(To read my review of the first book from the Inheritance Cycle, Eragon click here)
Overall Impression: A great tale, with a jaw dropping ending that will have you desperately reaching for the next book.
Eragon and his dragon, Saphira, have just saved the rebel state from destruction by the forces of Galbatorix, cruel ruler of the Empire. Now Eragon must travel to Ellesmera, land of the elves, for further training in magic and swordsmanship, the vital skills of a Dragon Rider. It is the journey of a lifetime, each day a fresh adventure. But chaos and betrayal plague him at every turn, and Eragon isn’t sure whom he can trust.
Meanwhile, his cousin Roran must fight a new battle back home in Carvahall – one that puts Eragon in even graver danger…
*PLEASE NOTE: If you have not read the first book Eragon this review will contain spoilers, however this review will not contain any major spoilers from the book Eldest*
The second book from the Inheritance Cycle is split into three different character viewpoints that overlap/interlink with each other. The majority of the book is taken up by Eragon, the protagonist from the first book. The story begins with the aftermath of the battle at Farthen Dûr. The Varden are demoralized and are taking time to regroup when suddenly another attack is launched. Several more people are killed, including Ajihad the leader of the Varden. This throws Eragon into a world of dangerous politics. He must decide where to place his loyalties, which is no easy task. He barely has time to process this before he is sent off to complete his training as a dragon rider with the Elves. Once there, desperation threatens to consume him, he has vast amounts to learn and his lessons are confusing, frustrating and painful due to the crippled state of his back, caused by Durza the Shade.
Meanwhile in Eragon’s home town Carvahall, his cousin Roran is facing troubles of his own. He struggles to understand the death of his father, Eragon’s betrayal, and the loss of his livelihood. How can he marry the love of his life Katrina, if he has no way to provide for her? But his troubles only get worse from there. The Ra’zac are back, and they’re looking for Roran. When the villagers refuse to give him up they begin pillaging, killing, and get a serious case of pyromania. Will the village be able to escape the Empire’s wrath?
Back at the Varden, Nausada is trying hard to settle into her role as leader while grieving for her father. There are some big decisions to be made, and everyone is looking at her to make them. There are people in high places just waiting for her to fail, and endless enemies out to get her. The Varden has been hiding in the shadows for too long, it is time for them to come out and fight.
I have to admit, rereading this book I did not enjoy it as much as the first time round. However, I still maintain that this is a great book well worth reading.
Eldest uses the plot foundations of the first book, and expands on them making the world of Alagaësia more complex and interesting. I love that we get to know more about how magic works and how to wield it. I always find it fascinating to see how writers come up with their individual explanations of magic and Eldest is no exception to this. However, I do feel like it could have been taken further as I’ve read more detailed explanations from authors such as Trudi Canavan and Cate Tiernan.
Christopher Paolini’s writing style has slightly improved with this second book. His prose flow a lot better, and there is an overall feeling that is slightly superior to his previous book, which I expect comes from the fact that he was slightly older when writing this one.
However, one of the problems I have with Eldest is the plot is very slow. Both the start and end are action packed and enthralling, but too much of the rest of the book is made up of descriptions of the characters traveling and sitting around dithering. I still enjoyed reading about it to a point, but towards the end of the book I did find myself yawning a little. This is a trap I find many fantasy books end up getting caught in; endless descriptions of how their characters make camp each night, and how they find food, doesn’t result in an entertaining read, not to me at least. I don’t know if this happens because the authors simply enjoy writing about it or whether it’s an attempt to flesh out their books at the request of an editor, but I’m guessing it’s more likely to be the latter.
A further issue I had with this book was characterization, I felt it wasn’t as good as in Eragon. Arya has a bigger role in this book but I found her character flat, annoying and unlikeable. I didn’t warm to her personality at all. Therefore when Eragon is given consistent paragraphs throughout the book dedicated to drooling at her, I found it slightly annoying. I also found Eragon’s personality grated on me at times, he would do things that were ridiculously ignorant, that made me want to whack him round the head. (Although he is supposed to be only 16 in the book, so I guess I could cut him some slack). Nonetheless the introduction of Roran as a main character gives another fresh dimension to the book, he is more grown up than Eragon and so provides a good contrast and adds some extra ingredients to the book such as romance that I felt were lacking in the first. I also liked the introduction of the character Nasuada as the leader of the Varden. It was great to actually see a competent female given a position of power in a fantasy book, as this doesn’t seem to happen very often as they are usually riddled with dominant male characters.
My final criticism of this book is that I was a little disappointed with the fact that Paolini neglected one of the most important aspects of it; the dragons. I felt like as they’re what the book is based around and are such an interesting mythical creature, he should have explored this part of the story more. Vague references are made to why/how dragons are so magical, but there is nothing specific, and this was a shame.
It may seem like I’ve listed quite a few negatives, but don’t get me wrong, this is a great book, it’s just that I had very high expectations as the first was so good. But wow, what an amazing, and dramatic ending it had! Eldest is a must read for 13 years and upwards either male or female that enjoy a very traditional fantasy style book.
For now, I leave you with this quote:
“Live in the present, remember the past, and fear not the future, for it doesn’t exist and never shall. There is only now.” – Saphira
Writing Style: 4/5
Character Development: 3/5
Would I recommend this book? Yes
(To read my review of the third book in the Inheritance Cycle, Brisingr, click here)