Eragon 60: The End

This is it.

We made it, guys. We did it.

Nearly 500 pages and a couple unplanned hiatuses later, Eragon is finally finished.

I would normally call for a celebration at this point, but after the trials that Eragon and I both faced getting to the end of the story, I’m not sure a party isn’t what we need. No, the proper way to send off Eragon is with a stiff drink and quiet contemplation of what we’ve been through.

Or I could just review the final chapter like normal, I guess.

Eragon has finally killed Durza, and the Shade’s memories and mind flow into his. He struggles to separate himself from Durza, “weakly at first, and then more strongly”. This being the last chapter, I promise not to fuss too much about the adverb abuse in that sentence. Instead, I’ll just say this: ick.

Eragon then receives a telepathic message from “The Mourning Sage” or “the Cripple Who Is Whole”, but this mysterious person never gives Eragon his actual name, just his titles. It bugs me a little bit. Why keep your name a secret?

It’s Oromis, by the way. His name is Oromis. Was that hard?

Oromis tells Eragon that he and Saphira need to travel to the elven land, Ellesméra, and promises him answers to all Eragon’s questions. Then he instructs Eragon to stay quiet about talking with him. Which again, I have to ask, why?

I don’t really remember how the group decides to bring Eragon to Ellesméra in the second book, but if Eragon’s not allowed to talk about Oromis, it could be really awkward.

“Let’s go to the elves!”
“Eragon, why are you suddenly insistent on going to the elves?”
“You know…dragon…stuff…”

At this point Eragon knows almost nothing about Oromis or Ellesméra. I’m sure one of his companions would love to help him out and give him more information, but he’s supposed to keep it secret.

Eragon’s reunion with Saphira after the battle did make me smile, but for the most part, this chapter is just a lot of talking heads. Arya, Saphira, and Murtagh explain the results of the battle, but no one has any real emotion. Arya looks sad again, but that’s about it.

Yeah, this is what I want at the end of my exciting action-adventure story. Bland summaries of the cool stuff we didn’t get to see. The book doesn’t even end on a satisfying note. Just having it end after Eragon kills Durza would be great. You could have a heartwarming reunion with his friends, they sum up the battle, and then look hopefully towards the future together. But we get the introduction of another character, with Eragon pledging to go see this person we know nothing about.

But for sixty chapters, I’ve mocked, ridiculed, and occasionally yelled at this book. But I want to give Eragon and its author, Christopher Paolini, some credit. It really wasn’t all bad; I think there are very few books that are 100% terrible. I can see how it would appeal to teenage fantasy lovers, like it did to me so many years ago.

There are things that Paolini did well over the course of the story, and I want to acknowledge that. First, he put a huge amount of effort into worldbuilding and lore, and it paid off. Sometimes it did get a bit bloated, but it also made me seriously consider finishing reading the series. I still want to know what the Vault of Souls is!

Paolini’s descriptions, particularly of flying, were great as well. Like the lore, sometimes it could drag on for too long, but it was never difficult to visualize the various settings. A lot of the action sequences were clear and easy to follow, and had I not read them before, would probably be pretty exciting.

The storyline was formulaic, but even a generic plot can be saved by great characters. This is the real problem with Eragon: most of the characters have no personality of their own, and rarely stand out.

To be totally honest, this novel is an achievement for a teenage writer, and was way better than anything I could have come up with at that age. And it was perfect for me as a fifteen-year-old reader, who loved escaping to a world of dragons and magic.

You know, the last Eragon book came out at least five years ago. I wonder what Paolini’s working on now…

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Eragon 58-59: They Did Something Smart!

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.

Eragon 56-57: Fantasy Pet Peeves

The next chapter’s title, “Hall of the Mountain King”, made me hesitate. I was certain that this was just going to be another long chapter full of description and little else. I was wrong on one count: it isn’t full of description. But the “little else” part rings true. Here, Eragon meets the dwarf king Hrothgar, and…that’s it. Hrothgar, who plays so small a role in the overarching story that it’s hard to care about anything he says. Not that he gives Eragon (or the reader) a lot of new information.

It does, however, hit on one of my more recent pet peeves about high fantasy stories.

Why is everything so ancient? There’s a sword that was forged hundreds of years ago, an unbroken history with few (if any) holes in it dating back a thousand years? Why did all the technology advancement stop at medieval siege weaponry? You had a millennium for your race to develop actual advanced technology, and the best you can come up with is a sword?

It shouldn’t take that long for someone to figure out gunpowder, or indoor plumbing.

For some perspective, humans flew in manmade aircraft for the first time in 1903.  Not even a century later, we landed on the moon.

