52 Children’s Books in 52(ish) weeks, part 1

This next series of posts have been a year in the making. In January 2021, I announced that I would attempt to read one book a week off the New York Times‘s children’s best seller lists.* Admittedly, I didn’t quite manage to read a book a week, but I did manage to read all 52 books in 52 weeks…and then some. In my original post about this project, I set up a few rules for myself. First, I wouldn’t re-read books I’ve already read before, and would cycle through the separate lists for picture books, middle-grade hardcovers, and middle-grade series. As the year went on, I had to make another rule about not repeating authors or franchises. Mostly this was to ensure that I was getting a better sample of what kids are reading today, but also because I can only stand so much Diary of a Wimpy Kid and its spin-off books. My rule about not reading The Ickabog (and it was on the list for months!) had to be changed into not reading anything by JK Rowling. It wasn’t a problem for most of the year, but towards the end, her middle-grade book The Christmas Pig topped the list. I also decided that I would not be reading any cookbooks. It’s not just because I’m bad at cooking, but because I was looking for books with narrative.

Why did I chose to embark on this project? My husband asked me this when I was griping about a book I didn’t like. I didn’t do it just for the blog (though that was definitely a consideration). I like kids’ books, but mainly, I did it because at the time, my goal was to become a children’s librarian. (Mission accomplished!) While I had a good idea of what’s going on in the world of YA lit, I wasn’t sure what was popular among kids twelve and under today. I figured that I could use the best seller list as a guide to get a taste of what kids are reading.

I had quite a few different observations going through this project, which I’ll writing about in other posts. To start this off, though, I have some microreviews on the books I read for the past year.

Week 1 (Jan 3.): Five More Sleeps Til Christmas, by Jimmy Fallon. Illustrated by Rich Deas.

Cute, nice illustrations, and Jimmy Fallon had a fun virtual story time reading.

Week 2 (Jan. 11): Rowley Jefferson’s Awesome Friendly Adventure by Jeff Kinney.

I never liked Greg Heffley much, but I was 100% here for Rowley’s wholesome adventure. Only someone with Kinney’s clout would even be able to publish a book like this. I’m kinda jealous.

Week 3 (Jan. 17): Wings of Fire: The Dragonet Prophecy by Tui T. Sutherland.

I was surprised at how dark this book got, but I would have loved this series as a kid. I was definitely curious to see what happens later in the series. If I had more time, I’d read the whole main series just to see what happens next. I might still try the graphic novels.

Week 4 (Jan. 24): Little Blue Truck’s Valentine’s by Alice Shertle. Illustrated by Jill McElmurry.

Super cute, but I would have liked it better if the illustrations depicted the winter season rather than fall. Valentine’s Day is a winter holiday, after all!

Week 5 (Jan. 31): Little Leaders, by Vashti Harrison.

I really liked this collection of biographies, and learned about important Black women that I hadn’t heard of before. I do wish the illustrations had been a bit more dynamic; most figures were like paper dolls with the same face, with only their clothes and hair to distinguish them from one another.

Week 6 (Feb. 7): Dog Man, by Dav Pilkey.

I have the same “clout” suspicion as I did with Jeff Kinney, but Dog Man was a silly, fun comic book. Of course, I may be biased, since I was a fan of Captain Underpants as a kid. My favorite parts, though, were the notes warning Harold and George about how disruptive their comics were. And it doesn’t matter if kids are reading something simple, as long as they’re reading!

Week 7 (Feb. 14):  Ambitious Girl, by Meena Harris. Illustrated by Marissa Valdez.

I loved this book! It shows empowered women and characters of color, and its message is important for every kid to hear. 

Week 8 (Feb. 21): Ground Zero, by Alan Gratz.

I could write an entire post about this book. Harrowing, gripping, and emotional, without the “America, fuck yeah!” attitude I had expected. I think Reshmina’s eloquence and insightfulness on the war in Afghanistan stretched the believability a little thin for me, but she made excellent points. A novel that would definitely help kids understand the horrors of 9/11 and its aftermath better.

Week 9 (Feb. 28): Baby Sitter’s Club Graphix, by Ann M. Martin. Illustrated by Reina Telgemeir.

I never read The Baby-Sitter’s Club books as a kid, and reading the graphic novel didn’t make me feel as though I’d missed out on anything special. I do like Raina Telgemeier’s work, and it was kind of cool to see these books get updated for a new generation of readers. 

Week 10 (Mar 7.): Love from the Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle.

Very cute, and good for the whole year, not just Valentine’s Day. Needed more holes.  Rest well, Eric Carle.

Week 11 (Mar. 14):  Living the Confidence Code, by Katty Kay, Clare Shipman, and JillEllyn Riley.

This book is full of real-life stories of girls becoming leaders around the world. It was easy to read and uplifting. I found it inspiring, and recommended it to a friend with a tween daughter.

