21 December 2011

Book Review: Eragon grows up in "Inheritance," so does Author Christopher Paolini


Image from www.algaesia.com
In the final installment of the Inheritance Cycle — which began with fifteen-year-old farm boy orphan Eragon finding a blue stone that hatched into a dragon — both Eragon and author Christopher Paolini have grown up since they were fifteen. Without revealing any of the book’s surprises (and it is a challenge to say much of value about Inheritance with that constraint) what can be safely said is that Paolini has written a masterful end to his much-loved saga.

What began as an epic that felt oddly like a mishmash of previous greats Lord of the Rings, Dragonriders of Pern, Harry Potter, and Star Wars has become a story in its own right — sort of. 

Some of the old complaints still stand. The overly-fancified language and sometimes-clunky phrasing are still present, albeit at a lesser level than previous installments. One  particularly awkward remaining element is Angela the herbalist, a Mary-Sue caricature of the author’s sister Angela with one major instance of save-the-day superpowers and a mysterious never-explained past for which Paolini apologizes in his Acknowledgements, claiming “she wouldn’t be half so interesting if we knew everything about her.”

Other old issues have improved. Paolini handles inclusion of made-up languages much better in Inheritance. It is unnecessary to flip to the glossary in order to follow the storyline. Paolini identifies phrases that are spells, making it clear that understanding the exact words is unimportant; or he provides a translation in the next line; or he sticks with words readers are already well-familiar with such as brisingr, the word for fire, which is Eragon’s favored spell and the name of his sword.

In spite of the old shortcomings, Paolini made great strides in Inheritance. The story is captivating, the plot twists in fascinating ways, and the characters are better-developed.

We finally meet Galbatorix, the evil king of Algaësia, who has been the off-stage villain throughout the first three books. Little information was previously provided about Galbatorix, and so Paolini was free to let his newly-honed writing skills shine. Galbatorix is a disturbingly realistic villain with ideas about justice and fairness that are, on occasion, frighteningly easy to agree with. He is also pitiless: his scenes are high-tension and often horrifying.

Eragon himself takes on more depth, shows emotion, and struggles with heavy themes: the isolation of the powerful, self-knowing and acceptance, and making the right decision when it is the exact opposite of what you want.

The Varden, the organization rebelling against Galbatorix, springs to life with more color and vibrancy. The rebels deal with the issue of peaceful coexistence of radically different cultures — their allies the warlike horned Urgals present a unique challenge to any hope of extended peace. “When our young ones have grown, they will want battles in which to prove themselves,” explains the Urgal warchief. “If there are no battles, then they will start them [...] we cannot change who we are.”

We cannot change who we are is a problem woven through Inheritance. And we cannot be what we are not. A nonmagic person cannot learn to use magic: they are at the mercy of the magic-users. This inequality created by magic deeply disturbs many characters. How to maintain justice and fairness in such a world is a serious problem for every character attempting to plan the future of Algaësia.

The most fascinating characters and the key nonmagical humans, Varden leader Nasuada and Eragon’s cousin Roran Stronghammer also shine in the 849 pages of Paolini’s Inheritance. They are some of his best and most original creations. Despite the well-based criticisms of Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle, the young writer is on to something good and has written a highly-enjoyable finale to the story he started over ten years ago. It is to be hoped that the bestselling tale of Algaësia is not the only story we will ever hear from Paolini.

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Notes: 
I very much enjoyed Inheritance, particularly due to my longtime fascination with the series and its author which I wrote about in an earlier post. I highly recommend Inheritance to anybody with any particular love for the stories, no matter what previous grievances you may have had with it. Out of an insane amount of respect for those of you who haven't read it, I refrained from mentioning several major plot points in this review. Please please please go read the book so we can argue and/or get very excited about them!

I also admire the hell out of Paolini, whose name I have recently learned to correctly pronounce! Those of you who are writers may enjoy the following articles by Paolini:
Now You!
Have you read Inheritance yet? If so, do you agree with my assessment of the evolution of Paolini's writing?