I understand that technology advances exponentially, and that we–the human race–were stuck with primitive technology and weaponry like swords and shields for so long because people centuries ago didn’t live that long. Medical science has helped us stay alive longer, along with basic education and knowledge in regards to our own health and well-being. So I acknowledge that it is realistic for a society in a medieval setting to have not made much progress. For the humans, at least. But for the long-lived and disease resistant dwarves and elves? What’s their excuse?

I bring this up because the dwarf king Hrothgar is super old, which he says himself.

For eight millennia–since the dawn of our race–dwarves have ruled under Farthen Dûr. We are the bones of the land, older than both the fair elves and the savage dragons. [. . .]

I am old, human–even by our reckoning–old enough to have seen the Riders in all their fleeing glory, old enough to have spoken with their last leader, Vrael, who paid tribute to me within these very walls.

According to the Inheritance Wiki (There really is a Wiki for everything), roughly 100 years have gone by between Vrael’s death via crotch shot and Saphira’s hatching.

Hrothgar takes a lot of pride in his heritage, as well as his age. But then, after Eragon says he wouldn’t be interested in the throne once Galby is slain, Hrothgar says this:

Certainly you would be a kinder king than Galbatorix, but no race should have a leader who does not age or leave the throne.

Oh, you mean a king like you, Hrothgar? Or what about the immortal elves, and their queen, who also doesn’t age or die easily?

This would sound more like a piece of wisdom if it wasn’t mired in hypocrisy.

Eragon’s refusal of the throne, at least, sounds like he’s good for the sake of being good. There’s nothing wrong with that; not every character needs to be gritty and angsty with a dark side. It could be an admirable trait, if there was anything else distinguishing about Eragon’s personality. He’s just there, reacting to the situations around him, and doesn’t stand out as an individual in any way.

In the next chapter, Eragon is tested by the Varden to show both his magical abilities and swordsmanship. The Twins are up first, and ask Eragon to do a variety of magical tasks. He faces a few new challenges dealing with them, but after the initial task, we don’t get to see any of it. Everything else is glossed over, so we don’t get to see his creative solutions to the problems. In other chapters we’ll get paragraphs upon paragraphs of description, but when there’s something I actually want to read, it’s shoved out of the way.

In the final task, the Twins challenge Eragon to “summon the essence of silver” from a ring. Eragon doesn’t know how to do this, and they are interrupted by Arya. When he asks her about what the Twins were asking, Arya explains that they were asking him to do…

Something not even they can accomplish. It is possible to speak the true name of an object in the ancient language and summon its true form. It takes years of work and great discipline, but the reward is complete control over the object.

Let’s back up here.

In that (a), the Twins are magically stronger than Eragon and incapable of doing this task.

And (b), magic that is too strong for the caster to wield will lead to that caster’s death

I conclude that (c) the Twins just straight up tried to kill Eragon, while Arya and several others watched.

And no one, not Arya, not Orik, no one thinks that this is weird, or the Twins are evil. In fact, it never gets brought up again!

And I know that victim-blaming is bad, but if the Varden is this obtuse, they deserved to get betrayed.

After that attempt on Eragon’s life is ignored, Arya challenges him to a duel. Eragon is a bit hesitant to fight her at first. Even though she’s out and walking around, she’s still healing after months of torture and poisoning. She’s still in a weakened state…and beats Eragon easily.

This scene illustrates everything I hate about the elves in this series. Arya’s so beautiful, everyone stares at her as she crosses the training ground. Her voice gives Eragon chills. By all rights, she should have lost the duel, but comes out on top. All of this for one reason: she’s an elf.

The elves are immortal, infallible…and insufferable. They are a race of Mary Sues, and we are supposed to be in awe of their abilities. I’m not, though. Sometimes I wish I could just reach through the pages and wring Arya’s perfect neck.

Sadly, there is one more gripe I have to get out before we’re done with this chapter. Eragon goes to visit Murtagh in his cell. Murtagh is pretty comfortable, and says that even if he were free, he probably would spend most of his time in there anyway.  When asked why, he replies:

You know well enough. No one would be at ease around me, knowing my true identity, and there would always be people who wouldn’t limit themselves to harsh looks or words.

Seriously, Murtagh, you’re still on this? Like, four people know that you’re Morzan’s son, and two of them are Eragon and Saphira. It’s not like you’re going to wander around yelling, “I’m Morzan’s son! I’m Morzan’s son!”

I guess being a drama queen is better than being devoid of personality, but not by much.

