Eragon 40-41: Capture at Gil’ead

And so we keep moving forward with Eragon, and the next chapter, “Capture at Gil’ead”. Hm, I wonder what’s going to happen here? As chapters titles go, I guess it’s not bad. Certainly, no worse than “Doom of Innocence”. But it doesn’t leave much room for suspense. However, the title does come from the only memorable part of this chapter, so there’s that.

Most of this chapter seems like filler. Eragon and Murtagh are traveling to Gil’ead, where Brom had instructed Eragon to go before he died. I found it really boring and uneventful. This is partly because I’ve been reading Storm of Swords, where characters can’t step out their door for five minutes before something terrible happens, never mind a long journey. Where’s the bandits and gore? But more than that, this chapter covers weeks worth of travel, long enough for Eragon’s broken ribs to heal, and we see only three conversations between Eragon and Murtagh, and even less of Saphira. All the events are glossed over, and it’s really disappointing.

For instance, Eragon and Murtagh must ride near Urû’baen*, the capital where Galby reigns. Eragon and Saphira have just escaped from some of Galby’s most fearsome allies, and everyone loyal to the king will be on the look-out for them. They’ll have to use all their wits and skills to keep Saphira hidden and remain free, or else a fate most foul awaits them.

Or not. Instead, we get this.

Their travels north forced them toward the capital, Urû’baen. It was a heavily populated area, which made it difficult to escape notice. Soldiers patrolled the roads and guarded the bridges. It took them several tense, irritable days to skirt the capital.

That’s it. Seriously, that’s all we get. What might have been exciting and tense is boiled down to one insipid paragraph.

There’s another thing I’m trying to figure out as well. When I first read this book, I really liked Murtagh. He was easily my favorite character. Now, I’m honestly trying to remember why. I think it’s because he’s a badass with a dark and mysterious past, and I always did like angsty boys.** But Murtagh hasn’t exhibited much personality other than those few traits. Even when though we’ve known him for a few chapters now, we still don’t know much more about him as a person than we did when we first met him. In this chapter he demonstrates that he’s smarter than Eragon, but so are most characters in this book.

After pages of being told (not shown) that Eragon and Murtagh are friends, they arrive near Gil’ead and Murtagh arranges a meeting with one of Brom’s allies. But then–gasp!–Eragon loses consciousness. Again. And gets captured. Again.

How many times has he fainted now? I stopped counting.

Eragon wakes in a cell, drugged and dopey. He’s fairly sedated, to the point where he can’t remember enough of the Ancient Language to use magic to escape. He does see the elf from his dreams, Arya, in the prison, and her description is…well…

Her long midnight-black hair obscured her face, despite a leather strip bound around her head to hold the tresses back. [. . .] Her sculpted face was as perfect as a painting. Her round chin, high cheekbones, and long eyelashes gave her an exotic look. The only mar in her beauty was a scrape along her jaw; nevertheless, she was the fairest woman he had ever seen.

It made me roll my eyes, but then I remembered that the elves in this universe are a race of Mary Sues. Brom did imply this before, and the point really gets hammered home in the sequel, Eldest. After remembering that, I don’t mind it as much. At least it makes sense with the rest of the book.

No, it’s Eragon’s reaction that’s truly worthy of an eye roll.

Eragon’s blood burned as he looked at her. Something awoke in him–something he had never felt before. It was an obsession, except stronger, almost a fevered madness.

producers

All other obvious jokes aside, I do have another nit to pick about this chapter. In the first book in the series, Eragon’s greatest enemy is Durza, the Shade. Remember Durza, how scary he was?

Oh, no, you don’t. Or, at least, I didn’t. Until now, Durza had only been in the prologue. There was passing mention of Shades and how dangerous they are, but I don’t think we’re ever told what exactly a Shade is. Far more time is spent learning about the Ra’zac or dragons, which is fair. But when it becomes clear that Eragon wouldn’t be able to defeat the Ra’zac, his new enemy becomes Durza. But since we know next to nothing about Shades or Durza, his sudden appearance here doesn’t do much to scare the reader.

That, and because Durza’s description sounds like Ronald McDonald. White face with red lips and hair? Forget powerful magician, he’s a hamburger-slinging clown.

Durza has a conversation with Eragon, saying that he’s visiting the cell just to gloat at capturing a Dragon Rider. You know, an action that’s never led to any villain’s downfall, ever. In truth, he comes to find out exactly what Eragon’s “true name” is, which is a wasted effort as Eragon doesn’t even know what it really is.

