I don’t think I appreciated this book in The Belgariad series when I read it as youth. I didn’t connect with some of the new characters, and I didn’t really understand some of the detours that the group of main characters took. However, as an adult, I can see that Eddings took this book as an opportunity to have fun with the genre. I think the dialogue is wittier than the first book, and the new characters are well-worn types of the genre that Eddings breathes life into in a tongue-in-cheek way.
As I mentioned before, Eddings is well aware that this book/series is formulaic, and you start to see him playing with that formula in this book. The characters start to realize that they are cogs in a larger machine and that each of them is there because they have a specific purpose to fill. Eddings knows exactly what he’s writing and rather than apologize for that, he leans into it and creates a masterful, if predictable, world. And because you think it’s predictable, he’s able to throw in delightful surprises (such as when one of the protagonists starts a magical duel a bad guy, but it gets cut short by another protagonist sneaking up and knocking the bad guy out cold. As a reader, you gear up for a fantastic duel that is cut short by something far more practical and efficient).
You might also like: The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson; The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss; The Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan