Eragon Chap. 14: Dragon Advice

I’m not sure I get Saphira. She was my favorite character when I first read this book, mostly by logic of “ohmygodohmygodDRAGON”. She tries to give Eragon sage advice while he grieves, but I’m not sure of its validity:

Anguish enveloped Eragon as he awoke. [. . .] “I can’t live with this,” he moaned.

“Then don’t.” Saphira’s words reverberated in his head.

…did Saphira just suggest that Eragon kill himself?

Even now, I still like her character, and some of her dialogue.

The worth is in the act. Your worth halts when you surrender the will to change and experience life. But options are before you; choose one and dedicate yourself to it. The deeds will give you new hope and purpose.

But Saphira’s only a few months old at this point, though. She’s still a baby; the only human she’s seen up close until this point is Eragon. She understands how his mind works, but there’s no real reason for her to know anything about the world outside Eragon’s farm. Do dragons have some kind of ancestral memory that allows them to dole out advice like an older, wiser dragon? It’s the only explanation that would make sense to me, because Saphira knows things that there’s no way Eragon could have taught her.

On the other hand, some of her advice might be terrible.

Saphira was right. Nothing mattered anymore except the act itself.

We’ve also encountered the dead parent trope again. I’ll probably talk about this in more depth in a separate post, but I’m really sick of this. The laconic version is this: characters are more interesting when they have more to lose. Even if it leads to cheesy lines like this:

“Nothing is more dangerous than an enemy with nothing to lose,” he thought, “Which is what I have become.”

I used to love that quote when I was fourteen–a year younger than Eragon, actually. Growing up, I was bullied, ignored, never felt welcome in my school. I was an angry kid, an angrier teenager, and a line like that really spoke to me. For a long time I felt like it was me against the world, that everyone was my enemy. Since I felt so unwanted, I didn’t really see the point in playing nice with others. You might be able to imagine the unfortunate cycle that led to. The idea of a hero, fighting with no one on his side–and presumably winning–was very appealing to me.

At Saphira’s encouragement, Eragon decides to leave Carvahall and hunt down the Ra’zac, who destroyed his home and killed Garrow. Now, I know that we need the real adventure to start somehow, but I don’t like Saphira’s sudden change of heart. When the Ra’zac first came to Carvahall, she was so scared that she took off in a frenzied flight, taking Eragon with her. She was so terrorized that she wouldn’t even tell Eragon what was going on, and he was rebuffed when he tried to reach her with their mind-link.

Have you ever been so afraid of something that you couldn’t speak, or literally ran away from? I can almost guarantee that you would not be charging directly towards whatever it is you fear just because a teenager gave you a short lecture about running away.

Saphira’s fear was real and palpable, but nope, let’s forget that it ever happened. She’s over it now!

As they’re leaving town, Brom also comes to join Eragon and Saphira’s quest. He tries to sound mysterious about how he knows so much about dragons and the Ra’zac, but he’s not fooling anyone. Anyone who’s picked up a book or watched a movie like this already knows that he’s going to end up being a former dragon rider, and no doubt “Saphira” was also the name of his dragon. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out. So why so the smokescreen? I honestly don’t remember if Brom ever gives a real reason for not telling Eragon about his past right away. I hope he does, and that it’s not something stupid.

This post is a bit lengthy, so I won’t go on to the next chapter right now. I will, however, leave you with this quote:

Brom’s eyebrows beetled with anger.

Beetled“?

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Eragon 12-13: Adventure? Just Add Dead Parents

After reading a chapter that I actually liked, I was a bit more hopeful as I delved into chapter 12. This one doesn’t even start out with a silly “the X of the Y” title! Instead, it’s called “Deathwatch”. So if you’re wondering if Garrow’s going to die, the chapter title gives it away right there. Of course, if you’ve read enough books like these, you can probably assume that he was a goner anyway. As we all know, the catalyst for the adventure of a lifetime is the death of your caregivers.

http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/s_PArents_Are_Dead.jpg

It’s another trope that kinda bugs me, but more on that later.

