Yes, it’s come to this. Pretty soon we’ll be sporking Twilight, like all the cool blogs were doing back in 2007.
When I started doing Let’s Reads I vowed not to retread well-worn territory, but with the advent of the Quick Read format I’m not so hung up about that. And this particular candidate for scholarly analysis has a distinct advantage, in that it’s largely a mystery to me.
The Eragon “thing” seems to have been far more transitory than any of the other big YA/children’s literature crazes of the last two decades. It was popular for its time, the movie bombed, the series concluded, and now it seems as if no one really talks about the books all that much. It didn’t occur to me to write about it until last week, when I randomly stumbled onto a comment requesting a Let’s Read.
Back when the books were coming out I had recently made an attempt to get into The Lord of The Rings that failed utterly, so I never took much interest in them. I’m aware that they generated quite the hatedom in their day and read a few scathing critiques years ago, but other than that I’m more or less going into this blind. Truly, this will be a journey of discovery.
Some information up-front: Eragon is the first book in the four-part Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini, and (as I’m sure you’re aware) was written when he was fifteen. Originally it was the first book in the Inheritance Trilogy, but then Paolini decided a fourth book was necessary. I’m not sure why a three-book series is a trilogy but a four-book series is a cycle; I tried googling it but didn’t find any answers because I got distracted after a few minutes.
Eragon is also “dragon” with the first letter replaced, but never mind that.
WE’VE GOT A MAP.
It’s like most fantasy maps, in that there’s an ocean to the west because Europe, it features a desert region, a mountainous region and a forest region, a single large lake and several locations with apostrophes in their names. On the other hand there isn’t a mountain with a name like “Frostfang” or “Worldspire” (although “The Spine” comes close– isn’t there a Spine of The World in Wheel of Time?) and the ocean does not appear to be named “the sea of BLANK” where BLANK is a colour or a random noun. I also can’t immediately tell where the Mordor analogue is.
Prologue: Shade of Fear
Excellent, we’ve got a prologue. This is already giving me everything I want in a good fantasy novel.
Wind howled through the night, carrying a scent that would change the world.
I know this is supposed to be portentous and dramatic, but when I hear “scent that will change the world” it makes me think someone just did a really bad fart. Scents are generally not omens of world-altering events.
A tall Shade lifted his head and sniffed the air. He looked human except for his crimson hair and maroon eyes.
That’s really not very well-written.
He blinked in surprise. The message had been correct: they were here. Or was it a trap?
The what? Who? What’s a trap? What’s going on?
Look, I know I complain when fantasy novels take ages to get going, but at least set the scene a little bit.
He weighed the odds, then said icily, “Spread out; hide behind trees and bushes. Stop whoever is coming . . . or die.”
And our first villain is a dude with red eyes who gets his underlings to obey him by threatening to murder them. This seems promising.
Around him shuffled twelve Urgals with short swords and
I’m sorry, could you repeat that?
Urgals? Our Orc rip-offs are called Urgals? Seriously?
And yes, I know we haven’t even seen them yet. They’re evil fantasy footsoldiers commanded by a scary evil being, they’re Orcs, just like how the Trollocs and Mydrrall in Wheel of Time are Orc andNazguul rip-offs.
round iron shields painted with black symbols
What do they look like? Don’t just say “black symbols”, give us something to work with here.
The Urgals are described as basically humans with horns, but artwork depicting them, including in an official companion guide, makes them look closer to how I imagined the Trollocs upon first reading the Wheel of Time books, i.e. animalistic beast-men.
The Shade and the Urgals sit around for hours waiting for whoever the fuck they’re ambushing to arrive, which seems completely pointless. Why not just have the target appear right away? In fact why not start off from their point of view so we know why we’re supposed to care about whether or not they get jumped by these dudes?
He remained unnaturally quiet, a long pale sword in his hand. A wire-thin scratch curved down the blade.
Why are we being told about this scratch? Is it going to be important later?
“Get ready,” he whispered, his whole body vibrating.
That’s… not how bodies work. Unless maybe he’s going into hypothermia and he’s shivering really violently.
It had taken many plots and much pain to bring himself to this moment. It would not do to lose control now.
But how many Bothans died to bring him this information?
Did you see that, I did a Star Wars
Eyes brightened under the Urgals’ thick brows
Not their eyes, just eyes. They keep an extra pair of eyes under their brows for situations like this.
Three white horses with riders cantered toward the ambush, their heads held high and proud, their coats rippling in the moonlight like liquid silver.
Bad guys = red eyes and horns
Good guys = people on majestic white horses
On a completely unrelated note, did I mention this was written by a teenager?
On the first horse was an elf with pointed ears and elegantly slanted eyebrows.
So here’s what really baffles me.
Even accounting for the fact that (as stated) this was written by a fifteen year old, I legit don’t understand how someone can sit down to write a novel, their page blank, a universe of possibility before them, and decide to just trot out wispy Tolkien elves.
Do these people actually get that wispy pointy-eared magic forest elves aren’t some centuries-old folkloric concept like vampires and werewolves? They were specifically invented by Tolkien and other early High Fantasy authors in the early to mid-20th century and have more or less no similarity to their mythological roots beyond their name–original flavour elves were more like the Sídhe from Celtic folklore, i.e. fairy-ish beings that get up to shenanigans in the human realm. And if you absolutely must have an ancient wispy forest-dwelling magical race, why do they have to be elves?