Week 12: (Mar. 21): Crave, by Tracy Wolff.

I didn’t understand the appeal of Twilight then, and I don’t understand the appeal of Crave now. I will say that the book was very funny, but I don’t think that was the author’s intention.

Week 13 (Mar. 28): How To Catch a Leprechaun, by Adam Wallace. Illustrated by Andy Elerkton.

Simple, cute, and fun! It reminded me of St. Patrick’s Day when I was still in elementary school.

Week 14 (Apr. 4): Becoming: Adapted for Young Readers, by Michelle Obama.

It looks like not a lot changed from the original version to the adapted edition. Unfortunately, I found most of the book pretty boring, but I’ve never been a huge fan of biographies. Even so, I can see someone other than me finding this memoir meaningful and inspiring.

Week 15 (Apr. 11): The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan.

I’ve always been interested in Greek mythology, but I didn’t love this book. Even so, it’s a quick-paced adventure that I’m sure middle-grade fantasy lovers will enjoy.

Week 16 (Apr. 18): Pete the Cat: Big Easter Adventure, by James Dean and Kim Dean.

Admittedly, I’ve been a fan of Pete the Cat for awhile now. Cute and colorful, and I love Pete’s grumpy face. 

Week 17 (Apr.  25): Wonder, by R.J. Palacio.

Heartwarming without being overly-cheesy. If you have a disability, or love someone who has a disability, this will hit very close to home. I liked it so much I even started reading one of the side stories.

Week 18 (May 2):  Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo.

I was pretty underwhelmed considering the hype around this book, but I liked it enough to check out the sequel. Even if I didn’t make it that far in the sequel before giving up.

Week 19 (May 9) We Are Water Protectors, by Carol Lindstrom and Michaela Goade.

Beautiful and moving artwork, and an important book for every audience. 

Week 20 (May 16): The One and Only Bob, by Katherine Applegate and Patricia Casteleo.

I haven’t read the first book in the series (or watched the movie based on it), but Bob was a distinct, vibrant character and the story didn’t go the way I expected. Enjoyable.

Week 21 (May 23): Five Nights at Freddy’s: Fazbear Frights by Scott Cawthon.

A collection of stories about the titular pizza place. Fans may love it, but I’d put it into the category of, “Well, at least they’re reading.” 

Week 22 (May 30):   Peace Train, by Cat Stevens and Peter H. Reynolds

The illustrations were simple, but I liked the bright colors. I think it works better as a song than a picture book, but it was nice enough.

Week 23 (Jun. 6): Stamped (For Kids), by Jason Reynolds, Ibram X. Kendi, and Sonja Cherry-Paul.

I wish this was the sort of education I had on race as a kid, not just “Martin Luther King, Jr. solved everything.” Even the kids’ version can be uncomfortable to read, but it’s important to understand how deeply rooted racism is in America. Teaching kids about race and racism early gives me hope for the next generation of leaders. If kids are empathetic and receptive to this kind of learning, I hope our future leaders can make great strides against racism in the U.S.

Week 24 (Jun. 13): What Was/What Is… series. I read What Was Hurricane Katrina, by Robin Koontz.

Informative in a way that’s easy for kids to digest without ever talking down to them. It didn’t try to hide unpleasant truths about living conditions during and after the hurricane, and tied it back to current events and the danger of climate change. I was pleasantly surprised.

Week 25 (June 25):  Strange Planet: The Sneaking, Hiding Vibrating Creature by Nathan W. Pyle. 

This is such a strange idea for a picture book, especially if you’re not already familiar with the Strange Planet comics. Like the comic, this book is all about using context clues to figure out what the characters are saying. For some kids this could be a fun way to learn new words, but for others, especially younger ones, I think the vocabulary would be too hard.

Week 26 (Jun 27): The Game Master: Summer Schooled by Matt and Rebecca Zamolo.

There are much worse YouTuber books, but this one doesn’t have much to recommend to it unless you’re already a fan of the channel.  It changes perspective without any rhyme or reason, and the readers aren’t given enough information about the puzzles to solve them along with the characters.

Week 27 (Jul. 4): The Last Kids on Earth, by Max Brailler.

The monster apocalypse is terrifying, but it’s also kind of a kid’s paradise. This fun, funny romp through the end of the world has the feel of a comic book. It would be perfect for a reluctant reader, or anyone with a zombie apocalypse plan.

Week 28 (Jul. 11): The Bench, by Meghan Markel. Illustrated by Christian Robinson.

This is a very sweet book, though the narration addresses an adult rather than a child. The illustrations were simple, but I liked how they showed a lot of diversity.

Week 29 (Jul. 18): Ali Cross: Like Father, Like Son by James Patterson.

I thought some of its handling of current events was clumsy or heavy-handed, but I liked this fast-paced mystery well enough. Not enough to check out the other book in the series, but enjoyable for what it was.

