The Inheritance Cycle: Brisingr

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This is my essay/review about Brisingr by Christopher Paolini. Oh, what a journey it has been.

INTRODUCTION

Long ago, when I first reviewed Eragon, I was a bookstore worker who wanted to know whether I should be recommending the book. Obviously, you know what my conclusion was. But after I came out so strongly with a negative opinion of it, fans kept urging me to read Eldest, sure that it would change my mind and show me how much Paolini had matured. It did not.

I did not intend to read Brisingr in the first place, because by the time it came out, I no longer worked at the bookstore, and certainly did not wish to purchase the book or befoul my name by applying to have the book reserved for me at the library, so I gave up. A howl of protest echoed across the Internet! A SCENT THAT WOULD CHANGE THE WORLD! (Or maybe I just farted?) Long story short, someone gifted me with an electronic copy of the book and begged me to read and review it, so I committed to the arduous task at hand. And proceeded to put it off for the better part of three years.

Over a thousand days later (I'm not exaggerating), I decided I should finish and review the damn thing before the fourth volume came out (groan), and so that I have done. I'll have you know this thing ruined my Labor Day weekend. So hopefully, you people will enjoy what I have for you here. (The folks on the LiveJournal group sure did.)

Please note that there are three possibly unwanted things in this review:

  1. Spoilers.
  2. Swear words.
  3. EXTREME COMPLAINING.

This review is longer and more in-depth than the others were, largely because I had a PDF and therefore had easy access to my keyboard whenever I wanted to complain about stuff. If this seems too long-winded for you, please see this short version that I made for sharing on the character-limited Goodreads review site. And thank you to everyone for your patience.

This essay is divided into several sections. Read straight through to see them all, or click to skip to the topic of your choice.

Author Fails * Bad Narration * Bad Dialogue * Stuff stolen from other works * PLOT ISSUES: Ridiculously Predictable Events * PLOT ISSUES: Nonsense, Holes, and Contrived Events * GOOD Stuff * My personal commentary


Author Fails

This is my section for misconceptions, consistent problems, or issues with the choices Paolini made in telling the story.

Pala-who?

I guess I wasn't really paying attention in the last books, but has anyone noticed that Eragon grew up in the Palancar Valley and his illustrator is John Jude Palencar? I'm not sure if this is kind of sweet or if it's really, really silly. I lean toward silly. Especially since these books also have a character named Angela while he has a sister named Angela. I would now like to know how many of these characters are named after his editors, his extended family, or his pet bunny.

And speaking of silly. . . .

O descriptive paragraphs, mock me not!

Eragon picked up the hawthorn staff that lay by his side. He rolled it between his palms, admiring the play of light over the polished tangle of roots at the top and the much-scratched metal ferrule and spike at the base.

This is just one example, and I'm probably being picky, but even though fans go on and on about how Paolini has grown and how his writing style has advanced in maturity . . . I'm still seeing crap like this. What's wrong with it? Oh, it's nothing terrible, but it reads like a ninth grade English attempt to describe something sneakily by having a character interact with it. It'd be one thing if Eragon admired the play of light on his staff and you mentioned one thing about it. But you've decided to use this scene to describe his staff to us--which probably isn't even necessary, but hey, you're allowed--and you've bombarded us with how the top looks, how the bottom looks, there's roots tangled here, there's metal here, it's scratched, blah blah blah. Sudden dollops of description like this take us out of the moment.

And here's the thing. He does this over and over and OVER again. It's pretty much inconsequential that Eragon's leaning forward and picking up his staff, because I don't really care how he's sitting and that he's playing around with his frigging staff. I mean, if you have to tell us, in order to enhance the visual nature of the scene, go for it, but give us half a sentence. Give us description when we CARE. It's as if he is a movie director who, instead of just letting us watch the movie, feels compelled to ZOOM IN repeatedly on crap and has the characters stand still while he does so. As a reader, this makes me seasick. Chris, your readers are gonna pick up the environment and whatnot through your descriptions just fine even if you ease off a little, and if they don't imagine things exactly how you want--here's the key--IT DOESN'T MATTER. LET your readers make up some of the details. Otherwise you end up having to do things like, oh, splitting a book that was intended to be one book into two. (Hardy har.) And I'm telling you--you're getting this from a girl who has written a 255,000-word novel and a six-book fantasy series. I understand being long-winded. Really, I do! So when you get this kind of comment from someone who truly understands the plight of the wordy writer, you are in TROUBLE, boy!

I've got an idea. Let's remind everyone that Eragon and Saphira are, like, mentally connected!

Saphira and Eragon take turns finishing each other's sentences in an unprecedented and very silly way, and the scene's point was to make Eragon have this revelation:

Eragon paused with his mouth open; until that moment, he had been unaware that he and Saphira were speaking in turn. The knowledge pleased him: it signified that they had achieved new heights of cooperation and were acting together as a single entity--which made them far more powerful than either would be on their own. It also troubled him when he contemplated how such a partnership must, by its very nature, reduce the individuality of those involved.

Speaking in turn? Fine. Finishing each other's sentences? Fine. REPEATEDLY INTERRUPTING EACH OTHER TAKING TURNS RELAYING PARTS OF SENTENCES SEAMLESSLY? Silly. Here's how it looked:

It means that, over the past century, Galbatorix--
"--may have placed wards around the Ra'zac--"
--that will protect them against--
"--a whole range of spells. I probably won't--"
--be able to kill them with any--
"--of the words of death I was taught, nor any--"
--attacks that we can invent now or then. We may--
"--have to rely--"

Now really, is there some REASON that the conversation is taking turns with whose mouth it's using, so to speak? I get what he's trying to do, but it doesn't make sense to me that while talking to someone else they would take TURNS. It'd be one thing if they were picking up on what each other were talking about and helped each other relay, or if they talked at the same time sometimes, but in my opinion if you're trying to show that there is one stereo system with two speakers, there's no reason to program the music to rapidly filter back and forth between the speakers unless your intention is to make the listener dizzy. I think Paolini came up with this "ooh, they should be so in sync that they talk together!" idea, which is fine and makes sense, but in my opinion there is no reason for it to manifest this way and it is silly.

Enough with the pervo talk.

Okay, Chris, let's have a talk. You have to watch it with the unintentionally dirty-sounding phrases. Perhaps people who do not have dirty minds will not notice this sort of thing, but I almost choked on my coffee upon coming across "Eragon could not help feeling a flash of nostalgia for the days he spent being drilled by Brom."

That's gross, Chris!

This too:

He removed both his boots, then stood and dropped his trousers, so that his only garb was his shirt and woolen underpants.

This is where Eragon is showing off his scars to his cousin. I guess guys do this sort of thing plenty, but I . . . don't think it's customary in contests of manliness to drop one's trousers. Especially if one is wearing woolen underwear. Dear lord, I did NOT need to know that.

And why must you name men things like "Harden"? Out of all the dumb pseudo-medieval villager-like things you could name a guy, you name him Harden?

My ability to describe things, let me show you it.

In attempting to face up to and address some of his criticism, Chris is apparently attempting to make his description more natural. He's not there yet, but instead of just stopping the action and talking to the reader about what something/someone looks like before yelling "ACTION!" again, Paolini is moving in the right direction and trying to attach the descriptions to relevant happenings and people's thoughts about them. Sadly, what we see is the trying, not the success, such as in this paragraph:

Nasuada gazed up at Fadawar and wished she were six inches taller so that she could look the warlord and his four retainers straight in the eyes. Still, she was accustomed to men looming over her. She found it rather more disconcerting to be among a group of people who were as dark as she was. It was a novel experience not to be the object of people's curious stares and whispered comments.

