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Book Review: Inheritance (Book Four of the Inheritance Cycle) by Christopher Paolini

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I’ve begun to notice a worrying trend in fantasy novels these days. It seems like more and more people are writing epic length books and epic length series when they could just as easily have told their story in half the number of pages. Not only are many of these books a prodigious waste of paper, they do the authors a horrible disservice. Most of the time there’s a decent enough story lurking somewhere within the dross, if only the publishers had taken the time to properly edit the books. However, because they’ve been allowed to wander off in all directions authors learn all sorts of bad habits and their books either become progressively worse or appear to as we lose patience with them. There are times I want to reach into a book and shake the author by the shoulders and yell, “Get to the point already”.

When Christopher Paolini was 15 he self-published the young adult fantasy book Eragon. When he started to have some moderate success with sales on his own, Knopf, a division of Random House, republished the book and bought the rights to the series. Eragon and its sequel Eldest had shown a great deal of promise. An exciting adventure story filled with magic and magical beings. Sure it wasn’t the most original of ideas, but there were at least enough new wrinkles thrown in to make the first two installments compelling and interesting to read. Some of the sub plots were probably unnecessary but they at least helped further the story and didn’t interfere with its forward motion. However, even before the release of a third book, Brisingir — in what was supposed to have been a trilogy — there were indications Paolini was running into trouble. For along with the announcement of its forthcoming publication came the news that the series was being extended to a fourth book as the author hadn’t been able to find a way to finish it in three books.

Brisingir wasn’t a bad book, no better or worse than any number of fantasy books on the market, but it did very little to advance the overall plot of the series. There were a few pieces of information given out that would prove significant, but for the most part it was taken up with adventures which did little or nothing to advance the plot. So when it was announced that book four, Inheritance, published by Random House Canada on November 8 2011, was going to be over 800 pages long, I seriously wondered what Paolini was going to fill that number of pages with. Sure there were a number of questions that still remained to be answered, not least of which were how was the hero going to defeat a seemingly unbeatable foe, but even half those pages should have been sufficient to bring the series to a conclusion.

The most pressing of those questions was how the hero of the series, Eragon, and his dragon Saphira, were going to overcome the evil king Galbatorix who ruled Alagaesia with an iron fist. Eragon had been the first new dragon rider since Galbatorix had killed the rest of them, along with their dragons, when he rose to power. Everything we’ve seen in the series to date has made the success of the young rider look like a long shot at best. Even with the four races of people — elves, humans, dwarves and Urgal (a race of warriors with large ram’s horns growing out of their heads) — banded together to form an army of resistance known as the Varden, the forces of the king seem overwhelming. Not only are his armies equal to, if not larger, than those of the Varden, his powers of magic are so strong that even if Eragon and every other magic user in the kingdom linked their powers they wouldn’t be able to overcome him through force. Galbatorix is so strong he was able to force Eragon’s half-brother Murtagh, and his dragon Thorn, to swear oaths of allegiance to him against their wills; oaths that if broken would destroy them.

The only clue Eragon has to a possible solution to the problem of how to overcome Galbatorix is the second part of a cryptic piece of advice given him soon after he became a dragon rider: “When all seems lost and your power insufficient, go to the Rock of Kuthian and speak your name to open the Vault of Souls”. Unfortunately nobody he’s talked to, not even the werecat who gave him the advice, have any idea where either of them are located. When the leader of the Varden, Nasuada, is captured in a daring midnight raid by Murtagh and Thorn, the chances of their success have never seemed slimmer. Their armies may have captured some of the cities controlled by Galbatorix, but they are running out of supplies and have to figure out how to defeat him quickly.

From that summation of events the final book had the potential for at least some nail biting adventure. However, instead of focusing on the matter at hand, having Eragon search out the Rock of Kuthian and the Vault of Souls and then confronting Galbatorix, Paolini clutters up the book with page upon page of battles that could just as easily taken place off stage. While some people might find the battle scenes and side adventures exciting, overall they merely slow the story down and needlessly detract from the through line of the series. In fact by wasting so much time on insignificant details along the way, the final confrontation with Galbatorix when it comes feels rushed. Even worse, discovering the location of the Rock of Kuthian and the Vault of Souls feels incredibly contrived. It’s almost like the author used the peripheral details hoping to distract us from the weaknesses of his resolution for the main plot.