Week 30 (Jul. 25): Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell.

There’s so much backstory to get through, especially in the first part of the book, that it feels like you’re coming in part way through the series instead of the first book. I liked the magic system, but the novel got bogged down by all the exposition. Even so, it was a fun read, and I’d recommend it to any Harry Potter fans who are mad at JK Rowling.

Week 31 (Aug 1): The Pigeon Has To Go to School by Mo Willems

Is there any children’s librarian who DOESN’T like Mo Willems? The pigeon books talk directly to the reader and makes it interactive. Plus, who hasn’t been nervous before their first day of school?

Week 32 (Aug 8): Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston. Illustrations by

I had a hard time getting into this one. I think I’m just burnt-out with youth fantasy series, especially ones that feature some sort of trial/rite of passage. There were a lot of information dumps, especially in the beginning, and sometimes it felt like I was just waiting for the real action to start.

Week 33 (Aug. 15): Serpent & Dove, by Shelby Mahurin

I liked this book way more than I thought I would. It’s marketed as a supernatural YA romance, but there’s action, intrigue, and some really great characters. I didn’t love the third act, or the ending, but I’m sure I’ll be reading the sequel.

Week 34 (Aug. 22): Three Little Engines, by Bob McKinnon

I was a little wary when I saw that one of my favorite books as a child had gotten a sequel, but this one did a fine job. Instead of the importance of determination, this book focused on teaching empathy, and how sometimes people need a little help. The message that sometimes saying “I think I can” isn’t enough detracts from the original <em>Little Engine That Could</em> a little bit, but overall I think it’s a worthy follow-up.

Week 35 (Aug. 29):  Black Boy Joy: 17 Stories Celebrating Black Boyhood</em>, edited by Kwame Mbalia.

In a word: warmhearted. This is an anthology of short stories all starring Black boys by talented authors. There’s a variety of genres, too. Along with contemporary stories, there’s also science-fiction, fantasy, and poetry. “Extinct” by Dean Atta was my favorite, but each story will leave you smiling.

Week 36 (Sep. 5): The Cruel Prince, by Holly Black

I went back and forth on this book. I was excited to read this series, but also a little apprehensive. It eventually hooked me, but it didn’t stay. About 3/4s of the way through I realized I didn’t like any of the characters and didn’t care what happened to any of them. While I am curious about how the rest of the series plays out, I don’t think I’ll be reading any more books in it.

Week 37 (Sep. 12): We Don’t Eat Our Classmates! by Ryan T. Higgins

I loved this book! It’s funny, Penelope is an adorable T-Rex, and it teaches about empathy in a memorable, humorous way.

(And empathy is delicious.)

Week 38 (Sep. 19): We Are Family, by LeBron James and Andrea Williams

This was much better than I expected it to be for a celebrity book, though I have a feeling LeBron James didn’t do the bulk of the writing. I thought some of the plot lines needed more development, but it’s an easy read that will appeal to basketball fans and student athletes.

Week 39 (Sep. 26): A Twisted Tale series, by Liz Braswell. I read Part of Your World. 

I had a pretty good time with this book. The story did meander a bit in the middle without much progress, but overall I liked it. I’d pick up another book in the series for a light, fun read.

Week 40 (Oct. 3): Gustavo, the Shy Ghost, by Flavia Z. Drago

I never thought I would relate to an illustrated ghost so much. I definitely felt like Gustavo as a kid (and sometimes still do!) so I loved seeing him take a risk and make friends.

Week 41 (Oct. 10): Beasts and Beauty, by Soman Chainani. Illustrated by Julia Iredale.

This was such a cool book! Creative twists on classic fairy tales in ways that I couldn’t guess were coming. (including feminist morals, a gay Sleeping Beauty, a Black Snow White). 

Week 42 (Oct. 17): A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, by Holly Jackson.

I’ve never been a fan of mysteries, but I devoured this one. I think including things like the main character’s capstone journal and other visual aids helped me get into it. By the time the book switched over to conventional narration entirely, I was totally hooked. I thought the characters could be developed more, but the story was so gripping I couldn’t put it down. 

Week 43 (Oct. 24): The Bad Seed Presents: The Good, the Bad, and the Spooky, by Jory John. Illustrated by Pete Oswald. 

I’ve read a couple of The Bad Seed books and I really like the art style. I thought this one was a bit wordier than the ones I’ve read in the past, though I might not be remembering properly. I didn’t like this one as much as the other ones I’ve read, but it’s a cute Halloween story with tricks and treats.

Week 46 (Nov. 14): Change Sings by Amanda Gorman. Illustrated by Loren Long.

Amanda Gorman is a talented poet, but the illustrations are where this book truly shines. They show a group of diverse kids doing things to help their community and one another, making a big difference when they’re all together. I especially liked the end, where the reader is dared to join in and help make change.

