Review: Brisingr

I have just finished Brisingr, the third novel in the Inheritance series by Christopher Paolini. I strongly like, but did not love, this book. It, like the other books in the series before this, kind of reminds me of the Lord of the Rings series, but the 64 calorie version. Same brand, less great taste. Having said that, it is more appropriate and accessible for young readers than Tolkien’s books.

If you haven’t read it, my review is going to contain spoilers, so you might not want to read on just yet. Unless you don’t mind knowing what comes next. Of course, that brings me to one of my problems with this book: Paolini telegraphs his moves to a surprising degree. But let me begin with a couple of thoughts on Eragon and Eldest, the two books that precede this one.

Eragon was fast-moving, engaging, and fun. We meet young farmboy Eragon as he hunts for meat for his family. Eragon ventures out into a mountain range known as The Spine, an area which the people of his village believed to be filled with evil magic. There, Eragon finds a strange oblong stone that turns out to be a dragon egg. The egg hatches, and the dragon (who will be named Saphira by Eragon) marks Eragon’s hand with a brilliant silver patch that glows with magic. This, of course, sets of a whirlwind adventure in which horrible creatures are sent by the evil emperor to pursue Eragon, forcing him to flee his village with Saphira and an elderly storyteller known as Brom. They face many struggles as they desperately seek a safe haven, even as Brom initiates Eragon into the ways of the Dragon Riders, a group that was nearly extinguished at the hand of the evil emperor. They meet Arya, Murtagh, Durza, Ajihad, and others. Some are friends (maybe) and others are foes (definitely). As I mentioned, this book hooks you. It’s fun, and you consistently want to know where the characters are going or what’s going to happen next. There are battles and magic and elves and dwarves. What’s not to love?

Now, Eldest is unfortunately simply not on the same level as its predecessor. I blame Roran. The narration in this book switches back and forth between Eragon, who is deep in a magical forest learning magic from the elves and continuing his training as a Rider, and Roran, Eragon’s cousin, who is still in their home village of Carvahall and happens to be kind of a prat. Cliff notes on each young man’s story arc in this novel:

Eragon trains with the elves, but knows he has to go back to the Varden to aid them in their uprising against the evil King Galbatorix. He learns magic and sword fighting, but the elves are better than him at everything. Well, duh. They’re elves, he’s human. Not hard to do that math. This makes Eragon angry and sad. Also, he’s working with a debilitating injury from a battle in the previous book. So it’s not too easy for him. However, magical elf-dragons transform him to have the speed and strength of an elf, as well as heal his back. Hooray, it’s back to war we go. Roran, meanwhile, is being a self-righteous ass up in Carvahall. He blames Eragon for his father’s death, never considering that Eragon neither asked for the egg, nor was in the village to save Garrow when the Ra’zac swung by to lay waste to the farm. Roran is in love with Katrina. He obsesses over her, and over asking her to marry him. He asks. She says yes. Her dad gets super pissed, and betrays the townspeople to the Ra’zac because of it. So, who’s the worse cousin? Roran does not seem to get that no matter which of them is pot and kettle, both he and Eragon are firmly black. Anywho, Katrina is kidnapped, and Roran flips his shit. He pleads, coerces, and bullies the townspeople into leaving Carvahall to go south and join the resistance, with the aim of rescuing Katrina as his real goal. He kills people and turns pirate. Roran and Eragon meet back up when they each join the Varden at the Battle of Burning Plains. Roran is still acting jerky, but Eragon has bigger problems. Turns out his buddy Murtagh betrayed him, and OH WAIT – they’re actually brothers, and their father is King Galbatorix’s very evil right-hand man.

This brings us to book three, Brisingr. As I mentioned in a previous post, I like this book better than Eldest but not as much as Eragon. I once again blame Roran, but he shares culpability with Nasuada this time. The narrative is now split between THREE characters. Joyous. Nasuada is the leader of the Varden, so much of the time the novel spends with her is focused on her leadership decisions and battle strategy. Honestly, I skimmed some of her chapters. There is an exciting episode in which she is forced to battle for her authority via a test called the Trial of the Long Knives. Emo wristcutters can relate to this scene. (Sidenote: don’t cut yourself, kids. It’s not cool, and scars are only cool if you’ve got a zany story to go with them.) Nasuada sends Eragon – but not his dragon, who literally shares his soul – to the dwarf kingdom to help oversee their election for the new king since Murtagh killed their previous one. Of course, holding elections for a hereditary position seems odd to me, but then again, I’m not a dwarf. Eragon’s sections are interesting (he gets attacked by ninja dwarves in a scene that gave me unintentionally hilarious mental images), and again, they are well paced and engaging. He helps get his buddy Orik elected king. Saphira is FINALLY let free by Nasuada and comes to meet him in the dwarf kingdom; they then fly back to the elves to continue their training and learn the secret of Galbatorix’s overwhelming power. They learn that dragons have a “heart-of-heart”, which is apparently an enormous jewel they can cough up at will. This heart contains the dragon’s power and consciousness, and the king has many of these hearts that he has bent to his will. I will return to this extremely salient fact momentarily. Eragon also learns that Murtagh was only partially right about his family tree, and that while the two share a mother, Eragon’s father is actually Brom, the storyteller and former Rider who is killed in book one. This makes him quite happy. The third narrative strand, as I mentioned, belongs to Roran. Ick. He literally has three modes: battle, mooning over Katrina, and stoic pride. All irritate me. I know I’m supposed to admire his courage and cunning and feel sorry for him and his expecting bride, but I can’t. He’s ANNOYING. He is almost my least favorite part of this book.

