THIS CONTAINS SPOILERS. (You have been warned. But you really should keep reading. Please, do go ahead.)
Allow me to take a moment before diving into the review to explain, for a moment, the events that led up to and occurred during my reading of Inheritance:
It’s the beginning of November, and I am sitting on the floor of Barnes and Noble. At long last, the fourth book by Christopher Paolini arrived, and I am quite looking forward to it. I purchase it with high hopes of beginning it that day and finishing it within the week. Boyfriend also buys a copy, and I think smugly to myself that I will definitely finish it before him. Oh, how wrong I was. Work got crazy. Applications to grad school took up free time. I had Thanksgiving vacation, but spent it in a Nyquil haze, battling a nasty head cold. Then I went back to work, only to find out that a coworker would be out for the week, substantially increasing my workload. Point is, it was December 10th before I even got to start reading this novel. Boyfriend had finished it already, and my dreams of posting a timely review that would impress the multitudes were dashed. Of course, life moves on. And so, I read the book, and now sit here typing this review. It’s been a long time coming.
So. Inheritance. Book four of Paolini’s magical escapades starring Eragon and Saphira. The book begins — as do Eldest and Brisingr — with a recap of the previous novels. (If you’d like to see MY recap of the previous novels, check them out in the archives.) Really, the only thing that sets this section apart from its predecessors is the distinctly biblical lilt to the language. It reads very much like Genesis in the Old Testament, only with dragons, elves, and dwarves thrown into the mix. Then the first chapter begins, and Paolini makes the smart move of thrusting the reader directly into battle with Eragon and Saphira. There is some serious warfare going on, including one of Eragon’s elf buddies getting inside the head of a spellcaster and forcing him to kill himself. Awesome. Saphira gets stabbed and almost dies, which scares the crap out of me. Roran gets buried in rubble and almost dies, which excites me, and then disappoints me when he survives. Roran is annoying. However, the most important development in this chapter is that the weapon that was used to stab Saphira is an ancient elvish weapon that can be used to slay dragons. Few weapons are powerful enough to do damage to dragons, so this is a major bonus for the Varden. They now have a chance — slim, but a chance nonetheless — to slay Galbatorix’s dragon.
As has become usual, Paolini presents the story in multiple narrative strands. As also has become usual, Eragon’s is the most interesting. Nasuada has stepped up her game though; I’m liking her chapters much more than in the previous book. Roran still is whiny and obnoxious. His chapters frustrate me. I don’t want to hear him cry about the horrible crap currently going on. I am well acquainted with it — I’ve read three whole books about it! I want him to man up, go into battle like the brave soldier he’s supposed to be, and work towards ending this war. Thankfully, he eventually seems to hear my pleas and and turns into a seriously dark killing machine. Finally, something other than pining over Katrina or getting into catty little disputes with the other leaders of the soldiers of the Varden. It’s not quite to Eragon’s level, but I don’t hate him as much anymore.
The true badass of the book turns out to be none other than Angela, the feisty herbalist. This is not only an exciting turn of events, but also quite amusing to me, as my mental image of Angela looks pretty much like Debbie Reynolds in Halloweentown. Regardless of my thoughts on her appearance, Angela is a true warrior. Unlike Roran, she doesn’t whine about how hard life is, just methodically kills everyone standing between her and a peaceful evening sipping tea and knitting. This includes not only using magic to manipulate time and space to allow her to be faster than even Eragon can perceive, but also going into battle armed with nothing but wool-spinning tools and a ferocious determination.
Another most excellent development is Paolini’s inclusion of the werecats. We, the readers, had met a couple of them before, but now the entire species, led by the king, come to throw their lot in with the Varden. They are fierce, cunning, and have the added bonus of being shape-shifters. They prove to be invaluable as spies, as well as soldiers. Hooray!
