Book Review: Eldest

Book Review: EldestEldest (The Inheritance Cycle, #2) by Christopher Paolini
Published by Alfred A. Knopf on August 23rd 2005
Genres: Fantasy, Fantasy & Magic, Young Adult
Pages: 668
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Darkness falls... Swords clash... Evil reigns.

Eragon and his dragon, Saphira, have just saved the rebel state from destruction by the mighty forces of King Galbatorix, cruel ruler of the Empire. Now Eragon must travel to Ellesméra, land of the elves, for further training in magic and swordsmanship, the vital skills of the Dragon Rider. It is the journey of a lifetime, filled with awe-inspring new places and people, each day a fresh adventure. But chaos and betrayal plague him at every turn, and Eragon isn't sure whom he can trust.

Meanwhile, his cousin Roran must fight a new battle back home in Carvahall – one that puts Eragon in even graver danger.

Will the king's dark hand strangle all resistance? Eragon may not escape with even his life...

I remembered Eldest as being even better than the first book in The Inheritance Cycle, Eragon, but that was not the case. It took me about two weeks to claw my way through Eldest. I was beyond frustrated to find the trope of a magically cured disease existed in this book, that the flowery, try-hard prose—and the lackluster narration—as well as the teenage mooning had gotten even worse in this novel, the events non-realistic, and the switching of point-of-views annoying. That is not to say that Eldest is all bad—I enjoyed aspects of Eragon’s training, the initial development of his curse, and Murtagh’s role in the novel. I am already reading Brisngr, the next book in The Inheritance Cycle because I am interested to see how the series ends.


I did enjoyed that Eragon has wised up a smidge in this novel. He is a little more capable, even if he is still exasperating. I also liked that despite his continued inappropriate behavior towards Arya, the object of his affections, Arya sticks to her guns and turns him down firmly each time. Discovering the elf village of Ellesmera and its queen is also interesting, even if it all reads like a poorer version of The Lord of the Rings’s Galadriel and her golden wood. It also bears noting that Paolini’s elves came from a mysterious, far away place over waters, just like in The Lord of the Rings. I also loved that the leader of the Varden, Nasuada, craftily and humorously funds her resistance with magically crafted lace.


I was most pleased, however, View Spoiler » Their training was very interesting, and I loved that Saphira and Eragon were forced to speak only in the Ancient Elven language and that they were taught to share everything they learned in their separate training. Despite these exercises, and the assertion that Saphira and Eragon were supposed to be one being in two bodies, I felt like their relationship has never been that close or great. It honestly threw me when Saphira became jealous and possessive when Trianna tried to flirt with Eragon to get him to join the Du Vangr Grata, and how she stated that if Eragon liked Arya anymore, she’d be in love with her. The whole thing makes for a weird dynamic, and I found it odd that whenView Spoiler »


Despite enjoying this training and Eragon finally getting some book learning, it did start to drag. I wish more of it had been cut down. And I was extremely frustrated when Saphira followed in Eragon’s teenage-angsting-footsteps View Spoiler »Romance of any kind is definitely not the strong suit of this series—even when it is requited—it is very idealistic and unrealistic.


I also appreciated the development of Eragon’s curse, in the form of a scarred and diseased back, at the hands of Durza, the Shade, whom he defeated with help in the first novel.View Spoiler » Sigh. There is literally nothing I hate more than when a character is given a physical disability as a plot device, only to have it cured within the same book, as if people with disabilities are not worthy characters in themselves.


I understand why it was done, as Paolini had written Eragon into a state where he could not do much physical activity at all without seizing with pain, but why did he have to cure the illness altogether? Eragon was finally learning some humility and compassion and was at his most sympathetic when he had his ailment. Removing it by magic so simply, only cheapened his experiences. Why not have his pain lessened to one night a month, during the full moon? That would have made for an interesting development that would’ve lessened his ability to fight and defend himself on that night. Perhaps Arya would have guarded him on those nights, and they could have had some character development that did not involve him pushing his feelings on her and throwing himself at the poor woman. Furthermore, giving Eragon the powers of an elf also stripped away much of what made him different and special than the other riders. Instead of struggling past his limits as a human Rider, he now has yet another easy ticket to winning the fight against Galbatorix…and dating Arya. Really, it does nothing for his characterization except to make him less likable.


But even less likable to me than Eragon, was his cousin, Roran. I was annoyed every time the book switched point-of-views to the newly dubbed “Stronghammer,” often leaving the other perspective with a cliffhanger–a writing style I have always detested. The novel attempted to make him edgier than his cousin by giving him a grudge to hold against Eragon for failing to bury his father, Garrow. Instead of being angry that Eragon didn’t bury his dad, because he had to flee for his actual life and the safety of his villagers (which Roran blows to smithereens anyways), maybe he should just be happy that he had one relative still alive. I also could not stand his idealistic love for Katrina, who even threatened to leave him if he doesn’t propose—despite the fact that he has no farm, means to support her, or the support of her father. I was not sorry when she was kidnapped, except for the fact that Roran got even more mopey about her. I will be dismayed if the schmuck ends up with one of the dragon eggs, but I also somewhat expect it, as he follows almost the exact same path Eragon did to end up with the Varden at Surda, and manages to vanquish the Twins, the Varden’s most powerful enemies (other than Galbatorix), since Durza. Regardless of whether or not he actually gets a dragon egg, he’s not going anywhere anytime soon.


