Author: Christopher Paolini
Publisher: Knopf Books
Ever since my husband first introduced me to reading fantasy, way back while we were still dating in college, he has been trying to get me to read one of the most recognizable young adult fantasy series: the Inheritance Cycle Series, which I will collectively refer to as Eragon for simplicity’s sake. I had heard about the series before, but as my family never read these types of books, and I typically enjoyed classic literature, I simply never got around to them. But, after hearing the author’s story, and finding my love for fantasy, I finally read this enjoyable series.
I like to think that when I read most books, I can come away with a clear view of how I feel about said book. I either love it, or I hate it. It is rare that I fall somewhere in-between, leaning either one way or another. But with Eragon, I regularly bounced back and forth in my opinion on the series. Even now, I cannot fully decide on my views other than I don’t feel they lived up to other works I’ve read in the genre. But before I get into the meat of my thoughts on the books, I want to talk briefly about the author.
Paolini began the series when he was still in high school, crafting the first book for years before initially publishing it. And what an accomplishment! I feel something of a kinship with him. You can read more of his biography here, but he and I share something of a similar history. Both homeschooled, we loved the epics and classical literature. While never planning to publish, both of us loved to write long before we realized our passions. I almost envy Paolini in that he did something I dreamed of doing but never did, and probably never will: he wrote an epic, high fantasy series about a rider and a dragon. For that I applaud him.
I do, however, have some issues with the series, most of which falls upon his writing style rather than the characters. While I do not mind the length of the books, he definitely could have broken almost all of his four books into two separate books and perhaps fleshed out some parts a little better. Many have complained about the traveling scenes. These did not bother me so much, as they are typical of most epics and fantasy, but they needed more around them that established and expounded the plot. Instead, much of the length comes across as filler, and then the ending became hurried and incomplete. This is made worse to know his series was to be a trilogy, but without knowing how to end the book, he kept fluffing up two books to stall the inevitable: how to defeat the villain.
While I do appreciate his world-building in the high fantasy genre, he very obviously borrowed elements and names from other well-known books, making his writing, at least in the beginning, feel cheapened. And though his characters are good on their own merits, because he never fully fleshes out the plot, he focuses too much on minor characters and points that don’t really add to the story itself. And they could have! But he needed to flesh out the story more to make those characters have consequential meaning, which also would have helped with the sense that his books have too much traveling.
Additionally, Some of his writing comes across as stilted and inconsistent, going back and forth between the epic literature that served as inspiration and the dialogue and writing styles of most contemporary fiction. My last disappointment was that I could see him begin to play at some philosophical point towards the end. But again, as with my main complaint about his writing, because he spent so little time on a long term plot, he never had time to let it play out, most especially because he rushed the ending.
Even with its flaws, there is little wonder why Paolini’s Eragon series was such a hit. It is good fantasy! The story, though sometimes long and overdrawn, other times not living to its full potential, is engaging. You want to know what happens next, how the characters are resolved, who will be victorious! It is a journey, but one you want to be a part of. While Paolini did borrow from authors, which in part, is typical of fantasy, he did create some unique elements and worthy characters. For one, I found the bond and history between the dragons and their riders fascinating. I loved the personality of the main dragon, and loved more that she was made into a character rather than just a prop.
Of all the characters he created, my favorite was Roran, Eragon’s cousin. He was the most realistic and, strangely enough, relatable character in the whole book. Where Eragon is the mythic character we vicariously live through, Roran is the one with the highest stakes and greatest development. In addition to various characters, Paolini did a pretty decent job building a cohesive world for his characters that was both fitting for high fantasy and believable to the reader.
Though I often took issue with it, Paolini’s writing improved with each book, and it made the journey that much better. I am glad not only that I was encouraged to read the series but that I stuck with them to the end. The series contains a most enjoyable story, especially for those who like the fantasy genre. Furthermore, his writing is accessible, even if not polished, which is great for the reader just beginning the genre. As I said before, I admire Paolini for what he accomplished, both in vision and scope. Though it may not be for everyone, the Eragon series should be kept among the other well-loved works of fantasy.
Blessings to you and yours,
~Madelyn Rose Craig