Eragon 56-57: Fantasy Pet Peeves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s back up here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eragon 54-55: Stupid is as Stupid Does

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

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

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

How. Can no one. Suspect them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wait, what?

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

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

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

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

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

Snow Drop Chap. 3: Brotherly Love

At school later, it turns out Hae-Gi doesn’t remember anything from his drunkfest at Romeo. The next day at school, he tries to give So-Na her nursery key back. Here, So-Na makes a critical mistake: as she’s reaching for the key, she admits that she lost Hae-Gi’s marble.

 I know that characters making bad decisions is important for fiction, but the key is literally in her hand. All she had to do is make a fist, and it would be hers again. So-Na couldn’t wait a whole ten seconds to tell him that she lost his marble. Hae-Gi snatches the key away and gets really, really mad at her. Reasonable, and  we get this one moment out of Hae-Gi, when he tells her that there’s something she still needs to learn.

THANK YOU.

So-Na is so haughty, she’s unlikable and unrelatable. I was pretty glad to see Hae-Gi cut her down to size here. Not that she learns her lesson.

What follows over the next few pages is some verbal barbs and taunting between the two. Because we all know that the foundation for a long, happy relationship is animosity.

Instead of just apologizing and trying not to be a giant dick. So-Na dresses up like she’s going clubbing and stalks Hae-Gi to the store where he works. Her plan appears to be to look good and demand her key back. As you might imagine, she fails.

Hae-Gi is more interested in cutting So-Na down to size, and will let give her her key back, if she mops and helps clean up the store. When she complains that she can’t mop in her high-heeled shoes, Hae-Gi lends her his.

That would normally be a detail I wouldn’t mention here, but So-Na wears his shoes home. When I first read that, I thought it was kind of cute, but now I see a big problem with it.

I don’t think those will fit.

What the hell is Hae-Gi going to wear home?!

I also want to point out that it’s established that Hae-Gi is the “poor kid” who has two jobs to support his family. He shouldn’t have to worry about a girl stealing his shoes when he has money troubles enough. So-Na, you’re a jerk.

But there’s something way more at stake here than just Hae-Gi’s shoes.

Maybe an image like that isn’t out of place in a romance series. At first So-Na thinks that the person with Hae-Gi is a sexy girlfriend Hae-Gi’s been hiding. This is incorrect for two reasons, the first being that the long-haired person is actually a guy.

The second is that that guy is Hae-Gi’s brother.

I wish I could insert a sound effect of brakes squealing, as that image makes my brain come to a sudden stop. Also, that brotherly almost kiss is explained, by…well, like this:

Okay, I get it, it was used for comedy, just to create some confusion for So-Na. But then Ha-Da comes along, sees Ko-Mo, and immediately falls in love. Neither Hae-Gi or So-Na bother to tell him that Ko-Mo’s a boy.

Ha-Da doesn’t find out that Ko-Mo’s male until the fourth or fifth book in the series. Hae-Gi and So-Na let him think Ko-Mo’s a girl for…who knows how long?

What great friends.

Anyway, So-Na got her key back, if anyone actually cares.

God, why am I reading this?

Rave Master Cap. 10-11: In Your Eyes

Chapter 10 starts with Haru and Elie meeting up, both happy to tell the other that they’ve found Musica, which might have resulted in some kind of “Who’s on first” comedy, if not for the fact that our heroes get interrupted by Demon Card goons. Haru, Hot-or-Not Musica and Elie start fighting with the mooks, though Elie is quickly rendered useless when her tonfa blasters stop working.

There are also puns.

I love a good pun (is that an oxymoron?), but this just made me groan, and I’m pretty sure the thirteen-year-old version of me was rolling her eyes as well. The trio seem to be in a tight spot, but are saved by a drunken Plue, stabbing his nose into their feet. Why no one thought to kick a small, uncoordinated animal is beyond me. Did their sisters also teach them you shouldn’t be cruel to animals?