Translation: I need to say Nasuada is short and/or normal-sized for a woman as well as dark-skinned. I will work the description into her dealings with warlords!

This reminds me of when I was teaching writing to fourth graders and gave them a little lesson on working description of a main character into the story naturally. One creative little boy decided to relay that his protagonist was bald with the following sentence: "He started to comb his hair, but then remembered he didn't have any!" That's about the level of sophistication I'm seeing here, I'm afraid. . . .

Sorry, Chris, but you're still stopping the action, and you're still having Nasuada thinking about her height and skin color at this incredibly opportune time (her first scene in the book). I'm not saying that occasionally an unrelated thought, like "dammit, I wish I were taller," could never flick through someone's head in a serious time, but the placement and wording made it really obvious what he was trying to do here. Really, Chris, your readers (well, the ones you want to keep) are paying attention. We WILL pick up from context that Nasuada is dark-skinned if you provide the context. We WILL pick up that she is shorter than the men if all you do is state that she looked up. This is forced and it shows.

Has Paolini seen any women's clothing ever?

At one point someone hides a dagger "in the folds of her dress." So now I'm forced to wonder whether Paolini has seen a dress. Unless he's talking about sticking it in the bodice bit OR the dress has unmentioned pocketlike attachments at the waist, "folds" in dresses don't really hold things. Did it ever occur to him that the men seem to have belts with holders (or some kind of leg- or back-sling) to carry weapons? Where exactly IS that dagger being held, O master of overdescribing EVERYTHING?

You sound like a sex offender. Stop it.

Now I'd like to give Chris some advice on not writing scenes with rapey subtext.

A conversation between Roran and Katrina:

"My, you are bold, dear sir. Most bold indeed. I'm not sure I should be alone with you, for fear you might take liberties with me."
"Liberties, eh? Well, since you already consider me a scoundrel, I might as well enjoy some of these liberties."
"You're a hard man to argue with, Roran Stronghammer."

To be honest, this horrified me. Now, I will grant him that these two are an established couple and if we could actually hear their voices it might seem more convincing that they're kidding around. But the words themselves are honestly a bit disturbing. Katrina expresses that Roran might "take" her if she is alone with him, and his reply is to say if she already thinks he's a rapist he might as well rape her. Hard man to argue with indeed. I say again this is a gray area because I know couples do joke around like this. But since people lack personality in Paolini's work across the board, it's hard to not take this at face value and get REALLY creeped out.

Because we need more disturbing images.

Okay, perhaps I'm being an ass here and hating on Paolini for something that is not necessarily bad writing per se. But I am really irritated that he created Furry Elves. They were described EXACTLY as though Chris had been watching too much anime. I'm dead serious.

Please remind us of your sympathies for equal rights for chicks, Paolini.

During a speech, Eragon uses the term "himself" to express the general "oneself." Angela the herbalist adds, "Or herself," which is a nice little piece of binary gender reinforcement we don't need, but on top of that Eragon bitches at her for not letting him finish, and then in repeating his words USES "HIMSELF" AGAIN. And this is while he is surrounded by four females--Nasuada, Elva, Angela, and Saphira--so it's kind of hard to not take this as "dammit, I'm using the MAN WORDS here, and I have every right to use the MAN WORDS, so stop trying to CORRECT me, WOMAN!" It's almost as if Paolini is going out of his way to make Eragon look like an insensitive jerk.

And way to be sensitive to the disabled community!

Eragon often felt like shouting that they were being blind fools

Unless there's some literal reason where blindness is a good metaphor for something else, it bugs me when authors make a choice to compare blindness with foolishness. Way to throw words around that imply being without sight is the same as having no judgment. Sometimes people do get offended by this kinda stuff, and it really isn't adding anything, so it's best not to go there.

If I add hyphens to stuff and mush up images, it will sound unique.

I also found Saphira's narration obnoxious. I think lots of people are saying this, too, but Paolini's attempt to give Saphira's narration its own flavor came out really awkwardly. He made her half unspeakably arrogant and half ridiculously naďve, and he attempted to create a non-human mode of thought by having her conceive of certain concepts in lumped-together ways (indicated by awkward hyphen-bound phrases). It doesn't really result in making her perspective unique so much as it is full of distractingly pointless rearrangings. Stuff like "soft-hard-ground" or "wind-of-morning-heat-above-hills," and she has these dumb thoughts about how silly she thinks it is that humans don't fly and how she just can't figure out why not. It just kinda fails all around. I think it was a really poor choice.

Um, psych! I was just kidding about that one plot thing I did.

And speaking of poor choices, Paolini changes the game in this book and switches things so that Murtagh is no longer just Eragon's brother but only his half brother. He makes it so Eragon is no longer related to Morzan and therefore less like Luke Skywalker (despite being a farm boy yanked from a life of living with his uncle to be the foretold Chosen One). Obviously I have no proof of this suspicion, but I honestly don't believe he planned it that way originally. Partly because there is a rather embarrassing bit of backpedaling when Oromis tells him they all let him believe Morzan was his father for no apparent reason but now they can tell him the truth because "we had no choice." It's very much like the terrible excuse for why Brom's name never came up in the deaths of the Forsworn (in Eldest) because the powers that be just didn't want any acknowledgment to exist that any lived who could do such a thing. (Guess it's okay to have named people who no longer lived who were capable of such a thing, though! It couldn't possibly be that you're changing the story now, could it?)

Now bear with me here: Oromis said he and Glaedr promised with BINDING OATHS that they wouldn't reveal stuff about his father or Murtagh until Eragon had "discovered the truth on his own" OR unless "the identity of his relatives had placed him in danger." This seems SUPER WEAK because first of all, WHY would Brom insist that Oromis and Glaedr swear such a thing? Whose best interest did it serve for Eragon to be ignorant of his parentage or believe explicit, hurtful lies about it? (Conveniently, Oromis claims he just can't be expected to know Brom's reasons, which is just like all the other times Brom randomly didn't tell Eragon something important because making him find out by accident or on his own was more exciting in the story. And I'm not even kidding--at one point Oromis says that Brom didn't tell him certain basic facts because he "wouldn't have been ready" to learn them. Sure.)

And in addition to that, even though Oromis claims one of the caveats in the promise now permits him to confess, I don't see it! How is it that just because Eragon fought Murtagh on the Burning Plains, that means "the identity of his relatives had placed him in danger"? Again, I have no proof and I don't want to be an asshole, but this whole thing reads VERY much like Paolini got sick of everyone saying he rewrote Star Wars and decided to pretend he fooled us all along, but achieved this with an extremely rickety retcon. The closest Paolini has to a suggestion that this was planned all along is a fate-speaking raven uttering something really convoluted that was later suggested to mean he was telling Eragon that he and Murtagh only shared one parent. That verse reads "While two may share two / And one of two is certainly one / One might be two." I'm not sure what the purpose of all the "mays" and "mights" is, but I'm sure Paolini would suggest it's a riddle and it's not SUPPOSED to make sense except in retrospect. ('Course, riddles in this book are pretty horrible. One riddle offered a clue that the mystery object was something that could "eat a hundred sheep in a row and still be hungry," and yet the answer was "a woolen rug." How does a rug eat sheep and be hungry?)