Week 44 (Oct. 31): The Beatryce Prophecy by Kate DiCamilo. Illustrated by Sophie Blackall.

The set up is a bit generic for an adult who’s read fantasy novels for most of her life, but I liked the characters, especially Beatryce and Answelica. A sweet, short story that would be great for kids getting into fantasy.

Week 45 (Nov. 7): I Survived series by Lauren Tarshis. I read I Survived Gettysburg. 

I’ve seen these books around, and I’ve always been curious about them. I Survived Gettysburg is a fast-paced story starring a brave boy who escaped from slavery with his younger sister. It’s not the most in-depth historical fiction for youth that I’ve read, but the author has a helpful FAQ and other reading recommendations for kids who are interested in learning more about the Civil War.


Week 47 (Nov. 21): Black Ballerinas by Misty Copeland. Illustrated by Salena Barnes.

Here’s my confession: I am an uncultured swine who doesn’t care about ballet. The illustrations are beautiful, but the biographies didn’t really hold my interest. However, I understand that it’s important to highlight Black women in this predominantly White dance form. I hope children of color will be able to see themselves in this book, and know that they can break barriers like the ballerinas in the book…and Misty Copeland.


Week 48 (Nov. 28): Warriors: The Broken Code by Erin Hunter

This book is a good introduction if you’re not already familiar with the Warriors series. I wasn’t enthralled by it, but if I were ten, I’m sure it would have been one of my favorite books.


Week 49 (Dec. 5): Aaron Slater, Illustrator, by Andrea Beaty. Illustrated by Douglas Roberts.

I already really liked this picture book series, and this is another solid entry, featuring a child with dyslexia who learns to tell stories his own way.


Week 50 (Dec. 12): Out of My Heart by Sharon Draper

The plot is pretty thin: Melody, a girl with severe cerebral palsy, goes to summer camp. But Melody is such a good character and the book is so warm-hearted, reading it was like sliding into a bubble bath.


Week 51 (Dec. 10): Magic Tree House Series by Mary Osborne Pope. I read Knights at Dawn.

There’s plenty to capture kids’ imaginations in this fast-paced adventure, while also educating readers on some historical facts.


Week 52 (Dec. 26): Construction Site on Christmas Night by Sherri Duskey Rinker. Illustrated by Ag Ford.

I liked this cute, rhyming book, but I have just one gripe: why are all these construction vehicles boys? I loved construction vehicles when I was young, and I’m sure a lot of little girls do, too.

*Fun fact: Harry Potter is the reason the New York Times began a separate list for children’s best sellers. People were so tired of the Harry Potter books taking up slots on the regular best seller list, a separate best seller list had to be created.

New Year, New Me! January Book Recommendations

Welcome to my first monthly book list! Each month, I’ll be bringing you a fresh list of books all based on a different theme. If you have an idea for a themed list, please let me know!

Before we get in, there’s a few things you should know. First, I am a youth librarian, which means I’m most familiar with books written for young people. This means you’ll see a lot of YA and juvenile books on these lists. If you’re an adult looking for something good to read, don’t feel bad or embarrassed about reading youth books. Juvenile and YA books deal with themes and ideas that are applicable to all ages, even if the text isn’t as challenging as books written for adults. And there’s no age limit on good stories.

I’ll also be listing non-fiction and fiction, because there’s a lot of great non-fiction out there that needs some love, too.

I also want to remind everyone that not every book will appeal to every reader. You may hate a book that I love, and that’s okay. Not liking a book doesn’t mean that the book is bad, it just means that you don’t like it. I’ll try to appeal to a wide range of interests, but I don’t expect for you to love or even be interested in everything on this list. There’s a reader for every book, and every book has a reader. I’d love to help readers and books find each other!

New Year, New Me

Nonfiction

ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life by Judith Kolberg and Dr. Kathleen Nadeau

Thanks to the way my brain is wired, I live in a kind of an entropic mess mixed in the occasional bursts of cleaning and organizing, then promising myself “I’ll never let it get that bad again.” It always turns out to be a lie, but I try.

So when I recommend a book on organizing that actually works for me, I mean it actually works. ADD Friendly Ways… teaches you how to work with your ADD, rather than against it, to get organized. This book is written in short, helpful chapters and formatted specifically to help people with ADHD be able to sit and read it. It gives practical tips on organizing your life which are easy to follow, and offers suggestions for how to find more support if needed and to take control of your life. It’s the best organization self-help book I’ve ever used, and the only one I’ve seen that specifically addresses the role that ADHD plays in the struggle of keeping your life together.

