(This post was originally written 11/26/2011)
Warning: Some minor spoilers ahead.
Inheritance is the series by Christopher Paolini that began with Eragon, following a young man who becomes a Dragon Rider (think Jedi) and sets off on an epic journey to learn magic and lead a group of rebels to oversthrow the evil king and his Empire (I’m not kidding, the bad guys are actually called the Empire). But Star Wars parallels aside – and there are a lot of them in the series – how’s the book?
Quite bad. Paolini is obviously a smart guy who read a lot as a kid, but he falls quite short of his aspirations to be the next Tolkien. As I said, Inheritance is the lst book in the series (excuse me, “Cycle.” See the end of the review for my note on that), and unfortunately, it is also the worst. Paolini originally envisioned the series as a trilogy but was forced to amend his plans when the 3rd book,Brisingr, ballooned overlong. While I don’t recall the change particularly affecting Brisingr, it certainly proved detrimental to Inheritance. Paolini seems to have lacked the story for a full fourth book, yet felt the need to make up new scenes simply to ensure that it didn’t run significantly shorter than the others in the series. The novel suffers tremendously from pacing issues that leave the reader begging explination as to why they just sa through twenty pages of overheard conversation that has no bearing on the plot nor on any of the character arcs. Thow that in with chapters, multiple full chapters that, while innocuous enough on their own, combine to fill hundreds of pages with stuff that really doesn’t matter in the end, and you have a veritable quagmire of a book.
Wile the writing itself has never been the standout of the series, past books at least had a couple scenes or moments that were really memorable; pieces that made you appreciate the story, if not the telling. Inheritance is rather devoid of such moments. Ironically, the final showdown between the protagonist Eragon and the evil King Galbatorix, a showdown which is the climax of the entire series, seems abbreviated and is wholly uninteresting. Paolini goes to great lengths to build up the power of his antagonist, and it works. Eragon should have no chance against Galbatorix. The way he achieves victory, then, feels cheap, and in fact is primarily due not to Eragon’s efforts, but rather the efforts of a secondary character, and not even one of the ones the narrator has deigned to spend any time at all following the thoughts of.
Which leads me into my third major complaint about the book (following the pacing and the climax – we’re not even counting the generally sub-par writing here). At five or six times throughout the book, a character whom the narrator has been “following” and whose thoughts the reader is generally privy to will strike upon a plan for solving some problem he or she has been facing (usually attacking a fortified city or somethig like that). However, all the reader is told is that the character thought of a plan and is putting it into effect. Occasionally, the reader might get some obtuse description of the preparations that are taking place, but generally the reader is purposefully kept in the dark by the narrator. This, again, in relation to characters we have up to this point been inside the heads of. If it had occured once or even twice, it could be excused as a valid, if rather inelegant, way of raising suspense. But by the third, or the sixth, time the device rolls around, it is simply obnoxious.
I said I had three main complaints with the book, and I guess that’s true, but if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to add two serious annoyances to the list, both mostly to do with Inheritance, but including aspects of the series as a whole. Warning: while there were only minor spoilers before, there may be sme more serious ones ahead. Proceed only if you’ve read the book or you don’t care if some aspects get ruined for you.
First, the Ancient Language. For those unfamiliar, the Ancient Language is the way magic spells are cast in the world of the books. The words supposedly perfectly describe the objects they are attached to, and thus are able to affect the essence of these things. All that to say that the entire series sets up the Ancient Language as the governing force of magic. It is mentioned once or twice (a book or two ago) that spells can be cast without the Ancient Language, but that it is very difficult because without the structure of the language it is easy for spells to go awry. Eragon never practices this skill (presumably because it is too dangerout), but that reinforces the idea presented, that the Language governs magic. In the final showdown, however, two things happen. One: Two characters (neither of them Eragon, by the way) use the name of the Ancient Language in the Ancient Language to essentially throw out all the rules and become the sole proprietors of all things magical. I think the fact that a name to the Ancient Language exists was mentioned once. IN THE FIRST BOOK! The name makes the Ancient Language suddenly useless. It destroys the system the entire series has used up until that point. Two: Eragon does his share in defeating Galbatorix by casting a spell without using the Ancient Language. Again, this idea is touched on earlier, but only very briefly and we never really see it in practice. Furthermore, part of the idea is that what Eragon is trying to do could not be communicated in the Ancient Language. This contradicts the lingual philosophy of the entire rest of the series. The Ancient Language is supposed to be the ultimate descriptor, perfect because all the wordsare the things they refer to. Eragon and his dragon Saphira spend time in the book finding their “true names,” names in the Ancient Language that describe every element of exactly who they are. Surely if anything is going to be beyond the description of language it will be the essence of a person.
Both of these absolutely destroy the Ancient Language and run so flagrantly counter to the philosophy underlying the rest of the series that its as if Paolini did it intentionally. I think that he realized too late that his antagonist was just too powerful, but other books had already been published so he had to run with it. And thus, we get a tremendously disappointing, uninteresting, deus ex machina of a resolution.
Second annoyance: the series is called a “cycle.” Yeah, I know it’s kind of silly to get worked up about this, but really, Mr. Paolini? Since his trilogy was shot to pieces (unnecessarily, perhaps?), he just had to come up with a clever way to say “series,” it seems. I think I know what he was trying to get at with the whole “cycle” thing, but the series ends at a decidedly different place from where it begins. There is really nothing in the falling action and resolution that links up with the beginning ofEragon. Nothing that makes the series a cycle in any meaningful sense. Just call it what it is and don’t try to get too cute.
The Verdict: 1.5 out of 5
The book has just enough going for it to avoid a total panning, but as I look back on it, neither can I really justify a 2 of 5. If you’ve made it this far in the series, you may want to see it through to the end like I did. It won’t be a hard read. Just don’t expect to fly through it enthralled with every step, and expect some WTF moments as the last 100 pages you read have no bearing on the next.