Anyway, actual planned plot twists don't look like this. With a good, intentional plot twist, if you go back and read the full story after knowing the twist, you start seeing all kinds of spots you didn't notice before where things make more sense now that you know what they hinted at. But with this, it's more like rereading earlier narration brings up a bunch of contradictions that later narration had to plug, explain away, or pretend were lies/people being mistaken. It doesn't count as a twist if you STATED certain story elements and supported them with story, rather than just making readers think they knew what was going on and then having them realize it was never so. The gracelessness of this reminds me of the ending of M. Night Shyamalan's terrible movie The Village. He's all "HAHA I TRICKED YOU THIS TOOK PLACE IN THE PRESENT, NOT THE PAST!" and yet a) nearly everyone watching it guessed as much at the beginning, and b) YOU PUT A DISTANT PAST BIRTH AND DEATH DATE ON SOMEONE'S TOMBSTONE AT THE BEGINNING OF THE MOVIE. But if I start ranting about what a terrible writer M. Night Shyamalan is now, I'm going to start calling for him to wrestle Paolini in a battle of Whose Plot Twists Actually Suck More, and that won't be pretty.

Seriously everyone I'm not pushing my religious agenda on you!

For the last book, I think Paolini got some crap from his audience because the narration so unequivocally praises the elves as advanced and superior, and they have no gods (and seem to look down on races that do). Because of the convincing way the philosophy is presented as if entwined in actual moral lessons, some people got upset because they thought perhaps Paolini was pushing atheism. I'm not sure if his treatment of the dwarf gods in this third volume is in answer to that, but it could be. In any case he makes a very compelling case for at least the dwarf gods being "real," as a weird godlike thing with a consciousness Eragon can sense actually shows up at Orik's coronation (though Orik suggests it might not actually be the god so much as the closest thing they can experience to a god), and later when Eragon prays to a dwarf god he sort of gets his wish as a delayed reaction (so that you can't really say whether the prayer was "answered" or not). I don't mind that he doesn't answer the question of whether there are gods, because those questions are realistic, but it does bother me that the evidence of the suggested gods is so compelling and yet people dance around answering Eragon's questions about them, as if they know the gods don't exist but want to hide that fact. Um? I also think it was kind of a half-assed way of giving Eragon some philosophical depth, wondering whether there are gods. Don't humans have gods? Didn't Eragon ever get introduced to his own race's religious beliefs?

And let's not forget to talk about feminism again.

In the end battle, Eragon arrives heroically riding on Saphira, having acquired his new sword. And immediately, as soon as they get there, a sorceress mentally warns them that they have got to assist someone in trouble! Someone who scaled the walls but got trapped and won't last another minute! Oh no! Who? Who is it? To whose rescue must he now come at this incredibly opportune time? Who needs him to literally swoop in and save the day?

Arya.

Arya, of course.

Who, despite having been described BY PAOLINI in his little sound bites as "a beautiful maiden who's more than capable of taking care of herself," always has to have her ass saved by effing Eragon! (Because, remember, it's cute and forward-thinking and unusual to have someone who's both beautiful and self-rescuing. Especially if you contradict that in the actual story all the time.)

It's because she's a girl, isn't it.

Seriously, anyone could have been the one to scale the wall and end up overwhelmed. Anyone could have needed his help. Eragon has lots of friends and people whose demise would destroy him. But of course it had to be ARYA who needed last-minute RESCUE!!!

Paolini, the feminist camp is really going to start getting on your ass if you do not STOP THIS NOW.

Basically, because of stuff like this, women in fantasy get no respect. Their being headstrong and capable is just thought of as sort of cute, like "Oh, these women, it's so funny when they think they're people." If you cast them that way but still force them to be rescued when it matters (by men), you're reinforcing the trope you claim to be against.

Not that it's the worst thing he's done regarding women in this travesty of a series. Considering Arya disliked Eragon and rebuffed his advances in a completely opaque manner, I'm waiting for the tried and true story element of "girl who hated the hero falls in love with him." Arya is primed to be this kind of character in the end. These tropes have been making fools of women in literature for centuries. People will probably say I'm being too hard on Paolini, but the problem with saying this dynamic is harmless is that it teaches people to understand that if men are persistent, they will get what they want from women, and also that women do not have the ability to determine what they want.

But gee, maybe that's just me. Onward.


Bad Narration

This is where I point out narration which does a poor job stylistically or thematically. Issues with actual content are handled in a later section.

My similes are like an elven ballad, which is like a bird's morning song, which is as sweet as the sky is high.

Paolini has a terrible habit. He describes things, and then he follows the description with a useless simile or metaphor that tries really hard to be "colorful." It's like he's read a quick reference chart on "how to write" and one of the bulleted items said "Use lots of colorful descriptions," and he applied this by claiming a fire's coals are glowing and then adding in . . . "like rubies!" But the similes and metaphors often don't fit very well, sometimes to the point that they place an alternate image in your mind and draw your attention AWAY from the object or situation he is describing.

This is very very very bad and he is getting worse with this habit in every book. For this reason, I have decided to make a list of some of the inappropriate similes and metaphors that I came across, and I have them here for you in an alternate document:

The hackneyed simile/metaphor list!

Please note that if a simile or metaphor did NOT stick out to me as unnecessary or annoying, I did not list it. That means this is OPINIONATED. There is no line of colorfulness after which certain adjectives are no longer appropriate. This is just what I found to be obnoxious. Enjoy.

Oh those pesky writing rules.

Next, Paolini still needs help with his past perfect tense. He still just uses plain past tense when talking about events that happened before the currently happening past-tense events. It's really irritating. (Example: "Roran had thrust the staff into his arms before they left the Varden"--should be "Roran had thrust the staff into his arms before they'd left the Varden.") If only he would pick up a grammar book once in a while . . . but if he did that, his wife the thesaurus would get upset that he had been unfaithful.

What he did not mention was that one could also extract energy from nearby plants and animals, albeit at a terrible price: namely, the deaths of the smaller beings whose life force you drew upon.

No-no-no. If you write "one could also extract," you don't refer to that "one" as "you" later in the same sentence. It's bad grammar. But also picky of me, I guess.

I'mma describe a you everything. And say "dolorous."

Half of the young men gave their frames a vigorous shake when they stepped forward with their right foot, producing a dolorous cacophony of notes, while the other half shook their frames when they advanced upon the left foot, causing iron tongues to crash against iron throats and emit a mournful clamor that echoed over the hills.

First of all, run-on sentence; second of all, not only is it a cacophony but a dolorous cacophony; not only is it a clamor but a mournful clamor; not only do we know they're walking along making noise but we get a description of the feet they use to step, the vigorousness of the shake, and the makings of the "tongues" and "throats." Why? WHY? I have heard tons of people whine about how I'm making too big a deal out of how he over-describes everything and how this is actually COLORFUL writing, but it looks like an adjective machine took a dump on a thesaurus and squirted the resulting turds into a single sentence, after which it DID NOT WIPE. Is that a disgusting way to phrase my objections? Oh yes. But it's his fault, because it is causing me to cry more than a single tear, I'll tell you that much.

An ecstasy of passion.

Eh? Redundant much?

[F]oul rituals performed underneath a black moon.

