Book Review

Christopher Paolini’s THE INHERITANCE CYCLE (BOOKS #1-4)

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Title: The Inheritance Cycle (Eragon, 2003 | Eldest, 2005 | Brisingr, 2008 | Inheritance, 2011)
Author: Christopher Paolini
Format: Audiobook (narrated by Gerard Doyle)
Start Date: July 5, 2016
End Date: September 29, 2016
Pages: 2,778 (513 | 668 | 748 | 849)
Audiobook Hours: 100 hours, 57 minutes (16h 21m | 23h 35m | 29h 39m | 31h 22m)
Rating: 3 stars

“This is the hardest reading I’ve ever done. You were right. Your future is nigh impossible to see. I’ve never known of anyone’s fate being so tangled and clouded… The wandering path shows that there are many choices in your future, some of which you face even now. I see great battles raging around you, some of them fought for your sake. I see the mighty powers of this land struggling to control your will and destiny. Countless possible futures await you – all of them filled with blood and conflict – but only one will bring you happiness and peace. Beware of losing your way, for you are one of the few who are truly free to choose their own fate. That freedom is a gift, but it is also a responsibility more binding than chains… But you shouldn’t fret about what has yet to occur. The only way the future can harm us is by causing worry.” -Angela reading Eragon’s fortune in Terim.

Eragon was the nephew of a poor farmer, growing up without knowing his mother nor even the identity of his father. One day, while hunting in the Spine – the mountain range near his home in Palancar Valley – he happens upon a dragon egg. After Saphira hatches for him, he becomes the first free rider in Alagaësia. Along with Brom, his town’s storyteller, he goes on a journey of epic proportions.

He learns magic. He fights battles. He falls in love. He learns what it means to be a dragon rider.

Being the last free rider, he is tasked with the impossible: to kill King Galbatorix, the mad king who has ruled the land for the last century. King Galbatorix went mad after the death of his original dragon, and after acquiring a new dragon and forcing him to do his bidding, he and the Foresworn wiped clean the Order of the Riders. In his possession, Galbatorix held the last three dragon eggs in all of Alagaësia – until Saphira’s egg was stolen.

Thus begins the improbable journey of a farm boy and his dragon to save the kingdom.

I read Eragon around the time Eldest was published, back in 2005. I have always loved stories about dragons and magic and far-off lands, and I remember devouring both these books during my early teenage years. However, one thing I always regretted was never finishing the series. I got discouraged after finishing the second book and learning I had to wait for not only one sequel, but two. Even when I later bought a copy of Brisingr, I didn’t have it in me to go back reread the first two because I was still waiting on Inheritance to be released. By the time The Inheritance Cycle was completed in 2011, I was in my twenties and in college with little to no time to read, especially books of such epic proportions.

This past spring and summer, I relived a part of my childhood by listening to the audiobooks for A Series of Unfortunate Events, another series that I never quite finished when I was younger, yet inspired to reread them due to the impending series on Netflix. After its (rather lackluster) conclusion, I was looking for something else to quell my childhood-loving heart. Enter, Christopher Paolini’s The Inheritance Cycle.

I loved Gerard Doyle, who was the narrator for this series. Not only did his British accent set the mood (I say this as an American), but he was just so good. I felt like I could listen to him all day. He made the story interesting and intriguing. Although I wasn’t a fan of his voices for the dragons – especially not Saphira’s – I must admit, it did grow on me, albeit not entirely. He had a way of bringing the characters to life in a way that I’d never experienced in an audiobook before (not that I’m an expert, so don’t take my word for it; I’ve only been consistently listening to audiobooks since April 2016).

Now, as for the story. How to write a review for a story that was 2,778 pages (100 hours and 57 minutes) long? It would be impossible to write a review that would encompass every one of my thoughts on this book, especially due to its immense length. However, I will do my best to talk about a few of the more memorable characteristics of this book.

The first, of course, is Eragon himself.

