Friday, January 31, 2014

Book Review: "Inheritance Cycle" Series

Magic and dragons. Those two words pretty much sum by the "Inheritance Cycle" book series by Christopher Paolini. But let's take a closer look.

In the fantasy world of Alagaesia a single man named Galbatorix has ruled over the entire land for hundreds of years after he destroyed all other Dragon Riders as well as all dragons. All races have withdrawn unto themselves, despite having a common enemy. A young country boy named Eragon happens upon a strange rock that turns out to be a dragon egg, which hatches and the two bond, becoming a dragon and her Rider. Eragon names her Saphira and of course, their destinies take them on a long and bloody journey to rid the land of Galbatorix and become entangled in a multiracial war.

It's a pretty typical fantasy template. Besides humans and dragons, there's the other standard races of elves and dwarves, neither of which offer anything new. There's also the Urgals, which are basically orcs. There's potential for that race to be different, but their culture is left rather blank (they're only shown to love fighting). Werecats show up late in the series, but, like the Urgals, they're pretty much background characters.

The lead character is the cookie-cutter everyday-guy-turned-hero who goes from clueless to overly knowledgeable in no time flat. Even his flaws are typical, in that he wants first only wants revenge and then feels obliged to help others as a part of his duty as a Dragon Rider. The stuff that he wants for himself he ever really tries to achieve; that's not to say that he sacrifices himself constantly, but more like he has no ambition for himself. I could not help but not really give a damn every time Eragon was in danger, because he was so two-dimensional and had no soul.

This leaves the dragons as the sole race that comes off as different and is really the only reason I kept reading. Their designs are rather solid; I practically like the neck spikes they have and the cover art clearly shows that each one has a unique personality. Of course we learn the most about the lead dragon, Saphira. She KNOWS that she is beautiful and thus is very vain about her appearance, going so far as to make sure that her scales are perfectly clean before a battle so she will look her best. While we're used to hearing that dragons are stunning to look at, rarely do we meet one that lavishes about it so. At one point she loses a single scale and has a small meltdown over whether or not it will grow back and how everyone will notice. That sort of occurrence makes it much easier for the reader to connect to Saphira, because she is clearly not without faults (though she belives herself to be and who's going to tell a fire-breather with big teeth that they're wrong?).

That's not to say that dragons don't have their own faults. The biggest one is that they "just know" things, including various languages and world knowledge. Animal instincts are one thing, but knowing how to speak Dwarven? That's bit far-fetched. It's only really mentioned once and then left alone (thankfully) but from time to time a dragon does or says something and it's just explained away with "that's because they're a dragon."

That also leads to what I consider the biggest issue: the use of magic. It is pretty much a cure-all for any and all problems. Later books try to put a limiter on it, but it's easily bypassed whenever the next conflict comes up. Every single dragon ability is linked to magic, stated as "magic is just a part of them." Yet, they supposedly cannot use magic at will, yet every single time they need to, they "magically" can. This image pretty much sums it up:


There are only really two interesting (aka "unique") characters in the series. The first is that of the child Elva who was blessed/cursed by Eragon via his use of the ancient language (the language of magic). Her power forces her to feel other's pain and suffering and it will punish her for not trying to help the person. This allows her to see a little into the future and feel evil intent, which is helpful when a war is raging. This power also warps her personality into that of a sly and mistrusting person, making for some interesting interactions as you're never quite sure what she will do. The other character is the herbalist witch, Angela, who is, to put it bluntly, batshit crazy. She helps bring a little comedy into the mix, a blessing in the later, bloody books. What I find most interesting about her though is that she's basically the Doctor, from "Doctor Who," both in her abilities and demeanor (I personally think of Idris/TARDIS from the episode "The Doctor's Wife" whenever I imagine her). This is supported by a few nods to the original television series tossed into the books themselves. I do appreciate nods like that.

I was rather annoyed with the conclusion of the series; far too many questions were left unanswered, making it come off as if the author could not think of any good explanations and thus just left things hanging. The final conflict is also really bland. Basically, the entire ending comes off feeling a bit rushed and lackluster. In the afterword Paolini says that he would like to revisit the world, and maybe then some things would be further expanded on, but I'm not exactly holding my breath in anticipation. If it he continues it, cool, I'd probably read it, but if not, it's no skin off my back.

As for the movie.... It's best just to say to avoid it at all costs, it was that bad.

Overall one must keep in mind that this series started when the author was only fifteen years old. It definitely shows in the writing style, making it a lower-level reading. Thankfully, the books do show a increase in their level of maturity as they go along. It's similar to how the first couple of "Harry Potter" books were written when compared to the latter books. However, in contrast, the "Potter" books, while written simpler, they still read well while "Eragon" comes off as a bit amateurish. It's forgivable, but is quite apparent. If the series had been developed for longer before final drafts, I believe it could have become something special.

Am I stating that you should not read this? Not at all, as it was a good way to pass some time, but don't go into it expecting anything more than what it is: a fairly typical fantasy series that offers nothing new or fresh.

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