Wha? I know what he's trying to say here, but when the moon is "black," it just means it's a new moon and you can't see it. Which happens on schedule once a month and there's nothing sinister about it. I guess this is a bit like "silent as the night" in Eldest. The night isn't silent, and the moon's darkness/blackness does not indicate evil. In Paganism, new moons are supposed to be introspective days on which some folks like to begin new works, which will grow toward fruition as the moon waxes. I think it's just goofy to pretend a "black moon" is sinister.

Pause! Let me subject you to my unnatural obsession with weapon details!

We're about to see a nasty ritual take place with the assistance of a very nasty weapon. But just in case you were wondering what the weapon looked like (rather than, say, wondering what horrid act is going to be committed with its assistance), we get this:

[A] bizarre implement: a single-edged weapon, two and a half feet long, with a full tang, scale grips, a vestigial crossguard, and a broad, flat blade that widened and was scalloped near the end, a shape reminiscent of a dragon wing.

::blink blink:: Really, Chris, must you? You're about to discuss torture and gore in your book, but does that mean you must do the same to your audience's eyes?

It was nothing Eragon had not seen in battle, but it seemed wrong to deliberately mutilate yourself when it was so easy to become disfigured in everyday life.

Odd that Paolini uses "yourself" here when he could have used "oneself" or even "himself" to keep in the same tone as the rest of his overly constructed sentences. Saying "yourself" like that is really informal and grammatically incorrect.

I seriously can't think of anything else to compare shit to except stones!!!!

Paolini seems to have a tendency to use geological terms and gemstones as metaphorical adjectives, such as "ruby embers" and "pewter-gray bushes." I understand that you don't want to just call everything "red" or "gray" but this gets really tiresome. I want to read a story, not have every single adjective fancied up into something creative. "Roran was perched on the iron-hard, sun-bleached, wind-worn shell of an ancient tree trunk." Chris, really, do we honestly need every one of those descriptions? Enough already! Even a monster's blood, which happens to be blue-green, is described as "not unlike the verdigris that forms on aged copper." It's a really weird trend to be comparing everything to metal and stone and gems. Of course, in interviews Paolini has discussed how he loves his invented dwarf language so much that he'd like to write operas in it. (Not kidding.) There's a quote about dwarves in his book that says this: "Every dwarf has a love of gemstones." Perhaps we have our explanation here: Paolini is actually a dwarf. He's trying really hard to hide it but his love of gemstones just keeps betraying him!

And now, a pathetic attempt to weave sense observations into action! Again!

In the chapter about the assault on Helgrind, I see what he's trying to do when he dives into long descriptions of what Eragon is sensing now that it's too dark to see, but it's just plain too much like an inventory list. Instead of feeling like I'm immersed in the scene, it was more like reading "He can't see. Here's what he can hear: LIST! Here's what he can smell: LIST! Here's what he can feel: LIST!" And of course all of the sensations are encrusted with similes, because we need to know the air eddies are "like fountains of roiling water" and whatnot. The problem with simply describing these sensations is that somehow he is still not managing to connect us to the character experiencing these things. Writers can connect their description to their characters by taking us INTO their minds, connecting the observations with the thoughts about the observations, et cetera. Paolini demonstrates exactly how far away from grasping this he is in this book. As the book goes on, a trend develops for Chris to describe someone entering a room or a scene for a couple sentences, and then the second paragraph is devoted entirely to a description of the room or scenery. You know, where chairs are, what they look like, what's on the walls, if the river nearby runs north to south, whether anything nearby looks like something he can compare to a metal or a gem, blabbity blah. Never does he connect it to the thoughts of the character walking in. It happens so often it's pretty much a pattern.

Sometimes when Eragon is by himself, he talks to himself for a long time. Out loud. It seems forced and weird.

Let's talk warlords! Lords of digression, that is.

One of the chapters opens with Nasuada being addressed by a warlord and his posse. We open with "action"--they're protesting and she's staring them down. Sort of. Because then we digress into her wishing she were taller and thinking about her skin color, which then further digresses into a TON of scene-setting--a description of the table, the chair, who's outside the room, how Nasuada feels about who's outside the room, then a long description of how the system works for who guards Nasuada and for how long and in what cases they might need to be replaced. Then. THEN. Philosophy about why there are guards from all the mortal races (Urgals, humans, and dwarves--hey, why is "Urgal" capitalized, anyway?), how the in-fighting between them goes, what Nasuada thinks about THAT, special names the Urgals use for themselves and Nasuada, and finally what weapons Nasuada has and where (hey, she has a knife in her underwear!).

So, we opened with "But we are your people!" in an attempt to be all actiony. NINE HUNDRED WORDS LATER, we have not come back to this conversation because we were busy describing guards' attitudes, locations of weapons, and the frickin' décor. Now, we're about to return to the scene, right? We have the person Nasuada is talking to, the warlord Fadawar. Is he going to continue? Is she going to address him?

Of course not. Here's what happens right after he demanded that Nasuada recognize that they are her people, and PLEASE bear with me so I can make my point:

Fadawar tapped his four-foot-long scepter against the ground. The chased rod was made of solid gold, as was his fantastic array of jewelry: gold bangles covered his forearms; a breastplate of hammered gold armored his chest; long, thick chains of gold hung around his neck; embossed disks of white gold stretched the lobes of his ears; and upon the top of his head rested a resplendent gold crown of such huge proportions, Nasuada wondered how Fadawar's neck could support the weight without buckling and how such a monumental piece of architecture remained fixed in place. It seemed one would have to bolt the edifice, which was at least two and a half feet tall, to its bony bedrock in order to keep it from toppling over.

Fadawar's men were garbed in the same fashion, although less opulently. The gold they wore served to proclaim not only their wealth but also the status and deeds of each individual and the skill of their tribe's far-famed craftsmen. As either nomads or city dwellers, the dark-skinned peoples of Alagaësia had long been renowned for the quality of their jewelry, which at its best rivaled that of the dwarves.

Nasuada owned several pieces of her own, but she had chosen not to wear them. Her poor raiment could not compete with Fadawar's splendor. Also, she believed it would not be wise to affiliate herself with any one group, no matter how rich or influential, when she had to deal with and speak for all the differing factions of the Varden. If she displayed partiality toward one or another, her ability to control the whole lot of them would diminish.

Which was the basis of her argument with Fadawar.

Fadawar again jabbed his scepter into the ground. "Blood is the most important thing! . . ."

Notice that he bangs his scepter on the ground, waits for the three paragraphs of description, and then does it again, even though no action has taken place. It's very important to describe THEIR FRICKIN' JEWELRY while we're having a conversation.

You heard it here first. In between Fadawar's first sentence ("But we are your people!") and the immediate continuation of said sentiment (in between a bout of stick-banging) are NEARLY TWO THOUSAND WORDS OF PHILOSOPHY, DESCRIPTION, AND POOR ATTEMPTS TO ATTACH SAID THINGS TO CHARACTERS. Look, it's good to know SOME of this stuff, but this is not the time for it!

What should he do, you ask, if he shouldn't stop the action to describe and also isn't finding the right places to insert the description naturally?

::grins widely::

That sort of art is what being a writer is about. If you're tone-deaf, I can't teach you to sing. All I can do is wince, possibly feel sorry for you, and suggest you leave singing to those of us with a sense of pitch. Not to sound like a brat, but if you're doing something professionally, you have to not suck at it, or people with a sense of pitch for writing, so to speak, are going to smack you silly like I just did.