If you ask me, the true purpose of their conversation is to remind the reader that Eragon has enemies besides the Ra’zac, but Durza doesn’t feel particularly threatening, especially since it’s been more than 40 chapters since we last heard from the Shade, or cared about what he was doing.

*Do you really need both the apostrophe and the û?! One is more than enough. Now you’re just fucking with us, Paolini.
**Adulting Protip: Leave the dark, brooding male lead in fiction where he belongs. Do not date him in real life. 

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 35: Helgrinding Through

And we keep plunging into the literary abyss that is Eragon. But this chapter was much better than the past few because–wait for it–something actually happens!

The chapter, “Worshipers of Helgrind” starts with Eragon going out to explore the city of Dras-Leona. The chapter title comes from the citizens of Dras-Leona, who worship Helgrind, the mountain that looms above the city.

Does anyone else think that the name “Helgrind” is just a little too on the nose?

While he’s wandering through the city, Eragon finds a slave auction. He plans to use magic to free a slave that’s being bid on, but realizes that the slave would never be able to escape. So finally, finally, Eragon has learned something. He realizes that he can’t save everyone, but if he fights against the Empire, he can help a lot of people. I’m not sure if I would call this a proper turning point for his character, as he’s never wanted to join the Empire. But at least it’s something.

Going back to the “Galby is a terrible autocrat” theory, sending the Ra’zac to capture Eragon and kill his family might be the worst possible way to get Eragon on his side. It’s a great way to ensure that a unique and soon-to-be very powerful young man hates you. Why couldn’t Galby start with something more appealing: “Join me, I’ll make you a king. You’ll have power and gold and your family will be safe.” That would be a much more interesting–and challenging–test of Eragon’s character.

Back to the matter at hand, Eragon visits a cathedral in the city.  I am actually curious about what Eragon believes in. Religion was never mentioned prior to Eragon and Brom arriving in Dras-Leona, so I’m curious as to what sort of faith they have, if any. When Eragon pays his respects in the cathedral, it’s not to any god (or Helgrind), but to the cathedral and its impressive architechture.

But remember when I promised that something happened in this chapter?

Something finally happens! When Eragon goes to leave the cathedral, the Ra’zac are standing in the entrance.

Now, since it’s been far too long since I’ve made fun of a single sentence…

A sibilant hiss came from the smaller Ra’zac.

I would like to nominate “sibilant hiss” as the most redundant phrase of the book so far.

He had chased the Ra’zac for so many weeks that the pain of their muderous deed had dulled withinin him. But his vengeance was at hand. His wrath exploded like a volcano[.]

I shit you not, I laughed outloud. There must be a way to do purple prose so it’s not so unintetionally funny. This isn’t it.

Eragon does try to fight the Ra’zac, but they’ve got the city guards backing them, and he’s outnumbered. When he finally gets in touch with Saphira (and through her, Brom), they agree that they’re outnumbered* and need to flee the city. They ride as far from the city as they can in the night and set up camp. Not long after they set up camp, Eragon falls unconscious.

He falls unconscious a lot. Let’s see…I think that’s four times so far. And, glancing ahead, it’s going to happen a few more times before the book is finished. It’s gotten to the point where it’s no longer dramatic, and Eragon is more reminiscent of a fragile anime girl or flimsy romantic heroine than a badass Dragon Rider. I’m not really a fan of the constantly fainting character anymore. I first noticed this in the Hunger Games series. Whenever Eragon (or Katniss) faints, when (s)he comes to, there’s someone ready to explain what happened while (s)he was out, instead of the character experiencing it and narrating it for themselves. The literal definition of telling rather than showing. In the cases of Eragon fainting because he used magic that took a lot of energy, it makes sense. But it just keeps happening over and over again, and no longer cares the suspense that it should.

*Outgunned, outmanned, outnumbered, outplanned

Eragon 32-33: Sunk Cost Fallacy

The next two chapters are mercifully short, but not exactly exciting. They did not, however, end with me shouting about Eragon’s stupidity, so that’s a slight plus. Chapter 32, “The Mire of Dras-Leona” is only a few pages, most of which is exposition about the city. I don’t mind it so much here, because it’s not convoluted rules of the universe. Brom is more like a tour guide than mentor here, and it’s a nice change of pace. I can just relax and accept what he’s saying, instead of scratching my head and cringing at lengthy and convoluted explanations.