I’m supposed to feel sad, or at least concerned for Garrow. But since he’s had barely any screen time (page time?), it’s hard to really care. Garrow seems like a good person, but that’s all we know about him. Throughout this chapter I was actually thinking more about Roran, who doesn’t yet know how his home’s been attacked and that his father is on his death bed. Maybe it’s a sign of me getting older, but I would be really interested in seeing how he takes the news. We don’t see much of Roran after he leaves, though. In the sequel, Eldest, he gets a much bigger role. And it’s way more interesting than Eragon’s.

But that’s the next book, not this one.

And while this book might be cliche in almost every way, I’ll give Paolini credit for actually having Garrow be covered in burns instead of stab wounds. It’s one of those things that I didn’t really care about when I first read this book, but I wasn’t trained in emergency response then. And during those grisly, grisly classes I had to take, I learned just how awful and potentially lethal burns really are.

I also know how to perform emergency child birth and what to do if you get an eye poked out. Those classes are not for the squeamish.

That’s about it, though. I really hoped that the surprising amount that I liked chapter 11 meant that this book was finally getting its shit together. Instead, the dialogue bounces back and forth between trying to sound medieval, but then switching back to modern language. At this point, I don’t care which style sounds better. I just want it to be consistent.

Compare for yourself: when the characters are discussing the Ra’zac, someone says,  “‘I don’t like this. Too much of this rings of wizardry.'”

When two pages earlier, Eragon was saying, “‘It’s okay, I can do it myself.'”

There is something else I’m confused about. When Saphira hatched, she gave Eragon a silver mark on his hand. Its ridiculous elven name translates to “shining palm”, so I have to assume that it does, in fact, shine. Gertrude, who is taking care of Eragon after the attack, asks him how he got such an unusual “scar”. But I’ve never seen a glowing scar before, and with the talk of magic and mysterious strangers in town, wouldn’t she have assumed it was also magical?

This post is getting a bit lengthy,  but the following chapter isn’t even two pages long. I think we can fit it here.

It’s also called “The Madness of Life”. Of all the cheesy titles so far, I think this has to be the worst one.

Here’s what happens: Garrow dies, but considering that the previous chapter was called “Deathwatch”, that’s hardly surprising. Eragon is completely inconsolable. Even if I’m not usually a fan of the “everyone you love is dead” idea that always seems to pop up in stories like this, I actually didn’t mind this chapter. Eragon’s utter grief and sorrow at the death of his uncle, to me, is the most relatable thing he’s done so far in this book. Honestly, the only thing I really hate about this chapter is the title.

Maybe Eragon is gradually getting better? Or am I just getting used to it?

Eragon Chap. 10-11: Noun of the Noun

If you’re me, you’d call chapter 10 of Eragon, “Wish Fulfillment”. If you’re Christopher Paolini, though, you give this chapter an over-the-top fantasy name, like “Flight of Destiny”. Which is one of those names that sounds cool when you’re fifteen, but as I haven’t been fifteen for a long time, it just makes me roll my eyes. That’s the thing with the writing in this novel. This is an exciting chapter, with the story finally kicking off and Eragon’s first flight on Saphira’s back. The problem is that all too often, the prose falls short, and things just aren’t as exciting or tense as they should be. I should feel Saphira’s terror and anger, as well as Eragon’s own dread. Maybe the problem is that I’m re-reading this and know everything that’s going to happen.

Some twentysomething out there, read this book for the first time and tell me if it’s the prose, or if it’s me.

One other thing that I’m noticing more and more is Paolini’s use of flowery words. I can understand it; he’s writing a story set in a fantasy medieval world, and therefore people are supposed to sound like they stepped out of a Shakespeare play. It doesn’t really work, though, because a lot of the dialogue sounds like it would be heard today. There’s just fewer apostrophes.

When Paolini does try to use a more obscure word in the narration, it just sounds goofy. Saphira is described as appearing before Eragon in “a gout of smoke.” We can assume that the “gout” is like a puff of smoke, but my first thought was of gout the disease. Which, fun fact, was sometimes called the “disease of kings” because it wasn’t terribly uncommon amongst royalty. But that’s neither here nor there.

