Sunday, 11 December 2011

Review: 'Eragon' by Christopher Paolini

Date finished: 15 November 2011

Rating: 3 stars

Format: eBook

Source: Borrowed from my local library's eBook site

Genre: YA Fantasy

(Originally) Published: by Paolini's parents in 2002

The Synopsis (taken from GoodReads.com)

When young Eragon finds a polished blue stone in the forest, he thinks it is the lucky discovery of a poor farm boy; perhaps it will buy his adopted family meat for the winter. But when the stone brings a dragon hatchling, Eragon realizes he has stumbled upon a legacy nearly as old as the Empire itself. Overnight his simple life is shattered, and he is thrust into a perilous new world of inescapable destiny, magical forces, and powerful people. With only an ancient sword and the instruction of an old,mysterious, hermit storyteller for guidance, Eragon and the fledgling dragon must navigate the dangerous terrain and dark enemies of an Empire ruled by a Emperor whose evil and power knows no bounds. Can Eragon take up the mantle of the legendary Dragon Riders? The fate of the Empire may rest in his hands….

The Review

Looking back, I find myself thinking of this book in two distinct halves: one that had me rueing the day I ever met the friend that recommended the series to me and one that had me wanting to have her come and live with me.  

In the year that we worked together, we shared books constantly and prattled on and on about them.  One series that had her practically kicking the poor Waterstones staff was this one, mainly because of how long it seemed to be taking for the release of the fourth (and final) instalment.  Back then, I wouldn't start the series because I was still honouring my ban on not starting fantasy series until they were completed and so I ignored her pleas and didn't pick this up.  

Having read it, I'm both surprised and not that she ever made it through this story (not being known for her patience...).  The start of the story is promising, with Eragon finding the dragon egg and realising how much danger that puts him and his family in, characters not quite being what they seem and some mortal peril and dragon-related shenanigans. I whipped through the first 100 or so pages grateful, as ever, for the recommendation.  

And then began the walking.  

When I was younger, I struggled with Lord of the Rings because of the amount of time spent walking between places.  My experience was much the same with Eragon.  I loved the parts where Eragon and Brom were in towns, encountering ambushes or learning more about Saphira.  I found the parts where Eragon and Brom were wandering around and where Brom was dumping information on Eragon and, consequently, me quite tedious.  For me, the writing wasn't quite strong enough to sustain the lack of action and the descriptions and dialogue were a little bit lacking.  

The legends and history surrounding dragons and their Riders is great background for a series but it was introduced rather heavily by Brom at various points while he is in lecture mode.  Despite not relishing the delivery, the substance did suggest that there are great things to come in the remainder of the series.  I hope, in a way, that I've got the learning part of the series out of the way and that the remainder of the books are snappier and develop more naturally.  

It took me six hours worth of travelling by train to break through the more sedate half of the story into one that had me hooked.  It was almost as though Paolini thought I was now adequately briefed in the finer points of history and magic and that it was time to move on and shake things up with some fighting.  There was a noticeable shift in pace and I finally started to really enjoy the book.  There are elves, magic, cryptic advice from a werecat, a mysterious fortune-telling witch, a city underground and huge roving bands of freaky orc-type baddies.  Plus a huge great battle for a finale, which again reminded me of Lord of the Rings, this time favourably, though.    

Eragon himself is a tolerable lead but can be a touch self-pitying from time to time. Although maybe being on a quest to avenge your dead family will do that to a person...His relationship with Saphira is endearing but on the sickly-sweet side at times.  For a person who is extremely (maybe even overly sensitive), I am very much not an animal person.  Something about the human-dragon bond was lost on me, I think, but I did enjoy Saphira's stubbornness and loyalty.  She is a kick-a*s female, dragon or not!

Overall:  I'd recommend this to more patient readers at the older end of the YA spectrum.  There's a lot of waiting around (or, more accurately, walking around) and the story takes quite a while to get going.  I will probably read the next in the series (Eldest) but I'm not in any great rush and will only stretch to borrowing it from my local library.  That is, unless someone can promise me that the next one is more action, less trekking...? 

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I usually try and avoid 'googling' books that I'm reading in case I ruin them for myself.  After having read this, I found out that Paolini was a teenager when he wrote this and I found myself teetering on the edge of leniency when it came to my assessment of the writing, which strikes me as unfair.  Should an author's age or similar affect our standards?