I feel for the kid. He was put in a difficult situation, and he wasn’t really given too much of a say in the matter. By the middle of the second book, his allegiances were all over the place: he was sworn to the human leader of the Varden, to the king of the dwarves, and to the elves through his friendship with Arya and his elvish teacher, Oromis. Because of his position, it was necessary to both show solidarity and non-partisanship toward each race of Alagaësia, though he always caught grief with it.

However, I wasn’t a big fan of his character. He always seemed too aloof and mightier-than-though. For example, he always questioned the elf’s practice of not eating meat, but once he understood why, he was all for it. That’s fine, I understand that, to each his own. However, he (and the author) made a point of pointing out, to the point of nausea, that even though Eragon refused to partake in the consumption of meat – a position he later adapted – he made a show of pointing out that he wouldn’t judge others for eating meat. A conversation like this was especially ludicrous when talking to Saphira, a carnivorous dragon. Instead of letting the actions speak for themselves, Paolini felt the need to point out explicitly what could be understood implicitly.

I also didn’t like how the author pandered to Eragon. Everything was always so easy for him, and don’t try to argue otherwise. Sure, he lost friends, he was betrayed, and he did live a life in the spotlight, I will give him that. And I’m not saying that Eragon didn’t have to work hard for a lot of things, for he did. BUT when it too difficult, the author conveniently handed Eragon a solution, wrapped up with a bow. I don’t want to get into any details for fear of giving away any spoilers, but I shall refer you to Solembum’s prediction in the first book, for two pertinent examples:

Listen closely and I will tell you two things. When the time comes and you need a weapon, look under the roots of the Menoa tree. Then, when all seems lost and your power is insufficient, go to the rock of Kuthian and speak your name to the Vault of Souls.

See? Easy. Even though the werecat’s words were not very forthcoming, without this knowledge, Eragon would not have been able to make it as far as he had. (Let’s not forget, too, that Eragon later made Solembum help interpret his prophesy, which even Solembum didn’t understand.)

Paolini’s portrayal of women could sometimes be equally frustrating.

Especially with Arya, Paolini made a show of explaining exactly why Arya was a badass instead of letting the actions speak for themselves. Eragon was also infuriatingly dense when it came to interacting with women, especially Arya, whom he had a massive crush on. In one of the later books, during a duel, Eragon felt frustrated with himself that he was unable to best Arya, an elf who had been practicing swordsmanship for over a century; compare that to his skills with a sword, which had only been developing for barely a year.

“How is it you keep besting me?” he growled, far from pleased.

“Because,” she replied, and feinted toward his right shoulder, causing him to raise his shield and leap backward in alarm, “I’ve had over a hundred years of practice. It would be odd if I weren’t better than you, now wouldn’t it? You should be proud that you’ve managed to mark me at all. Few can.”

And let’s not even mention the countless times, especially before battles, that Eragon worried about Arya’s safety. It went well beyond caring for a friend and right into his subconscious belief that women were slightly inferior and unable to hold their own.

Although Paolini did not give the readers a glimpse into Arya’s mind, we were able to get a glimpse into Nasuada’s. Let’s ignore the fact that she was the only dark-skinned character, besides her father, who played a prominent role in the story, as well as how many times Paolini felt the need to point it out (especially in earlier books). During a particularly trying time, she reflected on what her life had been thus far.

It seemed a poor legacy for the memory of her name. And a memory would be all that remained. She was the last of her line. When she died, there would be no one left to continue her family. The thought pained her, and she berated herself for not having borne children when she could.

Maybe I could be reading too much into this; it’s entirely possible. But when faced with trial and tribulation, all Nasuada could think about was her apparent failure of her womanly duties by not bearing children instead of feeling in awe of herself for being a strong, badass woman. Again, maybe it’s just me. I couldn’t imagine that if a character like Eragon was in that situation, he would immediately think, “Oh no, I am a failure because I didn’t continue my bloodline by having children.” No, very doubtful. And I’m not saying Nasuada’s comments made her any less of a strong, female character – it’s perfectly okay to reflect on past regrets – but I feel like the author made too much of a show out of it.

