January 9, 2012

Book Review: Inheritance Cycle

Maybe if I called them "The Eragon Books," you'll know better what I'm talking about? Really seems like a marketing fail to name the series something unrelated to any of the titles or main characters.

Anyway, the Eragon books. I actually finished these last month, after waiting for months for the final book to be released. When I think about these books and how to evaluate them, it's really hard to ignore the fact that Paolini began publishing these as a teenager. It makes the strong parts seem stronger and the weak parts seem weaker.

If you saw the movie, "Eragon," you've got a decent idea of the basic story and main characters. Frankly, I think it's a shame that more movies weren't made, as the story only gets more complex and they had a great cast. But that's a different story.

The story begins with Eragon finding a dragon with whom he bonds, Saphira. Through the four books, they both grow from sheltered adolescents to powerful warriors fighting to free their country from the tyrannical King Galbatorix. Along the way they align with a colorful mix of characters - humans, dwarves, elves.

With any multi-book series, you have to admire how patient Paolini was to have his main characters grow up and claim their roles in their world. Eragon starts as an illiterate boy who's never been further than a few miles from home, and then in the forest. He has no exposure to the outside world or the politics that wind up taking over his life. By the end of the story, he and Saphira find themselves interjected into the inner political workings of cultures they had only before heard about, and that the hope of freedom for millions rests on their shoulders.

They aren't the only ones. The story revolves around several main characters, each of whom find themselves thrust from humble or background positions into the eye of the storm around them. I'm probably projecting, but I wonder how much of that is autobiographical for the young author.

You can definitely feel the influences of other works on these stories: the giant landscape and long travels of Lord of the Rings, the quest after quest after quest after quest of an MMORPG. That's neither a positive or a negative in my book, just an observation.

The parts where I felt the books faltered aren't minor, though. Throughout the story, conversations and Eragon's own introspection touches on some big issues: individual freedom vs. collective good, where "we" came from, what ethics should be based on, whether there is a god or gods. Unfortunately, none of the ideas are really explored or realized by the end of the story. Again, could be projecting, but I wonder if that could be because the author hasn't found those answers yet, either.

The other aspect where I thought the books fell flat was in the romance. There is so much unfulfilled romance, you can't even enjoy the bittersweet nature of it. And one of my major pet peeves is the whole "woman falls in love with her abuser" meme, almost always used by male writers. And it's used in a big way here, not at all convincingly.

Overall, I enjoyed the stories and will probably read them again, but I didn't get the feel that every re-reading would glean new insights into the characters or story, as with other fantasy novels. And I still wish they had made more movies.

3 comments:

  1. I have not read these, as they do not fall in my usual genre of reading (although maybe that's exactly WHY I should...expand my brain, ha!), but my husband really enjoyed them, and is waiting to find the last book for a reasonable price (or wait to check it from the library...oh wait lists!). I can't get him to stop re-reading them, bwa ha ha! I married a nerd!

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  2. I've heard quite a bit about these books, my younger brother is obsessed with them- he even named some of our pets after them when I still loved at home. I always thought they must be "boy books", guess I shouldn't have been so quick to judge, especially considering that I'm always trying to get HIM to read books I'VE read. Interesting information about the author, that's a kid with talent, even if he's still coming into it and understanding the way life works.

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  3. I read the first two and started the third when I realized I just didn't like Eragon anymore. I felt like the character wasn't true to himself anymore, that he wanted to change and he was getting kind of cocky. It bothered me! I hope to get back to reading them though. I loved the first book so much.

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