Return to Inheritance (review)
|[Fantasy] novel by [Christopher Paolini]; book 4 (final volume) in the Inheritance Cycle.|
This ultimate volume of what's often known as "the [Eragon] series" was published in 2011 and became a bestseller immediately. However, much like its predecessors [Eragon], [Eldest], and [Brisingr], this book had basic storytelling problems, cliché and "borrowed" plot elements, unrealistic characters, and a bloated word count.
A short [summary]: Main character = [Luke Skywalker|Eragon], who became a [Jedi|Dragon Rider] to fight the evil [Sith|Empire]. His half-brother was taken from him and brainwashed to serve the evil king, and he's joined forces with the rebel group called the Varden. Eragon has to go around his home country of [Generic Fantasyland|Alagaësia] and fight Bad Guys, fulfill prophecies, creepily pursue his love interest, lead the rebels once their leader is conveniently kidnapped, and search for a final way to defeat [Palpatine|the Dark Lord].
More on the history and structure of this disaster is available in the entries on [Eragon], [Eldest], and [Brisingr], but unfortunately, despite the experience [Christopher Paolini] has had since he first began his journey from self-published-wunderkind to [Hack Writer|celebrated-bestselling-manchild], he has not learned from his mistakes. He's been decorating them.
Despite the train wreck, this was my favorite of the Inheritance series. It was enough less of a chore to read than [Brisingr] that I very nearly considered rating this two stars out of five when I put in my reviews on book-review sites. But then I realized I was thinking that way based on hating it less rather than liking it more, and figured that [objective]ly I'm afraid it still deserves a bottom-of-the-barrel rating. I give it one star.
First off, Paolini [retcon|corrected] a number of things that he's had trouble with in previous volumes. He introduced horses that actually get tired. He introduced characters who dislike the [protagonist]s and don't automatically get written as [evil] or get punished for it. He acknowledged that the [Tolkien's Elves|elf Arya] would be a better fighter than [Luke Skywalker|plucky farm boy Eragon] owing to over a century of practice. He wrote a couple of conversations that felt like conversations. There was no Super Special explanation for why Cousin Roran was such a [badass]. Nobody got [Drinking Pepsi will bring your dead ancestors back to life|brought back to life] in a cheesy touching resurrection. And Eragon didn't get married and live [happily ever after] (or turn out to be related to [Princess Leia]).
But what I appreciated most about this book was that it managed to evoke real emotions sometimes--and what the characters went through wasn't always completely [one-dimensional]. I felt less like I was being fed lines and more like what the characters experienced was actually born from their situations combined with their mindsets. There was some decent human emotion describing Eragon's [Man's Search for Meaning|self-doubt], [angst|inner conflicts], sorrow, and crushing fear under his great responsibility. Roran's protectiveness and savagery as [What can change the nature of a man?|a man of war] worked for me too (when it wasn't weird or over the top). Paolini regularly tried way too hard and forced the emotions until they turned into cloying [thesaurus] poop, but sometimes he did okay. (There were also certain bits that I realized I felt the way I did because of my personal experiences; in other words, at times I brought my own emotions to the table instead of actually being affected by the words, much like a [fanboy] loves a [dragon] no matter how poorly it's written.) Eragon has a "[This Used To Be My Playground]" moment. I'm a sucker for that, because I'm a huge [nostalgic] [hippie].
Eragon's philosophizing moments and contradictory feelings were sometimes [organic] and they worked. It mostly just made me sad that this happened so rarely in the book. This kinda made it seem like he has the capability to . . . maybe . . . evoke emotion in his writing, even though he almost never hits the [bullseye]. The thing he really needs to learn is how and when to back off. Emotional evocation is easy. Humans do it eagerly when they read. Just get out of the way, Paolini. Get out of the way of yourself.
But let's get on to why you guys actually want to read my essays. All the stuff I hate!
The biggest problem is still the obnoxious decoration. Sentences aren't Christmas trees. Stop decorating them.
Even at this late stage, Paolini hasn't improved his [tone-deaf] prose or his tendency to decorate awkward sentences instead of [pruning] them. We still constantly encounter overdescription--and not just of weapons and clothes and faces and courtyards, but unneeded comparisons of perfectly good images to other things in a [ham-fisted] attempt to enhance them. We can picture post-battle smoke as viewed from the sky just fine without being told that it "hung over Belatona like a blanket of hurt, anger, and sorrow," and it would actually be more poignant if he would stop forcing these associations onto every image. Let us feel it ourselves. Stop telling us what every cloud of smoke "means."
If just about every time an image pops up, the reader has to put up with comparisons and weird personification, we get seasick. A little of this is okay. Weaving it into EVERY SENTENCE is not. Having no natural understanding of voice and tone and no knack for writing character cannot be amended or hidden through excessive [adjective] insertion. Whenever I read a Paolini book, I feel like I was promised a comfortable shirt and was given an ill-fitting, scratchy garment whose tailor elected to "fix" its flaws with a frigging [Bedazzler].
Some particularly egregious examples:
The description also occurs at very inappropriate times. It consistently interrupts the action, resulting in situations like having a man running toward Eragon urgently, only to pause for two paragraphs while description of the man, his family, their history, and philosophy surrounding these folks is imparted to us in [indulgent] [narration]. There's also an annoying pattern Paolini had in just under half the chapters: Some sort of action opens the chapter, and then we get at least a paragraph of description of the surroundings. If that didn't happen, more often than not we got a [flashback] that led up to whatever the current situation was. It got very repetitive.