The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield

Making stuff is hard. Whether it’s writing, drawing, dancing, or sculpting, no creative endeavor comes easily. Pressfield calls the universal force that acts against our creativity “resistance,” and it can come in many forms. It could be fear, pressure to perform, irritations in your daily life, or the fact that the new Pokemon game just dropped and how can you be expected to write when you can’t get Sprigatito out of your head? Pressfield brilliantly describes resistance, how to overcome it, and the sacred act of creating. Each short chapter is a micro pep talk for anyone experiencing resistance. It’s a small, thin book and shouldn’t take you long to read. I read it cover to cover years about five years ago and still take it off my shelf when I’m feeling stuck.

The Confidence Code/The Confidence Code for Girls and Living the Confidence Code by Clair Shipman and Katty Kay

Self-doubt. Imposter syndrome. Lack of confidence. We’ve all experienced it, especially girls and women who have internalized messages that they will never be enough. The Confidence Code is a best-selling guide to empower women to become self-assured and confident in their lives, using scientific research and proven methods of behavioral research. Following the success of The Confidence Code, the young reader’s edition, The Confidence Code for Girls aims to reach teen and tween girls struggling with inner doubt.

Living the Confidence Code is true stories of girls, ranging from grade school to teenagers, who are changing the world. These inspiring stories show how everyday girls can have a major impact on their homes, the lives of others, and the world. The word “inspiring” gets tossed around a lot, but I really mean it. After reading this book I was ready to start writing letters to the editor and began researching ways to help with period poverty in my area. If these kids can change their hometowns, I can too!

Draw Stronger: Self Care for Cartoonists and Other Visual Artists by Kriota Willberg

Whether you draw, paint, or write, creating art takes a physical toll on your body. Draw Stronger is a comic book that shows how chronic pain and injuries can occur, and provides tips to prevent and treat injuries. Fun and informative, this is a must-read for anyone who spends good chunks of time sitting at a desk drawing, writing, or typing. While this is geared mainly at visual artists, I’ve found it helpful for dealing with a repetitive strain injury caused by a lockdown’s worth of handwriting.

Fiction:

When Women Were Dragons by Kelly Barnhill

Alex is one of the many who was left behind after the Mass Dragoning of 1955, when hundreds of thousands of women transformed into dragons, wrecked a path of fiery destruction, and took to the skies. She is left with questions: did they choose to become dragons? Why did her beloved Aunt Marla change, but not her mother? Propriety forbids Alex from ever asking. Instead, she must deal with her overprotective mother, her distant father, and a younger sister obsessed with dragons. Most troubling of all, there’s the insistence that her aunt never actually existed. In a world where women are forced into small, confined roles, what happens when they (literally) rise up? Kelly Barnhill is already known for some excellent fantasy for youth, but this novel for adults does not disappoint.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

Two hundred years ago on the moon of Panga, all robots gained consciousness. They left human society peacefully, and were given half the moon to do with as they pleased — which was to leave it untouched and observe the natural world around them. Two centuries later, Sibling Dex is a tea monk who travels the roads of Panga, offering tea, a listening ear, and small comforts to anyone who needs it. Feeling restless in their life, Dex seeks a new journey in a remote corner of the human world. Incredibly, they meet Mosscap on their way. Mosscap and Dex share the first human-robot contact in two hundred years. Mosscap comes in peace, but also bearing a question for Dex: what do humans need? Elegantly written, imaginative, and relaxing, this is one of my favorite books I’ve read recently. I want to live in this world. Thankfully, there’s a sequel as well, so you can return to Panga again.

Whistle: A New Gotham City Hero by E. Forester and Manuel Preitano

Willow Zimmerman is busy. She’s a teen activist who spends her weekends protesting at city hall to help her rundown Gotham neighborhood. Her nights are spent working at the local animal shelter to help pay her mother’s medical bills. When E. Nigma, an old friend of her mother’s, shows up in Willow’s life, he makes her a job offer she can’t refuse. Soon Willow is organizing his high-rolling (and not entirely legal) poker games for E. Nigma and his ludicrously wealthy friends. After an encounter with one of Gotham’s many notorious villains, Willow discovers she has superpowers, including telepathy with dogs. She also learns who her employer really is. The high life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and Willow must decide where her values truly lie, and the cost of following her convictions. The story is more about Willow growing as a person, rather than her as a superhero, but she’s such a great character you’ll be wanting to read more of her adventures.

Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera

Juliet Palante is a self-described “closeted Puerto-Rican baby-dyke from the Bronx.” Even though her coming out didn’t go as planned, she’s still got a lot to look forward to. Juliet

has just landed her dream internship working for Harlowe Brisbane in Portland, Oregon. Harlowe is a feminist lesbian author, and the strong, empowered woman that Juliet wants to be. But life on the West Coast isn’t what Juliet had expected. She’s not sure about the New Age culture that surrounds her, or even if Harlowe’s (who is White) brand of feminism is right for her. This is a coming-of-age story that examines gaps in the mainstream feminist movement and intersectionality, all while Juliet realistically explores her own identity, and maybe even falls in love. In short: a novel to provoke thought and discussions that will ultimately leave you breathless.