Eragon 54-55: Stupid is as Stupid Does

Okay, I just need to know–how did the Twins ever get to be part of the Varden?

Just read Orik’s, Eragon’s Dwarf friend, description of them:

Their talents lie in scheming and plotting for power–to everyone else’s detriment. Deynor, Ajihad’s predecessor, allowed them to join the Varden because he needed their support…you can’t oppose the Empire without spellcasters who can hold their own on the field of battle. They’re a nasty pair, but they do have their uses.

How. Can no one. Suspect them.

Everyone knows that they’re evil and sadistic. It’s spelled out right in front of them. And yet no one, no one, even thinks that these two are responsible for the Varden’s information being leaked to the Empire?

This is so frustrating to me, that I’m just going to go ahead and say it: maybe the Varden deserved to get betrayed for being that oblivious.

Apart from that gripe, most of this chapter is nothing but backstory and world building, but it’s at least more interesting than a lot of the stuff in the beginning of the book. Paolini put a lot of thought into what it would be like to have a civilization housed inside a mountain, so props for those details.

I do have to give him credit for what I thought was just a throw-away scene the first time I read Eragon, however.  A woman comes up to Eragon with a baby, saying that the child has no family and asks Eragon to bless her. After some thought, Eragon does so, blessing in the Ancient Language by saying, “Let luck and happiness follow you and may you be shielded from misfortune.”

Pretty good blessing, right? Well, it turns out, Eragon messed up the blessing, and in fact said, “may you be a shield from misfortune”. Being shielded from and being a shield are two very different things, and this “blessing” is really a curse that comes back in a big way in the second book.

I really love how poor grammar leads to a major plot point later on in the story.

The following chapter is blessedly short, where Eragon finds out that Angela and Solembum are with the Varden as well, for some reason. Angela explains that when she realized Eragon was a Dragon Rider, she decided to head to the Varden, because something big was about to happen. Eragon tells her his story since he last saw her, and she’s rather wary when he mentions Murtagh. Apparently, she knows who he is.

Wait, wasn’t his birth kept secret? I guess I can just wave it off as Angela being some kind of witch and knowing plot-related things.

They discuss the Shade, Durza, as well. But there’s something that caught my attention when Angela explains how Shades are created.

Ordinary sorcerers are just that, ordinary–neither better nor worse than the rest of us. They use their magical strength to control spirits and the spirits’ powers. Shades, however, relinquish that control in their search for greater power and allow their bodies to be controlled by spirits.

So…Eragon’s magic, and the magic of the other characters, comes from manipulating spirits? This is the first time spirits have ever been mentioned in this book. It turns out that they’re really freaking important! If they’re the base of magic in this world, and responsible for creating Eragon’s current antagonist, then why is this the first time we’re hearing about them at all?

Even in Eldest, we don’t have an opportunity to learn more about spirits. Eragon asks his new teacher, Oromis, for information about them, and Oromis refuses to tell him anything. I never finished Brisingr, but as far as I read, I don’t recall any more explanations as to what spirits are or how they fit in with the magic of this world.

Yes, this may be a high-fantasy story with dragons and magic, but I want explanations for that magic, dammit!

Angela also mentions something that someone should have done something about before. Explaining how she got into Tronjheim, she tells Eragon that the magic users in the Varden wanted her to join their “secret group”, which is controlled by the Twins.

Wait, what?

Okay, if there’s a secret group (a rebellion within a rebellion?) and they’ve done a good job of hiding it, it would make sense that neither Ajihad nor Orik know about it. Since Angela is largely here for shits’n’giggles and wants her presence to remain hidden, she wouldn’t have any reason to report it.

Eragon and Saphira are here to take refuge and owe the Varden their lives. Ajihad has told them their is a traitor in their midst. That there’s a secret mage group led by the Twins who everyone agrees are bad news is a giant red flag.

Eragon is too stupid to notice this, and asks whether the Twins question her, as they did him.

Then he asks about the architecture of Tronjheim. Not the secret mage group. For all his curiosity, he can’t be bothered to find out anything more about something that is actually interesting and has potentially huge ramifications.

Eragon better be glad he’s fictional, because I want to smack him for that one. I’ll just try to be satisfied knowing that willful ignorance here comes back to bite him in the ass.

Eragon 52-53: Tronjheim

Two states and one long hiatus later, I’m back. And so is Eragon.

Fasten your seat belts, kids, this is gonna be a long one.

Well, chapter 53, “Ajihad”, is going to be a long one. The chapter before it, “The Glory of Tronjheim” is much shorter, and a lot less interesting.

