heroes don’t know exactly what they’re looking for, so they take a chance on a rumor that a prophet somewhere in the desert has in his possession a magic talisman.
The gang loads into the van and goes to Rendor, the desert land across the southern sea. Rendor is clearly coded Arab and Middle Eastern. There are white stucco walls, covered women, and goats. Goats everywhere. Eventually they find this prophet and get him alone by feigning interest in his burgeoning religious movement. He produces the talisman, tied to a string around his neck, and explains its origin. One day whatever god he’s a prophet of possessed a ram, and that ram spoke to him, explaining his mission to evangelize to the masses. Since then he has worn a piece of that talking ram’s horn around his neck. Then he falls asleep.
The plan was to get the prophet drunk and steal the talisman, and the first part of that plan goes off without a hitch. But there is no scene in which the gang steals the talisman and sneaks away. Instead we’re on a boat where our main characters mope around, dejected in their failure to find the magical item they were looking for. I found myself flipping back and forth, trying to figure out what happened. Did they steal the talisman or not? They had the opportunity, and that thing is what they traveled all the way to Rendor to get in the first place. Are they pretending to fail so that airport security won’t search them for magical artifacts? Are we going to get the fateful scene in a flashback?
The plot marches on, indifferent to my cries for explanation, until finally the heroes stumble across a supporting character, providing a handy excuse for a recap of the story so far. During the info dump, one of our main characters casually mentions the fact that the talisman they sought in Rendor turned out to be a fake. I rummaged through the relevant chapter to no avail. How was I suppose to figure out that the talisman was a fake? Then it hit me, as it’s probably already hit you.
The talisman is obviously a fake, because the prophet is Middle Eastern, and the “god” that “spoke” to him is ersatz Allah, and therefore not real. In a story full of gods and magic, the reader was supposed to know that the story about the talking ram was nonsense from the beginning. I’m sure Eddings never even noticed the cognitive dissonance, and certainly didn’t expect us to notice. No one even explains why this story of divine magic is different from any other in the same book. I can’t imagine how the characters in the story would be equipped to know that anything that smells vaguely of Islam is false. As I said, they believe in gods, routinely summon magic, and didn’t even know exactly what sort of object they were looking for. It’s like when a character in a bottom shelf fantasy novel reads a woman’s mood and you find out they were able to do this by observing the behavior of her breasts, and somehow the reader wasn’t informed that this is apparently how boobs work. Only there’s no boobs and instead it’s Islamophobia. Double whammy.