One thing I did like in this chapter is that Saphira and Eragon discuss exactly what he plans to do after killing the Ra’zac. They don’t dwell on it too long, but I think it’s still a good point to bring up. If revenge is your character’s driving motivation, what do they do once they’ve achieved their goal? Saying, perhaps, that there are no jobs as the Dread Pirate Roberts available.

Before I get into the next chapter, I also want to point out that the inn Eragon and Brom are staying is is called “The Golden Globe”. Yeah.

The following chapter, “Trail of Oil” is pretty short, and pretty lazy. Brom and Eragon split up to search the city and see if they can track down the oil the Ra’zac use. Eragon wanders around the city and learns next to nothing, but Brom comes back with good information, which he then relays to Eragon. Just like everything else in this book. I feel like Paolini really skimmed over this. Brom discovering helpful information and just explaining it to Eragon is a lot easier than having Eragon learn something for himself. Worldbuilding and tutoring Eragon is one thing, but I’m getting really sick of this.

I’m also beginning to think that Galby is really terrible at being a dictator. Brom learns that he’s coming to Dras-Leona to punish the city’s leader for not being as obedient as the king would like. Okay, I can buy that. But Brom also says this is the first time Galby has left his stronghold in at least a decade.

Here’s the thing: I don’t get it. Galby is a threat to Eragon and Saphira, largely because he wants them under his control. He’s a threat to the as-of-yet unseen rebels, the Varden, because they openly oppose him. But the majority of the people he rules are not dragons, Dragon Riders, or rebels. It seems like the only thing he really cares about is ruling the dragons, not actually ruling the land or its people. He seems rather lackadaisical when it comes to being an evil dictator. Right now, it seems like he’s only a threat to Eragon and the Varden. We’re told over and over again that Galby’s evil, he’ll destroy everything you know and love, but we never really see it, and I’m definitely not feeling it. If Galby wants to be a true evil dictator, worthy of actually being reviled, he really needs to broaden his horizons.

Chapter 33 marks the halfway point of the novel. And so far, I’ve been pretty disappointed. When I decided to re-read Eragon, I knew that it wouldn’t ever be as good as it was when I was fourteen. I did not expect it to be so…boring. Most of the novel so far has been Eragon asking questions and Brom giving him the answers. If I didn’t know all this beforehand, it would probably be more interesting to me, but it’s really hard to get into this book and actually enjoy it.

This also might explain why I didn’t re-read Eragon after I first finished it until now. It’s not just that I knew the bulk of the story. There are books that I’ve read and re-read dozens of times, even after I know the story. It’s because of beautiful writing, or because something in it touched me, or because I just didn’t want to leave the story’s world. These are the books that you keep thinking about long after you’ve turned the last page.

Then there’s Eragon. I’ve critiqued the writing, the plot, the characters, and I’m not even sure that I should continue this endeavor. Only my pride (and the sunk cost fallacy) has really kept me from tossing the book out right now.

 

Eragon 29: Unique, Not Useful

After college, I got a job that required a lot of driving in vans that didn’t have CD players or aux cables. Only three radio stations came in clearly: Top 40, Christian rock, and country music. Thus, I began listening to a lot of country music, and generally hating it, but thought it was better than the alternatives. After a few months, I was happily singing along to the songs that I couldn’t stand.

I called this “musical Stockholm Syndrome”.

In the last few chapters, I was worried that I was developing “literary Stockholm Syndrome”, as I was actually enjoying Eragon a lot more than I expected. Would the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia block me from seeing the truth of this book?

Upon reading this chapter, I was glad to find that this was not the case. Maybe those chapters I’d liked so much were genuinely good. Once Brom and Eragon get on the road again, though, I can start looking at the story with a more critical eye. Or, rather, one that pokes and prods at tiny details that just happen to annoy me.

Like, Eragon asking Brom about werecats as they leave Terim. Eragon lies to Brom, saying it was just something that he heard about, not that he met Solembum or Angela. But why lie about that? Wouldn’t it be helpful to just be honest with Brom, who could probably help him sort this out?

On the plus side, Eragon is finally wising up and questioning Brom.

‘There’s a lot going on that I don’t understand. For instance, who are your ‘friends’, and why were you hiding in Carvahall? I trust you with my life–which is why I’m still traveling with you–but I need to know more about who you are and what you are doing. What did you steal in Gil’ead, and what is the tuatha du orothrim that you’re taking me through? I think that after all that’s happened, I deserve an explanation.’