From the start of chapter 52, I thought it was going to be a bit more standard for the book. After all, it starts with Eragon’s ham-fisted and direct characterization of Murtagh while they’re stuck in a cell in Tronjheim together. Then, he goes to examine a lantern nearby. The description of the lamp takes up an entire paragraph.

I should have known then. How could I not see it?

This is not a chapter with plot. It is ten pages of description as Eragon goes from one part of the city to another.

Credit where it’s due:  I’ve given Paolini a lot of shit here, but descriptions are one thing he does well. My favorite scenes in this book are Eragon and Saphira flying, or swimming in Leona Lake. Those moments are what make me keep reading this, because they capture something magical and beautiful.

There are authors who can evoke the setting in such a way that it becomes another character. Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It does this magnificently and Terry Pratchett’s Ankh-Morpork is familiar to me as any city I’ve walked through in real life.

I don’t think Paolini is quite at that level yet, but I’m honestly envious of his talent for description. It’s one thing that I’m always struggling to improve in my own writing.

Hey, Paolini, wanna team up? I’ll bring the characters, you bring the setting, and together we’ll make something halfway decent!

The real problem I have with this chapter is that it just kind of drags on. Nothing happens, other than “Eragon went here and saw a pretty thing. Then he went here and saw another pretty thing.”

I’m sure there’s someone who really liked this chapter for that reason. But that wasn’t me.

The next chapter, though, is much more interesting. Eragon meets Ajihad, the leader of the Varden, and our old friend “intense” makes a comeback!

He bore himself with great dignity, exuding an intense, commanding air.

Still not great writing, but at least “intense” makes more sense here.

Then Ajihad tells Eragon something truly baffling about the bald man who went through Eragon’s memories. He has a twin brother, equally bald and magical. But the truly bewildering part is that neither of the twins have names.

How the hell do they not have names? How hard is it to give someone a name? “From now on you’re George and you’re Elliot? You like those names? Cool.” See? It’s that easy. The Varden are literally denying these mages an identity. Treating them as non-persons is just asking them to betray you.

This all gets hand-waved away, though, because Ajihad discovers Murtagh’s identity by recognizing…Morzan’s voice. Apparently Murtagh and Morzan sound similar.

Much as I want to call bullshit on the “hereditary voice tone”, I can’t, because I’m told that I have the same voice as my mom. So I’ll give this one a pass.

Anyway, Murtagh refuses to let the Twins see into his mind, while he and Ajihad toss the word “probe” around a few more times, just to make everyone uncomfortable.

And Murtagh is so, so stupid. He thinks that everyone in the Varden will treat him like an outcast if they know who he is, which is entirely possible. Or–and stay with me here, Murtagh–he could just let the Twins examine him. Not only would he have information about Galby’s court that the Varden could use, they would see that he hates Galby.

Of course, no one can see this blatantly obvious solution, so Murtagh is imprisoned indefinitely. I know conflict is supposed to propel story, but this just seems so…unnecessary.

Eragon and Ajihad go one to discuss Eragon’s adventures thus far, and Eragon tells him about fighting and presumably killing the Shade Durza. But whenever I read a description of Durza, with his white face and red hair, he just sounds like Ronald McDonald to me. I guess clowns can be scary, but a fast food mascot hardly strikes fear into my heart.

Ajihad also fills Eragon in on just how Saphira’s egg wound up in the Spine, where our hero found it. This is important information and answers a lot of questions from the beginning of the book, and normally I like backstory. What I do not like, however, is a single character droning on for pages without any pause from the dialogue.

The tl;dr version is this: Brom stole Saphira’s egg, which will only hatch when the right person touches it. The egg is ferried between the Varden and the Elves, and the kids of each group would gather ’round and touch it, and see if it hatched. If it did, Brom and the Elves would share the responsibility of training the new Rider. Arya was attacked by Durza while transporting the egg, and magically teleported it to the Spine, where Eragon found it.

A few things here.

First of all, a species that can only reproduce by the right person touching its eggs might be the worst means of keeping a species alive. No wonder the dragons died out. Galby didn’t kill them all, their poor breeding techniques did!

Secondly, Arya is a princess, because of course she is. Why is she doing the dirty work of moving the egg from place to place? Doesn’t she have princessy things to do?

And what the hell was Brom doing in Carvahall in the first place? Eragon’s village is literally on the other side of the world from both the Varden and the Elven homeland. He couldn’t have known that the egg would disappear and then reappear in the Spine. Logically, he should have been with the Varden the whole time.

