Thursday, January 25, 2007

Eldest: the Empi-- err, Galbatorix strikes back

I realize I appear to be on an unstoppable Paolini ranting rampage, given my scathing reviews of his first novel Eragon and the godawful movie it spawned, but I need to vent my negative energy, so bear with me as I share what I thought of Eldest, the second book in Paolini's Inheritance trilogy. [Warning: plot spoilers ahead, proceed at your own peril.]

Eldest picks up where Eragon left off... that is to say, it continues running parallel to Star Wars and the Lord of the Rings. I will stop short of saying young master Paolini ripped off George Lucas and Tolkien, but the similarities are just too painfully obvious to overlook. Eragon, wide-eyed farmboy-turned-valiant Rider (i.e. Luke Skywalker/Aragorn) and his blue dragon Saphira have joined the resistance fighters of the Varden (i.e. the Rebel Alliance) in their fight against the despotic king Galbatorix (i.e. Emperor Palpatine/Sauron), whose menacing presence is felt but never seen (by the end of Eldest, we have yet to meet the big baddie). Wise old mentor and ex-Rider Brom (i.e. Obi-wan Kenobi/Gandalf) is dead, having sacrificed his life to protect Eragon. Loyal sidekick Murtagh (i.e. Han Solo) has been kidnapped by a bunch of Urgals (i.e. orcs), and while he is not frozen in carbonite like the Galaxy's slickest smuggler, he does reappear in dramatic fashion much later in the story. Ajihad, head of the Varden (i.e. Senator Bail Organa/King Theoden), falls in battle and his daughter Nasuada (i.e. Princess Leia/Eowyn) assumes leadership of the freedom fighters.

Accompanied by the dwarf Orik (i.e. Gimli/R2D2), Eragon is sent off to the elves' forest of Ellesmera (i.e. Lothlorien), ruled by Queen Islanzadi (i.e. Galadriel), to receive further education in magic and the ways of the Riders (i.e. the Force and the ways of the Jedi). An ancient crippled elf and Rider named Oromis (i.e. Yoda) and his dragon Glaedr oversee Eragon and Saphira's training. The elf-maiden Arya (i.e. Arwen), with whom Eragon is smitten, turns out to be Islanzadi's daughter, squashing any possibility of a full-blown love affair (although given the predictable path Paolini's tale is taking, I'd bet good money the love affair happens in the third book anyway).

As Eragon is busy getting buffer and learning to become a bad-ass Rider, his cousin Roran (sharing the role of Aragorn) faces his own share of problems as he sets off on a crusade of his own, leading the villagers of Carvahall in an exodus to the land of Surda (much like how the people of Rohan up and left for Gondor), where the Varden are now based after being forced to evacuate the dwarf city of Tronjheim (i.e. Moria). The Ra'zac (i.e. Nazgul) are hot on their heels because Galbatorix wants Roran, presumably to be used as bait for Eragon. Since the pesky, tenacious cousin keeps slipping out of their clutches, the Ra'zac snatch his fiancee Katrina instead. Roran thus has his own score to settle with the malicious monarch, and more motivation to hunt down the creatures who not only killed his father, but took his girl. Along the way, he runs into a man called Jeod (i.e. Lando Calrissian), an agent of the Varden who helps him secure a ship to take his people to Surda. The ship survives a storm, dogged pursuit by the king's men, and a whirlpool suspiciously similar to The Odyssey's Charybdis.

Roran's journey eventually ends with a reunion with Eragon, at Surda where the first major battle between Galbatorix's troops and the Varden takes place. Eragon and Saphira are ably leading the charge against the king's forces, and the tide seems to be turning the rebels' way, when suddenly Murtagh, presumed dead by all, bursts onto the scene astride a red dragon (gee, I didn't see that coming). 1 of the 2 eggs in Galbatorix's possession hatched, "choosing" Murtagh to be its Rider. After a fierce duel on dragonback, Murtagh reveals to Eragon that they are both sons of rogue Rider Morzan (i.e. Darth Vader), making them brothers (this plot twist suddenly turns Eragon into a young Obi-wan Kenobi and Murtagh a young Anakin Skywalker as Eragon reels from the shock of Murtagh's betrayal of turning to the Dark Side, as it were). It is also revealed that Saphira is the last female dragon in existence; hence, Galbatorix wants her alive for breeding purposes. For old times' sake, apparently, Murtagh spares Eragon's life but takes the sword Zar'roc (i.e. Anduril) from him, claiming it as his rightful inheritance as their father's eldest son.

If you've read this far into my review, then I have just saved you the effort of reading Paolini's weak follow-up to his overhyped debut novel. Not only have I spared you from a you've-seen-this-all-before plot, I've also rescued you from Paolini's flawed writing style, which didn't seem as bad in Eragon. In Eldest, his use of language is inconsistent and awkward, shifting from overly formal and archaic (words like "aught", "nigh", "mayhap") to flippantly casual and contemporary (phrases that begin with "I guess..." and "Technically...", and hell, even "tickles like crazy"). The young author also tries his hand at Elvish-poetry-translated-into-English a la Tolkien, and fails miserably. The verses are contrived, lack all semblance of rhythm and beauty, and in no way enrich the already trite story. In addition to the annoying lyrical attempts, Paolini insists on naming irrelevant and faceless characters (they're not even nice names), and throwing around big words ("fey", "modicum", and "chary" keep popping up). Paolini reminds me of students I had whom I advised to "write to express, not to impress". The reader can almost smell his earnest, embarrassing desire to be admired and respected for his precocious talent. I just wrinkled my nose and tried to ignore the faint stench.

I don't discount Paolini has certain creative skills and a laudable dedication to his craft most teenagers and even adults don't have. But when a writer is gifted, his talent should unfold naturally, with even the simplest sentence he composes and each original idea he puts forth. He need not use lofty vocabulary and fancy poetry as trappings, and he need not lean on the work of legends as a crutch, much less use it as a skeleton for his own creation. Like his hero Eragon, Paolini has much to learn about using his innate gifts, and far to go in developing his potential. Hopefully, when the third book of his trilogy comes out, we'll see signs of growth from this promising Padawan of fantasy fiction.


At Friday, January 26, 2007, Blogger Sean said...

I've seen similar mistakes in a number of budding and/or amateur Fantasy writers over here; I think it stems from the fact that they feel that their respective universes should fit a certain Fantasy "norm", as represented by Tolkien and whatever other authors they've read. Fortunately, such "mistakes" tend to go away with experience.

Ah... I remember my first fantasy epic... :)

At Friday, January 26, 2007, Blogger Ailee Through the Looking Glass said...

J.R.R. casts a long shadow indeed. I do give Paolini credit for trying though, plus being brave enough to share his work with the world (thus leaving it open to attack from unforgivingly critical, pompous know-it-alls like me :p). I still intend to read the third book just to see how he wraps up the trilogy. Plus, we already have the first 2 books, might as well complete the set. :)


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