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Book Review: Inheritance (Inheritance Cycle, Book 4) by Christopher Paolini

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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.

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About Magdalena Ball

Magdalena Ball is the author of the novels Black Cow and Sleep Before Evening, the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Sublime Planet, Deeper Into the Pond, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks. Find out more about Magdalena at www.magdalenaball.com.
  • Laura

    I was also very excited when I first got the final book of this series. I grew up reading the series and idolizing Christopher Paolini. The majority of this book is amazing, it answered several questions I had but in the end left me empty. It felt almost unfinished. I keep reading the ending over and over again trying to see if I missed anything. Realistically when I look at the end it just doesn’t seem to fit. I mean no one is that noble, that perfect, or that selfless. People are selfish, they want it all. So when Eragon just leaves like that it makes no sense. Also I don’t believe that leading children to believe that life is set and stone and you can’t change your destiny is a good thing. It gives them nothing to work for since It’s all going to end up the same way anyway. Don’t get me wrong, I still adore this series, but it was just disappointing. I believe that, with a little more time, Paolini could come up with a much better and satisfying ending.

    • Gus

      Yes indeed!

  • Kennough

    One aspect of the ending I did not buy was that Eargon claims he does not believe in a higher power, that he will live his life according to his own moral code and does not need to pray to god(s). And yet just a few pages later seems to have complete faith that a supernatural prophecy of unknown origin is fact and he will never return to his country and friends. Perhaps a set-up for future books, but still seemed very odd and artificial.

    Likewise the relationship between Eragon and Arya is left in a very unsatisfying way. No not all stories have happy endings, but still there could have been a better way to resolve their relationship especially after having built it up through four books.

    • Gus

      I just want to say I completely agree with you about the relationship between Eragon and Arya. It was one of the things I found most important about the book. Though I think the ending is good, I was really unsatisfied about this one thing. I just kept hoping it would work out. I’m glad you see that aswell. I searched the internet for a reaction like this :)

  • Sasha

    I love the inheritance cycle I couldn’t stop reading I went to bed with a flashlight and the books so I didn’t have to stop reading. Christopher Paolini has put so much detail in to or that you can read it again and again with the same thill and with a new discovery of a detail that you’ve missed before.

    A true master piece

  • Sasha

    Though I do agree the ending was a little unfinished ( why does saphira have to leave finern!!!!!!!) but written well

  • Sasha

    Also the definition of magic is great

  • Kevin

    The ending seemed terrible. I literally saw it coming from three books away, when Brom and Eragon started talking about how maybe the ancient language had a name. I remember thinking , “That would be very convenient for solving everything, though I hope the author wouldn’t be so shallow as to use such a deus ex machina tactic without some preparation.” Turns out that was exactly what he did. He solved everything by letting Eragon pull some miracle out of a hat, or to be precise, letting Murtaugh pull a miracle out of his hat. Frankly, the book was a bore and the series a disappointment.

    • john

      Two words. Yeah right!!

  • Ldejay

    I agree with the below comments. I was very hooked on the series through all the books, and felt the writing and story was very good. I was disappointed by the end. Maybe I’m just too cliche, but I was hoping for some sort of resolution with Arya. Also, it’s quite sad that after everything, Roran and Eragon have seemingly no relationship either. I would have highly recommended this series to anyone, before I read the last 100 pages. I still enjoyed it, but am just hoping that eventually he will find it necessary to tie up the end of the story a little more with the characters.

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    the inheritance cycle is amazing

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