Thursday, April 4, 2013

Eldest - Christopher Paolini

A few weeks back, I completed the first book in Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Cycle, Eragon.  If you read that post, you know I did not find Paolini's work as anything more than entertaining.  He has not changed my mind on that front. I teach an Introduction to Humanities course at the university where I work and we spend a lot of time with those students discussing the difference between fine art and entertainment.  One activity we have them do is compare and contrast works in the same genre that they deem to fall on either end of the spectrum.  To me, the Inheritance Cycle contrasts perfectly with Harry Potter or Hunger Games.  As proven recently by The Girl Who Was on Fire, Suzanne Collins' work has depth and countless layers to examine.  Paolini, on the other hand, continues to present a story with little character development and a predictable plot.

Eldest, the second book in the series, did have some marked improvements over its predecessor.  For one thing, Paolini's parents either bought him a thesaurus or his vocabulary dramatically improved through SAT prep courses (he wrote these first few books while still a teenager).  This, for me, was an important improvement and did a lot to enhance the book.  I even  found myself using the dictionary provided in my Kindle app to get a precise definition from time to time, which is extremely rare for me.  I love new words and am always on the lookout for ones that will be useful in conversation or writing.  Did you know there are more than a million words in the English language?  And most of us know less than half of them.  Ok, soapbox over.  My point is that Paolini's increased vocabulary was a selling point for me.  Of course, I suppose it could be argued that Paolini was hiding a mediocre novel behind big words.  

The sophomore novel also stands out from Eragon in its multiple story lines.  While Eragon stayed with its title character and his dragon for the duration of the book, Paolini jumped between three main plots in Eldest.  I found this particularly helpful as Eragon and Saphira spend much of the book under elvish training far from any real action.  Their story mostly marks their progress and Eragon's continued lovesick inability to maintain a proper relationship with Arya.  You would expect Eragon to be the character with the most growth and development, yet I just don't see it.  Certainly, he learns much and even experiences physical changes, but I simply do not see the level of changes in him which a reader hopes to see in any hero.  Meanwhile, the Varden, under foreign protection in the southern nation of Surda, prepare to fight the Empire.  Within this plot, Paolini provides what I found to be his most unique idea yet.  In the first book, Eragon and Saphira blessed a Varden baby.  Their elementary knowledge of the ancient language, though, caused the opposite effect.  The child, now in Surda with the Varden, lives with a curse causing her to intercept anything that would cause someone else harm.  She turns out to be some sort of demon child, though there is a depth in her character that is rare for Paolini.  I hope her story line will be further developed in the second half of the series and that Paolini explores the complexities of her condition.  The final story line follows Eragon's cousin Roran and the village of Carvahall as they face the Ra'zac, who have returned for Roran in hopes of baiting Eragon.  The village eventually abandons their valley entirely to avoid more death or slavery at the hands of the Empire.  In Roran, Paolini presents his best character development.  The harrowing emotional journey which Roran travels leaves him a changed man.  I am interested to see how Paolini continues his story.

Of course, the best part of having multiple stories is always when they converge, which Paolini does in the final chapters.  Paolini even recalls a story from back in the dwarfs' tunnels and we see the return of Murtagh and the Twins.  This should not surprise any astute reader.  I did not believe them to be dead for a second.  I also was not surprised to see Murtagh revealed as a new Rider in service to Galbatorix.  I find his story of how he ended up in that position to be confusing and a bit nonsensical.  I found it hard to accept him as suddenly so violent and full of hatred for Eragon.  Granted, he experienced torture at the hands of the King and learned more about his family history, but still.  I needed more of that back story to buy the developments.  The silver lining, however, revealed itself as Murtagh's revelations explained the title of the book....sort of.  Paolini apparently titled the book after a character who appeared in less than five percent of the novel.

I feel as though I am giving Paolini's work a bad rap by complaining so much.  It all goes back to my original point.  A line exists between works of entertainment and works from which purpose can be derived.  For me, the Inheritance Cycle lands firmly in the entertainment camp.  Enjoyable to read, but containing little depth, the books leave much to be desired.  Still, I recognized growth in Eldest and will continue reading in hopes of seeing more in the second half of the series.

Pages: 668
Date Completed: April 1, 2013

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