by Christopher Paolini
If you consider how strongly I endorsed Eragon - the first book of the
Inheritance Trilogy - you might think it odd that it has taken me so long to
get around to reading this second book. Written by the same youthful,
Montana-based author, Eldest continues to follow the development of its
hero from an illiterate, outdoorsy farmboy to a dragon-riding, magic-using,
So why did I hesitate to read it? I don't know. Perhaps I was afraid -
terrified, even - that it wouldn't measure up to the high standard of
Paolini's debut. In fact, I'll even admit right now that I was swayed by a
couple of strongly-worded internet rumors suggesting that Eldest was a
huge failure. And the less-than-terrific movie based on the first book did
nothing to encourage me to continue with the series. It was finally my
boss's wife who convinced me that I had to read it. Besides, the final book
- Brisingr - is out now, so I may soon know how the whole saga ended.
Now that I have read Eldest, I know that those vicious rumors were nothing
more than irrational rantings. For I have now seen Paolini continuing to
mature as a writer, and Eragon maturing with him. The series continues to
draw on a broad background of past fantasy literature - not, as I have seen
it unfairly described, in an act of plagiarism, but in a new synthesis and,
at times, an homage to books we love. It is evident that Paolini loves them
too. And it isn't just fantasy, either. When he casually dropped a sailor
named Bonden into the story, I put the book down and did a little dance in
the middle of my living room. Surely, any fantasy author who draws
inspiration from Patrick O'Brian deserves the benefit of a doubt!
Eragon and his dragon partner Saphira have survived their battle with the
tusked Urgals and the demoniac shade Durza. But Eragon has come away from
the latter encounter with a crippling injury. Nevertheless, he goes to the
enchanted forest of Du Weldenvarden to train among the elves - a highly
accelerated training regimen, compressing a decade worth of studies into the
months-long warmup to the next battle against the wicked King Galbatorix and
his forces. At
times, his physical and mental pain brings Eragon to the brink of despair.
Meanwhile, he is frustrated in love, constantly provoked by a sparring
partner who despises him, and pushed to the limits of his ability and beyond
by a master who calls himself the Cripple Who Is Whole.
As moving as one may find the transformation that comes over Eragon during
the main part of this book, no less compelling is the story of his cousin
Roran. Embittered by Eragon's seemingly cowardly desertion the day their
farm was burnt and Roran's father killed, Roran's anger grows when his
village of Carvahall is threatened by the Empire's forces. A couple of
hideous creatures called the Ra'zac are particularly interested in capturing
Roran himself, because of what he may be able to tell them (under
unthinkable torture) about Eragon. But the Ra'zac cross the line when they
abduct Roran's fiancee.
In a trice, this soft-spoken man of the forest becomes a fiercely driven man
of war, leading his small army on a desperate journey over mountains and
sea, through breathtaking dangers, until the cousins finally meet on a
battlefield. And on that battlefield, Eragon experiences the fulfillment of
a prophecy, going all the way back to the first book, that someone in his
family will betray him.
This middle book is a book about transformations. Some of the
transformations - as in the cases of Roran and Eragon - are moving to
behold. Others are horrifying; read the book and you'll know what I mean.
Though perhaps Eragon's personal journey isn't as thick with thrilling
incidents as it was in Book 1 - though at times Roran cuts a more heroic
figure - he becomes more and more a force to be reckoned with. And then
comes the awful surprise delayed until nearly the last chapter - a
surprise you at least partly expect, because of promises made on the front
cover. Honestly, I totally expected that surprise, and have dreaded it since
witchy-woman Angela's prophecy in Eragon; but from his vantage point in
the center of it all, Eragon had no reason to expect it. And reading the
shock in his eyes was just as good as feeling surprised myself.
I won't delay your reading of Eldest any longer, except to warn you that
it contains a magical mistake whose results will really creep you out; a
battle (also involving magic) that may upset you almost as much as it upsets
Eragon himself; and an elven Yoda whose atheistic philosophy of magic
sounds, at least at one point, like a "god is not good" tirade by
Christopher Hitchens. Mr. Paolini is welcome to his religious (or
irreligious) convictions, and I don't blame him for bringing them to bear on
his own fantasy world; I would only warn him that, by demystifying the magic
of that world, he risks making it less magical for his readers. Perhaps this
only poses a greater challenge to him in making Brisingr a satisfying
climax to his trilogy. I think (and hope) he may be up to that challenge.
[EDIT: Now it appears that there will be at least a fourth book in this
Recommended Age: 12+
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