To his credit, Brom answer most of Eragon’s questions about how Saphira’s egg was stolen from Galby, and partially how it came to Eragon. Brom doesn’t tell him everything, but that’s forgivable because Brom himself doesn’t know everything that happened. But he still won’t tell Eragon he was a Dragon Rider, and Eragon still doesn’t have a clue about that. Which, c’mon, he really should at this point.

What does Brom have to gain by withholding that information from him? How is that trying to protect him in the slightest?

Brom and Eragon also discuss his options as a Dragon Rider, and it seems that Eragon will eventually have to decide if he will side with the evil Empire, or the Varden, a group of rebels fighting against Galby. Brom claims that they’re not fighting for land or people, but for control over the first Dragon Rider in a million years. You know, so they can have him on their side to control the land and people.

Are those the only options? For someone whose fate is supposedly in his own hands, they seem like pretty limiting choices. There’s no way for Eragon and Saphira to strike out on their own?

When Eragon relays the story of how Saphira’s egg came to him, we get this.

He told Saphira what he had learned. She was intrigued by Brom’s revelations, but recoiled from the thought of being one of Galbatorix’s possessions. At last she said, ‘Aren’t you glad you didn’t stay in Carvahall?’

That’s it, and it’s pretty disappointing. I want to see Saphira’s reaction to this news, I don’t want to be told about it. Considering her terror just at the presence of the Ra’zac in Carvahall, I thought there’d be a lot more from her at this news. If nothing else, at least she switches back to sarcasm pretty quickly.

A little later on, Eragon breaks his wrist at an inconvenient time, when a band of Urgals start chasing after him, Brom, and Saphira. Since Eragon can’t ride his horse, he rides on Saphira to get away from the Urgals. This leaves Brom riding on the ground, and the Urgals are threatening to overtake Brom. Instead of trying to protect Brom or fight the Urgals with magic, or even have Saphira attack them from the sky, he has her land in front of the Urgals.

Not on them. In front of them. To his credit, this does throw the Urgals from their horses, and makes the horses fall and get tangled up in each other. They’ve been significantly slowed, but he still doesn’t have Saphira attack them, or have her fly away.  Instead, he wants to talk to them.

‘We have do do something!’ exclaimed Eragon.

‘What?’

‘Land in front of the Urgals!’

‘Are you crazy?’ demanded Saphira.

Listen to your dragon, kid.

Eragon wants to talk to the Urgals, presumably to get information out of them. When the conversation seems to be going nowhere, Eragon just uses magic to injure them. Not kill them, note. You know, the same thing he could have done from the safety of the air.

Eragon, just because you are unique does not mean that you are useful.

Eragon 27-28: Of Reading and Plots

Pardon the unexpected hiatus…I just moved to a new state! Hopefully this blog will be back on track now that I’m a bit more settled in.

Chapter 27, “Of Reading and Plots” is…wait, is that seriously the chapter title?

Well, it’s boring, but I guess it’s better than “The Doom of Innocence”.

This is another disproportionately short chapter, and it mainly outlines Eragon’s time in Terim. There’s a severe lack of Saphira in this chapter, but it’s noted that she’s lonely hiding outside the city, with Eragon only being able to visit her in the evenings.

One thing that I wondered about most during this chapter is Eragon’s reading progress. He spends his morning with Brom learning how to read. After a week, he can read, albeit slowly, a page without Brom’s help. As far as cognitive development goes, most children are ready to read by ages 5 or 6. How long would it take to teach a fifteen-year-old to read? On one hand, it might take less time than a young child, because in theory, he’s already developed the cognition to be able to read, but just hasn’t put it into practice. On the other hand, even though he’s still young, his brain is already less plastic than a young child’s, and it would take longer for him to learn something new. This is why learning a new language is easier for children than adults.

Eragon also has a dream where he sees a beautiful chained woman and wakes up sobbing uncontrollably. I know it’s supposed to make me sad as well, but really…I don’t feel anything.

He saw a young woman, bent over by sorrow, chained in a cold, hard cell. A beam of moonlight shone through a barred window set high in the wall and fell on her face. A single tear rolled down her cheek, like a liquid diamond.

…except for maybe chuckling at the phrase “liquid diamond”. Nice one, Paolini.

Moving on to the next chapter, Brom, Eragon, and Jeod prepare to make their way into the castle where records are kept, so they can try to track down the oil the Ra’zac used.

From his waist swung an elegant rapier and a leather pouch. Brom eyed the rapier and observed, ‘That toad sticker is too thin for any real fighting. What will you do if someone comes after you with a broadsword or flamberge?’

