Friday, August 29, 2008

Christopher Paolini: Eldest

With the approach of the publication of Brisingr, final volume of Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance cycle, on September 20, I have re-read the second volume, Eldest. (I re-read and reviewed Eragon in April.) I mainly wanted to get back up to speed on the story line.

A quick observation is that either I was in a better mood with Eldest than Eragon, or Paolini’s writing has improved as he has added a little more age to his young years. I felt that the characters had a little more depth, and the plot twists were not quite so predictable.

Following the climax described in the first volume, action around Eragon has settled down considerably. It is time for him to leave the dwarves in the Beor Mountains, to complete his training with the elves in their forest capital of Ellesméra. He is guided to the capital by the beautiful elf, Arya, and accompanied by the dwarf, Orik.

To a great extent, the book’s time with Eragon takes on the nature of a travel log. We get detailed description of the hard rock wonders of dwarven engineering. Then we get descriptions of the magical forest beauty wrought by the elves. As immortals, elves can be very patient. It shows in their craftsmanship.

Through Eragon’s training we learn much more about the nature of magic. My exposure to magic is mainly limited to Tolkien, Rowling, and McCaffrey. (Well there’s also Susanna Clarke’s Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell, but that’s in a category of it’s own.) In my experience, Paolini’s description of the inner workings of magic is his main contribution to the genre. And with Paolini’s version of magic, it is not an unlimited resource. It is dangerous, difficult, and wearing.

With Eragon’s travels and training, we don’t get much action. But we still have the revolutionary group called the Varden resisting the evil King Galbatorix. And we get to know more about the King of Surda as his alliance with the Varden becomes more open and active.

But the real action in the book starts back in Eragon’s home of Carvahall. Galbatorix sends forces to apprehend Eragon’s cousin Roran. Roran becomes a main character in this volume, and an enjoyable one at that. Again we have a simple country boy growing into rapid manhood as he faces challenges that he does not understand. After all, no one in Carvahall knows what became of Eragon, or what he’s been up to. Roran’s accomplishments and growth are impressive, and occasionally a little too fortuitous. But by flipping the story back and forth between Eragon and Roran, with an occasional stop with the Varden, Paolini keeps the action strong enough to keep us reading.

Eldest ends with another climax, reminiscent of Eragon. But we still have unresolved issues; more that last time actually. So I look forward to finishing the story soon with Brisingr.

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