Eldest by Christopher Paolini
The writings of Eragon are the lamentations of readers…
NOTE: I listened to this on audiobook, so espect to find the names and places probably hideously misspelled. I would make an effort to correct the spelling if I cared.
Eragon and the Vardan have defeated Galbatorix’s forces at Farthen Dur. But Eragon’s journey has only begun. He must now travel to Ellesmera to learn the ways of the dragon riders from the Elves. Meanwhile, his cousin, Roran, must defend his home of Carvahall from the Raz’ac.
But you might recognize it better as:
Luke Skywalker and the Rebel Alliance have defeated the Empire’s Death Star. But Luke’s journey has only begun. He must now travel to Dagobah to learn the ways of the Jedi from the last remaining Jedi Master, a crazy old alien, Yoda. Meanwhile, Leia must defend the Millennium Falcon from Darth Vader and retrieve Han, her true love, from his clutches.
I strove hard and long to find something admirable, enjoyable about this book. After much head-scratching I have one thing: Oromis teaching Eragon magic. Don’t ask me why those parts interested me, but they did (few and far between though they be). Oh, no, wait, I have another favorite part: Vanna (White?) the Elf smack Eragon around. God, that almost makes the book worth reading. Well, not really…
Other than these two very teeny, tiny blips on the Eldest radar, I found the “story” painful to listen to, hour after agonizing hour. I must be an ascetic, for mustering through almost 24 hours of this mess. Actually, I probably listened to less, as I tended to wander off mentally only to return and find that absolutely nothing had happened! It’s sad, when you’re reading a novel only to learn that half of what you are reading isn’t even important to the story. It’s either a big, red warning sign that the author is writing piles and piles of fluff or that the editor fell asleep while editing the draft. In Eldest’s case, I believe it was both.
As we saw in Eragon, the characters in Eldest are terrible, starting with Eragon, our loosely-defined “hero” and a pitifully concealed variant of Aragorn/Luke Skywalker. (NOTE: Be prepared for copious comparison to LOTR and Star Wars, as Paolini loved both so much, he decided to write a fanfic about them hooking up and having babies. Eragon and Eldest are those “babies.) Unlike either Aragorn or Luke, he is the most boring, bland, uninteresting, emotionless, stupid, insipid (yes, I can use big words too!) protagonists I’ve ever read. Eragon never feels anything, he just cries out in anger or pain. The audience never feels any of his anger or pain, we are just told he has it. We suffer through his never-ending descriptions of descriptions of descriptions of everything around him, told with wide-eyed awe that made me wonder if this guy had been locked in a box as a child. We grimace as he stumbles over wooing Arya. We wince as things that are obvious, such as whether the Twins are traitors (they are, it’s not a secret, you could tell in Eragon), are completely beyond him. We are belabored with reading him study such anachronistic subjects like electricity, magnetism, modern physics (Gravity!), and microbiology (milk spoils because of tiny organisms). I suppose if this novel had been established as a steampunk novel like The Golden Compass, this could have worked, but as it stands, this only shows how “enlightened” the Elves and Eragon are, to be studying these odd subjects (Medieval Elves know about microorganisms that spoil milk? People don’t think electricity and magnetism are magic?). My head spent most of these sessions impacting a desk. I have the bruises as proof. And when Eragon becomes an Elf in the most contrived manner…I am still recovering from that one.
Then we have Arwen—I mean, Arya. We learn here that she is—GASP!—a princess. Really, did no one see that coming? About the only other plot twist they could throw at us is if she is Eragon’s sister. She is the most distant, cold, uninviting character (not Elf, not female, not protagonist, character) I’ve ever encountered. How are we supposed to want Eragon to fall in love with her when I’ve seen granite with more personality?! How are we supposed to think she is so much better than dwarves when she is the one to start a fight with a dwarf about religion (she barges into their temple and begins to tell them how stupid they are to believe in gods with no provocation)? Why are we supposed to feel anything when she reunites with her mother, Queen Iszlanzardi? And what the heck was the beef between them anyway? Why bother to bring it up if there isn’t even going to be a fight or a growth or a purpose to the difference of opinion?
Then we have the poor forsaken Gimli-clone that accompanies Eragon. He is almost completely forgotten in the book, so much so that the author at one point finally remembers him and has Eragon comment on it. Why is he even in this book? What does he contribute to the story? Oh, right, can’t knock a story when there really isn’t one.
Then we have all the characters that are basically carbon-copies of Star Wars and LOTR. Eragon is Luke with Aragorn’s name, Arya is Arwen/Leia, Murtagh is Han, Galbatorix is the Emperor/Darth Vader, Morzan is Darth Vader, Brom is Obi-Wan, Nasuada is Eowyn, Ajihad is Theoden, the Twins are Wormtongue, Orik is Chewbacca, Oromis is Yoda, Roran is Leia, Katrina is Han Solo…about the only character that could possibly be considered his own is Angela, but even she is supposedly based off his sister. That doesn’t even include the Dwarves, Elves and Orcs (called Urgals) from Lord of the Rings. In the hands of a good author, this could be done decently, so that the characters pay homage to Star Wars and Lord of the Rings without being half-@ssed rip offs, but Paolini is far from a good author.
Worse than the characters, which I could at least stand in Eragon (I’ll admit, Brom was my favorite and it was shame when he died), the story is hideously, mind-numbingly boring. Absolutely nothing happens throughout the book! It’s all a long, boring retelling of journeys: one of Eragon’s and another of Roran’s.
Eragon is sent to Dagobah to learn the ways of the Jedi under the tutelage of Yoda, the Last Jedi.
