Eldest: Inheritance, Book 2

October 7, 2009 at 12:00 am 6 comments

His face was now smooth and angled as an elf’s, with ears tapered like theirs and eyes slanted like theirs, and his skin was as pale as alabaster and seemed to emit a faint glow, as if with the sheen of magic.

People‘s review of Eragon calls Christopher Paolini and his debut novel “precocious,” a word which brings to my mind not exceptionally bright children, but enfants terribles who have been told all their lives that they are exceptional and are, therefore, spoiled for any real accomplishments.

The trouble with Paolini is that I still find myself looking at Eldest as yet another work by an enfant terrible who, unfortunately, has been so successful with his earlier book that he hasn’t pushed himself hard enough to make his writing as good as it could be.

Paolini has a strong vocabulary, I suppose, and his invention of two languages is certainly impressive. However, many of his larger words (circumnavigated, splendiferous) smack of being ones he found in the Microsoft Word thesaurus, or words one learns for the SAT or GRE and never uses in real life. The word “plethora” is like that for me — Paolini doesn’t use that one, but he does misuse the word “prowess” in such a way as to suggest thesaurus use.

Paolini also has a tendency to drift into the world of teenage boy-targeted fantasy pseudo-porn. While Eragon focused mainly on images of Arya that would not look out of place airbrushed on the side of a minivan, Eldest contains a pair of twin ‘elf-maids’ whose naked dancing brings their shared dragon tattoo to life. The head (inked on one woman’s chest) then speaks to Eragon, blessing him with some sort of magical dragon-power. I can barely type this summary with a straight face, but clearly Paolini meant it to be extraordinarily sensual.

And to top this review off, Eldest does not pass the Bechdel test. To give Paolini a little credit, I believe that 1) his target audience is adolescent boys, not female English grad students with feminist tendencies and 2) that he has tried to introduce female characters with strength and power, but he’s just not terribly good at it yet.

Arya, despite her porn-star looks, is Eragon’s mental and physical superior for much of the first two books, and she remains his emotional superior. Nasuada rules a powerful group of people and refuses to act as a puppet of the governing council. Saphira, though a dragon, is arguably the best female character in the series, given interests and needs apart from Eragon’s.

But all of these women (with the possible exception of Saphira) are defined only by their relationship to Eragon. Arya has an interesting backstory — Paolini tells us this in the narrative — but once she rejects Eragon’s advances, she and her story are dropped abruptly. Nasuada relies heavily on Eragon to keep her nation protected and under control, and it’s suggested that Eragon could do her job better. In fact, he’s named as her successor near the end of Eldest, and I suspect that in the next book, Eragon will take over her job and another female character will fall by the wayside.

The women of Carvahall are barely worth mentioning, mostly serving as plot devices. One scene where a woman has to choose between her fiance and her father had the potential to be truly powerful and emotional. Instead, it ends  with both of the men commanding the woman to “come” as if she were a dog and watching her squirm until she finally breaks down and tearfully makes her way to her fiance’s side. Ridiculous, disgusting, and offensive.

What else to say about Eldest? I have a few quibbles with Paolini, namely his “Barges? We don’t need no stinking barges!” line. While I can see how he thought it was amusing, it’s so awful that when I read it, I groaned and said, “Come ON,” really loud in a public place. With this one line, he’s reached into his story and yanked the reader out of the fictional context he’s carefully created (though that creation owes much more to Lord of the Rings than the author admits).

That said, I will read Brisingr, and probably the fourth book when it comes out. Paolini has gotten criticism regarding his sloppy, overwrought prose (take a look at this) and while I suppose it’s too much to hope for that Saphira will turn on Eragon, kill him, and free Alagaesia from tyranny all by herself, maybe this criticism will help push him from enfant terrible to a writer worth watching.


Entry filed under: Children and Young Adult, Fantasy. Tags: , , .

Class Participation! Fairy Tale Friday: Beauty and the Beast

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Corey  |  October 7, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    Oh Christopher Paolini…so much promise! I like your idea that everyone said he was so amazing that he bought into it and didn’t push himself as much as he could. After all, almost anything he could get published as a teenage boy from the boonies would be impressive, right? Right?

    Apparently that’s what he likes to tell himself.

    I’m actually in the market for some mindless fantasy, would you recommend I give these a go again or try something else? I’m talking something in the David Eddings mold, but I do like a good female protagonist, so perhaps these books aren’t the best idea.

    • 2. KT  |  October 7, 2009 at 4:03 pm

      Dude, try something else. Seriously.

      If you’re in the teen fantasy range, though, I highly suggest Northern Lights — Lyra, the protagonist, is a little bratty but generally kick-ass. Additionally, you’ve read A Wrinkle in Time, right?

      • 3. Corey  |  October 8, 2009 at 6:14 am

        I’ll go off and find something else, definitely! Is Northern Lights the same as the Golden Compass here or is that a different book?

      • 4. KT  |  October 8, 2009 at 10:13 am

        Yep, whoops! I did mean The Golden Compass. I’m thinking that maybe Robin Hobb has a few pretty decent women in her books, but I’d have to search to find one who is the main character. At least a couple of them get fed up with the male protagonist from time to time and leave — and they all have interesting and fully developed backstories, from what I remember.

        I’m loving Inkheart, by the way! You suggested it to me a while ago, and I’m glad I took your recommendation :D

  • […] Eldest: Inheritance, Book 2. Even though the book was disappointing, this review is everything I wish my others could be. My goal here was to address the main issues I had with the novel without beating them to death, and I think I mostly succeeded — even though now we get several hits a month with people looking for “Arya eragon porn.” […]

  • […] Genres I Dislike/Am Allergic To: 1. Boy-fantasy (see: A Game of Thrones and possibly Eragon, if you asked my co-blogger Kate) 2. Stream-of-consciousness anything (which I guess means the Beats are out as a whole) 3. Poetry […]


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