I need to take a moment to applaud both our heroes and our villains for doing something smart for a change. The Varden discovers that Urgals are planning to attack their stronghold by coming up from the tunnels that run under the mountain. They respond with some strategic planning, including collapsing several tunnels so they can control where the Urgals will come out.
Even Eragon is relatable. Unlike the other fights in the book, this is the first battle that he has forewarning about. He’s filled with dread and apprehension about the upcoming fight, as most of us would be. He’s still a little dumb though, as when he’s presented with armor for Saphira, he can’t figure out that it’s not meant for a human.
Most of this chapter is about building tension for the upcoming battle, but drags out too long. The book is pretty formulaic, and doesn’t divert much from high fantasy tropes. We already know that Eragon and Saphira are going to come out on top, and that the characters that we care about are more likely than not to be fine. This isn’t A Song of Ice and Fire. Our main characters aren’t going to die, and most likely, neither will anyone we’ve just met. Maybe one or two named characters will get killed to show that the Urgals are dangerous, but not all of them. We also haven’t known these characters long enough to provoke a real emotional response if they were killed.
And then there’s this paragraph.
The men were silent, ironfisted. Their hair flowed loosely from under their helmets. Many warriors only had a sword and shield, but there were several ranks of spear- and pikemen. In the rear of the battalions, archers tested their bowstrings.
In the midst of paragraphs talking about battle preparation and how brave and stalwart the warriors are, there’s just one out-of-place sentence describing their hair. I assume that this is what Paolini pictured, and he wanted to reader to get the same image, but…it’s just so weird.
This trend of a single sentence throwing me off continues in the next chapter, when Arya announces the battle has begun “with a sorrowful expression”. Why does she look sad? She’s facing off against the people who tortured her for months. Shouldn’t she be angry, or determined to protect the Varden, or something?
That said, I actually caught myself getting sucked into this chapter. Battles are difficult to write. I appreciate that Paolini gives us details about the fight, rather than general statements like “there was a flurry of blows”. It’s also pretty easy to follow and visualize what’s going on. The only point when I was confused was during Eragon’s final confrontation with Durza. The Shade has the upper hand in their duel, and badly injuries Eragon’s back. Except they were facing each other, so I’m not really sure how his “sword smote heavily across Eragon’s back”. Perhaps an actual swordsman could explain this to me, but for now, I’m just confused.
The battle was still exciting to read, even if I knew how it ended. Arya breaks the giant star sapphire, Saphira breathes fire for the first time, and Eragon finally kills Durza. It was a satisfying climax to an otherwise unsatisfying book.
Even if there’s a scene where Eragon uses a giant slide to get from the dragonhold at the top of the mountain back to the battle. That will never not be silly.