Once Haru, Elie, and Musica #2 are out of danger, Musica reveals that his family was killed in an accident years ago, and the blacksmith is clearly a fraud. I think this is supposed to build tension, but if you’ve ever watched an anime or read a manga, you already know that the two Musicas are going to be long-lost something or others, and probably have special powers because of that.

Anyway, it turns out Haru did leave the Rave stone with Musica the Blacksmith, because…


You met the guy twenty minutes ago, and he was horribly, horribly drunk. You’ve been attacked, and have been told that the country only gets more dangerous as you travel. WHY THE HELL DID YOU GIVE HIM THE RAVE STONE?!

I’ll let Musica the Blacksmith sum up my thoughts on this chapter:

Moving on to chapter 11, we get our first glimpse of Lance. He wastes no time in kidnapping Elie, and this is where I realize that she’ll probably be pretty useless for the rest of the series. From what I remember, another volume of Rave Master consists of almost nothing but Elie needing Haru to rescue her. I don’t remember a lot of the series aside from some scenes that really stood out, but I really, really hope that she won’t be the damsel in distress all time time. Lance gives Haru two hours to bring him the Rave stone, or he’ll kill Elie. Because this is still early in the series, there’s no real need to be original, right?

Haru goes back to Musica the Blacksmith to get his sword repaired, only to find Musica being attacked by mooks. Musica says that he’s hidden the Rave somewhere they’ll never find it. To me, that sounds like a secret hiding spot, maybe someplace in his disused forge, or underneath a floorboard, or maybe Musica has a secret room full of awesome swords that he’s forged in the past. Or, you know, in a drawer in plain view of everyone.

The goons are cleared out with a couple punches and Haru explains the situation to Musica. Musica initially refuses to fix the Ten Powers sword, citing that he’s old and washed up. That doesn’t take a keen observer to see. Haru convinces Musica to forge a sword again, not by impressing upon him the need to have a weapon and save Elie’s life–but because he believes in him. 

I’ve read a lot of manga in my time, and this is a medium that truly believes that eyes are the windows to the soul. “You still love him, I can see it in your eyes.” Or, “You’re strong, I see it in your eyes.” Or, perhaps most shojo of all, “You’ve got fire in your eyes.” It seems like a cool sentiment the first time you read it, but then you read it over, and over, and over again. It would seem that all you need to perform a small miracle in the face of insurmountable odds is to look deeply into someone’s eyes and tell them what you see there. In this case, its “You’re better than that. I can see it in your eyes.”

Musica isn’t so readily swayed by Haru’s Peter Gabriel-esque charm, but decides to fix the sword when he learns that Haru will be fighting Lance. Lance, it turned out, killed Musica’s entire family.

When I was a kid, I thought Lance was evil, evil, evil. He killed Musica’s family for no reason! How much worse could you get?

And that’s the problem with Lance that I see as a grown-up. He had no characteristics other than being a psychopath. He is evil for the sake of being evil. He reasons behind it, his motivations, are never further explored. The only backstory we have on this guy is that he killed Musica’s family.

I’m not against fictional psychopathic characters, as long as they’re interesting. There are plenty of well-written characters who are evil for shits ‘n’ giggles, the kind that give you chills when you think about how anyone could be that coldblooded. Not Lance. If we knew anything about him other than “I like to kill things”, maybe he could have been a great villain. Instead, he just falls flat.

 

Rave Master Chap. 7-8: My Sister Taught Me That!

Haru was mostly raised by his older sister, and he really took whatever she taught him to heart. I know this, because he’s always talking about, “my sister taught me that!” I remember that he said something along those lines a lot early in the series, and I remember that it really annoyed me. Possibly because I was thirteen when I first read these books, and therefore my older sister – if you were to ask me – was an idiot. Re-reading these now, it still bugs me a little bit. Not because Haru’s taking his older sister’s advice, but because he mentions “my sister told me…” so often. The other reason is because everything that Haru’s sister has taught him is completely obvious.

Take a drink every time Haru talks about what his sister taught him.

Really, Haru? Dogs are getting impaled on spikes and exploded, but you need your sister’s advice to figure out that animal cruelty is bad?