In all fairness for this chapter, I like that Eragon’s first flight isn’t some beautiful and romantic experience. It’s full of panic, and Saphira’s scales end up injuring his legs quiet badly. If you haven’t noticed by now, I really appreciate it when reality comes into the fantasy elements. Eragon puking as he rides Saphira definitely qualifies as adding that realism. It’s almost enough to make me forgive how Eragon cries a single cliche tear at the end of the chapter.

Moving on, I was a bit confused when I finished reading chapter 11, “The Doom of Innocence”. Despite yet another cringe-worthy title, I was utterly befuddled when I found that I actually liked this chapter. What’s that about? It’s not perfect, and I still have my normal gripes about the writing. There’s still a couple lazy adverbs lying about, and it completely solidified the “Eragon is Star Wars with dragons” idea. Monomyth structure be damned, it’s the exact same story.

In the previous chapter, the arrival of the “strangers” scared Saphira so much that she flew to the neSpine, with Eragon on her back. The next day, he convinces her to go back to his home, only to find the farm destroyed and Garrow badly wounded. You know, just like how Luke returns home after meeting Old Ben and finds his igloo house destroyed and aunt and uncle dead.

But there were a few things that I actually did like about this chapter. First of all, the language of the dialogue and the narration finally match. Look at this conversation Eragon has with Saphira, when he’s trying to convince her to take him home.

“Both of us carry an obligation to Garrow. He has cared for me and, through me, you. Would you ignore that debt? What will be said of us in years to come if we don’t return–that we hid like cowards while my uncle was in danger? I can hear it now, the story of the Rider and his craven dragon! If there will be a flight, let’s face it and not shy away. You are a dragon! Even a Shade would run from you! Yet you crouch in the mountains like a frightened rabbit.”

Maybe it’s still a little over-the-top for me, but I like it much better than Eragon sounding like a teenager who grew up in the modern world.

We finally get to see Saphira’s personality, too. We saw only vague glimpses of Saphira before, and she only had a few lines of dialogue. Even in during her first flight with Eragon, she was so panicked that her actions don’t reflect what she’s normally like. Since Saphira’s the reason I haven’t given this book up yet, I’m glad that we finally get to see more of her.

The last thing in this chapter I liked was the endurance and the pain these characters go through. From what I remember of the first two books in this series, Eragon becomes ridiculously powerful as the series goes on. Here, Eragon’s legs have been rubbed raw from riding Saphira bareback, and Saphira exhausts herself to get Eragon and Garrow to Carvahall, finally landing when she can’t go any further. Eragon drags his uncle into town, legs bleeding all the while, until he passes out. I think Eragon’s determination to save Garrow is admirable. The fact that every step Eragon takes is a struggle makes it even moreso.

It’s the first time I think I’ve really supported Eragon while re-reading this. Because, like I’ve said before, most of the time he’s just a big idiot ball.

Eragon 8-9: Teenager, or Idiot Ball?

When I read books, I really like it when teenagers and child characters actually act their age. This was one of the problems I had with Angelic Layer, which was that the young child acted nothing like a little kid. But in Chapter 8 of Eragon, I can’t decide if Eragon is acting his age, or just being a big idiot ball. But since he’s only fifteen, I think it’s fair to say that he’s an idiot by default.

When Roran tells his father, Garrow, that he plans to leave, Garrow is totally okay with it. In fact, he’s happy for Roran. Eragon is pretty surprised at Garrow’s reaction, and disappointed with it. On one hand,  I understand that he’s going to miss Roran. But on the other, what the hell was he expecting? Roran’s got an opportunity to make a better living than he does on the farm, and make enough money to get married.

I think I’m supposed to be sad, or at least feel something. But Roran doesn’t have any real character yet, and the only thing we know about him so far is that he’s in love with Sloan’s daughter. I’m almost reminiscent about when my sister left for college. I was sad when she left, but I also knew that her leaving home was inevitable, and it ended up being one of the best things to happen to her. So sure, Eragon, be sad, but don’t resent Roran for moving forward with his life.