And why do people feel so comfortable blatantly stealing Tolkien’s elves and dwarves, but then balk at the idea of just putting orcs in their story? We can fucking tell that’s what you’re doing, changing their name and ditching the green skin isn’t fooling anyone.
A powerful bow was slung on his back. A sword pressed against his side opposite a quiver of arrows fletched with swan feathers.
You can tell when an author has played a lot of D&D and WoW because they introduce characters by listing the weapons they’re carrying.
The last rider had the same fair face and angled features as the other.
What does “angled features” mean? Which way are they angled?
Between these two rode a raven-haired elven lady, who surveyed her surroundings with poise.
“With poise.” So she was sitting straight in her saddle? She rode gracefully? I feel like I have to constantly fill in blanks, because these descriptions are comprised entirely of cliches. Like, I can vaguely get what sort of mental image Paolini was going for, but everything is so non-specific, there’s this frustrating barrier to understanding.
Framed by long black locks, her deep eyes shone with a driving force.
That doesn’t actually mean anything.
Her clothes were unadorned, yet her beauty was undiminished.
So this is the romantic interest, then.
The Shade jumped out from behind the tree, raised his right hand, and shouted, “Garjzla!”
If his speech was being translated to English a minute ago, why is it not now? Is “Garjzla” a word in a different language from the one he normally uses.
The Shade uses magics to take down the two guards, then sends his Orcals (Urkels?) after the Elf woman, who is continuously referred to as “the lady”, which sounds distractingly childish.
(Oh and no, I’m not giving this book any leeway because it’s the work of a teenager. It was sold by a major publisher for the exact same price as novels written by adults, so it should be judged by the same standards)
A cry tore from the elf’s lips as she saw her dead companions. She took a step toward them, then cursed her enemies and bounded into the forest.
While the Urgals crashed through the trees, the Shade climbed a piece of granite that jutted above them. From his perch he could see all of the surrounding forest. He raised his hand and uttered, “Böetq istalri!”
I guess the conlang is being reserved for spell-casting. At least it doesn’t look like most conlangs.
The Shade starts a load of gigantic forest fires (a single use of the spell burns a quarter-mile section of trees) to try to stop the elf from escaping, which seems like a great way to get him and his troops killed, as forest fires tends not to conveniently stay in one place for very long.
Her head whipped around as she tried to find a way out. Seeing none, she drew herself up with regal disdain.
She’s surrounded by orcs on one side and a giant rampaging forest fire on the other; I don’t care how badass this lady is, she should be panicking at least a little bit.
The elf takes a large sapphire gem thingy out of a pouch she had been carrying and uses magic to cause it to vanish, much to the Shade’s fury, as it seems that capturing this thing was the whole point of the ambush.
Then the red fire smote her and she collapsed.
“Smote her”? Seriously?
He shot nine bolts of energy from his palm—which killed the Urgals instantly—then ripped his sword free and strode to the elf.
This is a really interesting and unique villain.
Prophecies of revenge, spoken in a wretched language only he knew, rolled from his tongue. He clenched his thin hands and glared at the sky. The cold stars stared back, unwinking, otherworldly watchers.
This prose is atrocious.
Chapter 1: Discovery
Has anyone else noticed that fantasy novels tend to start with the main character doing something outdoorsy? Here we open on Eragon hunting, in Wheel of Time it’s Rand and Tam riding to the village, in Wizard’s First Rule we had Richard out exploring the wilderness, and in The Fifth Sorceress it was Tristan throwing knives at a tree or whatever.
I guess that’s not a bad way to get across your character’s profession/general situation in life, but it also feels really boring.
Eragon was fifteen, less than a year from manhood. Dark eyebrows rested above his intense brown eyes.
“Eragon was fifteen. He had eyebrows.”
And “intense eyes” is one of the most useless and cliched descriptors in literature.
Despite that, Eragon did not fear the Spine—he was the only hunter near Carvahall who dared track game deep into its craggy recesses.
You mean like how Rand and his wingmen are the only radical teens who dare go into the Mountains of Mist or whatever?
It was the third night of the hunt, and his food was half gone.
I’ll admit I don’t know much about hunting, but is it a common practice to keep at it for days on end? Wouldn’t you run the risk of consuming more resources than you’d get back?
Anyway Eragon is about to take out an injured doe when suddenly there’s a magical explosion and the sapphire gem thing appears.
The stone was cool and frictionless under his fingers, like hardened silk.
Hey, that’s a pretty good sentence I guess. Maybe replace “frictionless” with “smooth”.
Eragon found the stone both beautiful and frightening. Where did it come from? Does it have a purpose? Then a more disturbing thought came to him: Was it sent here by accident, or am I meant to have it?
This doesn’t seem like a very realistic reaction to the situation. I think most people would be more like “holy shit what WHAT OH MY GOD WHAT IS THIS WHAT’S HAPPENING.”
After some brief indecision Eragon decides to take it with him, reasoning that it might be worth something. And thus begins our epic adventure.