Christopher Paolini, Brisingr (Knopf, 2008)

Christopher Paolini started his Inheritance series when he was just a teenager, with the book Eragon. This story chronicled the initial adventures of the young dragon rider Eragon and his dragon Sapphira. The two quickly became a vital part of an alliance of elves, dwarves, and a group of renegade humans called the Varden against the wicked emperor Galbatorix -- himself a dragon rider and keeper of the remaining dragon eggs. Eragon became a big hit with readers of young adult fantasy, to the point that the book was adapted as a movie. (The film had its moments, but suffered from a lack of the rich detail that the book possessed.) The story split into multiple arcs in the second book Eldest. Eragon and Sapphira went to the elves to learn the ways of dragons and riders. Meanwhile, the armies of Galbatorix sacked Eragon's home village of Carvahall, forcing Eragon's cousin Roran to lead the surviving townspeople on a hopelessly perilous journey towards rebel territory. And the young but wily Nasuada took over control of the Varden upon her father's death, and had to get very creative in order to maintain her command and the Varden's strength. All the good guys converged in time for a pivotal battle against the enemy, which climaxes with a dramatic (but predictable, I thought) revelation about Eragon's heritage.

Paolini originally intended the Inheritance series to be a trilogy, but eventually decided that there was more remaining to the story than could be told in just one book. So the newest addition to the series, Brisingr, doesn't end the story but does do a fine job of setting the stage for the climax. While the action begins with everybody together, it quickly branches off again into multiple arcs. Eragon, Sapphira, and Roran fly into the heart of enemy territory to rescue Roran's fiancée Katrina. The mission succeeds, but circumstances force Eragon to stay behind while the others fly off. Nasuada, meanwhile, has to endure an unpleasant ritual trial in order to thwart a challenger to her leadership. She also has to get the humans using to fighting alongside the militant Urgals, rather than against them. Eragon gets back to the Varden on foot with the aid of Arya, the elf maiden for whom Eragon's affections remain unrequited. They return just in time for another battle. After the battle is resolved and Eragon presides over the wedding of Roran and Katrina, he and Sapphira again split up. Eragon needs to assist his ally Orrin in the appointment of a new dwarvish king, but not all the dwarves are happy with Eragon's presence. Roran is sent on missions, but is forced to choose between obeying orders and saving his comrades-in-arms. Eventually Eragon and Sapphira reunite and make a return trip to the land of the elves, where they get some final instruction from their mentors Oromis (an elf) and Glaedr (a dragon). Eragon also finally gets a new sword, having lost his old one at the end of the second book. The name of the sword, which is the elvish word for fire, gives the book its title. Eragon and Sapphira then fly back to the Varden, who are advancing on a major city. The book ends with the battle that ensues.

While all three books in the series have been entertaining, I would argue that Brisingr is the best written of the three. The first two books can certainly be criticized for being derivative, but at this stage Paolini has developed the races and the characters enough to make them distinct from the standard archetypes of heroic fantasy. Brisingr also does a better job than the first two books of balancing action and development; Eragon leaned a little too heavily on the action side, while Eldest could have used another fight or two. Christopher Paolini is definitely maturing as a writer, and it's been fun reading along as his characters mature with him. Hopefully he will not keep his audience waiting too long for the culmination of the series.

Overall grade: A-

reviewed by Scott

1 comment:

Chad Cloman said...

I agree, Brisingr's better than the previous books. I was dreading having to read it, especially since it's over 700 pages, but that all changed once I actually started reading.