Sherwood by Megan Spooner

Robin of Loxley is dead, killed in the Crusades far from the shores of England and his beloved Lady Marian. Robin was not only Marian’s betrothed, but also her best friend and closest confidant. With Robin gone and Guy of Gisbourn aiming to take his place, the poor of Nottingham have no one to speak for them. Despite the deep grief Marian carries with her, she cannot ignore the suffering of the people of Nottingham. When her friends are threatened by the dogged Gisbourn and the Sheriff of Nottingham, she will take up Robin’s mantle and become her own hero. Well-written, this is an action-packed and enjoyable re-imagining of the Robin Hood legend.

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.

Eragon 38-39: The Un-Twist

This chapter is supposed to make me feel sad, but all it did was cement just how dumb Eragon actually is. As Brom is dying, he reveals that he, too, was a Dragon Rider. His dragon was named Saphira, and she was slain by Morzan. Because of course she was.

I wish I could remember my reaction to this news when I read this book for the first time years ago. I have a feeling that it was more, “I knew it!” than, “Whaaaat? Brom was a Rider?!” There’s so many hints that anyone who’s read a fantasy book before could have figured it out.

But here’s the big question: why did Brom hide this from Eragon? Let’s see what our wise old mentor has to say.

‘Why didn’t you tell me this before?’ asked Eragon softly.

Brom laughed. ‘Because…there was no need to.’

No. NO.

You do not get to have a dramatic reveal if the main reason for not doing it sooner was, essentially, “I didn’t feel like it.” If it was for his or Eragon’s protection, fine. That’s at least a reason. And Eragon probably would have liked knowing that he wasn’t the only non-evil Dragon Rider. But this…

bullshit

Anyway, Brom dies, Eragon is sad and buries him. I know I’m supposed to feel sad, and I think I was when I first read this book. But now I’m lamenting Brom’s death for another reason: he was a much better character than Eragon.

In the following chapter, Eragon learns more about Murtagh, and makes plans to continue his journey, even if he’s not sure where he should go next. Murtagh displays a surprising amount of information about Brom, the Riders, and Eragon’s sword, Zar’roc.

God, I hate typing all these unnecessary apostrophes.

When I began reading this book, one of my big problems was the way the dialogue jumped back and forth between flowery prose and more modern language. The prose finally seemed to even itself out, making it much less cringey. In this chapter, though, some of the dialogue seems to slip back into that awkward phrasing. The most obvious might be when Murtagh is asking Eragon about Brom.

Is your Brom the Brom? The one who hlped steal a dragon egg from the king, chased it across the Empire, and killed Morzan in a duel? I heard you say his name, and I read the inscription you put on his grave, but I must know for certain, Was that he?

It’s the “Was that he?” with the weird capital “W” that gets me.

Because Murtagh knows a suspicious amount about the Dragon Riders and Morzan, Eragon tries to probe into his mind to figure out who Murtagh actually is. Murtagh has strong mental defenses, though, and Eragon can’t get into his mind. Blocking someone from your mind is a difficult skill to learn, and Eragon hasn’t mastered it yet. Also, when Brom tried to communicate with Eragon through his mind, Eragon was able to feel the intrusion and attempt to fend it off. So, likely Murtagh knows that Eragon tried to get inside his head, and doesn’t do anything about it. Eragon also has every reason to leave Murtagh, but they just kind of…let it go.

I think it’s been well-established that Eragon can be pretty dumb, but why wouldn’t Murtagh react?

Saphira and Eragon discuss what their next plans should be. Apparently, Brom had told Saphira that he was a Rider, and gave her information to find a man that could help them get to the Varden. Saphira never told Eragon any of this, because Brom had asked her not to.

In other words, Brom trusted a dragon hatchling better than his own protégé.

According to Saphira, Brom also said that he thought Eragon was the best person to carry on the Riders’ legacy.

…really? Clearly, Brom saw something in Eragon that I don’t.

Of course, we make sure to get some good teen angst in.

‘What does your heart say?’ asked Saphira.

‘My heart died a while back,’ Eragon said with a hint of black humor.

When I read Eragon’s response, I had to put the book down for a few minutes just to laugh at it.

Eragon 20: Sad Resignation to Keep Reading

The first thing I wrote upon starting chapter 20 was, “This was a lot more fun when I was drunk”. Yes, I was unnecessarily angry at a fictional character during the last chapter, but at least I felt something other than sad resignation to keep reading. For awhile, I thought that might be the only note I’d write down, as this chapter is a lot of exposition, and not much else.