Oops, I meant Eragon is sent to Ellesmera to learn the ways of the Dragon Riders under the tutelage of Oromis, the actual last Dragon Rider. It’s so easy to make that mistake, since not only did Paolini steal SW characters, but also stole the entire plot of The Empire Strikes Back.
Now, I realize that Eragon’s plot was pretty much identical to A New Hope. But I could at least ignore the similarities by yelling profanities at the offending sections or getting lost in the fast pace of the novel. Eldest doesn’t even bother to disguise the plot, preferring to spend pages upon pages on nothing. It lingers too long in Farthen Dur, too long on the journey to Ellesmera, so that Eragon doesn’t even reach it until around Chapter 27 (which might not sound like much since the book is a freakin’ 77 chapter doorstopper, but when you are listening to it hour after agonising hour, it is forever). So what happens in those 27 chapters? Well, if you guessed fighting battles, intense chase scenes, or standoffs with the bad guys, go to the corner and sit there and think about what you just did!! No, Paolini fills his “epic” fantasy with each agonizing step of the journey. I wouldn’t be surprised if Paolini detailed each day of the journey. Every stop is given in excruciating detail. Every race Eragon meets gives him long, boring lectures about their culture, their language, their religion, their clothes…anything and everything to pad this story out. Every trip down a river, every haul up a hill is recounted, every time they sent up camp…be prepared for a nap, folks!
Even when we finally get to Ellesmera, the story doesn’t pick up. Instead, we trudge through Eragon’s thoughts about ants (THRILLS!), Oromis’ mind-boggling lessons on morality and ethics (CHILLS!), and Paolini’s barely concealed opinions on religion, veganism, and marriage (may I climb out the window SILLS?). No wonder my favorite part was where Vanna whips Eragon. That’s the only scene where anything happens!
The second “story” is Roran’s story of what happened in Carvahall. Wasn’t that the guy who scooted off at the beginning of Eragon to try to make money to marry that chick? So…why is he here? Why was he ignored all through Eragon but now his story is important? Roran leads his people, Moses-like, out of Carvahall to the South to the safety of the Vardan. I have loads of insults for the stupidity of the townfolk, leaving their village at the whim of one man, to the clichéd motivational speech Roran gives, to yet another damsel-in-distress (women in these novels are just terrible, they can’t keep themselves from being kidnapped for the life of them), to another horrible, awkward romance, to the complete misunderstanding of how the world works, but I really don’t care enough about this part to dredge them up. Insert your own witticisms here.
By the way, has anyone noticed that there is little explanation to why the Empire is bad? Okay, so we have the Raz’ac killing the folks of Carvahall, but that is only because of Eragon/Roran, and only because the dragon egg was stolen from Galbatorix. Last time I checked, thieves were punishable by law. If someone had stolen something from Eragon, he darn well would have gotten a horse and rode off to beat that thief’s @ss…why wouldn’t the government do something similar? If given the mind, one could reason that the Vardan are the enemies, for stealing, for being terrorists, and for being traitors to the government (and with how corrupt the Council are, an odd bit of realism in this stereotypical fantasy, it’s not a hard thought to wrap your head around). If you are going to make bad guys, you show them being bad guys. You show Galbatorix and Morzan killing people, oppressing people, stealing for no reason, burning down rows of pretty blue flowers, etc., not just tell the audience they are bad and expect us to root for Eragon and the Vardan.
Now we get to the fun part: the writing style. Oh, God Almighty, the writing style. Paolini is very aware he’s trying to write an epic, because it sounds just like an epic should. Well, a quick glance shows it sounding like an epic should. If you read with any modicum of attention, you’ll see that it reads like the worst LOTR fanfiction on the internet. Too much time is spent on needless descriptions (Oh, yes, let’s describe each of the Dwarves gods and goddesses!), padded wording, and clichéd phrases. Some of the worst passages I’ve found include:
“Slippers flashing beneath her dress, like mice darting from a hole.” WORST. DESCRIPTION. EVER. Mice now dart out of a hole, back into the hole, and out of the hole, all in quick rapid succession? Was this really the best way to describe…what is Paolini describing???
“Eragon surreptitiously watched the Elf, curious to what he looked like without his clothes.” Uh, and why is Eragon hitting on Arya and pouting when he fails disastrously?
“Eragon savored the epics as he might a well-cooked meal.” Who said you couldn’t eat what you read?
“Anxiety ran through his voice like a taut bow string.” Run, Anxiety, run! Get away from the bad simile!
“gyrating walls of ebony water” No, I would say “purple”, as in “purple prose”.
And then, of course, as I’ve briefly touched on earlier, Paolini breaks some of the author’s Golden Rules. “Show, don’t tell”. “Good prose should be invisible”. “Don’t lose the pacing by trying to describe your setting”. “The word ‘said’ is your best friend in dialogue.” And so on.
And now, I get into the audiobook. Most of the time, I don’t bother to comment, as the narrators do a good job at narrating. But I absolutely hated one thing about this narrator: his voices. They weren’t bad, even if the women were nearly impossible to tell apart from the men, but the absolute low point was the dragons. For the dragons, the narrator growled in a low, deep, raspy voice. This wasn’t bad for a short sentence here and there, but for long, long, long passages (which Paolini writes a lot of), it was so bad, I was very close to skipping over the section, just to stop listening to the horrible voice.
If you are interested in reading a cross-over fan fiction of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, I recommend you go to fan-fiction.net
. If you want to read horrible characters, unending descriptions, bad romance, and a thin as plastic wrap plot stretched over 71 chapters that reads like Star Wars with characters and settings from Lord of the Rings, read Eldest. If you didn’t like Eragon, Eldest will only make you madder.
(Review submitted by a Shelf of Shame blogger!)