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Eldest story in the book
on 25 February 2007
Mix together equal parts "Star Wars" and J.R.R. Tolkien, then add a generous helping of Anne McCaffrey's dragon-riders and a few random shreds of Garth Nix.
Obviously originality is not Christopher Paolini's strong suit, since the omnibus of "Eragon" and "Eldest" is brimming over with fantasy cliches. But the biggest weakness of Paolini's two books is not his stilted dialogue or numerous cliches, or even the slow-moving pompous slog of "Eldest's" endless elf training -- it's his cardboard cutout of a self-insert hero, Eragon.
The titular character is lucky enough to stumble across a strange blue stone while hunting. After failing to sell it, Eragon finds that it's actually a dragon egg, and the baby blue dragon inside selects him -- yes, him -- to hatch for and remain with forever. All the Dragon Riders were killed off by Evil King Galbatorix long ago, but for the weird old recluse Brom, who becomes Eragon's mentor. And Luke, I am your father... wait, wrong story.
When Galbatorix's men destroy Eragon's home and family, Brom and Eragon flee to find the mysterious rebels known as the Varden, and rescue the beautiful elf Arya who is haunting Eragon's dreams. But while Eragon and his dragon Saphira learn many things -- and make new allies -- the journey to the Varden brings them a terrible (and totally predictable) loss, and leads them to Eragon's first battle.
"Eldest" picks up immediately afterwards, with Eragon badly wounded and the leader of the Varden murdered. But despite the rebels' turmoil, Eragon is told that he has to accompany Arya back to her home city of the elves, to train as a proper Dragon-rider. But when he arrives, Eragon finds that his new master is an ancient, crippled elf named Oromis, who has a lot to teach him before he inevitably expires.
Unbeknownst to Eragon, his hometown of Carvahall is being ruined by a band of Galbatorix's soldiers, and his newly-engaged cousin Roran may be their only hope. And our hero's truncated training leads to strange new changes in his body and mind, as he prepares for a devastating new battle against Galbatorix -- and a horrifying new discovery. Yes, you can probably see it coming.
Lofty elves, kings-in-waiting, humble farm boys, ghastly goblinesque creatures, mystical women, special swords, evil tyrants who are evil because they just are, wise mentors, and telepathic dragons in a variety of colors. Christopher Paolini never met a fantasy cliche that he didn't like. And as a result, both "Eragon" and "Eldest" are dripping with Tolkien and Lucas-style trappings, right down to the hero's suspiciously Tolkienian name.
Paolini paints these typical sword-and-sorcery stories with rather stilted but promising prose, at least at first. "Eragon" has some raw rookie potential, and you can detect Paolini's enthusiasm as he explores his invented fantasy land, much the way many other teenagers have done after reading high fantasy and yearning to explore their own made-up worlds. There's just not much that is new or unique about this story.
But things go way downhill with "Eldest" -- Paolini's prose becomes bloated, sluggish and painfully smug, with dialogue that becomes more painfully wretched with each chapter ("I walk between the candle and the dark"). The story is wrenched out into three different storylines, two of which deal with the Varden's lace-making and Roran's engagement woes. Neither is terribly interesting, and the battle at the finale feels as though Paolini slapped it on to give it a suitably slam-bang ending.
Worst of all, the book's bulk is devoted mostly to Eragon's uneventful dragon-riding training with Oromis, which consists mostly doing yoga and watching insects, and occasionally whapping each other with swords. Yes, it's every bit as boring as it sounds. And the hilariously homoerotic moments with Eragon and Oromis only liven it up a little.
The biggest problem with Paolini's writing is that Eragon is portrayed as a noble, brave, compassionate soul with a brilliant destiny ahead of him. Well, frankly he shows no nobility, bravery or compassion, and the many characters who gasp in admiration of him does not make him any more impressive. He's a glaring self-insert, with all the dimension of a cardboard standee.
The supporting characters are not much better -- Brom is too brief a character to make much of an impact, and while Oromis has a certain fascination, we hear too little of his intriguing past, except how it relates to Eragon. And the love interest Arya is glorified only for her looks -- which is all she has, since her personality is chilly at best, snotty and autocratic at worst.
Christopher Paolini's not-terribly original fantasy series starts off with the flawed but readable "Eragon," before sliding down into the painfully bloated carcass of "Eldest." Lightweight fantasy at best, but a painful salad of cliched preaching at worst.