I’ve talked a bit about world-building in novels, and I’ve said that in general, I like it better when the characters learn the rules of the universe as the readers do. It feels much more natural, and you’re not overwhelmed with a ton of information at once. Eragon is starting to show me the drawbacks of that method. It makes sense for the story, as Eragon starts out as a know-nothing dragon rider. However, the chapters that are nothing but exposition and conversation are starting to wear on me. Eragon accidentally using magic for the first time, and Brom’s angry admonitions of him were part of the story, though. Despite my earlier criticisms, they were exciting. This chapter is just a casual conversation, written to explain to Eragon and the readers how magic works.

I guess one of the things I don’t like about this chapter is that there’s nothing that breaks up the dialogue until the end. I know that it’s important to get information to the reader, but there’s got to be a better way of doing it than this.

Aside from that, I have several questions, not the least of which is, “why doesn’t Saphira have more screen time?”

Seriously.

Other than that, the Dragon Riders apparently kept their magic a secret, even at the height of their power, so their enemies wouldn’t be able to use it against them. I guess that explains why Eragon was so surprised that he could use magic, but it seems like something like that would be hard to keep a secret. It also really bothers me that Eragon has yet to make the connection that Brom was a Rider.

Brom also mentions that Shades and sorcerers get their magic from spirits, which makes it different from the Riders’ magic. “Spirits” largely gets glossed over in this book, and the next, with the only information we get about them being that they’re bad news. I don’t know if they’re elaborated on any further in the last two books in the series. I’d like to know more, but this chapter certainly wasn’t a good place to add even more details.

It’s also revealed that every person has two names, one that they’re given when they’re born, and a “true” name, which reflects who they really are. Sharing your true name is dangerous, as anyone who knows it has complete control over you. Since I will not likely be reading the final two books anytime soon, I let my curiosity get the better of me and Googled what Eragon’s true name is. This is what Christopher Paolini had to say:

I felt that giving them to readers would spoil some of the mystery and power they hold. You could say the whole Inheritance Cycle encompasses Eragon’s true name. But its short form is a secret between Eragon, Saphira, Glaedr, and Arya.

Aw, come on! I wanna know!

 

 

Eragon Chap. 17-18: An Orc By Another Name Still Stinks

Chapter 17 is full of great storytelling and characterization, and was such a gripping read that I had a hard time putting the book down. Or, you know, the opposite of that.

A lot of this book consists of the main characters traveling from place to place to place and having adventures on the way. Essentially, it’s a fantasy novel’s version of a road trip movie. Real-life road trips are usually pretty fun. Going to new places, meeting new people, singing along to the radio with your friends. The things that make road trips appealing and fun that we forget about all the massive inconveniences they entail. Things like getting lost, or sitting cramped in the backseat piled high with luggage, or constantly getting stuck in the middle seat with your seat on the hump, and your friends uncomfortable squished in on either side of you.

This chapter is dedicated to the parts of the road trip we’d rather forget. Like when I got really sick and wound up puking in a gas station parking lot. Most of this chapter consists of Eragon and Brom being miserable as they travel the plains, dealing with strong winds, thirst, and spending hours in the saddle. Even though this chapter doesn’t really reveal anything new about the characters or the plot, I at least appreciate that it’s not a comfortable trip. It does add a sense of realism, and it would be a pretty boring chapter if everything was nice and easy.

As a student glider pilot, I also enjoyed Saphira’s demonstration of how high winds and flying don’t mix. In the gales of a storm, Saphira has difficulty landing and her open wings caused her to keep getting blown away, including somersaulting in the as she tries to land. I’m not sure if it was meant to be comical, but I was amused by it nonetheless.

As much as I enjoyed watching Saphira try to land, and fail, a lot of chapter 17 felt like padding. The following chapter is much more interesting, when Brom and Eragon arrive in the town of Yazuac. I do feel a bit bad for Saphira, though. Because they have to keep her a secret, Saphira constantly gets left behind when Eragon and Brom go into a populated area. It makes sense, but I wish she had more screen time.

Their arrival in Yazuac is eerie, and the whole town is still and quiet. This is because, and Eragon soon finds out, the entire town is dead and has been put into one big pile of corpses. I didn’t really feel the horror that I should have when I read this, though maybe it’s because I knew it was coming. Eragon, at least, was horrified, and threw up. Which is a perfectly acceptable reaction to seeing a pile of dead bodies, if you ask me. I wonder if my indifference to this slaughter is also because “one is a tragedy, a million is a statistic”. Maybe it’s the writing, or maybe it’s because I’m a bad person. Hm.

This is also the chapter where Eragon has his first run-in with Urgals. In other words, orcs with a different name. I know that every high fantasy book has to have some bland, low-level mooks for the hero to plow through, but is it too much to ask for something other than “huge men with horns”? In the sequel, Eldest, the Urgals are more fleshed out as a race with their own social order and customs. Watching humans and Urgals try to work as allies is way more interesting than having them as generic enemies. But we’re still stuck in Eragon right now, and don’t get to see that.