‘Be realistic,’ said Joed. ‘None of the guards has a flamberge. Besides, this toad sticker is faster than a broadsword.’

For an embarrassingly long time, that paragraph was the only thing I knew about different types of swords. When I was writing my generic fantasy novels in high school, almost all the characters used rapiers because of Eragon, or katanas because I was a weeaboo nerd.

What’s really notable about this chapter is all the missed chances for excitement. They bribe their way into the records room and read as many scrolls as they can trying to find the route the oil took. Because that’s what I love about fantasy novels, watching the protagonists read about taxes and shipments.

Actually, I do like that they’re being practical about tracing the oil, with no over-the-top theatrics or magical aid. When they’re caught in the records room, though, there’s no chase scene, no fight…just Brom and Eragon hiding while Jeod deflects the guards, and they all sneak out safely.

Once they return to Jeod’s house, they pull out a map and look at all the cities the oil’s been shipped to, hoping they can find the right one that will lead them to the Ra’zac. This is when I’m really glad the book has a map of [Algaseia] on the front and back covers, so it’s easier to follow what the characters are talking about. Without it, a lot of what they’re saying would be nonsense, like when you listen to someone talk about places you’ve never heard of.

[T]he oil wasn’t sent to all of them. The parchment only lists Kuasta, Dras-Leona, and Belatona. Kuasta wouldn’t work for the Ra’zac; it’s on the coast and surrounded by mountains. Aroughs is isolated like Ceunon, though it is a center of trade. That leaves Belatona and Dras-Leona, which are rather close together. Of the two, I think Dras-Leona is likelier. It’s larger and better situated. 

That really bugs me. Eragon’s supposed to be this simple farm boy. He’s likely to have never left Palancar Valley before this story begins, and only just learned to read. But suddenly he knows all about geography and of places he’s never seen before, just by looking at a map?

This is the same issue I had with the dialogue before. Make it flowery or plain, give me an educated young man or a simple farm boy–I just want consistency. Is that so much to ask?

Although, Joed brings up something I hadn’t thought of.

If someone were to die from Seither oil in Galbatorix’s court, it would be all to easy for an earl or some other lord to discover that the Empire has been buying large amounts of it.

I always pictured Galby in some desolate stronghold, mad and alone. The idea that he has a “court”, like lords and ladies, nobility…it doesn’t fit in my mind. I’m having a hard time getting the two ideas to mesh.

But also, why would anyone care if their autocrat has the dangerous oil? What would people do? Protest? Riot? Why would they? That’s one good thing about being an amoral, evil dictator. You don’t have to worry about public opinion, because you can just execute the public whose opinions you don’t like.

 

Eragon 26: Literary Stockholm Syndrome

I’m beginning to worry that I have some kind of literary Stockholm Syndrome, because I’ve actually been enjoying Eragon lately.

“The Witch and the Werecat” is another chapter I was looking forward to reading. We’re properly introduced to Angela and the werecat Solembum, both of whom I’ve always rather liked.

Angela is a fictionalized version of Paolini’s sister, and that makes me wonder a couple things. First of all, how much is the real Angela like her fantasy counterpart? There’s no real way I can answer that, so the next question would be, “is it really okay to put someone you know in real life into your novel?”

My immediate thought is to recoil from the idea, but that is largely Twilight‘s fault, considering that waste of paper was originally written as a story for Stephanie Meyers’s sister. Yes, I know Eragon and Twilight are very different books, and Eragon came first, so I’m really not being fair about this. Putting a person you know in real life into a book also brings up the thought of a self-insert main character. I’ve both read and written enough fanfiction to tell you that self-inserts more often than not lead to Mary Sues and bad writing.

So I was a little wary when I came across Angela again, and I have to say that I still legitimately like the character. She’s not some beautiful woman, she’s an old, quirky witch who’s a lot of fun to watch, and I’m glad that she comes back later in the series.

Now, what about the werecat?

Eragon first sees Solembum and assumes he’s a normal cat, and tries to reach out to him with his mind. Solembum responds using the same type of mental communication Eragon shares with Saphira, and Eragon just assumes that he’s talking to her. It was probably done for humorous effect, but he can’t tell the difference between Solembum and his dragon? Really?

The werecat blinked lazily. ‘Knowing is independent of being. I did not know you existed before you bumbled in here and ruined my nap. Yet that doesn’t mean you weren’t real before you woke me.’