I've gotten a fair amount of harassment over the years from people who accuse me of being jealous of Paolini and tell me if I'm so great and I can do it better, why don't I just shut up and write a book? Well, by the time Brisingr had come out, I had written eleven novels. You wanna see how I work description into my scenes? It's all right, I'll wait. Now tell me I suck. Go for it.

HOLY SHIT ARYA HAS A DISEASE

Her low, rich voice contained hints of rustling pine needles and gurgling brooks and music played on reed pipes.

. . . Wait, what?

Her voice? Contained hints of . . . how does someone's voice contain a hint of any of those things, much less all together? How would a voice actually SOUND if it contained the "hint" of GURGLING BROOKS? Gurgling??? Her voice is GURGLING? And PINE NEEDLE SOUNDS ARE COMING OUT OF HER VOICE? Please get this woman to a doctor! And even if it's a "hint," music played on reed pipes is contained in her TALKING? Chris, what does that MEAN? Your romantic phrases are supposed to MEAN something.

"Her skin was the color of light honey." Arya, sounds like you've got some skin problems along with whatever's gurgling away in your vocal cords. What's the Alagaësian treatment for jaundice?

Tell us all about it.

Paolini also has a really annoying habit of just breaking into telling mode, but that isn't news. A good example is when Eragon casts a spell to avoid detection by a group of soldiers, and then after the danger is past, we get a random paragraph of explanation of how the spell works and what its drawbacks are. Dude. If the drawbacks figure into the action, show us how that happens while the spell is in place, and we will figure it out. If these aspects of the spell do not affect what is happening, WE DON'T CARE. We are not in Hogwarts. We do not need magic classes.

Above, the impartial stars continued to gyrate in their endless celestial dance.

That's a really confusing metaphor. I mean, yes, stars are moving--technically, they are doing so very quickly. But from a planet, the stars appear to be completely still, and it takes at least a couple hours for us to notice they moved at all. Describing them as "gyrating" or "dancing" is confusing for the purpose--which, in this case, is as a backdrop to Eragon waking up under said stars, all disturbed and hallucinating about being attacked or something. I can see clouds, or trees on a windy day, or birds being described as "gyrating in an endless celestial dance," but when we're talking about stars, I find it a really inappropriate and--as usual--distracting description.

A flock of starlings darted across the afternoon sky, like fish through the ocean.

Chris. What does that second part add? "A group of animals moved through their habitat, like another group of animals moving through their habitat." Okay then.

Facial hair is important. I need to know about every dead guy's epic mustache.

So then there's a scene where Eragon and Arya are being passed by a group of soldiers who suddenly become suspicious of them and want to question them or examine them, so they surround them on their horses. Paolini does a decent job explaining what's going through Eragon's head and his realistic physiological reactions to preparing for "fight or flight," but then . . . not joking, though this is unbelievable . . . when they are first spoken to, Eragon spends seventy words on thinking about THE SOLDIER'S MUSTACHE. So now we know the texture of his mustache, how it differs from the hair on his head, how long it goes out to either side, and an explanation of how puzzled Eragon is about how it holds that shape because usually to gel up your pimp-daddy mustache you need beeswax but this guy obviously doesn't use beeswax because blah blah blah . . . again, not kidding. Soldiers are surrounding our heroes, and we get a bunch of details on facial hair sculpting from Eragon's internal monologue. All this for a dude who dies a few paragraphs later. WHY PAOLINI WHY.

[T]hey orientated themselves in a southwesterly direction . . .

Do you people realize how much shorter this book could have been if sentences like this were instead written like "They went southwest"? Why "a" southwesterly direction, anyway? Is there more than one southwest to choose from? He does it again when Saphira "continued in the same southwesterly direction as before." AS OPPOSED TO A DIFFERENT SOUTHWESTERLY DIRECTION THAN BEFORE?

Arya picked up a twig by the edge of her splayed dress and rolled it between her aquiline fingers. . . .

Aquiline? Really? I know Paolini has a dictionary, so it's unlikely he just thought this word means something other than what it means, but . . . do you really want to describe Arya's fingers as being curved or hooked? It's usually used to describe noses, and only then to compare them to an eagle's beak. What's up with "aquiline" fingers? That does not sound tapered and graceful like he usually describes Arya.

Stop recycling your phrases:

Paolini's getting tired, I think. He's starting to reuse dramatic similes really close together. One of the elves told Nasuada that "if anyone dares oppose us, we shall sweep them aside like dead leaves before an autumn storm," and then only a chapter goes by before the weird glowing lights are described as "brushing aside [Eragon's] defenses as if they were dry leaves in an autumn storm." The stone/gem-related similes are almost as tired, but this was like a whole repeated phrase. Why? Same when we encounter a "pearl-white cloud" twice within a page of each other.

More (failed) attempts to be slick:

Paolini has a terrible habit of dropping huge clumps of exposition into action scenes. I know this is not a new revelation, but I guess I'd just like to note for the record that the sight of an elf who is loyal to Queen Islanzadí is not a good cue to start rambling about who Eragon doesn't trust, why, and what everyone's motivations are likely to be. Shortly afterwards in the next chapter, we get this terribly boring litany of details about what and who exactly is in a tent. It literally feels like people are standing still as a children's program captions them and their surroundings so kids can process it. If you really must have these things dumped into the narration like this, the only thing you can do to make it connected to the story is to have the character who's thinking about it react to it somehow. Paolini's technique tends to seem more like "Eragon sees/does/knows X," which is then followed by a bunch of digressions that are sort of related to what Eragon has just seen, done, or found out. This results in the narration's voice taking over and just talking to the reader instead of filtering action through Eragon's eyes. It's obnoxious as all hell.

Pale smoke filled the tent as the candles consumed themselves.

That's silly. Candles don't "consume themselves." Fire isn't part of the candle. I just don't like it.

"But how could you prove that?" objected Eragon.

Yes, that's dialogue, but the bad part is "objected Eragon." Let's review.

"Sorry," apologized Brom.
"Aye," agreed Orik.
"But how could you prove that?" objected Eragon.

Chris, dear, are you STILL not understanding that if the WORDS THEMSELVES are an apology, an agreement, or an objection, you DO NOT NEED TO IDENTIFY THEM AS SUCH with your speech tags? ARE YOU ALLERGIC TO THE WORD "SAID," MY DEAR BOY?

("Yes, yes he is," said the exasperated author of this essay.)

Right then, Eragon could care less about the elves.

Couldn't. It's COULDN'T care less. I know people say it wrong all the time but "I could care less" means you actually have the capacity to care less than you do now, and that's not what he means. How is this mistake in here?

I wonder what percentage of the book is directly related to describing weapons?

