Eragon: Inheritance, Book 1

September 21, 2009 at 12:00 am 4 comments

Nature had never polished a stone as smooth as this one. Its flawless surface was dark blue, except for thin veins of white that spiderwebbed across it. The stone was cool and frictionless under his fingers, like hardened silk.

Have you ever had a dream about a book you’re reading? This happens to me every once in a while, and it’s surprisingly unsettling. Everything seems familiar and recognizable from the book, but it’s either not the way I pictured it when I was reading, the characters act in unfamiliar ways, or there’s just something…off.

That’s the way I felt when reading Eragon: as if I was dreaming I was reading another book. Eragon is a story about a fifteen-year-old boy who discovers a dragon egg in the woods near his home and is consequently flung into a world full of swords, sorcery, dragons and quests. On the way he meets an ancient storyteller, an elfin princess, another young man with a mysterious past and dwarves who have built an underground city. He also learns how to fight with a magic sword, control his own brand of magic and, oh yeah, communicate telepathically with a dragon.

It was like stumbling into The Hobbit via His Dark Materials and Tamora Pierce, with a little of the Farseer Trilogy thrown in for good measure. Oddly familiar and yet not, I found the whole experience a little strange.

Granted, Christopher Paolini was only fifteen when he began this novel, and seventeen when it was released by his parents’ publishing company. He said in an interview with The Observer that he intentionally went for archetypal fantasy situations and admits that Tolkien has had an effect on his writing. That’s all well and good, and in fact standard for many writers. Intertextuality, as Philip Pullman will tell you, is nothing new.

Overall, Eragon is good. It’s probably the best fantasy novel ever written by a 17-year-old, and Paolini is clearly a prodigy for having come up with this whole fantasy world, history and even language. But I can’t help feeling that it’s still a little immature. The setting was beautiful, but the plot needed a bit of tightening and I felt the characters could use some depth — especially Arya the elf.

Arya is such a non-character that she is not even required to be conscious for much of the book, though that doesn’t stop Eragon from falling in love with her (of course). When she is conscious, she is one-dimensional, all tight leather, cat-like eyes and flowing hair, riding on the back of a dragon and wielding a ‘nimbus of green magic.’ She comes off as nothing more than a superhuman (super-elfin?) Arwen-Lara Croft hybrid, straight from every 15-year-old boy’s World of Warcraft-inspired wet dreams. I predict that every woman who reads Eragon will hate Arya, and every boy will love her.

I have to agree with Liz Rosenberg’s review in the New York Times: This work is flawed, but Paolini has the makings of a genius. Despite the aforementioned issues, this novel has its moments of brilliance, especially in descriptions of scenery and in Saphira’s character development (oddly, the dragon reads more realistically than the human characters). Since Paolini has promised that even the first draft of Eldest was better than the last draft of Eragon, I think I’ll give the rest of this series another chance, and hope that Paolini’s style has matured a little between installments.

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Entry filed under: Children and Young Adult, Fantasy.

An unfinished book Questions Posed by Fan Fiction

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Corey  |  September 21, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    Excellent review! I think a lot of hype was made about this book when it first came out because of his age and the quality of the writing in relation to his being a fourteen-year-old boy, but you are completely right about all the flaws (also because of his teenage boy-ness).

    It is quite hopeful that the next one is supposed to be so much better! There was such a large gap between the first and the second that I had forgotten most of the plot of Eragon by the time Eldest came out and I never got into it. I hope it’s vastly better for you, though!

    Reply
    • 2. KT  |  September 21, 2009 at 12:51 pm

      I have it on hold at the library and am about to pick it up! Here’s hoping Paolini is correct…and that he grew up a bit. Seriously, a 15-year-old boy would have LOVED this book. I guess I just wasn’t the target audience.

      Reply
      • 3. Corey  |  September 21, 2009 at 1:11 pm

        Yeah. Twenty-something popular literature graduate student probably wasn’t his target. ;)

        Reply
      • 4. KT  |  September 21, 2009 at 4:59 pm

        If he was using fantasy writing as a way to get girls, that SHOULD have been his target. Nothing turns on twenty-something pop lit grads like a good book! :D

        Reply

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