Even more difficult to understand is how the last hundred or so pages of the book are spent in a very awkward attempt to tie up all the lose ends he had created throughout the series. While questions like who should rule Alagaesia after Galbatorix could only be answered once he was defeated, there should have been a way of resolving other threads more organically. Instead it feels like Paolini has remembered at the last moment he’s left questions unanswered and tacked on the answers in order to satisfy fan forums.The most truthful part of his conclusion was the ambiguous way in which he dealt with some of the issues facing his characters. This at least fit in with the idea they, and the world they lived in, were facing with a new beginning and an uncertain future.

The first two books of the Inheritance Cycle showed great promise. Paolini had created a world complete with an intricate history and a variety of different races. However, somewhere along the way he lost his focus, and the details took on a life of their own until they overshadowed the main plot of the story. As a result the final book in the series, Inheritance, feels contrived and rather forced as the author tried to cram in answers to all the questions he had raised in the earlier books. While I’m sure die hard fans will find much to enjoy, it could have been much better.

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.
  • Jengis

    Unluckily, it is good analysis of the book!
    I was hoping for more, the first two book were a good promise, but as you said the third was crap and the last one I am still trying to digest it. Christopher you should have done a Trilogy!

  • Katha chanda

    Yes, the last book could have been much better. He did leave some loose ends,the matter of the Menoa tree was resolved in a very forced way. I was also expecting some explanation regarding Angela’s eccentric behaviour. Galbatorix should have been given more time and Eragon and Arya’s affair was extremely disappointing and annoying. But I did liked the way he dealt with Nasuada and Murtagh’s relationship.

  • Empty

    I expected so much more. What could have been a great story wound up as a fetid pile of dingo’s kidneys.

  • David – Brazil

    A very Good review of this book! I must tell that I fill exactly the same.

  • unkown

    the first two book were a good promise, but as you said the third was crap and the last one I am still trying to digest it.
    totally right jengis. good one :P

  • unknown

    Katha chanda can you really talk about eragon and arya as an afair? sure feels like the hero of this saga is childish or with a very weak will and really stupid reaction to events. during the first 2 books he is treated like a child during the 3rd he’s just a minion of the vardens and in the last one he just doesnt do anythink that angela or some “superior design” tells him to do witch makes me wonder what does this story talk about? a kid that an autor wants to win, win and thats it…

  • unknown

    paolini just made one thing right he made eragon some sort of oracle with miserable skills into desition making.
    in the same book he tells arya “will she be queen after the moder dies?” paolini spent an entire chapter of the book making the answer for arya “elf’s do not get promoted like humans” and some other sack of bull#$%*
    not long after taaadaaa she’s the queen.
    another worthless detail to this endless crap form me Roran was suppose to be the one with a new dragon that was my hunch since it didnt happen that way my expectations from the character decreased to nothink just another secondary character to the pile of crap.hell his magician friend gets the honor to get our attention for a like a hundred pages then dies suddently when even the odds were at his favor carn if i recall right after the episode i couldnt care less from any other character that wasnt arya eragon or murtagh since galbatorix was as good as death since the first book and didnt really made anythink epik during the saga i really think it was patetic for a “endgame boss” x) also nasuada left me anoyed too i think ill repost again :P

  • unknown

    so alagargalesia or whatsoever in the end its free with a broken but happy woman as 1 of the rulers of human kind a lier-arya as queen of the elves orik for the dwarfs well nothink to say him orik iz goode to me the only secondary thoon that fullfilled the expectations one of the few and eragon exiled by himself i suppose thats how it can be defined to be a mere teacher for the dragons to come that do not matter much since the saga ended

  • unknown

    dragons
    just one word
    bah.
    in the end just horny little lizards
    cant belive that 4 books around 3200 pages
    not even a single kiss for the hero but just 10 pages before the end saphira ( cant really say it otherwise simple and thruthfull ) is fucking what should be just a mere cub of a dragon telling us that dragons are not monogamous creatures anyways
    such reliefs that one the main characters is really happy! JAH!
    but for eragon 3200 pages dude you could make dragons eat urgalis for the rest of theyr days and be with arya. but no ofc.