I’m not sure these questions are ever actually answered. At least, not as far as I’ve read in the series. At some point it’s revealed that Eragon is actually Brom’s son, so it’s possible Brom went to Carvahall to keep an eye on him. If I wanted to confirm this, though, I’d probably have to finish reading the series, but I have good books to read instead.

After the history lesson, Ajihad also tells Eragon some of the goings-on at the Varden, including encrypted notes discussing a place called Ithrö Zhâda.

Ithrö Zhâda.

After I read that, I had to put the book down and weep for the flagrant abuse of accent marks, circumflexes, and diaereses spread throughout this book.

I strongly suspect Paolini didn’t give a flying fuck as to how things actually sounded and just put special characters all over the place because they looked cool.

Though, to be fair, I would’ve done the same thing as a fifteen-year-old novelist.

But I digress. The notes and other evidence points to the Varden having a traitor in their midst. Well, gee, I wonder who that could be. The only other people we’ve met so far who don’t have names and the Varden doesn’t treat like human beings? And if the answer “The Twins” really isn’t that obvious, why doesn’t Ajihad just have the Twins scan everyone and see if they’re the traitors?

I’m beginning to think Ajihad is not such a great leader.

I’ll leave you with one last cringey quote from Eragon, which came straight out of nowhere:

I’ll fight when needed, revel when there’s occasion, mourn when there is grief, and die if my time comes…but I won’t let anyone use me against my will.

 

Eragon 50-51: Oh, The Angst

I’ve recently finished reading Fool Moon by Jim Butcher, the second novel in The Dresden Files. It was a fun read, with likable protagonists and lots of action. There was one thing that drove me crazy about it, though: every chapter had to end on a cliffhanger. I understand why authors do this, and I’ve done it in my own writing, but when it happens every chapter, it gets a little tiring, not to mention formulaic. You can predict how each chapter is going to go: Harry is in trouble, gets himself out of trouble, winds up in worse trouble. Repeat as necessary.

Again, I understand the benefits of doing this, but it begins to lose impact the more it happens. This is why when a chapter ends with Eragon passing out and getting himself captured for the twelfth time, I really don’t care.

Of course, this may be because I don’t care about the character himself, because he’s dumb.

Murtagh revealing that he’s the son of Morzan is actually a pretty good cliffhanger, though. We’re left waiting for the emotional fallout, rather than waiting to see if Eragon gets rescued again. (Spoiler: he does. He always does.) But this new inforation is the real obstacle to their friendship. Or, rather, the friendship we’re told they have, because whenever we see them talking, they’re usually arguing.

As expected, there’s a lot of a shock and sudden distrust. Saphira and Eragon are immediately defensive and wary. Saphira doesn’t even want to leave Eragon’s side, afraid that Murtagh will attack him. Eragon doesn’t give him the benefit of the doubt, which I might yell at him about, except that it makes sense for his character. At this point, he’s still only sixteen, and he’s never been a font of wisdom. Even Saphira, who I’ve critiqued for maybe being just a little too wise, is concerned. She’s still a young dragon, and she’s finally acting her age, too. That, and she has plenty of reason to hate the son of Morzan.

Fortunately, Saphira does manage to have some common sense and points out that if Murtagh really wanted to hurt Eragon, he would have done so already. Murtagh’s parentage is a rather distressing subject for him, and has said more than once that he never asked to be born. Eragon treats Murtagh rather coldly, even after Saphira talks sense into him. Instead of coming across as cautious, or savvy, it makes Eragon look more like a jerk than ever.

But that’s only for a few pages. Soon enough, the army of Urgals are on top of them. The trio only has a few more hours to get Arya the antidote she needs, so the pressure is on. It’s actually a pretty exciting chapter, especially when Saphira starts fighting the Urgals. She can’t breathe fire yet, but her ferocity is really impressive, even when it seems they’re hopelessly outnumbered.

There was also a scene that I related to a little too well. Eragon believes that he’s found the entrance to the Varden, but the door won’t open. He quickly realizes he’s on the wrong side of the lake. I might make fun of this, except I have no sense of direction. At all. This is totally something I would do.

Near the end of the chapter, Eragon is knocked into the river, and he, Murtagh,  Arya and Saphira are rescued by two members of the Varden. The scene is a little hard to understand and visualize, but it’s one of the rare cases where a confusing action scene actually works. It helps accentuate the chaos of the battle and the rescue, and the characters’ own confusion.

