Christopher Paolini,
(Knopf, 2005)

"Alas, Alagaesia! I did love thee, once...."

Well, that's a bit melodramatic, but you get my drift.

Eldest is the second book of the Inheritance series, and is a sequel to Eragon. In Eragon, we met the title character, a 15-year-old boy, being raised by his uncle in a rural area (no, his name isn't Luke) of the Kingdom of Alagaesia. Eragon happened to find a dragon's egg, and a beautiful, blue dragon hatched, and chose him as her Rider (no, this is not Pern). The egg had been magically hidden by a beautiful Elven princess, Arya (not Arwen), just before the servants of the evil king Galbatorix (not Sauron) caught her and imprisoned her. Eragon did his best to care for the young dragon, but the king's men came, burned down his home and killed his uncle (whose name wasn't Owen). Eragon left his village to draw the king's men away, with an old storyteller, Brom (not Obi-Wan) who was really a dragon Rider in retirement (and never a Jedi Knight). Eragon made many friends, and ended up living in a stronghold of those who oppose the Empire, er, I mean the King.

Now, on to Eldest, which starts off right after the huge battle that ended at the end of Eragon, and during which Eragon defeated the evil Shade, but was also wounded most grievously. Eragon is recovering, and the Varden (think "rebel fleet" without spaceships) are trying to regroup, but one last attack by the Urgals (think Uruk'Hai, but bigger) leaves the king of the Varden dead. His daughter, who is named Nasuada instead of Leia, takes command, Eragon tries to form alliances with the factions, and then sets off to finish his training as a dragon Rider, with the elves. He is accompanied by Arwen and Gimli -- no! wait a minute! -- by Arya and Orik the dwarf. They travel through the dwarf kingdom, Eragon finds allies and enemies, they cross the desert, they enter Du Weldevarden (the great forest where the elves, led by Queen Islanzadi, instead of Galadriel, live), to meet his trainer/teacher.

Yada yada yada, blah, blah, blah. There's more, but nothing interesting, or anything even equally uninteresting, but only more uninteresting. Really.

Christopher Paolini's first book, Eragon, was highly derivative and unoriginal, but I still liked it. I especially liked the one original character, the werecat Solembum.

In Eldest, there is no originality, and very little action. As soon as I saw the book, I knew I was in trouble (or it was), as it is twice as big as its predecessor. Eldest is bloated, inflated and laden with endless descriptions of characters, characters' dress, facial gestures, buildings, languages, customs, rituals, history, traditions and other minutiae. Nothing happens.

Also, someone must have suggested to Paolini that he should beef up his vocabulary. His response appears to have been to ingest a thesaurus whole and, like some nauseated seagull, regurgitate indigestible words in a rather random fashion.

I'm not done! The characters have almost all been flattened by steamrollers, leaving totally one-dimensional cardboard cut-outs of archetypes and stock fantasy-epic generics. Only Roran, Eragon's love-struck but heroic cousin, comes off as a real person. No one else is likable, realistic or interesting.

Well, now I might be done. I sold my copies of Eragon and Eldest, with the money going to charity. In this way, those books will accomplish some good for someone. I hope that Eragon, Saphira the dragon and their friends can go on without me. If they can't, too bad.

by Chris McCallister
27 May 2006

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