The first major battle of the book is that of Dras-Leona and Helgrind. Eragon, Arya, Angela, the werecat Solembum, and an elf named Wyrden sneak into the city via an underground tunnel, but things go terribly wrong very quickly for them. Wyrden is killed in a shockingly gruesome way, and Angela and Solembum are separated from Eragon and Arya. Eragon and Arya are captured and very nearly sacrificed to a new generation of Ra’zac. It’s nasty and bloody and somewhat unnecessary. Thankfully, Angela the Ass-kicker reappears just in time to save the day. Of course, once Eragon and Arya are freed, the battle begins in earnest and they pretty much lay waste to the entire horrible city, including the cathedral where the townspeople worshiped the Ra’zac.
After the battle (during which we are treated to more whining courtesy of Roran), there is no rest for the weary; Murtagh and Thorn attack the Varden in their camp. They fight for a while, then kidnap Nasuada and spirit her away to Galbatorix’s castle in Uru’baen. Of course, the storyline must again split to cover all the action. Nasuada’s chapters are fairly bland, to be honest, though it is interesting to finally meet the long-discussed King Galbatorix. Galbatorix wants to break Nasuada and force her to join him as a general for his army, but she refuses. So — surprise, surprise — he tortures her. Well, technically, Galbatorix doesn’t torture Nasuada: he makes Murtagh do it. Lovely. During all of this, Murtagh also visits Nasuada at night, occasionally while drunk, and heals the wounds he gave her throughout the day. Now, she is not supposed to be in captivity for that long, but Nasuada is apparently kept prisoner for just long enough for her and Murtagh to fall in love. Stockholm Syndrome, anyone? I guessed it was going to happen, but still. It felt very convenient in terms of helping Paolini move the plot along. Call me old-fashioned, but I like for my character development to be somewhat more deep-rooted than this. Further, I’m not of fan of the inconsistencies here. Murtagh tells Nasuada he can “barely put on his boots without Galbatorix’s permission” due to the spells and oaths Galbatorix has extracted from him, yet here he is, healing and helping Nasuada, and supposedly with Galbatorix none the wiser? I don’t buy it. Maybe I’m being too much of a stickler on the details, as I can admit I was in terms of Katrina’s imprisonment by the Ra’zac in the earlier novels.
Meanwhile, Eragon embarks on a mission to solve the second half of the riddle-prophecy that was given to him by Solembum all the way back in the first novel. He travels to the island of Vroengard, where the city of the Riders, Doru Araeba, lies in ruins. I don’t want to give away the major discovery he makes here, but most astute readers can probably make an educated guess. I was pretty stoked about what Eragon and Saphira found, not only because it gave them a chance to defeat Galbatorix, but also because it finally gives a glimmer of hope for the future, beyond the the destruction of the heartless king. Also, Eragon and Saphira both finally discover their true names, which is a very important development for them.
After their adventures on the island, Eragon and Saphira fly back to join the Varden and attack Uru’baen. There is an extremely drawn-out battle, with lots of carnage. Roran finally stops being such a brat, and I start to actually respect him just a little. There is a massive amount of killing, including some important characters. Of course, the soldiers of the Varden are only pawns, just as Galbatorix’s soldiers also don’t really matter; the real battle is in the citadel, between Eragon and Galbatorix. Of course, the king is in complete control of his castle and everything that happens in it, so Eragon, Saphira, Elva, and Arya are more or less at his mercy the minute they step through the doors. Galbatorix is a greedy bastard, so he doesn’t want any of them hurt — he wants them fit and healthy so he can break them to his will and bind them in his service. Makes sense. Anyway, Galbatorix forces Murtagh and Eragon to fight one another “to see which is the better brother.” They fight, and Eragon realizes that Murtagh wants to kill him. Murtagh admits to Eragon that he hopes to win Galbatorix’s favor so that he can save “her” (meaning Nasuada), and this admission brings about a miraculous transformation in Murtagh as he finally understands what it means to put others before himself and be willing to sacrifice everything to save them. This understanding changes Murtagh in a truly fundamental way, and he is able to throw off Galbatorix’s power and aid Eragon. Like I said, it’s all very convenient. However, lest my cynicism run away from me, I have to admit that it is a nice little victory for love and selflessness over evil and hatred.
