Sunday, December 2, 2007

Historical Debut - ERAGON by Christopher Paolini

I wrote this review way before I started Fantasy Debut, but once I wrote it I didn't have anywhere to post it. Since I seem to be having trouble getting through my reading stack in a timely manner, I thought I'd go back and put up some posts on some oldies.

ERAGON was one of the books that inspired Fantasy Debut. How did a seventeen year old kid's first novel manage to grab so much attention? Was it really that great? And then when the movie came out, I got curiouser. So I went out and purchased a used copy (Sorry Paolini, but the only other copies available were cheap-looking paperbacks with the movie cover. Ick. I hate movie covers.) As soon as I finished it, I wrote down my thoughts on it.

This review was first written on Thursday, February 22, 2007. I edited it for major spoilers before posting it.

I just finished Eragon last night. I read the entire book without any memorable lag points. I found Eragon a likable -- but not lovable -- character. Paolini wrote the book with a vivid imagination and memorable scene-setting, especially Tronjheim. There were a lot of unpronounceable words, but they didn't bother me.

The story is about a boy who discovers a dragon egg. It appears to be one of the only dragon eggs left in the world, and there are people willing to kill to get it. Once Eragon is in possession of the egg, it promptly hatches and bonds itself to Eragon, Anne McCaffrey style. Then, Eragon must run from the egg-hunters. Brom, a mysterious storyteller, travels with Eragon and along the way trains him in both dragon-riding and magic. All along, Saphira, the young female dragon, is growing up and gets Eragon into continual scrapes. Their adventures set them against the evil king, Galbatorix, who is a dragon rider, himself.

Much has been said about the derivation of this novel from Star Wars, The Dragonriders of Pern and The Lord of the Rings. Yes, I could see the connection, but they didn't really bother me. Novelists borrow from other novelists all the time. Yes, Paolini borrowed rather heavily, but the plot became his own. And this is a YA novel, where such derivations seem to occur more often. Children have not yet read all the other stuff.

I did have two major nits. The plot seemed too predictable and the character motivations were, on the whole, not convincing. Here are the major characters and why I found them convincing or not:

Brom: I found his motivations thoroughly convincing. Of course he was hiding something about himself, he made that clear, but I had no problem with his motivation being to see Eragon trained.

Eragon: Here is where I had trouble. Once his family had either died or scattered, his motivation was revenge. Eragon is not a dark enough character to be revenge-motivated. I have not read many revenge stories for a reason: revenge as a motivation does not appeal to me. Paolini might have lost me here if I had not been determined to read the whole thing.

Murtagh: Once Eragon is on his own, Murtagh joins him. I like this character. He's too dark to be the protagonist, but he is not weak enough to be a sidekick. I don't know what Paolini has planned for him, and I like that. However, the story that he finally comes out with implies a deeper connection to Eragon. It seems quite obvious, once I read it, just who Murtagh is. Of course, I might be completely wrong about this, and it would be kind of cool if I am.

Anyway, Murtagh's decision to travel with Eragon seemed spurious to me as well. He just sort of gloms onto Eragon. I don't see Eragon as being a particularly compelling character to glom onto.

Saphira: I don't really know what her motivation is. Love for Eragon, I guess. I think a good motivation might be to free the other eggs from the Evil King. Paolini does a good job -- for the most part -- of depicting her as a juvenile dragon. I do wish she could have used her fire to greater purpose when she finally is able to use it at the end of the story.

I mentioned that I found the plot predictable. A fortune teller basically told the reader the entire story and I think her predictions will give Paolini trouble further on in the series. Other than that, here are some dead givaways (I tried to disguise any spoilers).

  • Of course, Brom was doomed.
  • Of course, Murtaugh would be forced to do something that he kept saying he would never do.
  • Of course, the slide from the dragon hold was designed for no other purpose than to have Eragon slide down it. It was not nearly as dangerous as had I hoped, however.
  • Of course, Eragon was doomed to fight a certain powerful minion.
Despite the predictable nature of the plot, the book held a few surprises for me. I don't know why Brom's origin surprised me. It ought to have been obvious. I did a head-cracking number when I read it, and bravo to Paolini for making me do that.

