I had no intention of reading the Inheritance series or becoming a fan of Christopher Paolini. I was brought to it, reluctantly, by my three children, who insisted. Relucantly because I’m not a fantasy fan, and the idea of reading a lengthy series of books about dragons and a war did not appeal to me. However, when the fourth book in the series arrived on my doorstep on the day of its release, I was almost as excited as my children, who began fighting immediately over who would read it first.
It was only after each of them had a go that I was able to get to my own reading. Since the book is 880 pages, I thought it might take me a while, even though my nine-year-old daughter got through it in two days, and my sons each took three.
It quickly became obvious to me once I started why my children were able to read such a long book so quickly. Paolini has mastered the art of the cliffhanger. Moving in point of view between Eragon, his cousin Rorin, and occasionally, Nasuada, leader of the Vardin, the chapters take us into the heart of the conflict between good and evil as the Vardin struggle to stop dragon-rider-gone-bad Galbatorix from carrying out his master plan to rule the world.
It may sound familiar, and Paolini is quite open about the debt his world owes other fantasy writers, including of course Tolkien, but the world of Alagaësia is so well developed and thoughtfully structured, and the characters so charming (even Galbatorix), that the book stands perfectly well on its own. Eragon himself grows substantially throughout the series, and his development goes well beyond increasing swordmanship. His ultimate growth and a key underlying theme is around the notion of self-awareness and inner calm:
“Instead, you must strive to be calm, even if a hundred ravening enemies are snapping at your heels. Empty your mind and allow it to become like a tranquil pool that reflecst everything around it and yet remains untouched by its surroundings. Understanding will come to you in that emptiness, when you are free of irrational fears about victory and defeat, life and death.”
This notion of self-awareness is one that is handled delicately and with it, Paolini creates a book that is far more powerful than simply a fast-paced plot-driven fantasy about a war between good and evil. Eragon’s growth is one that takes him beyond the moment of his conflict to a connectiveness with the world he lives in and beyond, through the older dragons he encounters.
There are subtle tugs at the idea of a god, on ethics and responsibility, on life’s meaning, and even the idea of the universe and time itself which one imagines that Paolini will play with in future books.
Certainly it’s possible to read the Inheritance series as a coming-of-age book in which character development is the main thrust of the story, but this is also a plot-driven book. Each chapter reveals a new hint or plot point on the road to awareness for the reader, and threads begin to come together as the reader is propelled on through some wonderful, and often grusomely funny scenes.
New monsters too are revealed in this book, including Galbatorix’s own Rasputin type fighter Barst, the inventive Snalgli (Dr Who writers, are you paying attention?), the self-mutilating monks and priests of Helgrind, and the deliciously grusome burrow grubs (with their “skree-skree”).
For the careful reader, there are lots of fun links to earlier books, including the “passing strangers”, who reappear mysteriously. There are new heroes too, including the significant development of Nasuada, Murtagh, Rorin, Angela, Glaedr, and to a lesser extent Arya. There are also some wonderful new elves, werecats, magicians, and even a few doppelgängers.
To say more might give too much away, and I was determined to write this review without spoilers, but suffice to say the attentive reader will enjoy the extraordinary detail of Paolini’s universe, and even the etmylogical information at the back.
Inheritance has left a few loose ends, which may disappoint some readers, and again, Paolini is upfront that he didn’t want to tie up everything. It’s a credit to his growing maturity too that not every story has a happy or even complete ending, and there are few clichés, though the temptation to create them must have been strong.
One minor criticism that remains from Brisingr is that the ‘voice’ of Saphira is not effective. Though mildly humorous with her many hyphened names, she comes across as reasonably facile in her one POV chapter, which is not the case when we view her through Eragon’s perspective. She doesn’t use the hyphenated names when she’s in discussion with Eragon so having them appear just one time in the book doesn’t work well.
However, this is a minor flaw in what is overall a tremendous and engaging finish to a extraordinary accomplishment from such a young writer. That the book was read hungrily within the space of a month by four very different age groups of both sexes shows the breadth of its appeal. This is a book for young children (good readers only), teens, and adults alike, though be prepared to fall behind on a few other things while you’re reading it, since it’s not something you can start and stop lightly.