The final showdown involves Galbatorix invoking the True Name of the Ancient Language, which apparently allows him to completely control all magic. However, Eragon comes back at him with a simple desire: not to win, not to kill, but to simply make Galbatorix understand the immensity of the pain, anger, and unhappiness he has caused others. When Eragon succeeds in forcing this understanding into Galbatorix’s consciousness, the king quite literally self-destructs. He turns his body into pure energy, and blows himself and his castle up. I hope I’m not the only one to see the mild irony in Eragon literally killing Galbatorix with kindness. I’m sure parents never had that sort of violence in mind when they give that cliched advice to their children. While Eragon was locked in combat with Galbatorix, Arya snatched up the Dauthdaert and went into battle with Galbatorix’s black dragon Shruikan. With Thorn and Saphira’s help, Arya is able to kill the insane dragon with a well-aimed spear through the eye.
With the king and his dragon dead, victory is complete, and peace will come to Alagaesia once more. Unfortunately, there are still nearly 150 pages left in Inheritance. This would not bother me, if not for the fact that Paolini does not use this time to effectively tie up storylines and loose ends. Murtagh and Thorn, now freed of Galbatorix, simply fly off in self-imposed exile. Angela and Solembum take off for parts unknown. Nasuada — after much political maneuvering — becomes queen, but is sad because Murtagh will not be a part of her life. Roran and Katrina have their baby girl, and Nasuada grants Roran an earldom. They plan to go back to their homeland in the Palancar Valley and settle down to rebuild the town and raise their family. Apparently, they’re the only ones who get a truly happy ending.
I hate to give away the final major plot development, but since I assumed it was going to happen from the second novel onwards, I don’t feel too badly telling you: Arya becomes a Rider! As I said, I saw this coming a mile away, but still, it’s a pleasing development. The green egg that everyone had known to be in Galbatorix’s lair hatches for her, and mazel tov! It’s a boy. The green dragon’s name is Firnen, and despite his youth, he and Saphira mate pretty much as soon as they meet. It’s kind of awkward even just to read. Paolini has no idea how to handle it gracefully, so it alternates between prudishly alluded too and explicitly stated. Now, one would think that since Ayra is now a Rider, and Eragon is a Rider, maybe they would have a chance of being together. Nope. Not even a little bit. They have mutual feelings for each other, but Ayra has duties to her kingdom of the elves, and Eragon must protect the legacy of the dragons and prepare to teach future Riders. Call me crazy, but I feel like that ought to include Arya. Who’s going to teach her? Certainly not Murtagh, and he and Eragon are the only other living Riders. So… not sure there. It’s kind of sketchy, if you ask me.
Anyway, the ending manages to seem both sudden and anticlimactic. Eragon says goodbye to everyone and everything he knows and loves, and he and Saphira leave Alagaesia. Forever. It’s very Lord of the Rings — they get on a ship with some elves, and sail off for distant lands, where no man may follow. It’s a bit of a downer, to be honest. However, the ending is but one small piece of the book, let alone the series. I stand by the statement I made regarding the first novel of this series, Eragon: this is Tolkien lite. It’s fun and certainly worth a read, though if you’re a LOTR fan, it’ll leave you craving the real thing when you finish. Of course, I still also maintain that it’s an excellent stepping stone into fantasy/action literature for young readers. For beginning or reluctant readers, I would certainly suggest reading this before you attacked the novels J. R. R. Tolkien or George R. R. Martin. If you can make it through this series, then you’re probably ready for the heavier material.
My final ranking, in order of most to least favorite, of the books in the Inheritance Cycle:
I enjoyed the series as a whole, and I admit that my abiding love for Tolkien may have colored some of my biases against these novels. I do recommend them, especially if you want beach books or airport reading. Nothing passes the time like an adventure, except maybe a good book. (Could I be any more of a stereotypical book nerd right now?) As always, happy reading!