At the conclusion of Eldest, book two of his Inheritance Cycle, Christopher Paolini had seemingly laid the ground work for the series’ climax in book three. Concluding as it did with a second major battle being fought and a meaty surprise being revealed, it would have been easy for him to throw all his characters into the final confrontation and bring the story to an end. After all, many a trilogy before this one has rushed headlong to its conclusion with an eye for its destination without worrying overly much how it arrived there.
Paolini has risked his reader’s impatience by not giving into that temptation with Brisingr (book three of four, published by Random House Canada in the fall of 2008). Instead he takes the time to build a more complete picture of the world and the people who inhabit it, as well as continuing the story.
With each step down the road there is less and less time, and the pressure on Eragon and Saphira to discover a means of defeating Galbatorix (the king who would destroy all the free people) increases. Unless they can solve that riddle, it doesn’t matter how many battles they win; they will ultimately lose the war.
Brisingr sees Eragon spending an extended period of time among the dwarfs. While he’d much rather be staying with the army of the Varden (the resistance), their leader, Nasuada, insists that he go to the dwarfs as her representative. The King of the dwarfs had been killed in the last battle of book two, and they are now going to select from among the 13 clan chiefs a new monarch. It’s vital that whoever it is continue to support the war against Galbatorix. Nasuada hopes Eragon’s presence there will serve to remind the dwarfs, who might be wavering in their commitment, of the need to fight for their freedom.
Paolini’s decision to enmesh Eragon in dwarf politics and spend a sizeable chunk of the book in the dwarf kingdom observing the process of selecting a monarch instead of hastening the conclusion of the series might seem odd at first glance. However, by doing so Paolini is making the point that just because you’re under threat doesn’t mean you surrender those things that define you, even if there is a risk that it will cause a result not to your liking.
If Eragon were to use his power as a Dragon Rider to influence who is chosen as the next dwarf king, no matter what his intentions, he would deprive the dwarfs of their freedom of choice, making him no less a tyrant than Galbatorix.
Throughout Brisingr Paolini returns to the theme of being responsible for one’s actions with different people. This isn’t just Eragon’s story. The character of Roran, Eragon’s cousin, represents how any of us can make a difference; how, even without magic or the companionship of a dragon, we each have the power to exact change. Yet Roran also learns about having to take responsibility for his actions when he disobeys a direct order from his commanding officer in the midst of a raid against an enemy patrol.
It doesn’t matter that by doing so he saved the lives of a great many men, ensured the success of his mission, and personally slew a great many of the enemy; Nasuada still has to have him punished. No one, no matter who they are or what they have done, can be seen to be above the law. After reading Roran’s heroics it might seem ridiculous to us that Nasuada punishes him, but that is her living up to her responsibility to the people she leads to ensure that the law is equally enforced. That she demotes the officer who gave the orders that Roran disobeyed and then promotes Roran to be one of the Captains of her army mitigates the punishment and shows that she understands the true nature of justice.
The sign of a really good author is that he can draw you so deeply into the story, you’re reacting to characters or situations as if they were real. At one point while I was reading Brisingr, I felt frustrated with Eragon’s impatience and near arrogance when it came to accepting other people’s orders or suggestions. It was only in the middle of saying to myself, “What an arrogant little…” that I realized what an amazing job Paolini had done in his depiction of Eragon.
Sure he’s gone through all sorts of magical transformations, has magical powers, and has a spiritual link to a dragon; but at the heart of it all he’s still only a teenage boy unsure of his identity and insecure about his capabilities. For Paolini to have been able to elicit that reaction from me about Eragon is a perfect example of the magnificent job he’s done in bringing this world to life. Though Eragon is the hero of the series, Paolini doesn’t shirk from showing him warts and all. Even when we are seeing the world through Eragon’s eyes, his character is so honestly presented we can’t help but want to slap him upside the head on occasion.
While the first two books of The Inheritance Cycle were exciting, fun to read, and well written, Brisingr gives us a deeper understanding of the world the series takes place in and brings us closer to the people we had been getting to know in the first two books. Christopher Paolini took a risk by slowing down the course of events to allow us this opportunity; and it’s a risk that’s paid off handsomely as I think we now know more — and care more — about Alagesia and the people who inhabit her then we did before. If you weren’t emotionally involved with the story before now, there’s no way you can avoid it now.
The table is set. Let the final confrontation begin. We’re ready.