However, within a few pages, Nasuada also reflected on her own strength, which was a positive.

She did not know where her courage came from, but she felt strong and defiant. Whether or not the king would punish her for it, she was determined to speak her mind.

On a similar token, I also was not a fan of Saphira’s vanity.

I don’t know if it the author intended this behavior because Saphira was a dragon, or because she was the last female dragon. In an interview at the end of the fourth and final book, he mentioned the fact that dragons are, by nature, vain, which is why he enjoyed writing about Saphira’s vanity – not because she was a female, but because she was a dragon.

She could not imagine going into battle looking anything but her best. Her enemies should not only fear her, but admire her. She knew it was vanity on her part, but she did not care. No other race could match the grandeur of the dragons. Also, she was the last of her kind, and she wanted those who saw her to marvel at her appearance and to remember her well, so if dragons were to vanish forevermore, two-legs would continue to speak of them with the proper respect, awe, and wonder.

The author’s diction and syntax could also often be taxing at times.

I feel like the particular word choices were more pronounced while listening to the audiobook than actually reading the words on the page. On one hand, because it is a young adult book, I feel like some of the words could be great for this younger audience to learn to use in their everyday language. However, I often felt that it was too much. I felt like Paolini went above and beyond in order to sound smarter, but it didn’t always work because it didn’t make the plot flow as well. I give kudos to the man, but more doesn’t always mean better.

It wasn’t merely the word choice or phrasing that was often frustrating, but the content as well. In Inheritance, while being tortured, a female character spends eight paragraphs musing on the upkeep of her jailor’s fingernails (hint: they were “exemplary”).

The author had a way of making the plot simultaneously intricately detailed yet frustratingly vague. For example, the author wrote a lot about finding one’s true name. Yet, when a character was able to discover their, Paolini was extremely vague to what it might be, not even really explaining several characteristics that actually described said character. It was quite frustrating, because Paolini spent about three or so chapters on relaying this information, but he was ultimately unable to delve past the vagueness.

However, for all its flaws, I’m glad I listened to The Inheritance Cycle. At its core, it’s the story of a boy trying to find his way in the world. Sure, this boy had a lot more issues to deal with than most of us would ever dream of, but he didn’t let that stop him (well, at least not most of the time).

This story was also surprisingly political. I was very interested reading all the political intrigue of the Empire, gaining insight to exactly what type of things that would go into setting up a form of government and how to subsequently enact the loyalty and respect of the people. Throughout the novel, there were really only every six or seven people that seemed to hold the fate of Alagaësia in their hands: the human leader of the Varden, the human king of Surda, the leader of the dwarves, a representative of the elves (Arya), and through her the queen of the elves, a dragon rider (Eragon), and possibly one or two additional players, based on the whim of those in charge. A monarchy is surprisingly terrifying because, even though those in power believe that they are providing the best services they are able to their people, there are always going to be those that don’t see eye to eye and might challenge their leadership.

Galbatorix, once we finally meet his character, nonchalantly noted:

“I did not gain this throne by accepting every challenge put to me. Nor have I held it by meeting my foes in ‘honest battle.’ What you have yet to learn, youngling, is that it does not matter how you achieve victory, only that you achieve it.

I thought it was interesting that, though Galbatorix was mad, he had several valid points for running a kingdom. I found myself agreeing with him on several occasions before remembering that he was supposedly mad (don’t get me wrong, he was bat-s*** crazy). However, I viewed him more as a sympathetic character: though cruel and cold-hearted, how much of that hate was due to circumstance? He was like the Donald Trump of Alagaësia – basically crazy but able to spew one or two good ideas every once in a while (hey, even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while).

There were a lot of twists and turns in this book – some I saw coming, and others I was completely blindsided. I enjoyed getting to know the characters, especially if a lot of them (namely Eragon and Roran; don’t even get me started on Roran, who was a lot like his cousin) I did not like all the time.

I’m glad I finally took the time to finish this series! On to the next adventure!

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