Before we move on to the next chapter, I’d like to end it with a quote near the end of the chapter, when Roran is packing to leave.

“[Roran] paused, then picked up something from the pillow and bounced it in his hand. It was a polished rock Eragon had given him years ago. Roran started to tuck it into the bundle, then stopped and set it on a shelf. A hard lump formed in Eragon’s throat, and he left.”

I know that this is supposed to make me feel sad, but it only reminds me of “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!”

i got a rock.gif

Moving on to chapter nine, where we finally got…plot! Yay, plot! The chapter begins with Roran leaving the farm and Garrow giving advice to him and Eragon. It’s as awkward as it is sweet. But in the back of my mind I had to remember that the author was only fifteen when he wrote this. A lot of that shows in his prose, but it kind of dampened the impact of Garrow’s farewell speech to me. Garrow talks about life and love, giving him advice for the future. Things that the author’s never experienced. It actually reminds me of a time, during my senior year of college, when a freshman tried to complain to a group of seniors about his workload. In an out-of-character moment for me, I ripped this guy a new asshole, (loudly) explaining how he can complain about his work to other freshmen, but he had no right to whine to us.

He never complained in front of me again.

Of course, when we’re teenagers, we think we know everything. So maybe Paolini trying to show off his “wisdom”, such as it is, is entirely in-line with the rest of his writing.

Eragon goes into town to see Roran off, and is warned by another villager that there are strangers who have been asking about the “stone” he found in the Spine. Eragon puts the pieces together that someone is after Saphira. Well, what were you expecting, Eragon? You know the Empire and Galby killed the other Dragon Riders, and you even acknowledged that they would probably hunt down Saphira, too. God, you’re dumb.

And watch out, because I’m going to tear apart a single sentence. Again.

“The voice was deep and moist.”

Ugh.

No one likes the word moist. And I’m not even sure how a voice can sound “moist”, unless they’ve got a lot of spit in it. The idea was that the stranger’s voice gave Eragon a sense of rot and decay. But there just had to be some better way to evoke this. Because right now, I’m only giggling. Because the voice is deep, like a cave. And moist, like a…cave.

An Ember in the Ashes

I’m back, baby! I’ll be getting back to Eragon shortly, but I’d like to take a a moment to review a more recent book, An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. I’ll also be posting parts of this review on GoodReads, so don’t worry–I’m only plagiarizing myself.

An Ember in the Ashes follows the stories of two main characters: Laia and Elias, with each chapter switching between their perspectives. They lead very different lives in the Empire; Laia is a poor Scholar, while Elias is one of the top students at the elite military academy, Blackcliff. When Laia’s brother is jailed for treason and her family is killed, she seeks the help of the Resistance to save him. In exchange for freeing him, she agrees to spy on the Commandant, the leader of Blackcliff. Elias dreams of freedom outside of Blackcliff and plans to desert after his graduation, even though doing so is punishable by death. When fate intervenes, Elias stays at Blackcliff, where he finally meets Laia, and their lives are forever changed.

As long as you don’t mind first-person present tense or changing character perspectives every chapter, the prose is quite good. I never came across a line that made me want to pull my hair out because it was so poorly phrased, which is more than I can say for some of the books I’ve reviewed on this blog. Even so, some of Laia’s chapters just felt like they were padding, and only part of the book to keep with the pattern of switching between the two characters. This is especially true during Part 2, when most of Laia’s chapters are just details of the Commandant’s abuse. They don’t reveal any new information about Laia or the Commandant, nor do they move the plot forward. I’m all for treating your characters horribly, but at least make sure that their suffering is for something. Laia herself is a rather insipid character. She doesn’t grow much throughout the novel, her most daring moment being when she agrees to spy for the Resistance. Even that seems out-of-character for her, as she’s quite meek and doesn’t take risks. Elias’s side of the story is more interesting, and he’s one of the few characters in the book I ended up liking. At times, I really felt that the novel could benefit by removing Laia’s chapters entirely.