And speaking of repetitive, Paolini has been doing this thing where he latches onto a certain phrase and keeps using it. For example:
Narrating the sacred
Paolini spends far too long on an [irrelevant] scene in which [dragon|Saphira] flies them through a [storm] for no real good reason, and we're treated to several "[poetic]" pages full of descriptions of the beautiful post-storm [night sky]. The [serenity] and power of his observations is yanked away immediately as Paolini begins to narrate to us what exactly this is supposed to "mean" to Eragon. He babbles on for a while and then hands down a [trite] little [revelation] about how people probably wouldn't fight each other anymore if they could see what he's seen. It cheapens it so much.
You know what would have driven home the [majesty] and beauty he was going for?
Some freakin' silence.
Don't narrate the [sacred], okay? Just invoking an image and then leaving us to [marinate] in that would have actually been good [storytelling]--a good character-building lesson in perspective for Eragon. Instead, we get a [litany] of hollow [platitude]s yammered into our ears, rambling about how small he'd once thought the world was and how big it seemed now, and specific ways in which he "was once an ant is now an eagle" or some crap, and on and on about how he's reorienting his life because of this perspective shift.
"And to what do we owe the unexpected pleasure of this visit, [Your Highness]? Werecats have always been noted for their [secrecy] and their [solitude], and for remaining apart from the conflicts of the age, especially since the fall of the Riders. One might even say that your kind has become more [myth] than fact over the past century. Why, then, do you now choose to reveal yourselves?"
Thank you, Ms. Exposition!
There's this thing called "[As you know, Bob]." This is bleedingly, horrifyingly terrible [exposition]. It is so written that it's insulting.
Silly dialogue is also frequently praised by other characters, proving once again that even Paolini's characters love Paolini.
Here are a few lines of dialogue I thought were ridiculous:
[Lord of the Rings], of course: [Tolkien's Elves|Elves] are said to have come from across the silver sea. There is a line of [Gollum] dialogue.
[Dune]: I still think Elva is inspired by [Alia]. But the jig was up on Paolini cribbing from [Frank Herbert|Herbert] when he named a dragon "[Muad'Dib|Bid'Daum]." I'm not kidding; he really did that.
[Monty Python]: Seriously, the insults still sound like the French Taunter.
The [red herring]s were painful. Paolini names a place "the Vault of Souls," invents the concept of a dragon living on after death in its [Horcrux|heart of hearts], suggests that these dragon hearts are what gives [Big Bad|Galbatorix] his power, and then denies that the Vault of Souls might contain dragon hearts to be tapped to combat the dark lord. It's glossed over, then denied outright, and then finally it of course turns out to be exactly what it seemed. It was also obvious, as soon as we found out that [oath]s can be broken if a [true name] changes, that [Han Solo|Murtagh] was going to escape Galbatorix's control by doing so. Even better: he did so through the power of looooove, like a [Sailor Moon] episode.
Contradictions: Ugh. Brace yourselves.
Nonsense/Contrived events: Lots of this too.
Paolini's how-to on removing suspense from your novels: Eragon's cousin Roran and several other members of the Varden get crushed under a crumbling wall. Roran is the only one who survives because he happened to be underneath some kind of support thing when it fell. Paolini, you see, you're trying to inject your story with reasonable doubt about who might die, but you're doing it really poorly if a wall collapses and EVERYONE DIES EXCEPT THE IMPORTANT GUY. It doesn't fool us into thinking your main characters are actually in [mortal danger].
A character like Roran could only die in self-sacrifice because there was no other way, or in a prophesied scenario, or, I don't know, saving a disabled child who's holding a puppy or something.
Paolini doesn't trust his audience. He thinks we're kinda stupid. (And I guess we are, if we're still reading these books expecting to get some kind of pleasure out of the experience.) Anyway, I've noticed it's very common for him to say something that we can completely understand, but then just in case we're extraordinarily thick, he'll have an ignorant character show up and ask questions so he can explain stuff to us that was usually pretty obvious.
Eragon is sometimes [horny] in a creepy way. Roran acts sexist, especially when he's doing so while pretending to give the finger to [gender roles]. And Chris still hasn't figured out the difference between writing a strong hero and writing an [antisocial] bastard.
Paolini's narration also suggests that [disabled] people would be better off born dead, repeatedly compares people bending over to "like a [cripple]" or "like an old man with [rheumatism]," and advocates animal cruelty by having no one object to the werecats compelling regular cats to kill themselves in battle. There is too much torture--with details that involve the famous geological comparisons--and sometimes he includes so many details that it sounds like he's trying to prove he did the research this time.
And finally. . . .
Are you sure Eragon isn't you, Paolini?
Quote: "Wherever he looked, he saw an overwhelming amount of detail, but he was convinced there was even more that he was not perceptive enough to notice."
I found this sentence kind of [ironic]. Eragon's been told that he's not actually SEEING what he's looking at, and therefore he's trying to see more. However, very much like his author, Eragon doesn't understand that detail is NOT what you need in order to fully and properly understand something. What I'd like is for Paolini himself to stop fixating on details and understand essence.
A practically novel-length version of this review is published at http://swankivy.com/writing/essays/info/inheritance/inheritance.html .