…Did Solembum just drop a Schrodinger reference that I would have never understood at age fourteen?

Angela, the herbalist, offers to read Eragon’s real fortune using the knuckle bones of a dragon. This was another scene that I liked a lot as a kid. When I was reading Eldest, I would frequently go back to this scene and try to figure out how all the things Angela tells him would play out.

One of the things Angela starts with is weird to me, though. After casting the bones, she says that Eragon is one of the few that is free to choose his own fate. I honestly would expect the opposite of that Saphira’s egg would have never hatched if he hadn’t touched it–I would call that destiny. I’d think that people more like Jeod and Angela, ordinary people, would have more choice in their lives than Eragon. He has to be a Dragon Rider; there’s no way he can back out.

The bones also promise an epic romance. Yeah, right. It became obvious to me when I first read this book that he would fall in love with Arya, the elf woman in the prologue. In Eldest, he does confess that he loves her, and they are friends, but she often treats Eragon with disdain. I never finished reading the third book in the series, Brisingr, but I didn’t feel a whole lotta love between the two of them there, either.

Plus, Eragon’s confession in Eldest is just cringe-worthy.

The last part of his fortune was that Eragon would be betrayed by someone in his own family. He objects to this right away, saying that his cousin Roran wouldn’t do anything like that.

I make fun of Eragon a lot here for failing to see the obvious, but this was a twist that took me by surprise when it happened near the end of Eldest, and Eragon’s long-lost brother shows up. I really think I should’ve seen that one coming.

Before Eragon leaves the shop, he receives two more pieces of advice from Solembum.

When the time comes and you need a weapon, look under the roots of the Menoa tree. Then, when all seem lost and your power is insufficient, go to the rock of Kuthian and speak your name to open the Vault of Souls.

I haven’t read far enough into the series to know what the “Vault of Souls” is, but I’m intrigued, despite myself.

Like in the previous chapter, I think the foreshadowing is handled well here. Some of the things in Eragon’s fortune happen in this book, and there’s enough information to keep me interested in learning how these things will come to pass.

 

 

 

Eragon 24-25: Saphira is Still the Best

Moving right along, chapter 24 was another short chapter, but still better than the previous one. Eragon and Brom arrive in Teirm, a large city on the coast. Here, they hope to find a record of the merchant that brought the oil the Ra’zac used. This chapter is largely description of the city, with Brom playing tour guide. We learn the layout of the city, and how it keeps Teirm safe. The only things I really thought were notable about this chapter was just how generic the tavern Brom and Eragon visited, and Eragon and Saphira’s relationship.

Every writers has been told, “show, don’t tell” more than once. Reading Eragon this time around, I realized that most of Eragon’s and Saphira’s relationship in the beginning of the novel was a lot of telling. In recent chapters, we finally get more showing, especially when Saphira demanded that Eragon started flying with her. It gives us this small exchange, too.

“But Brom and I do have some advantages most people don’t. We’ll be all right.”

“If anything happens, I’m going to pin you to my back and never let you off.”

“I love you too.”

At least, I think it’s sweet.

I didn’t think that I would like this chapter. It’s longer than the previous two combined, and I thought it would be more dialogue-heavy exposition. Then something strange happened. I actually started getting into it.

In Teirm, Brom meets up with an old friend, Jeod, who’s quite surprised to see him again. For starters, Jeod thought that Brom was dead, probably for decades. And, suddenly, I wished that I could read this book for the first time again. I’m going to be intrigued by nearly anything that involves faking your death, or leading others to believe you’re dead, especially when you don’t know why the character did that. When I read Jeod’s and Brom’s reunion, I remembered how much I’d wanted to know about Brom’s past when I first read this at fourteen.

This chapter is full of mystery about Brom’s past and Jeod’s identity. When they think Eragon can’t hear them, they discuss places and people Eragon hasn’t heard of: Trojenhiem, Ajihad, Surda. Some of those names you’ll find on the map on the front and back covers, but a lot of it is still unknown. Being able to identify Surda on the map doesn’t mean you know what’s going on there, or why it’s important.

In fiction, having questions the audience wants answered helps keep them hooked. It’s the same reason I’m still reading A Song of Ice and Fire. I don’t necessarily enjoy the books, but goddammit, I need to know what happens next! But at the same time, having too many questions without enough answers can also frustrate the audience and make them give up on the story. This was a problem with shows like Lost and Heroes: questions that never get resolutions.