Laia’s character isn’t the only one that needs to be fleshed out. The Commandant – who is also Elias’s mother – is the lead villain in the story. She is evil because…well, because she’s evil. She enjoys abusing her slaves, killing members of the Resistance, and actively tries to get others to murder Elias. Her reason behind all this? She’s evil. She’s never made even slightly sympathetic, and the readers are never really shown her motives.

The world building is also problematic. The first two chapters are in media res. It might be exciting, but because the book’s just starting out, the reader has nothing invested in the two main characters. We don’t have any reason to like them, and can’t really appreciate the impact of their actions until later in the book. Exposition in the beginning of the book feels heavy-handed and shoved in for the benefit of the audience. In later chapters it comes more naturally. Or maybe I’d just gotten used to it at that point.

An Ember in the Ashes wasn’t really a book for me. Sometimes I thought the book would redeem itself, but for everything in it that I liked, it did two things that I didn’t. At the end of the day, its flaws outweighed its strengths.

Still, if it sounds like a book you might enjoy, check it out. I just wouldn’t recommend paying full price.

I only came to read An Ember in the Ashes in the first place was because my sister and I are in a small book club. Obviously, this wasn’t my selection for the group. My sister and I were not overly thrilled with the prospect of reading yet another young adult book staring a girl in an oppressed society starting a revolution and finding true love along the way. To help keep us both sane–and give us something to smile about while we dragged ourselves through this–I texted her a one-sentence review of each chapter. Please, enjoy my descent into madness.