Despite Elie’s warnings, Haru interrupts the race again. This was Georco’s plan all along, of course: to put Plue in the dangerous race and lure Haru out. Now, there is one thing, and one thing only I will applaud Georco on: he learned from his mistakes. Instead of fighting Haru out in the open, where another explosion could blow his gaseous form away, Georco traps him in a giant steel box with no way out – in other words, no fresh air for Haru to breathe. It kind of begs the question why Georco had a giant, ten foot tall box laying around in the first place, but I can forgive that, because the ridiculous trap was pretty effective. However, I cannot forgive Georco for constantly referring to it as the “Smoke Hiz-ouse”. A part of me died every time I had to read that phrase.

Without oxygen, Haru can’t make explosions, and so it looks like he’s screwed.

The day is saved by Elie, and I love that, purely because it’s the girl saving the guy, and not the other way around. She uses her tonfa blasters (which are like side-arm cannons, I actually like them) to blow up the smoke house to let Haru escape. Plue manages to steal Georco’s dark bring, so he can no longer turn himself into gas. Out in the open again, Haru delivers the final blow to Georco, thus finishing our first Monster of the Week.

With all the action, there wasn’t a lot of plot in Chapter 7, so we’ll move on to Chapter 8.

Now that Georco’s been taken down, Haru and Elie take a minute to talk. Of course, this is after Elie nearly blows up half the stadium with her tonfa blasters.

That’s actually good advice, Haru. Don’t stick it in crazy.

 It turns out the Elie knows where to find Musica, the blacksmith that can repair Haru’s sword. She also reveals what little there is to reveal about her backstory: she has lost her memory. It’s a tired trope at this point, but what I like about Elie is that she’s not angsty about it. There’s plenty of “waaah, I can’t remember!” characters out there, but Elie is happy, excitable, and generally a fun character, rather than being mopey about it. She doesn’t take up too much time feeling sorry for herself, which is nice to see. Yes, she would like her memory back, but she’s also not going to let herself be miserable over it.

Haru and Elie decide to leave Hip Hop Town together. They say that Demon Card is out of commission, so they won’t have to pay the fee to leave. But how does punching the daylights out of Georco take down an evil organization that’s clearly taken over the town? I’m sure Georco has some underlings who would gladly take over his role as boss. Or maybe that’s the end of dog racing in Hip Hop Town forever because Elie completely destroys the stadium.

Seriously. She’s so excited to be leaving town with Haru that she lets off another couple shots from her tonfa blaster and the stadium starts to collapse. Her reason:

The duo escape the stadium by…jumping on a chariot pulled by dogs. I’m not joking. This whole series is so goofy, though, that I think I’ve learned just to go with it by now.

 We’re nearly at the end of the chapter, but there’s just one more thing I want to bring up. We get a brief cutaway to some of Demon Card’s generals, hanging out in the fortress Rhapsodia.

This is when it hit me.

Rhapsodia, like “rhapsody”. Song continent. Hip Hop Town and Punk Street.

THE TOWNS ARE ALL NAMED AFTER MUSIC GENRES.

Ever since I was a kid I thought that all the town names in Rave Master were really dumb. And I never once thought there was a musical motif in the names. HOW THE HELL DID I MISS THAT?

It turns out the town names aren’t dumb; I am.

Rave Master Vol. 2, Chapter 5: Introduction

Through junior high, high school, and early college, I was an otaku. That phrase itself dates me, as I believe the acceptable term today is “weeaboo.” The point being, for a long while I was an anime and manga fan, and was probably pretty obnoxious about it.

Being an anime geek when I was growing up wasn’t like it is today. You couldn’t go down to FYE and buy a DVD of your favorite show, and Netflix didn’t exist, so you bought box sets from eBay with your parents’ credit card. If you wanted merchandise – a t-shirt, a plushie – you were probably out of luck, unless you were looking for pokémon.