I think Paolini handled this well. Everything that Brom and Jeod discuss out of Eragon’s earshot (or so they think) is explained and resolved by the end of this book. The plot moves forward from there, giving us more questions, more plots–and they get resolved in the next book. There’s enough there that I want to know more and keep reading, but not too much that it makes me crazy and want to give up on the work.

I have to give props for the glossary in the back of the book, which translates words and phrases from the Ancient Language into English. It gives us enough information to get us through the novel, but it doesn’t give too much away.

I also like Saphira’s sarcasm when Eragon attempts to climb up a cliff to see her, and gets stuck.

You’re right. After all, how can a mere dragon expect to tell a man like yourself what to do? In fact, everyone should stand in awe of your brilliance of finding the only dead end. Why, if you had started a few feet in either direction, the path to the top would have been clear.

Saphira would make a good blogger.

There’s even a dose of realism added. At this point I’m trying not to get too hung up on the details of smaller things, like, “Shouldn’t Eragon have scurvy by now because he’s only been eating meat for weeks?” But I really appreciate that Eragon doesn’t know how to read, like the good medieval peasant he is. It irks me a bit that Garrow could somehow read, but I won’t let it detract too much from this.

If there’s one thing that I don’t like in this chapter, it’d be how Brom spells out the reasons why Eragon can’t contact Roran, or try to draw the Ra’zac off his tail. As much as it I appreciate Brom’s practicality, I think the “stay in hiding so you can protect the ones you love” conversation went on just a bit too long, and it’s nothing new or exciting. Peter Parker could have told you the same thing in fewer words.

Well, at least Roran’s not dead. Someday I’ll elaborate on why I hate the “everyone I love is dead” trope, but for now, that’s another post altogether.

 

 

Eragon 22-23: Not Half Bad

Something unusual happened. I actually liked this chapter. While I was looking forward to reading flying scenes, especially because I’m a student pilot. However, I was sure that they would only disappoint. They did not. I even loved Eragon’s anticipation as he prepares to fly with Saphira.

Saphira waited impatiently while Eragon tightened the bands around his legs. Are you ready? she asked.

He sucked in the fresh morning air. No, but let’s do it!

That is exactly how I feel when I’m getting ready to take off. I’m always nervous and excited, but pretty soon, the sheer joy of being able to fly takes over. Then the book describes Saphira’s grace, riding on updrafts, performing aerial maneuvers…and I almost exploded in nerdy joy when Eragon sees that Saphira uses her tail as a rudder. And then, then it gets even better when Saphira lets Eragon enter her mind see the world through her eyes, feel the sheer joy of flying. GOD I WANT TO DO THIS SO BAD WHY ARE DRAGONS FICTIONAL.

It’s a good thing there’s only one of me right now, because I can’t even.

Okay, time to take a deep breath, and stop fangirling.

After weeks spent tracking the Ra’zac, it seems that Eragon and Brom have finally lost the trail. That they managed to have it for that long is kind of dubious to me, but whatever, at this point I’m along for the ride. The Ra’zac appear to have taken flight, which kind of begs the question why they took so long to fly away in the first place. Also, having not found Saphira or Eragon in Carvahall, I feel like they were doing a really shitty job of finding Saphira. Wrecking Eragon’s farm was the equivalent of leaving the hero for dead in a cunning trap, and anyone who’s ever watched a Bond movie knows how that ends.

My brain just stopped for a second. I just realized the Ra’zac are Ringwraiths. I guess I can’t like this chapter anymore.

Along with the flying, though, I’m glad that the plot’s finally moving along. Eragon finds a flask of oil that’s used to burn flesh and muscle, and nothing else. That’s pretty fucked up. Brom elucidates some of them ways it could be used against your enemies and generally be cruel. The teenage version of myself (and the part of me that likes to torture characters) thinks that’s awesome. More than I want to admit.

I also like that Brom and Eragon decide to use a decidedly mundane method of tracking the Ra’zac after they find the oil. No spells, no mind-reading, just tracking where the oil was shipped from and to. It’s as simple as finding the right document. And after so much swords and sorcery, I appreciate this practical approach.

I’m glad I liked this chapter, because the next one was just padding. I really can’t see how this made it into the final cut of the novel. Eragon is curious about what the ocean is like, and Brom tells him “the sea is emotion incarnate”. What?