In the next chapter, Eragon, et. al. are taken inside the mountain to be questioned. It’s made clear early on that the Varden are dangerous, not just a rag-tag bunch of lovable scrappers. Throughout the series, there’s supposed to be some ambiguity as to whether the Varden are a group of rebels fighting for a just cause, or terrorists fighting the rightful ruler of the land. And while the leaders do morally questionable things (*cough* Elva *cough*), on the whole, you’re supposed to cheer for them, because they are soundly the good guys. This is one of the few times when we see that there is a darker side to them.

Eragon and Murtagh are questioned by a magician who is using magic to probe into their minds. Isn’t this…a little unnecessary? This guy is obviously high level, and “Zone of Truth” is only a second-level spell. Considering that you can make just about anything happen with the right words and phrasing in the Ancient Language, there had to be an easier way to form a spell that would have Eragon and Murtagh tell the truth, without breaking into their heads.

It backfires on him anyway, because Murtagh is able to block the man from entering his mind, and with Saphira’s help, Eragon is able to hide some of his memories as well. And while Eragon is a jerk on many levels, he at least doesn’t reveal the secret of Murtagh’s parentage. Good on you, Eragon.

As for the magician himself, who literally doesn’t have a name, could it be any more obvious that he’s evil?

‘Now, remove the defenses from around your mind [. . .] If you try to hide anything from me, I will take what I want by force…which would drive you mad. If you don’t submit, your companion will be killed.’ [. . .]

‘You’d better not harm him, Egraz Carn, else the king will have words for you.’

The bald man looked at him irritably, then faced Eragon with a small smile. ‘Only if he resists.’ [. . .]

He paid keen attention to so many things Eragon considered irrelevant, such as his mother, Selena, and seemed to linger on purpose so as to prolong the suffering.

So when he and his twin betray the Varden in the next book, absolutely no one is surprised. The Varden really needs to screen their mages better.

Even so, this chapter made me remember why I liked Murtagh so much. He’s a total badass. He refused to allow the mage to pick his brain, and shows impressive mental strength. He’s able to fight off the mage’s attack until another member of the Varden commands Magey to stop.

Most of the rest of the chapter is Murtagh giving Eragon–and the readers–his history. While I’m not a big fan of information dumps, it works here, because he’s also answering the questions the readers want to know. I’ll also give Paolini props for giving us the full story, instead of just handwaving plot holes with, “that’s a story for another time”.

It soon becomes clear that Murtagh’s parentage is a distressing subject for him. Morzan was an abusive alcoholic, and Murtagh’s mother was trapped in the relationship, doing his bidding.

Now this is one of the moments where I can see how I’ve changed. I’ve always been the girl going, “I’m a strong independent woman who don’t need no man!” and, in high school, really hated Murtagh’s mom. I thought she was so weak, staying with an abusive man for years, when she should have just walked away. Why didn’t she just up and leave?

Now I’m older, and I understand things better. I didn’t know then that leaving an abusive relationship is incredibly hard and frightening. Even the strongest person would have a difficult time with that. Even moreso when your abuser is capable of riding dragons and using magic and can kill you at fifty paces.

All that said, there are still some issues with this. Murtagh was raised in Galby’s palace, and only escaped a few months ago. Apart from Brom, he’s the most worldly character in this book. He’s the dark and brooding one, the one with survival skills. While he was trained to fight in the palace, so his swordsmanship makes sense, but the rest? I’m not buying it.

He only met Galby a few times, and tells Eragon about one of their meetings with some of the most awkward phrasing.

His words were entrancing, like a snake whispering gilded lies into my ears. A more convincing and frightening man I’ve never heard. [. . .] For a long time he was silent, but then he extended his hand and asked, “Will you, O son of my friend? serve me as I labor to bring about this paradise?” [. . .] the dream he had painted was too compelling, too seductive to ignore. Ardor for this mission filled me, and I fervently pledged myself to him.

Paolini, listen up. Use purple prose, or use beige prose, I don’t care. But stop switching between the two with no rhyme or reason, especially when Murtagh’s never spoken like that before.

He goes on to talk about how he came to realize that Galby was evil and insane, and that he decided to escape. Of course, he does this with some of the most awkwardly written dialogue in the book so far.

As soon as I was free of his presence, I and my faithful servant, Tornac, made ready for flight. We left that very night, but somehow Galbatorix anticipated my actions, for there were soldiers waiting for us outside the gates. Ah, my sword was bloody, flashing in the lantern glow.

Ugh.

Murtagh explains that he started following the Ra’zac in the hopes that they could lead him to a dragon, which begs the question: Why?

He wants to be free from Galby and his father’s shadow, so why does he follow the king’s most trusted servants around? He’s terrified his past will be revealed, but then why align himself with a Dragon Rider? I can only assume it’s so he has a powerful ally should he ever need one, but an easier and much better solution to his predicament is obvious. He could have just disappeared. His birth was a secret, and Algaesia’s a big place. Murtagh could have just changed his name, found a new city, and made a new life for himself.