Perhaps it should go without saying, but I want to note that all of the sword description was absolutely over the top. Eragon spends nearly three thousand words dicking around in the armory explicitly discussing sword choice with weapon master Fredric--and I mean, he didn't just let us know that Fredric showed him stuff that he rejected; he actually had to go through deliberate dialogue about specific fighting styles this one or that one is wrong for, and pretty much the only important part is that Eragon finds out that most blades aren't made for the style of fighting he knows so he's kinda screwed. The bits about how warriors are expected to have their "named blades" in battles could have been incorporated into, ya know, a place where people were expecting such things of Eragon. But then when Eragon actually picks a weapon--a falchion--we get around two hundred words of physical description of the weapon. I'm not exaggerating. Not only is every single damn aspect of the falchion described, but of course the comparisons of bits of it to other inappropriate things are thrown in (making the description even longer). So much of it reads like Paolini didn't know much about weapons until recently and decided he needed to read up on them, then INFODUMPED everything because he still hasn't figured out what details he should KNOW but not REVEAL in narration. Bear with me here:

The falchion had a polished, disk-shaped pommel, bright as a silver coin; a short grip made of wood covered with black leather; a curved crossguard carved with a line of dwarf runes; and a single-edged blade that was as long as his outstretched arm and had a thin fuller on either side, close to the spine. The falchion was straight until about six inches from the end, where the back of the blade flared upward in a small peak before gently curving down to the needle-sharp tip. This widening of the blade reduced the likelihood that the point would bend or snap when driven through armor and lent the end of the falchion a fanglike appearance. Unlike a double-edged sword, the falchion was made to be held with the blade and crossguard perpendicular to the ground. The most curious aspect of the falchion, though, was the bottom half inch of the blade, including the edge, which was pearly gray and substantially darker than the mirror-smooth steel above. The boundary between the two areas was wavy, like a silk scarf rippling in the wind.

So now you see I wasn't kidding.

Punchline:

He doesn't even end up keeping this effing sword.

!!!!

Of course it gets worse during the chapter where he actually makes his own sword. The chapter, which consists of over five thousand words, is about 95% specific craftsmanship detail on how they made the sword. Were you ever curious about all the pounding, heating, folding, cooling, and reheating that is involved in making a sword out of metal? Want to know how many times metals are sorted according to what properties and what layers of the metal go where and exact descriptions of the shapes, textures, and colors of everything you ever look at? Well then, read the chapter "Mind Over Metal," and you shall have your incessant ramble on swordsmithing. I imagine it might not even be interesting to a swordsmith, but I could be wrong. I mean, this is the fantasy novel equivalent of if you wanted to read a crime thriller and the author interrupted the action to give you twelve pages of explicit, step-by-step detail of an autopsy just so you'd understand how exactly they came to the conclusion about what killed the victim. I found it so dreary that I was actually nodding my head as if hitting it against an invisible wall, thinking explicitly, "WHEN WILL THIS END?" (Though I guess in truth that's only a step up from what I'm thinking throughout this whole book.) Run and hide, children. You're in for a dozen pages of this. (And there's a little more description in the next chapter too, but I'll excuse him for that because the sword's important to Eragon and it deserves a little description if he's admiring it as much as he is; the book, after all, is named after this sword. But that doesn't excuse the chapter before this for its unrelenting stream of irrelevant detail.)

During Roran's wedding:

I do NOT NEED pages and pages of recitations of their wedding vows! WHY!!!! Especially when they are so repetitive when the wife has to repeat pretty much what the husband just said!

The famous 300+-word sentence, or, an editor fell asleep:

And speaking of pages and pages, when Eragon gets to the dwarf deliberations, we get an absolutely interminable wall of text physically describing all of the dwarves at the table. What's especially weird about it is that this isn't Eragon's first meeting with them, and an around-the-table description would have been more appropriate during a first meeting with these people, but because this is the first time the reader has looked in on a meeting, that's when the action of deliberation is interrupted--literally MID-SENTENCE--to drop the description on us. And even for Paolini, this one's terrible. Partially because it is ungracefully plopped on us when the action is already going (which makes us have to sit through it), but also partially because THE ENTIRE THING IS ONE SENTENCE. How long of a sentence are we talking? Oh, nothing major, just 307 words.

YES ONE SENTENCE. ONE SENTENCE THAT IS OVER THREE HUNDRED WORDS. One sentence with nine semicolons, twenty-eight commas, and twenty-six descriptive adjectives. By the time you get to the end, you're convinced Paolini's realized how ridiculous he is and is probably just f***ing with you. Because his last description is of a lady dwarf named Íorűnn, who is described as (I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP) "she of the nut-brown skin marred only by a thin, crescent-shaped scar high upon her left cheekbone, she of the satin-bright hair bound underneath a silver helm wrought in the shape of a snarling wolf's head, she of the vermilion dress and the necklace of flashing emeralds set in squares of gold carved with lines of arcane runes." SHE OF THE I DON'T GIVE A SHIT. Why?????

Roran lifted his spear above his head as if he were about to throw it and, when the soldier faltered, kicked him between the fork of his legs.

Either kick him IN the fork of his legs, or kick him BETWEEN his legs. How can you kick him between a single fork of his legs? That's just silly.


Bad Dialogue

This section points out lines the character speak, sometimes with examples, and explains why they're bad. Expect a lot of righteous indignation.

Why does Eragon talk like this?

"I dare not explore Helgrind with my mind until they leave, for if any are magicians, they will sense my touch, however light, and our presence will be revealed."

He wasn't raised as royalty and he isn't speaking a foreign language that he's only used in ultra-formal phrasing, so it seems odd that he talks like . . . a teenager who's writing a bad fantasy book. (Too bad ol' Chris doesn't have the excuse that he's a teen anymore.)

I'mma wash your mouth out with soap.

This is a very weird spray of attempted insults by Roran:

"You failed to mention that those errant flesh-mongers, those gore-bellied, boggle-minded idiot worshipers were cannibals."

Boggle-minded? Really, Roran, what a mouth you've got!

And now, more of people talking how they don't really talk.

Roran must have been entertaining similar thoughts, for he said, "Do you see them?"
"Who?"
"The men you've killed. Do you see them in your dreams?"

As if anyone would know what he meant by "Do you see them?" without any context. It always bothers me when authors create dumb conversations like this. Imagine if Roran said "Do you see them?" and Eragon said "Yes, I see them. All the time, I see them." And then they both nodded sagely. And left the audience out of their dialogue. Brilliant!

"Four against two are only good odds if you're among the four."

Hi, I'm Eragon, and I like to say INCREDIBLY OBVIOUS THINGS.

A quote from Roran:

"You dote upon her words as if each one were a diamond, and your gaze lingers upon her as if you were starving and she a grand feast arrayed an inch beyond your reach."

Oh look; not only does Roran share his author's obsession with comparing things to gemstones, but he talks like a nobleman despite being a farm boy. Next he'll be writing poetry, though perhaps Paolini would have to retroactively insert a paragraph talking about "oh yeah, and then he learned to read, because there was this time a week ago that he got left in a library for two hours, which explains his literacy." Um.

More Roran:

"Your tongue has grown as twisted as the roots of a fir tree," said Roran. "Speak not in riddles."

I guess we're to take from this that Roran is also as fond of dumb similes as his author. My, how surprising it is that the characters talk just like the narration! :P Speak not in silly comparisons, Roran!

Hey, Sloan is really not a big fan of Roran, so I wonder why he seems to curse in the same silly way his soon-to-be son-in-law does:

"You're nothing but the yellow-bellied offspring of a canker-ridden bunter. You're a bastard, you are, and an unlicked cub; a dung-splattered, tallowfaced rock-gnasher; a puking villain and a noxious toad; the runty, mewling spawn of a greasy sow. I wouldn't give you my last crust if you were starving, or a drop of water if you were burning, or a beggar's grave if you were dead. You have pus for marrow and fungus for brains, and you're a scug-backed cheek-biter!"

Wow. Wait, you know what?

