Eldest, by young author Christopher Paolini, is the sequel to the beloved Eragon and second in the Inheritance Trilogy. Published by Knopf, and released on August 23, 2005. 704 pages, category of Young Adult.

Like its predecessor, Eldest is riddled with overused plots, wooden characters, stolen scenery, bad dialogue, and writing that ranges from barely tolerable to over-the-top ridiculous.

Basic idea: The boy who met a dragon and bonded with it strongly in book 1 now has to get his fighting and magic training over with so he can go save Middle-Earth (I mean, Alagaësia). With some of his allies kidnapped and presumed dead, he and his dragon have their coming-of-age experiences and Eragon ends up (of course) more powerful than Everyone Else because he is The One. Meanwhile, his cousin Roran has to deal with the effects of the rebellion Eragon is helping create, and he finds his own destiny, leading his whole village on a quest. In the end, it all converges on the battlefield, with Eragon having to fight another minor villain after hearing the Darth Vader-esque "revelation": "Luke, I am your brother." The cliffhanger ending leaves us panting . . . not in anticipation for book 3, but more like "Oh god, I did it . . . I survived!"

And now for my favorite part: The specific criticism.

The author was obviously even more (painfully) aware of having an audience this time. He has said, "In my writing, I strive for a lyrical beauty somewhere between Tolkien at his best and Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf." Putting aside any feelings I have about authors who compare THEMSELVES to geniuses, I'll say this: I can see the striving, but I do not see that he succeeded, because every bit of this tome is carefully constructed to the point where it is painful, forced, and completely not authentic. The author forgets that the point of language is to communicate, not to stand on a stage and perform, making the words themselves the art rather than letting them take their rightful place as a backdrop to story and character.

He thinks he is being colorful, but what needs to be colorful is the storytelling, the descriptions, the dialogue. Not how many varied permutations of "said" you can use. Dressing language up just to decorate indicates a basic misunderstanding of the whole point of language. His problem is that he concentrates so much on making his prose elegant that he doesn't understand that prose's job is to be elegant enough to be invisible. The whole time, we are hearing HIS voice, HIS voice; not a character's voice and not a seamless, well-spun offstage narrator's voice. Always, always he is talking to the reader, presenting, arranging, portraying. The author should stop trying for elegance and beauty and start trying to tell a story. We shouldn't be admiring your voice so much as we should be admiring what that voice is saying. Sure the voice should be pleasant, but when that eclipses everything else and becomes the reason to speak, someone has misplaced their priorities.

For instance, if someone is crying, my first thought would be on wanting to know more about the emotion causing the crying. What is the person crying about? What is that emotion doing to them? What is that like? But Paolini switches gears at that point to talk about "tears like liquid diamonds." When someone is crying, I do not want their tears described so much as I want to feel their anguish. This is what I mean when I say he uses his description in the wrong spots. Often.

Describing what the person's tears look like on the outside causes us, the readers, to naturally pull out of the character's personal hell and into a world where their tears are art. I can't appreciate someone's sorrow if the story is too busy admiring their tears.

There are some plot issues and apparent inconsistencies, especially with regards to the system of magic used in the book. It's internally inconsistent. Sometimes just saying a word without even knowing what it means can cause the appropriate change (such as causing fire with a word without knowing it is the magical word for "fire," or laying a curse instead of a blessing because of one misused word). But other times characters claim that the words aren't as important as the intent. It makes sense, though, that a book that pulled its influences from so many different places would also get its wires crossed regarding what the rules of physics actually are.

Like its predecessor, it's predictable because it's following the Hero's Journey story outline, and therefore just about every supposed revelation is actually just the next logical piece of the puzzle that was cut out and immortalized before the author was born. Every character has a particular story role and "type," and there are very few characters that seem to have their own personalities that we haven't seen before in a hundred fantasy novels. The book has a character named Angela who is pretty unusual. Although Angela is actually based on Paolini's sister. (Want to guess his sister's name? It begins with "A." And ends with "ngela.")

My favorite examples of bad narration and/or dialogue:

  • "For gray-eyed Destiny now weaves apace, the first resounding note of war echoes across the land."

  • "Rubies wrought into his golden helm glowing dully like flecks of hot iron." I've got to say I'm getting frustrated with every description requiring at least one hackneyed simile.

  • "Together they waited, though for what, Eragon knew not." Can't you just say "Eragon didn't know"?

  • "Slippers flashing beneath her dress, like mice darting from a hole."

  • "The dawnless morning. . . . "

  • "Keep your thoughts to thyself."

  • "He closed his eyes and sank into the warm dusk that separates consciousness and sleep, where reality bends and sways to the winds of thought, and where creativity blossoms in its freedom from boundaries and all things are possible." (Please, Chris, stop trying so hard!)

  • "Hair as black as a forgotten pool." I think I'd like to go on record as saying that being forgotten does not make water black. I bet there's tons of pools around that have been forgotten and nevertheless are not black. What exactly does this simile mean?

  • "Silent as the night." Has he ever been in the night?

  • "They were grim-faced and said little, for words only emphasized their insignificance in that bare and empty land." How? How do words emphasize insignificance?

  • "'Aye,' Orik agreed."

  • "Draw thy sword and guard its edge as your first master taught you."

And one compliment for the book: The cover's nice. Good job, John Jude Palencar!

You can read a more in-depth critique with a little less taste on my Web site: http://members.aol.com/swankivy/eldest.html

Eld"est (?), a. [AS. yldest, superl. of eald old. See Elder, a.]

1.

Oldest; longest in duration.

Shak.

2.

Born or living first, or before the others, as a son, daughter, brother, etc.; first in origin. See Elder.

"My lady's eldest son."

Shak.

Their eldest historians are of suspected credit. Bp. Stillingfleet.

Eldest hand Card Playing, the player on the dealer's left hand.

R. A. Proctor.

 

© Webster 1913.

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