Eragon kills two Urgals, shooting his bow and calling out “Brisingr!” as he does. “Brisingr”, as we later learn, is the elvish word for “fire”, and Eragon has used magic for the first time.

It’s a little too convenient for me. Not that Eragon used magic without any guidance–I’ll accept that, it is a fantasy story, after all–but that he knew the word “brisingr”. He’s heard Brom say it once, and thought it was a swear. I kind of think he wouldn’t remember one word in a pretty tight spot. In high stress situations, expanding my vocabulary is not on the forefront of my mind. I mean, I had to stop writing for about a minute today because I couldn’t remember the word “inevitable” as I was about to type it. If I were fighting monsters, the only thing I might be saying is, “fuck, fuck, fuck!”

Eragon 15-16: Br’om is the Ma’in Char’acter We Dese’rve

Here we are once again, with the short chapter-long chapter couplet. The first paragraph or so is actually pretty relatable, with Eragon remembering Garrow’s death and not wanting to get up and face the world. I think we’ve all done that at some point. After a loved one has died, sometimes the hardest thing to do is get out of bed.

I also want to share one line with you.

“He jammed his cold fingers in his armpits and crouched by the fire until the food was ready.”

Does that remind you of anything?

mary catherine gallagher

Ah, the 90s. A time when the women were strong, the men were good-looking, and the children are all wondering what the hell I’m referencing.

This chapter is (appropriately) called “Saddle Making”, in which Brom makes a saddle for Saphira out of a leather apron. Except I highly doubt that Brom is able to make a saddle for a dragon – albeit a young one – out of a single apron. Never mind the extra straps he cuts for when Saphira grows larger. Also, how the hell hasn’t Eragon figured out Brom’s a Dragon Rider?

Obi-Brom Kenobi is the source for all information on dragons up to this point. He has a “mysterious” past, and knows way more than any simple storyteller should. He can communicate with Saphira with his mind, build a dragon saddle, and freaking gives Eragon an actual Dragon Rider’s sword. Why the pretense, Brom? And why are you so dumb, Eragon? How have you not put the pieces together yet?!

Sighing and shaking my head, it’s time to move on to chapter 16. The first part of this chapter is largely exposition, and I’m pretty okay with how it’s been done, mostly because it makes sense with the story. Eragon has questions about dragons, and Brom answers them. What I like about this is that it’s not all done in Brom’s dialogue, nor is it done completely as narration. It actually strikes a good balance between the two. A surprise bonus of this is that I don’t have to read too much overly-flowery dialogue. Yay!

There is something I’ve always wondered about, though. Brom says that dragons don’t hatch until conditions are right for them to be born, which usually meant there was enough food for them. Dragons that the Riders used, though, would only hatch when the right Rider touched their egg. In other words, Saphira might have never hatched if Eragon hadn’t found her egg.

What happened to the “wild” dragons that were mentioned? I also find it hard to believe that dragons – notable for being a proud race – would leave the future of their species to humans and elves. Sure, Galby (I refuse to write his full name one more time) killing dragons and Riders didn’t help matters, but eggs only hatching when the right person touches them? Yeah, you’re going to wind up with an endangered species right there.

If the Eragon-verse had tumblr, I can only imagine what it would be like. “Dragons only hatch when humans or elves touch their eggs? SO RACIST. Check your privilege!”

Along with learning about dragons, Eragon asks Brom about how he got the sword of another Dragon Rider. Brom tells him that he doesn’t want to reveal it yet, and, “I don’t want to keep you ignorant, far from it.”

EXCEPT YOU TOTALLY ARE.

The sword’s history is revealed in the second book, if I recall correctly, and it would be pretty upsetting for Eragon to learn. I won’t hold it against Brom for not telling him, but…God, Brom just tell him you’re a Dragon Rider. It’s obvious to anyone who’s not Eragon.

One good thing about the book is that Eragon isn’t a total Mary Sue right away. During this chapter, he and Brom start practicing swordplay, and Eragon gets his ass kicked time and time again. He develops his sword skills throughout the book, and I like that he isn’t a “natural”. He has to learn, struggle, and get his ass handed to him. And since he’s been driving me crazy, reading about him covered in bruises fills me with a kind of smug satisfaction. Especially since Brom is a much more interesting character, and I’d be pretty happy if he lit out on his own with Saphira.

There’s also one more thing that’s really bugging me. Let’s see if you can spot it in this chapter summary.

Eragon takes his sword, Za’roc, so he can fight the Ra’zac while he’s traveling outside Utgard.

I’m not even halfway through the book, and I am so sick of these unpronounceable names with apostrophes.

Wait. I stand corrected. They’re not unprouncable.

pronunciation

But I feel like if you have to put a pronunciation guide in your novel, you’ve done something wrong.

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“?

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.