In 2002 I was 16 and a sophomore in high school. I was the Manhattan finalist for a storytelling festival. I was writing, mostly poetry. The year before I had been named runner up in a contest held by the Poetry Society of America and had the poem I entered read on the radio. I used to feel pretty good about those accomplishments until I read Christopher Paolini’s bio on his first book.
In 2002 Christopher Paolini was 15 and a high school graduate. So, of course, the next obvious step was to write a novel. Which is why readers now have Eragon, the latest in a long line of dragon-centric fantasies (I just made that term up). This novel is the first in the Inheritance Trilogy. It was also made into a movie in 2006 that I enjoyed quite a bit even before I found its excellent tagline: “You are stronger than you realize. Wiser than you know. What was once your life is now your legend.”
The reason I mention the movie at all is because this is one of the only books I can think of where I saw the movie adaptation before I read the book. I really liked both and found it interesting to be motivated to read a book because of the movie. Before I review the book I just want to get this out of my system: Eragon was really good and I enjoyed it, but it did at times sound like it was written by a fifteen-year-old. I’m not saying that to be petty or because of sour grapes–I just really think that’s the case.
In addition to mentioning his age, Paolini’s back flap bio mentions that he has an abiding love of fantasy that subsequently motivated him to write his own fantasy novel. For that reason, Eragon owes an obvious debt to some of the fantasy big shots. Like Tamora Pierce’s books (and Gail Carson Levine’s), this one has a medieval-esque setting. The most obvious similarities that I noticed lie between this book and Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea and J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books (and The Hobbit too). Obviously, then, if you like those books you will like Eragon. At the same time, though, these similarities did leave me wishing there were more “acceptable” ways to write a fantasy setting. Maybe that’s me.
More than an event book where events are central to the plot and the story moves from event to event, this is a journey book. Stuff happens, but most of the novel is spent traveling. In a sense, the entire book is a journey to the end which I assume leads to more revelations which will be found in the second book in the trilogy.
The book’s journey starts with its title character, Eragon, a fifteen-year-old youth living in a rural town in the land of Alagaesia. Once a place of glory where dragons and their riders kept peace across the country, the Empire is now ruled by a cruel king called Galbatorix. Such concerns are far from Eragon’s daily concerns though. Living with his uncle and cousin, Eragon’s days are spent helping his family farm their land and prepare for winter.
All of that changes when Eragon returns from a hunting trip with a mysterious stone. Soon enough, he realizes the stone is actually an egg. A dragon egg. The presence of this new dragon will not only change the course of Eragon’s life but also the path of the entire Empire. Thus Eragon is set on a new path with only his dragon, an old storyteller and a mysterious sword to help him find his way.
And that, really, is what this book is about: Eragon finding his way as he learns what being a Rider, and dare I say being a hero, really means. One of the subtler things I liked about the writing is that when Paolini begins this story, his protagonist is clearly a boy even if by Alagaesian standards he’s only a year from manhood. By the end of the novel, though, Eragon is a man. The writing changes subtly to reflect this important change from beginning to end.
Eragon is literally finding his way too–the novel features a lot of long, perilous journeys and long, dangerous battles. All of which were good to read but did leave me burnt out when I finally made my way to the end of my paperback copy (on page 497). Sometimes it’s just surprising how long it can take to read a long book.
For fear of providing accidental spoilers, that’s really all I have to say. Once I got over the fact that I did not graduate high school at fifteen or write a novel, the book was not at all depressing. Eragon features some great characters (Brom to name one) and some of the scariest villains seen in recent fantasies. I have high hopes for the next installment in the trilogy once I get my hands on it.
Possible Pairings: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey, Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien