I don’t often do book reviews, and so I’m a little worried I may not be that good at it. That being said, please understand a few things going into this review: First, I enjoyed the Inheritance Cycle as a whole. Secondly, I’m still fairly new to fantasy as a genre. Only over the last few years have I been reading and writing it. Thirdly, my review of Paolini’s most recent novel in the series will be judged strictly on craft and story. Lastly, I’m sure Paolini is a very nice young man. Now, let the tirade begin.
I very much wanted to enjoy this series. I love dragons, and the thought of following a character through his journey of becoming a hero is always enticing. Did the first book seem to borrow heavily from the dramatic structure of the first Star Wars? Sure. But that’s not a big deal to me. Star Wars with a dragon is still an awesome concept.
Perhaps my biggest complaint with the final installment of the series is that it didn’t satisfy my first desire, which is to see Eragon become an awe-inspiring dragon rider, capable of laying waste to thousands of villainous, twisted soldiers. In truth, it’s his cousin Roran that does so. What does Eragon accomplish? A whole lot of whining. In nearly every battle, Eragon is in over his head, no matter how small the threat, and for whatever reason, someone else always saves him. I understand Paolini’s desire to create tension, but it falls a little flat. At some point, I stopped asking, “How is Eragon going to get out of this one?” and started asking, “Who’s going to save him now?” Disappointing. I really wanted to see Eragon grow up. He never does.
He begins the series whining, and he ends the series whining. Hard to root for a whiner.
On that note, another major failing of Paolini’s is the withholding of Eragon’s “true name.” In Paolini’s fiction, true names hold power. I’m on board with that concept. But if Eragon knows his true name, and he is our viewpoint character, we the reader should also know. Instead we get some half-hearted description of the name, but not the name itself. We’re left to guess, what is his true name? My thought? “Whiny Little Baby.”
Additionally, Galbatorix, the evil tyrant, doesn’t seem nearly as bad as everyone says he is. I understand he’s “bad,” and that he’d done some pretty evil things in the past, but in this book, he does very little that seems to be “evil.” In fact, his motivation seems pretty benevolent, though awkwardly selfish at the same time. Still, if we’re concerned with the good of the Empire’s people, then we have to question if Eragon and his friends are doing more harm than good. Paolini should have brought those ancient evils to light in this installment, should have reminded us of the depths of Galbatorix’s evil. As it is, I felt more sympathetic to Galbatorix and his ideals than I did to Eragon. *SIGH*
Once Galbatorix is defeated (and I will say, I enjoyed how that particular scene played out, though, again, Eragon must rely on others to save his back side), I assumed the ending was a few pages away. Instead, I realized I was only two-thirds of the way done. The last third turns into an entirely superfluous, incredibly boring info-dump. If he tied up important loose ends, that’s fine. Instead, he seemed to focus on one loose end that, frankly, no one really cared about. Essentially, the last third of the book lacked any forward momentum at all.
So what does that mean for us?
WRITING LESSONS TO BE LEARNED:
1. Our heroes must be heroes. The bad guy may be more powerful, but if our hero has no shot, we won’t be very interested in reading. Let your heroes be heroic, and let them struggle as the story progresses and the threat becomes larger.
2. If your viewpoint character knows something, don’t hide it from the reader. At no point should you engage in “hide-and-go-seek” writing. If the character knows it, we should too. “What about mystery?” you ask. Mystery is great, but by definition, your character will not know the mystery either. Hence, the mystery. Otherwise, you’re teasing the reader, and it’s not okay.
3. If your bad guy is bad, remind the reader how bad he is, especially if you’re sustaining a hefty mythos over the course of four sizeable books.
4. Make sure you give the crisis of your story the time it needs, and make sure it happens at the right time. The closer to the end of the book/series, the better.