I think Sloan has been taking insult lessons from the French Taunter. Chris just watched Holy Grail. (And considering he later has crappy wordplay with Angela regarding "mad rabbits" attacking people, I really think this is what he's doing. Not to even mention some of the insults Roran calls at soldiers he's fighting, such as "deformed maggots!" and "your mothers were poxy trollops!")

If anyone in this book ends up calling someone a tiny-brained wiper of other people's bottoms, I shall soil myself.

(Or maybe I already have. . . . )

And it turns out even Paolini's characters love Paolini:

So Eragon seems to think Sloan's swearing is awesomesauce:

There was, Eragon thought, something rather obscenely impressive about Sloan's swearing, although his admiration did not prevent him from wanting to strangle the butcher, or to at least respond in kind.

Yes, swearing does tend to be "obscene," Eragon. Though somehow in all that drivel I don't actually see much that is obscene unless you count "bastard," and technically he actually is one of those since his parents were never married, yes? I find it funny that Eragon's all impressed with this rant. I mean, "cheek-biter"? What a zinger, eh? FUNGUS FOR BRAINS! Even better. Gonna use that in my next online argument--it's gonna be a great riposte for when my opponents tell me they don't like my opinions so I must be fat. Next thing you know Paolini will insert one of his own epic poems and then have everyone unequivocally shower it with praise as the work of some historic master whose poetic deeds have yet to be matched.

Similarly, there's a scene in which Captain Garven--Nasuada's protector, leader of the Nighthawks--fires off a huge stream of hot wind to convince Nasuada that she's made a grievous error in leaving her guards behind. Now, I actually like the sentiment of what he says, and I explain why in the "good stuff" section below. But after Garven rants for THREE PARAGRAPHS--his speech is 467 words long--Nasuada reacts by praising his eloquence and being all amazed at his wordsmithing skill, etc. This is another case of Paolini's characters being impressed by Paolini's writing, just like the swearing scenes that so impressed his protagonist. Methinks he is now trying Jedi mind tricks to get us to believe the writing actually is truly wonderful. The essence of what Garven said? "Hey, you ran off without your guards! People are gonna think we're pushovers and try to kill you more! You should let us protect you, dammit!" Obviously something in between what I said and what Garven said would have been appropriate, but I actually think this speech would have been a lot more tolerable if Nasuada didn't get melty knees and praise Garven's ELOQUENCE at the end of it. It just makes it look like Paolini so thoroughly buys into his own myths that he thinks an overdone speech he had to chisel out of rock and puzzle over would roll off a career soldier's tongue while he's pissed off.

Another time, a weapons specialist starts waxing philosophical about how swords should be able to be wielded "as instinctively as an egret his beak or a dragon her claws," which is just the wind-up for a pile of inappropriately ornate weapons-related philosophy spewed unprepared to the listening protagonist. How does he respond?

"You sound like a poet."

So now it's all about pointing out how extraordinarily eloquent people are instead of writing scenes where guys who make swords and arm soldiers all day talk like that's the education and experience they have. If you point OUT that their words are poetic and then have them explain it with a half-assed excuse for why they talk like that, you don't have to worry about someone criticizing you for saying a dude in his position probably wouldn't talk like that. Bottom line is people who talk like this should be really rare, and yet every time Eragon meets someone, the new person is unusually skilled of tongue or something.

Sometimes Paolini fires off these speeches for his characters and then tries to lampshade them, too. At one point King Orrin is being a windbag, and you can just see the careful consideration that went into this speech of his. I mean, this king guy basically telling Nasuada that she's insulted him by expecting him to be her ally without consulting him on stuff required approximately 400 words and twenty-four commas. Paolini totally had to go to the punctuation store and take out a loan for this sucker. And what is the comment after Orrin shuts up? No, this time it isn't "WHOA HOW ELOQUENT HE IS!" but instead a silent comment from Saphira to Eragon: "What a long-winded fellow." Paolini, did you forget that it was you who decided to make him so? (And it's not long before Nasuada is indeed puppy-dogging after stuff King Orrin says with compliments like "That was well spoken." Feh.)

And, to add insult to injury, toward the end Saphira is trying to help Eragon name his sword, and she fires off a very long list of absolutely absurd names for it. His response was to express surprise and say, "You have a talent for this!" Seriously? Suggesting the sword could be named "Gutripper" or "Limbhacker" suggests SAPHIRA HAS A TALENT FOR NAMING SWORDS? Is he kidding? There's no indication that he is. FEAR THE MIGHTY GUTRIPPER! Yeah, have that carved in runes on your blade, jerk.

I CAN'T TELL WHO'S SAYING WHAT BUT MAYBE IT DOESN'T MATTER

When Eragon returns to the Varden with Arya, he is reunited with Saphira and there is this incredibly long and awkward telepathic conversation. It's all in italics and doesn't have many speech tags so sometimes it all runs together, and I can tell it's trying to be playful and full of love but it only kind of partially succeeds. It's hard to imagine a dragon taking very long to get to Eragon from wherever she is, but yet they have time to not only have a long conversation, but also to share fully developed images of what each has been through during their separation.

He thinks this is witty but it's actually vague and irrelevant:

So Eragon's talking to Angela, and she asks him if he decided to do something weird to his hands for protection because of being inspired by something the dwarves do. Their exchange is as follows:

"Nothing escapes you, does it?" he asked.
"Let it escape. I only concern myself with things that exist." Eragon blinked, thrown as he often was by her verbal trickery.

. . . That's not "verbal trickery." He just pointed out that something DIDN'T escape her, and she goes "let it escape"? Except it already DIDN'T. So how is that "trickery"? If "nothing" is a thing that can be said to escape, it by definition exists. It's just blathering and making no sense, and perhaps the only trickery involved is using non sequiturs to change the subject. Which isn't exactly a skill worthy of admiration. I can do that if someone asks me who I have a crush on and I say I want crushed ice in my drink, right?

It bothers me that sometimes actual grunt noises are spelled out into thoughts, like "Argh!" or, worse, "Garr!"

Dwarves talk funny.

In the previous essay, I complained that someone said "you needs must fly there" and suggested it might be a typo or it might be a hellacious attempt at making the dwarves' attempts at the humans' language more stylized. Now here it is again in Brisingr: "Somehow we must needs find a way to allay their concerns" and "We must needs speak in private." Now it's "must needs" instead of "needs must." I don't hear this, and I still don't get why dwarves who are trying to speak like humans use phrases and words that humans don't use.

"Die, puny human!"

. . . Seriously? I honestly just read "Die, puny human!" in something that ISN'T satire or parody? I think it would probably be best for me to just not comment on this one. Sheesh.

Dialogue from Saphira:

Be careful whom you call Sheepbiter, Eragon, or you might get bitten yourself.

WTF is that? ERAGON PICKED WOOL OUT OF HER TEETH HIMSELF. She IS a sheepbiter!

Now you have to avoid saying "fire" for the rest of your life.

At one point Eragon has to avoid saying the name of his sword because it catches on fire every time he says the word for "fire" in the Ancient Language. But the phrase he ends prematurely is this:

"But for some reason, every time I utter its name, the blade bursts into . . ."

Then he thinks for a second and uses the word "flames" instead of "fire."

