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!”