Friday, September 23, 2011

43. Brisingr by Christopher Paolini

I have a lot of mixed feelings about the Inheritance Quartet (formerly Trilogy). On the one hand, there's something there. There are interesting characters, a classic fantasy plotline, and a clear interest in exploring fantastical cultures like those of Dwarves, Elves, and "Urgals," a less sinister stand-in for Orcs or Trolls. On the other hand, a lot of it is obviously derivative (of Tolkien in particular) and events feel contrived to an extreme degree. I read Eragon after the movie came out in 2006 and liked it enough to read Eldest. I thought Eldest was much better in terms of language and organization, and I enjoyed the inclusion of Roran's story and point of view. Then, Brisingr came out in 2008. I went to the store and bought the book the week it came out. I started reading. I put it down. And I haven't picked it up again until now. I got through about the first third of the book and it just wasn't holding my attention. This time was better and I got through the whole thing, but there were definitely moments when I was just like "All right, I'm not really enjoying reading this right now."

Our orphan/under-dog/misfit hero, dragon rider Eragon, his cousin Roran, and dragon Saphira open the book on a quest to rescue Roran's beloved Katrina and slay the evil Ra'zac, who killed Eragon's uncle and Roran's father,Garrow, and Eragon's mentor, Brom. Meanwhile, Nasuada, leader of the Varden, the resistance against evil king Galbatorix, moves to consolidate her position and begin the war against Galbatorix with an unsteady alliance of Dwarves, Elves, Urgals, and Men. One thing that can be said for Paolini is his book is almost aggressively egalitarian; Nasuada is female, as is Queen Islanzadi of the Elves, Urgal women hold power over the men, and some of the Dwarf clan chiefs are women. When Katrina is rescued, she is described as a strong woman who looks capable of rescuing Roran if their situations had been reversed, but unfortunately her character is not further developed beyond being the object of Roran's affection. Saphira, of course, is the best developed female character in the book and I think Paolini's best and most unique feature. In this book, he speaks from Saphira's point-of-view, which, while it seems to be interjected randomly, he at least does a convincing job of. Although, I think he characterizes Saphira well enough in her dialogue with Eragon and he should keep that up.

One of the reasons I might be more critical of Paolini than other authors is that I consider him a contemporary, I'm only a few years his junior, and we were clearly raised on the same diet of fantasy literature. So, I'm going to pretend I can speak to him directly.

The "Beor Mountains" and the "Strait of Melian"? Come on, Chris, your homage to Tolkien is glaring. I like that you had the idea that Orcs can be people too, I really do. I like your version of the Dwarf clans But does everything really work out that neatly? Really? I get that we need another father-mentor figure sacrifice, goodness knows we haven't had as many as J.K. Rowling, but reversing a revelation from another book? Not cool. Contrived. That's the only word for it. You could have done something really cool with what you had, instead you backtrack. The new revelation? Awesome, except I'm confused. I thought when humans died, their dragons died too, but not vice versa? But now this book makes it sound like it's only "likely," not always. Check into it. You've got to re-read your own backlist.

This book is teeming with so many obvious hints of what's coming next, but all of the fragments just don't hold together that well. I get that there's another book coming and you need to make references to all these random strangers, but Eragon's quota of chance encounters is definitely overdrawn. Angela is my favorite. I love her, I really do, and I love that she's based on your sister (although how that could be scares me a little). But she needs to take a front-and-forward role, right now. Stop dancing around it. She better be Galbatorix's sister or something and know how to defeat him. And yes, Elva scares me, are you happy now? Because who knows if she's going to be a friend or foe-oooo what now.

Final comments: Cut the random skipping around of viewpoints. If you're going to use different viewpoints, use them regularly and with purpose. I don't care how often Roran and Katrina cuddle. Watch the run-on sentences. Eragon and Arya-build it up more, give them more than one scene, not just snippets. I don't see how you're going to pull this whole mess together in just one more book, but good luck.

Recommended to fantasy readers, other readers should probably leave it alone, there are much better representations of the genre.


Biblibio said...

Ahh, I'm one of those who had to give up on Eragon about a hundred pages in. The borrowing from all other fantasy novels, the adolescent writing... I couldn't deal with it. Paolini may only be a few years older than myself, but that doesn't justify reading poorly written books... I know what you mean about recognizing Paolini's influences and wanting to talk to him directly, but I don't agree that this would make you a harsher critic than anyone else. Paolini's shortcomings as an author are rather apparent. While this may not mean his books lack any merit whatsoever, I don't think we should be dismissing them on account of his age and his desire to write in the fashion of the greats. Even as a fantasy fan, I couldn't get through it...

Space Station Mir said...

It sounds like you had a worse experience with him than I did! There were some things I genuinely liked about his books, which is why I felt they were worth talking about. But absolutely, he's not a great or even close to one. I can see why he might not be worth some people's time, while others might find him enjoyable in a fantasy fix kind of way.