If you went to my school, there were a few rules you had to follow. You had to hide your nerdiness away. That meant you didn’t hang up pictures of your favorite anime characters in your locker, you didn’t talk about your favorite shows to people who weren’t otaku, and you definitely didn’t bring your manga to school. Naturally, I broke all these rules. When you’re so unpopular most of your classmates don’t bother to register your existence, you haven’t got much to lose.

So it was in eighth grade, the worst time of anyone’s life, when I discovered manga. The second volume of Rave Master was one of the first mangas I ever owned, and I remember loving the series. My older sister read it as well, but declared that it was dumb. More than a decade later, I’ve started re-reading it to determine who was right.

I never actually owned the first volume of Rave Master, but I remember it well enough. It starts with our hero, Haru, living with his older sister on a small island. Haru is an orphan because of course he is. While fishing one day, Haru catches a creature named Plue, which looks like a snowman with four legs, though is frequently referred to as a dog. Plue is the bearer of Rave, a magical stone that was broken into pieces at the end of a war to stop something called the Overdrive, or a really large explosion.

Plue is shortly joined by Shiba, an old man with a spike on his head. The spike really bothered me, until I realized it was a tuft of hair that made him resemble a unicorn.

Shiba, it turns out, is the current Rave Master. That is, the only person who can use the Rave stones. With Shiba also comes Demon Card, the evil organization that’s searching for Rave. Eventually, it’s discovered that Haru is the new Rave Master, and now he must find all the pieces of Rave and defeat Demon Card. Because we can’t have a manga series starring an old man now, could we? That would be ridiculous!

Near the end of the book, the Ten Powers sword breaks, and Haru leaves his island to find Musica, the blacksmith that first forged the sword, to repair it. Haru and Plue set sail for the seas of adventure, and that’s where the first volume ends.

Got all that? Good.

Dusting off the second book, I realized that the art wasn’t as good as I remember. Certainly, it’s much better than I could do, but the characters’ necks just look way too thin to support their heads. Or is that just part of the anime style of art that I’ve forgotten about? Of course, I shouldn’t be too harsh when the characters from my all-time favorite manga, Dragon Knights, look like this:

Huckleberry Finn Haru and Plue land in Hip Hop Town, and I really like the weird world that the manga-ka, Hiro Mashima, has built for us. The panels can be a bit cluttered because there’s a lot going on, and Mashima’s slipped small background events in. I also want to point out these guys:

The sun and moon, to show time passing. I completely forgot they were in the manga, but I thought they were hilarious as a kid and I love them now. Don’t ask me why.

After getting on shore, Plue promptly gets kidnapped. After a thrilling two pages of Haru searching around town, he finds Plue has been entered into dog races, which are a pretty big deal in town. Okay, I can go with it. What I cannot get past is why someone would actually think that Plue is (a) a dog, and (b) would be any good in a race. This is what the racing dogs look like:

This is Plue.

Plue gets taken off the track for being the worst racing dog ever, and Haru interrupts the race and comes to his rescue, in a mad dash for the arena that would make Legolas proud. I still can’t decide if using non-skateboard things as a skateboard is amazing or stupid. I’m probably going to go with stupid.

Haru beats up some mooks causes enough commotion that the head of the dog racing rink finally appears, who is…*gasp* a member of Demon Card!! So here we have Monster of the Week #1, Georco. Thus ends chapter 5 of Rave Master.

It wasn’t that good. I did like that Haru got completely lost in Hip Hop Town while looking for Plue, which is what I would expect from someone visiting a large city for the first time. There’s some world building already, and it’s pretty fast-paced so far, so it’s easy to keep my attention. Right now I kind of find Haru loud and obnoxious, but maybe that’s because the only character he’s interacted with thus far (that he wasn’t beating up) is some kind of animal that doesn’t talk.

Speaking of Haru beating up mooks, where did he learn how to fight? For a sixteen-year-old kid from a small, peaceful town, he sure knows how to throw a punch. By the time Georco shows up, he’s already taken down about ten other people. As a kid, that seemed perfectly acceptable to me. As an adult, I realize that it’s completely ridiculous unless Haru got a blackbelt before the series started.

Geez, all these things you don’t think of when you’re reading something for the first time.