For that matter, he doesn’t need to be so afraid of what the Varden will do to him if they find out about his heritage. He spent almost his entire life in Galby’s court, and once he shows them that he’s defected, he’d become a valuable resource to them.

I get it. Plot is propelled forward by characters making stupid choices. Murtagh is an important character throughout the series, and becomes Eragon’s foil by the end of the second book. You wouldn’t get that if he’d just disappeared, which would be the sensible option.

I guess what I’m not buying is the whole “Murtagh finds Eragon by following people he shouldn’t have been following if he’s so scared about getting caught” excuse.

I think this is another missed opportunity for character development. Murtagh’s out in the world on his own for the first time. He must be scared, uncertain, and confused. Probably angry, too, feeling betrayed by Galby. There’s an enormous amount of potential to create not just a great character arc, but a great character. Unfortunately, emotions come last while the plot is railroaded forward. Instead of an intriguing character, we’re left with a two-dimensional figure who has a few moments of greatness, but then falls as flat as the rest of the cast.

There is at least one way Murtagh outshines Eragon as a character.

Eragon is Algaesia’s biggest idiotball. Murtagh is its biggest drama queen.

Eragon 48-49: Dithering Without Empathy

I think this chapter was written so we would stop liking Murtagh. And to that effect, it backfired terribly. At least, for me. It starts when he gets called “emotionless”, which is supposed to read like Murtagh’s a cold, bad dude, but he and Eragon both have so little established personality, it doesn’t really distinguish them in any way.

But the real conflict comes when Eragon and Murtagh encounter a group of slavers, and I can’t figure out just why the slavers are here. They’re outside the Empire now, and we haven’t seen any evidence of human life beyond its borders, besides our heroes. Why are they searching out here, and who are they going to sell any captured slaves to? Or would they trek them back across the desert? This has to be the most inefficiently run business on the continent.

Eragon and Murtagh dispatch the slavers without much trouble, save one: Torkenbrand. He’s injured and unarmed, and Murtagh kills him before giving him a chance to surrender. No, it’s not exactly a heroic thing to do, but there weren’t a lot of options, either. Torkenbrand had already seen Arya, knew she was an elf, and even if he couldn’t capture them, he would certainly be blabbing about them. Maybe pick up a nice reward from the Empire for information about the people that they clearly want captured.

Eragon, however, doesn’t really understand this, and he’s pissed that Murtagh killed Torkenbrand before giving him the chance to surrender. Which also begs the question, what would they have done with him, had he surrendered? Keep him as a prisoner while they ride to the Varden? Or send him running off, so he can tell everyone about Arya?

This leads into the cringiest dialogue I’ve read in awhile.

‘I’m only trying to stay alive,’ stated Murtagh. ‘No stranger’s life is more important than my own.

‘But you can’t indulge in wanton violence. Where is your empathy?’ Eragon growled, pointing at the head.

‘Empathy? Empathy? What empathy can I afford my enemies? Shall I dither about whether to defend myself because it will cause someone pain?’

Yes, please continue this ham-fisted dialogue that just really drives home how morally superior Eragon is to Murtagh.

To Eragon, the world is black and white. You are good, or you are evil. There’s no in-between. But he’s also a Dragon Rider, and his life is going to be filled with hard decisions, where there isn’t a clear right or wrong answer. It would have been interesting to use this moment to show him grappling with morality, to try to see that Murtagh could be a killer, and also his friend, or to wonder if the end truly justifies the means. And he does, a little bit, when he tells Saphira he’s confused. But by the time morning comes around, he decides that killing Torkenbrand was murder, and that Murtagh was in the wrong.

As the serious progresses, Eragon does go on to do some rather morally dubious things. In Brisingr, he and Roran rescue Sloan (hey, remember Sloan?) from the Ra’zac, who have tortured him to the point where he lost his eyes. However, Eragon decides that this isn’t punishment enough for the butcher, as he betrayed Carvahall to the Ra’zac. So, naturally, Eragon decides to tell the only person Sloan cares about, his daughter, that her father was killed. He then leaves Sloan in the desert, after essentially having cursed him to never be allowed to contact his daughter again.

Eragon does this because he can’t bring himself to kill Sloan while he’s so helpless, even though he acknowledges that killing him would be the merciful thing to do. Instead, Eragon makes Sloan’s life infinitely more difficult and painful. You know, after he’s already been tortured for months.