Most of this chapter is, essentially, a montage. Eragon and Brom traveling, practicing swordplay and learning how to use magic. So little happens in this chapter that the most memorable line might be when Eragon thinks, “Everything about me is turning hard.” He’s thinking about his muscles and how fit he’s becoming, but I’m still immature enough to snort at that. Then I remember that this book was written by a fifteen-year-old. I’m only picturing a young Christopher Paolini also laughing at that line, or trying to convince someone that it’s so deep. The latter is what I would have done at fifteen, and the former is what I’m doing now. Because I am still a child and low-hanging fruit will always make me chuckle.

 

 

 

Eragon 21: Do NPCs Really Need Names?

Apologies for the unexpected pause in posting; a death in my boyfriend’s family have slowed down blogging for the time being.

I wonder if I’m being too hard on Eragon. As much as I make fun of it, I love high fantasy. My favorite games are the Dragon Age series, I’ve already made references to Lord of the Rings on this blog, and obviously I fell in love with The Chronicles of Narnia before my age had even reached double digits. I’m working through A Song of Ice and Fire, and I have d20 in my purse right now, just in case a Dungeons & Dragons game pops up.

In short, I am a nerdy, and sometimes my thoughts betray how nerdy I actually am. Because, as I was reading this chapter, one of my first thoughts was, “Brom would make a great rogue…maybe who took a few levels in wizard…no, he multi-classed to Spellsword.”

Then I decided maybe I should go outside for a little bit.

When Eragon and Brom  enter another town to re-supply. Paolini runs into the same problem I have at times when I write background characters: naming them. If they’re only appearing in one scene and never again, their names are that important. But it’s really annoying to write or read “the man with the mole” or something of that ilk every time the character gets mentioned. A lot of the time, it’s just easier to give the NPC a name than refer to them by their description, however inconsequential they are. In Eragon, these bit characters often volunteer their names upon meeting Eragon and Brom. When I write brief meetings, I often don’t have the background characters give their names. Usually, I’ll have another character call them by their proper name, at which point “the man with the mole” can be called by his name in the narration. It honestly rarely occurs to me to just have minor characters introduce themselves.

I’m not sure if you’d have guessed, but the girl who blogs about fantasy books and has a home-made Jedi robe in her closet is something of an introvert. For most of my life I have been afraid of people and social situations, and especially the telephone. Even though I’m much more sociable and outgoing now than I was as a kid, I’m still not a person to generally start conversations, and it almost never occurs to me to tell someone my name. Last month I spent an hour talking to someone I met in an airport, and we had a great conversation, and I never told him my name, nor did I learn his. So my question is this: do “normal” people ever just directly introduce themselves?

Trevor, the minor character that Brom and Eragon meet, tells them that traveling has become dangerous with Urgals attacking their villages, and says that the king should be doing something about this. Brom, for whatever reason, agrees.

Wait. Didn’t we establish several chapters ago that the king is crazy and evil? Yet Brom thinks that Galby should know that Urgals are getting organized and attacking people? And no one ever thought that maybe, just maybe the Big Bad had something to do with this?

merida-headdesk

Also, we get this gem from Eragon.

“And you can do this even though you aren’t a rider?” asked Eragon.

Eragon, HOW ARE YOU THIS DUMB?!

There were a couple things I did like about this chapter, though. First, Brom teaches Eragon about communicating mentally with other sentient creatures, the same way that Eragon is able to talk to Saphira. Though years of playing DnD has made me disagree with Brom’s definition of sentience, it is a cool idea to be able to communicate with any living creature. The exposition didn’t have the clunky handling, either, as it did in some previous chapters. And there’s also this small piece of brilliance from Brom.

Think about it: you can communicate with any sentient being, though the contact may not be very clear. You could spend the entire day listening to a bird’s thoughts or understanding how an earthworm feels during a rainstorm But I’ve never found birds very interesting. I suggest starting with a cat; they have unusual personalities.

Yes. As the proud owner of one the derpiest cats on the planet, I agree so hard. Think of all the other famous fictional cats: the Cheshire Cat, the pirate cat in The Last Unicorn, and…okay, that’s all the cats I can think of, save perhaps Thackery Binx, who isn’t even really a cat.

But wouldn’t you love to know what Princess Monster Truck is thinking? I sure would.

princess-monster-truck

She is everything that is right with the internet.

Even better, my cries for more Saphira have been heard. She tackles Eragon and demands that he start flying with her so she can keep him safe. Some of her dialogue makes her sound like a concerned mom, but I’m happy she’ll be in the story more after this. Now that I’m a pilot, I’m also looking forward to reading more flying scenes, which I suspect will be much different from Eragon’s first flight.