But thank goodness Murtagh was still around—every time this boy showed up things got interesting, and fast. View Spoiler »


Regardless of any plot developments, as in Eragon, I was frustrated with the writing style of the author. I found that parts of the novel that should have been exciting were described in a very lackluster way that involved a lot of telling and less showing. For instance, when Eragon finally learns about romances between the elves and Dragon Riders, something he’s been dying to know about, and it’s not at all an earth-shattering revelation:


“From his studies, Eragon learned much about the elves, a subject that he avidly pursued, hoping that it would help him to better understand Arya….Eragon also learned that since their two races had first met, only a handful of elf-human couples had existed: mainly human Riders who found appropriate mates among the elves. However, as best as he could tell from the cryptic records, most such relationships ended in tragedy, either because the lovers were unable to relate to one another or because the humans aged and died while the elves escaped the ravages of time.”


Something like this would add more tension and importance to the discovery: “Eragon poured over books containing stories of elves, ensnared by the promise of something that would draw him closer to understanding Arya. One night, when curled up in a particular dusty tome, Eragon turned the page, elated to find mentions of romance between elves…and Dragon Riders. His eyes glued to the page, he tore through the words, but his excitement quickly turned into a gut-wrenching dismay. It appeared that most, if not all, romances between the elves ended in tragedy.” Frankly, it would have been even better if Paolini had detailed one such story of an elf and Dragon Rider romance of legend from the books he was reading. That would have been an even better way to show the emotional upheaval caused by these doomed romances, rather than mentioning something so pivotal in passing.


And when the author wasn’t describing things in an almost monotonous fashion, things seemed unrealistic and rushed or overly flowery to the point that his descriptions do not even make much sense. In fact, the very first line of the book is somewhat perplexing, “The songs of the dead are the lamentations of the living.” This, I can actually make sense of, unlike some other things, but I can’t really make sense of why Eragon is waxing poetic after a bloody battle, where he is walking through dismembered corpses. Another moment in the novel, the description of Eragon falling asleep, was simply ridiculous:


“He closed his eyes and sank into the warm dusk that separates consciousness and sleep, where reality bends and sways to the wind of thought, and where creativity blossoms in its freedom from boundaries and all things are possible.”


To me, this read more like Eragon was high than simply going to bed. Another time, before Eragon rushed into battle View Spoiler », they exchange the following:


“’Shall we dance? Friend of my heart?’ ‘We shall, little one.’”


I actually cringed as I read that. A simple “let’s go, Saphira,” would have served his purpose just as well. Then again, when Eragon is writing, it is described as:


“Each barbed line was like a streak of night against the paper, an abyss into which he could lose himself and try to forget his feelings.”

Ironically, he was writing about his feelings during this description.


It was clear to me that the author wishes to have the level of prose mastery that George R.R. Martin or Patrick Rothfuss have, but doesn’t quite know how to go about it. Unfortunately, I’m not sure how these attempts got past his editor. In contrast, other times the author’s descriptions are so brief that it’s almost like the events he’s describing are unreal, like the kidnapping of Katrina by the Ra’zac:


“As a solider approached Roran with rope, Katrina screamed again and jumped on the men, biting and clawing furiously. Her sharp nails furrowed their faces, drawing streams of blood that blinded the soldiers….Katrina was in danger, and [Roran] was invincible. Shields crumpled beneath his blows, brigandines and mail split under his merciless weapon, and helmets caved in. Two men were wounded, and three fell to rise no more. The clang and clamor had roused the household….the Ra’zac hissed to one another, then scuttled forward and grasped Katrina with inhuman strength, lifting her off the floor as they fled the room.”


Not only did my eyebrows raise at an indecent Katrina’s sudden ability to ravage the faces of armored soldiers with her…nails, but I was kind of shocked that it all happened at all. One second they’re sleeping, the next Roran was invincible, with Catwoman for a fiancee, and the next she’s gone. It’s these kind of moments that filled me with disbelief and even garnered a reread to ensure that what I thought I read really occurred.


Though Paolini’s writing leaves a lot to be desired at times, with not only its similarities to The Lord of the Rings, but also its strange and sometimes weak prose, there is still enough to keep me reading this series. I need to know who ends up with the remaining dragon egg, how tragically Eragon’s pitiful romance with Arya goes, how Murtagh and Eragon will clash, and how Galbatorix will fall. I am hoping that I will get the answers to these questions and more in the future books.


Book Review - Eldest - Blogging with Dragons

Posted September 7, 2018 in Book Reviews, Fantasy, Young Adult

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