Our hero, everyone.

Maybe I shouldn’t be judging Eragon’s actions two books from now, or point out his hypocrisy for things that he hasn’t done yet.

Too bad. I did it anyway.

At last Saphira understands moral ambiguity, and discusses it with Eragon as the next chapter opens.

‘It was a hasty deed and ill considered, but Murtagh tried to do the right thing. The men who buy and sell other humans deserve every misfortune that befalls them. If we weren’t committed to helping Arya, I would hunt down every slaver and tear them apart!’

‘Yes,’ said Eragon miserably, ‘but Torkenbrand was helpless. He couldn’t shield himself or run. A moment more and he probably would have surrendered. Murtagh didn’t give him that chance. If Torkenbrand had at least been able to fight, it wouldn’t have been so bad.’

‘Eragon, even if Torkenbrand had fought, the results would have been the same. You know as well as I do that few can equal you or Murtagh with the blade. Torkenbrand would have still died, though you seem to think that it would have been more honorable in a mismatched duel.’

‘I don’t know what’s right!’ admitted Eragon, distressed. ‘There aren’t any answers that make sense.’

‘Sometimes,’ said Saphira gently, ‘there are no answers. Learn what you can about Murtagh from this. Then forgive him. And if you can’t forgive, at least forget, for he meant you no harm, however rash the act was. Your head is still attached, yes?’

This is my reminder that that the only reason I’ve continued reading this book is Saphira.

Although I’ve been quite critical of the book and Eragon’s character in general, I really like his talk with Saphira. Eragon seems to be learning that things aren’t always as straight forward as they seem, and I love that he’s wrestling with this new lesson. It’s one of the few times in this book so far that I really felt that Eragon does have an inner world. In a few pages, he suddenly had more character development than he’s gotten for the past ten chapters.

I want to see Eragon change and grow more over the course of the novel, as main characters are meant to do. These changes are more obvious in the beginning of the novel, I think, than near the end. I’m happy to see Eragon struggle with ideals, and finally have to deal with a conflict that can’t be solved with swords and sorcery. This is a good step in Eragon’s journey, though I doubt we’ll get many more moments like this until the book ends.

Because the orcs Urgals are coming! The Urgals are coming!

When Eragon flies on Saphira’s back to get a better look at the approaching horde, she ends up flying too high so there’s not enough oxygen for Eragon, and he passes out. Again. At this point, it’s like losing consciousness has become his hobby.

At least the description of their flight and the mountains below them is nice.

The Urgals, it turns out, are some kind of super-breed, called the Kull, which makes them even stronger and deadlier than their regular counterparts. You know, like Uruk-hai, but they’re not Uruk-hai at all, guys. They’re Kull. See? There’s a world of difference.

On one hand, I know that we’re getting close to the climax of the book, and need to up the ante a little bit. We’ve already seen Eragon take on Urgals and lesser swordsmen without too much of a problem, but the sudden appearance of the Kull feels a bit lazy and contrived to me. Putting the obvious Orc/Urgal parallels aside, the approaching army kind of came out of nowhere. The Varden’s location is incredibly well-hidden, and Eragon and Murtagh escaped pursuit by fleeing across the desert. So are the Kull just being sent to the vast mountain range in hopes of getting lucky and finding the Varden, or did they find Eragon’s location? Or really, are they just here because the story demands it?

Though as much shit as I give Eragon, he and Saphira actually come up with an effective plan to deter the Kull. Namely, dropping boulders on them from a distance. Practical, and effective!

They still remained focused on getting Arya to the Varden as quickly as possible, though, and soon it becomes apparent that Murtagh (who still hasn’t left for some reason) is caught between the Kull army, and going to the Varden. He finally reveals why he doesn’t want to go: he’s Morzan’s son, one of the Foresworn that put Galby on the throne.

That was a wham line for me as a kid. I was expecting some dark and angsty backstory, but I hadn’t thought that he’d be related to Morzan at all. It was a genuine surprise, in part because Morzan is mentioned so infrequently compared to Galby. I was also happy that Galby isn’t Morzan’s father, because even this book knew when it was drifting a little too close to Star Wars.

Here’s one thing I’ve noticed about re-reading Eragon: it’s not nearly as fun as the other books I’ve re-read for this blog. In part this is because Eragon is a nincompoop and the prose can be cringey, but it’s also because I know everything that’s going to happen. I know all the twists, and the things that kept the book engaging for me have already been revealed.

Well, we’ve got less than a dozen chapters to go, and I’ve spent too much time explaining the sunk cost fallacy  reading it to stop now.