    christopher paolini i copy and pasted your name from wiki i have intention to forget you in like the next 15 seconds and i will burn your other books thanks to your cherry on top ofc after my sist finish with it i hope she likes a bit more than i did
    sadly she is really looking forward to it

  • unknown

    congratulations another best seller i suppose gj

  • lolza

    It is an amazing series but the ending could have been better

  • Dwight

    I should point out a correction needed in this review. CP did not self-published his first book when he was 15. He was 19 when it was published. This is a false fact that has been flying around ever since he got published to the point where most of his critics don;t even realize it is false. I bring this up because there is a huge difference between a 15 year old who writes a crummy book that gets publish, and a 19 year old who write a crummy book that gets published.

  • Kennough

    “But I did liked the way he dealt with Nasuada and Murtagh’s relationship.”

    Except he really didn’t deal with it…he builds up the relationship between the two and then leaves it hanging and Murtagh flies off into the sunset with hardly a word to her. Much as Arya does to Eragon at the end too.

  • MG

    I have to confess to generally liking the series. However there was too much fluff where it wasn’t needed and not enough where it was. Eragon and Arya did seem to have an immature relationship, Saphira was a tart and the real interesting character in the story who left me wanting a real explanation was Angela…and Solembum too for that matter. Angela’s unresolved intrigue leaves me feeling empty.

  • noname

    ummmm i like long books that take the time to put in all the good detail, a
    lot of times when i find a book i really like i don’t want to end so quickly. everyone has their own opinion to weather they like short books or long books but don’t bash a specific one that has been published.

  • noname

    poor authors try their best, what one person might think is fluff another person might think of as flavor to the story or so to speak. my point is you can sit there and make judgments about the book but in reality there really is no perfection. …Hmmm, why are there even blogs like this? they just end up with a bunch of people throwing their opinion around

    FYI i’m not targeting anyone in particular, i’m just thinking out loud.

    • brandthacker

      The reason they have blogs like these is to remind you. Lets say your doing a book review; you would want different opionions and/or reminders of the book.

  • noname

    LOL (Horny little lizards) thats good. hey ya never know some people might like the idea. … bestiality???

    *Shrugs* O.o

  • MsSunshines

    I had been waiting to complete the series. There were some disappointments. However, I’m just happy I finally got to read the whole story. I hate having to wait years for a conclusion.

  • guardianangel42

    I really enjoyed Eragon in middle school and even enjoyed Eldest when it came out. But by Brisingr I started to realize that Paolini hadn’t grown at all between Eragon and then.

    He was still the loveless home-schooled teenager he was when he wrote the first book in the series. Every single romantic interaction was handled with all the maturity of a hormonal teenager despite the fact that Paolini was in his late twenties when Brisingr came out.

    I wasn’t the least bit surprised when Paolini concluded his “epic romance” with less than a sputter at the end of Inheritance.

    Even by Eldest I found more to like and care about in Roran than Eragon. Eragon was an immature, incompetent, unlikable shadow of a character by the time Inheritance came around which, coincidentally, was exactly what he was in Eragon. He showed absolutely no growth in the intervening time.

    His little crises of morality came across as the musings a child forced to ponder the ethics of the Holocaust. I got so incredibly tired of his immaturity, his complete inability to make a sound decision, and watching him get written out of every situation his stupidity put him in.

    There’s a very good reason homeschooling is a bad idea; it limits human interaction to a very small group of people. It creates a false understanding of how the world works and cripples emotional development unless done very carefully.

    I look at Paolini as almost a case study in parenting at this point. His writing tells me everything I need to know about his state of mind, and neither are things I can get behind.

    Oh, and @ the rest of this thread; Am I the only one who noticed that the majority of supporters of this series, even after Brisingr and Inheritance, have atrocious grammar and spelling?

  • Brandthacker

    I, personally, like the detail, it makes inheritance seem even more realistic. Even more so, the way it is made longer isn’t just filled with junk like a student trying to make his paper large as possible. I do agree though that some of the battles seemed completely pointless. I think that he purposely left some of the questions undone or for another sires, and i like it that way.

  • Disappointed

    I am Disappointed. Very unsatisfying conclusion. Totally contrived.

  • yathu

    good reivew but i thought only one battle was useless (the battle of aroughs and also the end is confusingy