Eragon by Christopher Paolini
Illustrations by John Jude Palencar
Published in 2003
Genre: Fantasy, young adult
“Wind howled through the night, carrying a scent that would change the world.”
Though it may initially look like a typo because the story focuses on a dragon and the boy who rides her in battle, Eragon by Christopher Paolini actually refers to the book’s main character. A story of swordplay, waiting, meandering, and possible narcolepsy, Eragon fails to deliver on the promise of interesting dragon action and instead finds itself bogged down by indecision and onerous world-building. Buckle into your dragon saddles, kids; this isn’t gonna be pretty.
Eragon is a teenager who finds a mysterious blue stone while hunting. He lives with his uncle and cousin on the outskirts of town and discovers that his stone is actually a dragon egg. Coincidentally, traders come into town telling tales of unrest in the Empire and dark forces mass in pursuit of the egg. When the egg hatches, Eragon touches the dragon and forms a sort of mental bond with it, eventually naming her Saphira. As she grows, the two are able to communicate more and are forced to leave the safety of the town after Eragon’s family is attacked. He seeks out the attackers with revenge in mind and picks up Brom, the local storyteller with more up his sleeve; the pair travel, train, and fight their way in search of those who harmed Eragon’s family. However, this isn’t so easily achieved, and the story goes off the rails from there.
For a run-of-the-mill fantasy book, Eragon does have some decent world building, but it eventually becomes too much. I found it refreshing that, as a farm boy, he didn’t know how to read and had to learn in order to progress in the story; however, events occur that make it completely unnecessary and it isn’t brought up again until he is randomly reminded of the fact that he hasn’t read in a while. While reading, it seems like Paolini couldn’t decide how to end the book, so he just keeps the characters roaming around until they reach an ending, though it is one that they sit around and wait for. He wastes at least a page talking about how everyone is restless for the battle. WE KNOW; WE’RE RESTLESS FOR IT TOO. When the story does move forward, it is stereotypical to the hero’s journey and ridiculously derivative of Star Wars (1977) – a boy meets a wise mentor who everyone else thinks is a strange recluse, he is a offered chance to enter new world, says no and runs home to find his house destroyed and uncle dead before setting out on a quest with no other options.
Eragon as a character is snotty, selfish, not very likeable, and prone to getting knocked out/passing out. It seriously happens more times than I could count; I think about five (I can count higher than five, that was just for comedic effect), because apparently that is the only way Paolini could end some of the chapters. He becomes a bit more bearable through his interaction with Saphira. Though she is younger than him, she holds inherited wisdom (from simply being a dragon?) and as such acts as a sort of mentor and sounding board. Their dynamic is interesting to see unfold, and I think this is one of the few areas that the book does well.
I feel like to continue writing would only serve to lengthen this review with more admonishment that would go beyond being constructive, so I will conclude here. Paolini mentions in the afterword of this edition that the book was first published by his family, and I can see why. It was eventually picked up by a larger publisher, but there is far greater fantasy out there to read. Some of his ideas are original, but they don’t make up for the lackluster execution and dragging story. As the final nail in this review-coffin, I will warn others about the abundance of adverbs (he said, truthfully).
Verdict: 2 derivative dragon-tales out of 5
Recommended for: Teenagers, die-hard fantasy enthusiasts, those who enjoy reading about a borderline narcoleptic, and people who will read anything if there is a dragon in it.
Not recommended for: Discerning fantasy readers, those familiar with the Hero’s Journey, fans of Star Wars, those who enjoy well-paced plots, Brom, or those who despise adverbs.