You may be interested to read my review of the previous book in this series, Eragon
Despite an essentially mediocre start with Eragon, I decided out of sheer petulance to read the next book in the series; the plot may be derivative, but I am still curious as to its eventual end, even though I can guess where it will end.
Eldest picks up immediately after the conclusion of Eragon, after a ferocious battle. It finds the main character, Eragon, severely wounded and disillusioned. Immediately, tragedy besets his group, the Varden, as their leader is killed. After a few chapters of politicizing, Eragon travels to the land of the Elves to continue his training.
Like its predecessor, Eldest‘s pace is slow, detailing Eragon’s training, his pathetic attempts at romance with the elf princess Arya, and a number of asides that attempt to flesh out Paolini’s invented world of Alagaësia and its various constituent cultures. It also follows a number of other narrative strands, including the leader of the Varden, Nasuada, and Eragon’s cousin, Roran. Only at the end, with its climactic battle, does the pace pick up. Paolini’s received a fair amount of criticism for this, though it must be noted that at least one of his primary sources, Tolkien, was guilty of this as well. One might think that children wouldn’t bother with such a slow book, but the numbers don’t lie: Eldest sold 425’000 copies in its first week1. Paolini gets a lot of criticism in general for coming off as Tolkien Lite, but I argue now, as I argued before, that these are technically books for young readers, who can’t or won’t be able to appreciate the more detailed or elaborate books of Tolkien, McCaffrey, or any of the other authors from which Paolini plunders his ideas.
One thing that does bother me is the inconsistency of Eragon’s development as a dragon rider. If I may borrow a term from science, then Paolini resorts to “punctuated equilibrium,” where Eragon is weak and whiny for a while, and then by some epiphany, revelation, or bit of magic, he sudden becomes much stronger or much wiser. It’s a cheap device for character development; also cheap is the degree to which Paolini resorts to dramatic irony. It’s never truly explicit, but by means of a fortune-telling in the first book, among other things, the reader is generally aware of Eragon’s frequent folly, and can predict things that consistent thwart the character’s ability to predict. It’s a problem only exacerbated by the book’s slow pace, since a reader might be well aware of a likely outcome, only to reader for several more chapters before the apparent dullards in the book finally catch on.
I sound harsh, I know. There is a very definite divide between those who should and should not read the book. If you’re well-read enough to know how much Paolini borrows from other writers, then you shouldn’t read the book in the first place; or, at least, you shouldn’t expect to like it. However, I still maintain that these books are a good primer for younger readers.
- By comparison, however, the 6th Harry Potter book sold 6.9 million copies its first day[↩]