A major issue for me has to do with Katrina. She does in fact get rescued by Eragon and Roran after a lengthy imprisonment by the foul Ra’zac. The Ra’zac are known to eat human flesh, but they don’t eat Katrina. Why? They just toss her in a cell and wait for Roran to show up. It’s not like he was demanding proof of life all along; they could have had themselves a Katrina barbeque, and Roran would have still charged their cave, battle hammer held high. Whatever. Fine. I can move past that. However, Katrina’s resiliency really strains my suspension of disbelief. Once they rescue her, she’s more or less alright. I call bullshit HARD on that. I have trouble believing that weight loss and pale skin are all she is leaving that prison cell with. Finally, she is pregnant. “Excuse me?” You might be thinking, “Didn’t she and Roran only sleep together once before she was captured?” Well, I suppose it can and does happen that easily on occasion, so I’ll give that a pass. What I don’t give a pass, though, is that she made it through the stress, torture, and semi-starvation of life under Warden Ra’zac without miscarrying. Maybe Paolini thought that was too dark, or maybe that didn’t occur to him. Perhaps it didn’t occur to him that one particularly picky female reader would have strong opinions on the feasibility of a pregnancy under extreme duress. At any rate, I’m not a fan of that minor story line. Even shifting the theoretical timetables around on the date of her conception, I’m not buying her pregnancy. It feels like another ploy to make me like Roran. Or perhaps are my problems with Katrina rooted in my prejudices against Roran? This could be a tangled thread to unravel, so let’s move on.

I feel I am giving the impression that I didn’t like this book. That is not the case at all; quite the opposite is true. I liked Brisignr, which is part of the reason I’m demanding a higher standard. I can write off crappy books as crappy books. I cannot write off good books that could have easily been great books. My least favorite aspect of an otherwise decent book comes from the predictability. I felt like Paolini had every move mapped out, and I was looking over his shoulder as he traced the path. The most prominent example is (MAJOR SPOILER) the death of Oromis and Glaedr, the only surviving Rider and dragon other than Eragon and Saphira, and their teachers in books two and three. Paolini tells us about the dragons’ heart-of-hearts, which is pretty cool, and explains a LOT. I appreciate this. Then, Eragon must return to the battle. Oromis announces he an Glaedr are joining the war too. Yellow flag goes up. Glaedr announces that he wants to give his heart-of-hearts to Eragon and Saphira. RED FLAG. Seriously, the second I read that, I thought, “Well, that’s the end of them. They’re going to die the second they hit that battlefield.” And lo and behold, I was right on target. Oh, and as a bonus, we get to vicariously experience their horrible anguish as they die, courtesy of Eragon’s possession of Glaedr’s jewel-heart. It was not a fun scene, though it did pack an emotional punch that other sections of the novel lacked.

My ABSOLUTE favorite part of the novel is Eragon’s sword, which unfortunately only shows up near the end of the novel. He forges it with a elf in a neat mind-meld scene, in which her mind controls the movements of his body. The sword is bright blue, to match Saphira, and appears to have flames running along the blade. Eragon dubs it “Brisingr” – “fire” in the ancient language. As soon as he says its name, the sword literally goes up in magical flames. HOW COOL IS THAT? I want a flaming sword pretty badly. It’s an amazingly striking image, and makes Eragon look like a sort of avenging angel in my mind.

So my wishlist now stands at: (1) dragon, preferably purple or green in color, and (1) flaming sword, any color. Also, I’d like to be an elf. If anyone could swing that for me, please let me know.

Anyway, I’ve got a bit of a wait until the fourth book comes out in November. I plan on reading it, and I do genuinely look forward to seeing where the story goes. I just hope Roran stays out of it as much as possible.

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