Over the past few months I’ve been attempting to read more fiction: Asimov‘s The End of Eternity, Zelazny‘s Lord of Light, Robert Jordan‘s The Great Hunt and R. Scott Bakker‘s Prince of Nothing; all have been fairly enjoyable. Most recently I picked up a copy of Chistopher Paolini‘s Eragon from the bookstore. This was a change of pace, but I have no problem with young adult and children’s fantasy.
The story of the book is fairly standard in the vein of young adult fantasy. A young boy from a rural village finds something that gets him involved in a world grander than he could have ever imagined. In this case that thing is a dragon egg which has chosen to hatch for the titular character, Eragon.
Eragon raises the dragon – Saphira – unhindered for some time but eventually his farm is attacked, his uncle killed, and being left with nothing sets out to avenge his uncle. Along with him comes the mysterious old man Brom who is clearly more than he appears, training Eragon in magic and swordplay and gradually unfolding the full depth of what Eragon has become involved in.
Eragon and Brom set after the Urgals (this world’s version of orcs) and make slow progress in tracking them down with bits of luck and a few fights. Eragon happens upon some Urgals in a city and escapes but is late ambushed. Brom is mortally wounded but the day is saved by Murtagh, who replaces Brom as his companion and sparring partner. At the next city they go to Eragon is captured and – as luck would have it – put in the same prison as an elf he’s being having visions of since the beginning of the book.
With the help of Murtagh and Saphira he escapes and rescues the elf – Arya – though unfortunately she is in a comatose state. They make their way through a desert to the rebel base in the mountains, where Arya is healed, they meet the rebel king and the dwarves. Though the base seems impregnable the Urgals find a way in and the book ends with a climactic battle; Saphira manages to breath fire and Eragon kills the Urgal leader Durza.
Very little happens in the book in the way of major plot development. Most of the story is Eragon & co. plodding around getting into minor skirmishes ending in one big battle. Eragon goes through very little development throughout the story apart from a growth spurt at the beginning, the rest of the time he waffles back and forth between a child and child-prodigy with wisdom beyond his years, greater knowledge of magic than those who have spent their life in training and better skill with a sword too (all from a what seems to be a few months of training and a hefty, hefty load of giftedness that shows up just when the plot demands).
Mid-way through the book I was bored to the point where I almost put the book down for good but resolved to skim through a handful of chapters until the plot picked up. The slow pacing, however, was not my biggest issue with the book.
My main issue with this book isn’t the plot, it’s the characters.
–Eragon is somewhat of a Mary Sue, with minimal training he’s better than seasoned veterans in both magic and swordplay. Despite having spent his entire life on a farm he’s able to strategize like a pro, give advice to those with much more experience than himself, have deep thoughts about political allegiances and the need for being a free agent, and be generally much more knowledgeable and skilled than he should be. His personality is largely static to boot.
–Brom is largely in the story to serve as an exposition dump and to be the wise old mentor who gets killed and spurns the hero on. Every other chapter it seems as if he’s unloading background detail onto the reader by the barrel-full. Even in death he randomly awakes from his comatose state to give one final exposition dump before drifting off in the hereafter.
–Saphira, despite having experienced nothing but woods since hatching and only being a few years old somehow knows everything about everything dealing with magic and dragons and the political landscape. She starts out as a fully-fledged motherly figure and has nowhere else to go in terms of character development. Dragons in this world must come with the latest dragon software pre-installed and some sort of collective memory that automatically provides her with all the information she needs. Like Brom, she’s largely there to randomly provide Eragon with information he wouldn’t have access to otherwise. Frankly, it would have been much more enjoyable for her to be learning all of this along with Eragon; like him, she has a growth spurt at the beginning of the book and proceeds to stagnate for the final three-quarters.
Basically, the plot is boring and cliche and so are the characters, with the one saving grace being that Paolini was quite young when he wrote it. One can’t expect a college-age writer to reach the wondrous heights of a Peter S. Beagle or Patrick Rothfuss.
No doubt I would have enjoyed this book more if I had read it when I was younger, but as C.S. Lewis once said: “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”
May or may not be a Time Lord.