Two states and one long hiatus later, I’m back. And so is Eragon.
Fasten your seat belts, kids, this is gonna be a long one.
Well, chapter 53, “Ajihad”, is going to be a long one. The chapter before it, “The Glory of Tronjheim” is much shorter, and a lot less interesting.
From the start of chapter 52, I thought it was going to be a bit more standard for the book. After all, it starts with Eragon’s ham-fisted and direct characterization of Murtagh while they’re stuck in a cell in Tronjheim together. Then, he goes to examine a lantern nearby. The description of the lamp takes up an entire paragraph.
I should have known then. How could I not see it?
This is not a chapter with plot. It is ten pages of description as Eragon goes from one part of the city to another.
Credit where it’s due: I’ve given Paolini a lot of shit here, but descriptions are one thing he does well. My favorite scenes in this book are Eragon and Saphira flying, or swimming in Leona Lake. Those moments are what make me keep reading this, because they capture something magical and beautiful.
There are authors who can evoke the setting in such a way that it becomes another character. Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It does this magnificently and Terry Pratchett’s Ankh-Morpork is familiar to me as any city I’ve walked through in real life.
I don’t think Paolini is quite at that level yet, but I’m honestly envious of his talent for description. It’s one thing that I’m always struggling to improve in my own writing.
Hey, Paolini, wanna team up? I’ll bring the characters, you bring the setting, and together we’ll make something halfway decent!
The real problem I have with this chapter is that it just kind of drags on. Nothing happens, other than “Eragon went here and saw a pretty thing. Then he went here and saw another pretty thing.”
I’m sure there’s someone who really liked this chapter for that reason. But that wasn’t me.
The next chapter, though, is much more interesting. Eragon meets Ajihad, the leader of the Varden, and our old friend “intense” makes a comeback!
He bore himself with great dignity, exuding an intense, commanding air.
Still not great writing, but at least “intense” makes more sense here.
Then Ajihad tells Eragon something truly baffling about the bald man who went through Eragon’s memories. He has a twin brother, equally bald and magical. But the truly bewildering part is that neither of the twins have names.
How the hell do they not have names? How hard is it to give someone a name? “From now on you’re George and you’re Elliot? You like those names? Cool.” See? It’s that easy. The Varden are literally denying these mages an identity. Treating them as non-persons is just asking them to betray you.
This all gets hand-waved away, though, because Ajihad discovers Murtagh’s identity by recognizing…Morzan’s voice. Apparently Murtagh and Morzan sound similar.
Much as I want to call bullshit on the “hereditary voice tone”, I can’t, because I’m told that I have the same voice as my mom. So I’ll give this one a pass.
Anyway, Murtagh refuses to let the Twins see into his mind, while he and Ajihad toss the word “probe” around a few more times, just to make everyone uncomfortable.
And Murtagh is so, so stupid. He thinks that everyone in the Varden will treat him like an outcast if they know who he is, which is entirely possible. Or–and stay with me here, Murtagh–he could just let the Twins examine him. Not only would he have information about Galby’s court that the Varden could use, they would see that he hates Galby.
Of course, no one can see this blatantly obvious solution, so Murtagh is imprisoned indefinitely. I know conflict is supposed to propel story, but this just seems so…unnecessary.
Eragon and Ajihad go one to discuss Eragon’s adventures thus far, and Eragon tells him about fighting and presumably killing the Shade Durza. But whenever I read a description of Durza, with his white face and red hair, he just sounds like Ronald McDonald to me. I guess clowns can be scary, but a fast food mascot hardly strikes fear into my heart.
Ajihad also fills Eragon in on just how Saphira’s egg wound up in the Spine, where our hero found it. This is important information and answers a lot of questions from the beginning of the book, and normally I like backstory. What I do not like, however, is a single character droning on for pages without any pause from the dialogue.
The tl;dr version is this: Brom stole Saphira’s egg, which will only hatch when the right person touches it. The egg is ferried between the Varden and the Elves, and the kids of each group would gather ’round and touch it, and see if it hatched. If it did, Brom and the Elves would share the responsibility of training the new Rider. Arya was attacked by Durza while transporting the egg, and magically teleported it to the Spine, where Eragon found it.
A few things here.
First of all, a species that can only reproduce by the right person touching its eggs might be the worst means of keeping a species alive. No wonder the dragons died out. Galby didn’t kill them all, their poor breeding techniques did!
Secondly, Arya is a princess, because of course she is. Why is she doing the dirty work of moving the egg from place to place? Doesn’t she have princessy things to do?
And what the hell was Brom doing in Carvahall in the first place? Eragon’s village is literally on the other side of the world from both the Varden and the Elven homeland. He couldn’t have known that the egg would disappear and then reappear in the Spine. Logically, he should have been with the Varden the whole time.
I’m not sure these questions are ever actually answered. At least, not as far as I’ve read in the series. At some point it’s revealed that Eragon is actually Brom’s son, so it’s possible Brom went to Carvahall to keep an eye on him. If I wanted to confirm this, though, I’d probably have to finish reading the series, but I have good books to read instead.
After the history lesson, Ajihad also tells Eragon some of the goings-on at the Varden, including encrypted notes discussing a place called Ithrö Zhâda.
After I read that, I had to put the book down and weep for the flagrant abuse of accent marks, circumflexes, and diaereses spread throughout this book.
I strongly suspect Paolini didn’t give a flying fuck as to how things actually sounded and just put special characters all over the place because they looked cool.
Though, to be fair, I would’ve done the same thing as a fifteen-year-old novelist.
But I digress. The notes and other evidence points to the Varden having a traitor in their midst. Well, gee, I wonder who that could be. The only other people we’ve met so far who don’t have names and the Varden doesn’t treat like human beings? And if the answer “The Twins” really isn’t that obvious, why doesn’t Ajihad just have the Twins scan everyone and see if they’re the traitors?
I’m beginning to think Ajihad is not such a great leader.
I’ll leave you with one last cringey quote from Eragon, which came straight out of nowhere:
I’ll fight when needed, revel when there’s occasion, mourn when there is grief, and die if my time comes…but I won’t let anyone use me against my will.