I also did not expect Murtagh's origin. It was not quite the "duh" moment, but it came entirely out of left field, to use a cliché. It also brought a lot of interest to the plot for reasons detailed above.

I have mixed feelings about the final battle. First, the Powerful Minion has put Eragon on the mental and physical defensive with a breathtaking attack. When Eragon was injured and his mind open to the Minion at the same time, I found it a great "how can he possibly win" moment. However, in no time at all, Eragon has turned things around and is rooting through the Minion's mind. I think we needed at least a page of uncertainty. Then, while Eragon is reliving the Minion's memories, the Minion manages to turn things around again, and he has Eragon at another "how can he possibly win" moment. All of this took place in about two pages.

Some hopes for the next book:
  • I am hoping against hope that Arya is not the "great romance" that Eragon will have. It would be an entirely uneven relationship. A much better choice would be the daughter of the rebel chieftain, who has an unpronounceable name. But I think I am doomed to reading about the growing love between Eragon and Arya. Ack.
  • The Twins are shaping up to be traitors to the Varden. I hope they do not turn out to be. I think it would be better to continually keep us guessing about their motivations, like Rowling did with Snape.
  • Eragon will apparently have a new mentor once he gets to the elf homeland. I am hoping he turns out to be a secret villain.
On the whole, I enjoyed ERAGON and I even lent my used copy to a friend, who enjoyed it as well. (I know, bad EVIL Tia!) I certainly would recommend it for younger readers, or for tolerant readers who don't mind derivative works. If you tend to be jaded about such things, you might want to skip it and you probably already have.


CaroleMcDonnell said...

Ah come on, woman! It was a seventeen year old writer, right? How deep and original can the average seventeen year old writer be? Talent grows. And hopefully he'll have good advisors and mentors and won't be too arrogant or too overwhelmed by all that success to learn. Great review. -C

Tia Nevitt said...

I think he was actually 15 when he wrote the thing. I have not read Eldest yet. Anyone?

Renay said...

So, I'm curious! You say that the derivative elements don't bother you, but then cite as problems two of the biggest issues raised by those derivative elements: a predictable plot (because you've seen it before! and it doesn't get any better with Eldest, FYI) and bad character motivations -- which I see as Paolini's failure to create believable characters. He simply borrowed them from somewhere else and adapted them to his Frankenstein plot.

Absolutely, authors remix and adapt from other authors all the time, and in fantasy it's impossible to accuse anyone of plagiarism because the whole genre is riffing off myth and legend and the canon fantasy authors before have left behind, but my problem with Eragon is that Paolini did it wholesale -- he barely bothered scratching the serial numbers off. It's not a "connection" when several people can point to specific character in a novel and say, "well, look, it's Obi-w oh wait it's just Brom."

I remember wanting to love Eragon when I first picked it up and was so sad when Paolini revealed himself to be a young writer with no new ideas and the ability to use the work of others to raise himself up with no shame. Also, I am a little bothered by the last part of this review -- I enjoy derivative work. I write derivative work and read it everyday, and I'm not "jaded". That's a little bothersome. Being upset about an author that has stolen and pointing it out and going "hey, maybe promoting this sort of thing isn't what we want to do" isn't being jaded, it's being concerned about the message we're sending by lauding this book written by a kid who did little more than shoplift in the 7/11 of fantasy canon.

Tia Nevitt said...

I didn't mean to offend anyone. I admit to being jaded myself. It comes with time and you can hardly avoid it. Maybe it was a bad word to use. I've read lots of fantasy and I do expect something original. As you said, there was little that was original about Eragon. However, I didn't hate it.

Did you actually read Eldest after disliking Eragon so much? I'm kind of curious about that if you did. When I hate a novel, I don't read the subsequent novels. I just ignore them. I have not read Eldest and I have no immediate plans to do so.

Anonymous said...

Carole, the average seventeen year old (in this case, the copy in your hand is by a nineteen year old, with a professional editor and extensive editing by his parents and sister) does not get published. The average writer does not get published. The good, the ones with the talent already grown, get published. If there is potential in the person...get them to work on the potential and resubmit. Don't publish for a quick buck.