It may interest you to read my review of the previous book in this series, Eldest.
You might recall that I’ve been reading Christopher Paolini’s mediocre Eragon series (first and second books) as a sort of guilty pleasure, having hooked myself into finding out how the damn thing ends.
I read the second part in the series back in March, and I don’t know if it’s simply that I’ve become somewhat more bitter in the intervening months, but I feel as though—if it’s possible—Paolini’s prose has become even more stilted and difficult to digest. One would think that with practice, age, and a good editor, Brisingr would be a joy to read, swimming in concise, glorious prose and a quilt of character interaction that rivals Dos Pasos1. The truth is that Brisingr is terrible. At 784 pages, it’s about 700 pages longer than it needs to be; most of its time is spend in entirely unhelpful world- or character-building that is ineffective. The minute (and yet maddeningly vague) details of dwarven culture; pages upon pages of ridiculously fabricated words that would make Tolkien groan and squirm; drawn-out battles involving Eragon’s brother Roran that are so tedious I wish the character would die already so we could get on with the story.
It doesn’t help that Brisingr is the third book in a four-part series that was originally only supposed to be a trilogy: you can think of it as the first half of a very long book2, meaning that its own narrative arcs are shallow and unengaging, serving only to entice you read the final book, wherein all the loose ends will ostensibly be tied up. In Brisingr, Roran fights some battles, Eragon visits various friendly spots, and there’s a half-hearted battle at the end. That’s it; really. I’m not kidding.
What’s even worse, Paolini seems to have discovered a fondness for the sort of narrative device wherein he begins to describe an action and then cuts away; later, he might have a character describe portions of it, but the action itself (usually the cool stuff, like battles) is gone for good, superseded by a lot of folderol and excruciatingly stilted dialog between the increasingly irritating characters. I seem to have had a lot more patience in book one, when these were new personalities with lots of promise, but Paolini’s rough treatment of them has robbed me of my charity. A good example is Eragon himself, who only matures as a character by means of a punctuated equilibrium—that is to say, he does very little until some magical force makes him leap ahead in his abilities, but meanwhile he stays as much of an irritating teenager as ever. It seems as though Paolini is terrified of trying to narrative a riveting battle sequence, or of trying to grow his characters with any sort of nuance. In the former respect, he reminds me a little bit of Stephen King, whose 1500-page The Stand was also about 1000 pages too long, taken up mostly by characterization that never went anywhere. Novelists should remember that sometimes brevity is the best style of all.
I feel as though Brisingr was little more than a staging ground for Paolini’s finalization of the series3, and a sort of gauntlet for fans to suffer through in order to sate their curiosity as to the fate of its main characters….. though if Paolini’s history of plot-stealing is any indication, we can easily guess how events will play out in Book 4. The Eragon series is an “I am your father” or a “When is a legend legend?” from a plagiarism suit.
I’ve seen the Wikipedia entry. Its 9-paragraph summary captures pretty much everything Brisingr has to offer. If you’ve been reading along for the sheer joy of Paolini’s prose, I’m sorry. If you’ve been reading out of an obligation to know how things end, you may save yourself time by simply reading the summary of this and waiting for the final book to satisfy your morbid curiosity. In a word, Brisingr is tinder4.
- OK, not really[↩]
- The other, equally plausible scenario is that Brisingr is a very short book artificially padded with nonsense.[↩]
- assuming crass commercial interests don’t turn his universe into a perpetual sequel, which I haven’t ruled out yet[↩]
- It’s a joke, you see, since brisingr means “fire.” Ha. Ha. Ha.[↩]