  • Chapter 1: I read this chapter three hours ago and I already forgot the brother’s name because that’s how little I care.
  • Chapter 2: There’s so little world building or characterization that I neither understand the importance of or care about anything that’s happening.
  • Chapter 3: All the things I dislike in this chapter won’t fit in a single sentence.
  • Chapter 4: If Elias wanted to desert, why didn’t he run when the school literally kicked him out to survive on his own for four years?
  • Chapter 5: Have I ever mentioned how much I hate first-person present tense?
  • Chapter 6: Not really loving the way the exposition was handled here, but it’s more than the rest of the book has given us so far.
  • Chapter 7: At this point, “character development” would mean that the main character develops a personality.
  • Chapter 8: Just once, I would like to read a young adult fantasy novel that never uses the word “destiny”.
  • Chapter 9: I’m a little amazed that I have the willpower to not throw this book across the room.
  • Chapter 10: You know, it is possible to write a young adult fiction without having a “chosen one”.
  • Chapter 11: Wait, when did Laia grow a spine?
  • Chapter 12: The more I think about the details of Blackcliff Academy, the less sense it makes.
  • Chapter 13: I really hope the Commandant becomes an actual character, and not just a villain who’s evil for the sake of being evil.
  • Chapter 14: OF COURSE LAIA IS SO BEAUTIFUL WITH HER GOLDEN EYES AND LONG EYELASHES AND “FULL LIPS”
  • Chapter 15: When will this end?
  • Chapter 16:  Every time this book comes close to being cool, it ruins it.
  • Chapter 17: Laia’s chapters are nothing but light torture porn.
  • Chapter 18: I seriously suspect Sabaa Tahir has mommy issues.
  • Chapter 19: This is not how you build a strong female lead.
  • Chapter 20: Changing perspectives every chapter makes the slow story progression less noticeable, and I’m not sure if Tahir is a genius, or can’t get a handle on pacing.
  • Chapter 21: All of Laia’s chapters in a nutshell: Laia is sad because someone either tells her she makes a lousy spy or hurts her.
  • Chapter 22: There’s one female character with depth, and her entire arc is about men lusting after her.
  • Chapter 23: I make a motion to replace all Laia chapters with Spiro Teluman chapters.
  • Chapter 24: Can we talk for a second about how Elias and Helene didn’t actually use their cunning to pass the Trial of Cunning?
  • Chapter 25: This chapter made me so happy because it means I’m halfway through this waste of paper.
  • Chapter 26: I strongly suspect Helene’s sudden burst of racism is because Tahir noticed she was a much better female lead than Laia.
  • Chapter 27: Generally, it takes normal human beings more than thirty-second conversations to fall in love with each other, no matter how beautiful they are.
  • Chapter 28: This is just four pages of Elias thinking Laia is hot.
  • Chapter 29: If the flirting in this chapter was any more awkward or forced, it would be the second Avengers movie. #2Burns1Stone
  • Chapter 30: This book talks about sexual violence a lot.
  • Chapter 31:  Achievement unlocked: cameo character is more intriguing than main character.
  • Chapter 32: I also vote to remove insipid and predictable love triangles.
  • Chapter 33: NOPE.
  • Chapter 34: Can we go one chapter without mentioning rape?  
  • Chapter 35: I’m not sure what I hate more: that Helene goes completely against her established character, or that Laia’s only role in this book is to be a punching bag.
  •  Chapter 36: The Helene-Elias romance subplot is so, so dumb.
  • Chapter 37:  Five bucks says the Resistance is going to betray Laia.
  • Chapter 38: And now we’ll take a break from an Ember in the Ashes to bring you a less interesting version of The Hunger Games.
  • Chapter 39: You know, this backstory would have been really useful AT THE BEGINNING OF THE FUCKING BOOK.
  • Chapter 40: There are so many logical holes in the Trial of Strength I wouldn’t be able to list them all here.
  • Chapter 41: Laia, how are you this stupid and still alive?
  • Chapter 42: So many eyerolls.
  • Chapter 43:If the Commandant knew that Laia was a slave since the Moon Festival, why didn’t she kill her much sooner?
  • Chapter 44: The “Trial of Loyalty” is really just a test of who could get to Laia the fastest.
  • Chapter 45: I call bullshit on Laia suddenly be able to take the Resistance leader hostage, in his own hideout, surrounded by his supporters.
  • Chapter 46: This is the closest thing we get to an explanation of the Commandant’s anti-social behavior, and it still fails to explain anything or make her an iota more sympathetic.
  • Chapter 47: Laia is way overdue to become a strong heroine, but when it actually happens, it just is out of character for her.
  • Chapter 48: I’m supposed to feel something at Elias’s rapidly impending death, but mostly I’m annoyed that all he’s doing is whining and quoting Serenity.
  • Chapter 49: We really shouldn’t have to wait until the second-to-last chapter of the book for the main character to do something useful.
  • Chapter 50: OH THANK GOD I’M DONE

Final Thoughts:

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I hated this book. The love triangles were unnecessary and sloppily written, the magical aspects go unexplained, the villains are never given any depth, Laia is almost on par with Bella Swan as a female lead, and the book doesn’t even freaking end. I’ve read 50 chapters of this crap, and nothing gets resolved: not the romantic subplots, Laia’s quest to save her brother, or even a basic explanation of Helene’s sudden magical powers. Nope, there’s a sequel coming out, and someone’s already got the movie rights.

And, to get on my soapbox for a minute, this is also on par with Twilight for bad female role models. Helene is the token strong girl, but her entire character arc is about men lusting after her, and her doing anything she can to keep Elias alive. Including swearing fealty to the man who has directly said that he’s going to rape her. Laia’s not much better, as her arc is almost entirely her getting tortured or beaten up (and then rescued by Elias)–for another male character, albeit her brother–and she doesn’t do anything proactive until the very end of the book. The one female character whose arc doesn’t revolve around a man is the Commandant, who is a heartless monster (for no fucking reason).

This book is 446 pages of drivel. Sabaa Tahir’s prose is well-written, but the characters are flat and boring, and the story has no satisfying resolution.

Screw this. It’s my turn to choose the next book for book club, and after reading Me Before YouThe Nightingale, and now, An Ember in the Ashes, I need to get away from all this stupid chick lit. If you need me, I’ll be nose deep in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?