So in other words, he was about to say "But for some reason, every time I utter its name, the blade bursts into fire"? People normally say "bursts into flames," not "bursts into fire." Really poorly conceived. There's some leeway here since supposedly he's speaking in another language when he chooses to use a synonym, but it should have been a sentence naturally rendered to end with the word "fire" if that was the case.


Stuff stolen from other works

Just a few places where Paolini seemed . . . *ahem* . . . inspired by works which preceded him.

LORD OF THE RINGS

"[L]ast night our spellcasters succeeded in destroying the gates of Ceunon. Even as we speak, our forces advance through the streets toward the tower where Lord Tarrant has barricaded himself. Some few still resist us, but the city has fallen, and soon we shall have complete control over Ceunon."

Hooray for the Inheritance Cycle's Saruman!

At one point, Paolini introduces a wolf creature called a "Shrrg." Materials associated with Inheritance say that Paolini based the Shrrg on real-life timber wolves. Why is it, then, that my first thought was "Didn't LOTR have big wolves too?" Sure enough, I remembered correctly. The Wargs, or wild wolves, were big evil wolves that orcs rode into battle. Hey, it's only got the same physical description and shares half the letters of its name, right?

Oh hi, what's this?

I am still the king of Surda, and we of the Langfeld family can trace our line back to Thanebrand the Ring Giver himself . . .

I can't think of any other fantasy epic that traces prominent characters' history back through time to any sort of ring-bestowing event, can you?

Come on, for once can't it be a different type of jewelry? Or a weapon other than a sword? Maybe a doorknob?

. . . A stone girdle?

DOCTOR WHO

So then Arya and Eragon are sitting around the campfire being emo, and she writes in the sand without explanation:

Adrift upon the sea of time, the lonely god wanders from shore to distant shore, upholding the laws of the stars above.

And then later she writes another one:

The trickster, the riddler, the keeper of the balance, he of the many faces who finds life in death and who fears no evil; he who walks through doors.

o_O

I can't decide if making Doctor Who references is worse than him making that terrible "stinking barges" reference in Eldest. I think I find this more offensive, maybe. It bothers me when people who are not writing fanfiction incorporate other fictional universes into their damn fantasy novels, and excuse it by saying that in this other fictional universe "the Doctor" would probably be able to come into Alagaësia. This reminds me of how Paolini set up his dictionary of invented language words and phrases and encouraged "neophytes" to study "the source languages" to master "their true intricacies" or whatever, suggesting that his inventions had connections to the real world outside his stories. I find that obnoxious if it isn't done right. Here, it's not.

STAR WARS

Ha, and even though Morzan is dead, Eragon manages to have a "Luke, I am your father" moment while DREAMING about him trying to recruit him to the dark side. Since he later finds out that Morzan isn't his dad, I imagine all the effects of this disturbing image will just kinda get erased.

And I can't believe how BREATHTAKINGLY ORIGINAL Paolini was being when he had Eragon's old teacher Brom (also his daddy) sitting in a forest in his robe dispensing wisdom to him through an old memory after his death! I've never seen that before!


Okay maybe I have.

AND STUFF

May the wind rise under your wings, may the sun always be at your backs. . . .

This is some weird poetic thing Saphira seems to say pretty often, and it doesn't seem to apply to the people she says it to because she says it to people who don't have wings. This suggests maybe it's a dragon saying. Which is an odd thing for Saphira to have incorporated into her speech habits if she's spent so little of her life with dragons. But the thing is, this reminds me VERY closely of the old Irish blessing:

"May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face. . . . "

Why would you want the sun to be at your back, exactly? Confusing.


PLOT ISSUES: Ridiculously Predictable Events

This section details elements of the plot that were bleedingly obvious even though they were treated as revelations.

I'M SORRY, MARIO, BUT OUR PRINCESS IS IN ANOTHER CASTLE.

I gotta say it bothers me that this is the second time in the book series that a main plot point involves saving the girl. In Eragon it was Arya, and now it's Katrina . . . ya know, men can be kidnapped too, and if it's the guy you're after in the first place then why not kidnap him?

MONSTERS NEVER TURN OUT TO BE DEAD IF YOU JUST THINK THEY'RE DEAD. I swear that I am stopping to write this down right now without reading further:

The Ra'zac collapsed, but whether it was dead or only unconscious, Eragon could not tell.

It is unconscious. There is no question about it. When you write formulaic, vapid fight scenes, any monster that could possibly still be alive CERTAINLY is so.

Not to mention this is now a contradiction, as Eragon's super-special senses ought to be keen enough to have awareness of the Ra'zac's consciousness, breathing, and/or heartbeat. Going to give me crap about how he "can't" sense those things right now because, um, he's not concentrating? If he even has to concentrate for something like that, it makes no sense that he wouldn't. An evil creature that tried repeatedly to kill you might be worthy of a double-check to see if it's actually effing dead.

Reading on, I have found this:

With a start, Eragon whirled around just in time to see the two Ra'zac vanish into the depths of the nearest tunnel, the smaller supporting the larger.

Surprise! It wasn't dead!

NASUADA WINS THE TRIAL OF THE LONG KNIVES.

Well, gee, of course she does, BUT . . . Paolini's "twists" always make me laugh. He had a character (Elva) with knowledge of the outcome manipulate Nasuada into going farther than she should have in the trials by telling her she'd win even though she was "supposed" to lose. After it was revealed that OMG SHE FORESAW A LOSS, NOT A WIN, BUT TURNED IT INTO A WIN BY LYING ABOUT IT, you could see the action stop while a cheesy detective movie soundtrack (voiced by Paolini) laid down the required "Dun-dun-DUNNNN!" Ooh, how epic. How creative. WHAT A REVELATION. Except that I saw that coming a mile away, stomping and blowing its whistle. Isn't it pretty much well-known that characters who can predict things will frequently be used this way? Especially when they have no personality outside of being a plot device?

KATRINA'S PREGNANT.

Now, when the couple first starts "revealing" this, they do so with some coquettish banter between Roran and Katrina (which, as mentioned, also sounds rapey). But I think Paolini actually thought he was unspecific and slick enough in dancing around what "the secret" is that it will actually be a revelation when he tells us so and imagines us blindsided. Katrina, avoiding any details, says "I'm not sure how long I can keep this secret," and it really reads like he thinks we don't know what he means. He keeps throwing hints about it into the narration and having everyone be incredibly dense about picking up what's actually going on in the subtext. And I mean, this is even happening when Eragon notices that Katrina has a weird reaction at the offhanded mention of them maybe having children someday, and then he's like gee I wonder what THAT's all about?

Considering at this point Eragon can sense thought patterns and whatnot whenever it's convenient, I find it hard to believe he misses something so obvious. He even later discusses having to deliberately block things out when he goes out amongst the livestock, "to avoid being overwhelmed by the thoughts and feelings of so many creatures." A bunch of animals' thoughts are going to be so intrusive that Eragon has to protect himself, but very clear and specific thoughts from non magic-using, mentally unprotected human beings are hidden from him even though he's wondering about them. Though of course it's not fair to insist that characters with telepathic ability must never miss anything, you pretty much have to be thick enough to give bricks their daily lesson in density to miss something this obvious. When Eragon is uncharacteristically oblivious to something, I roll my eyes because I'm actually offended that Paolini thinks he's being clever here, and is avoiding having a character pick up on a pregnancy he otherwise would have noticed just so he can draw out and enjoy his "revelation." A couple chapters later, when Roran explicitly asks Eragon to perform the wedding and Eragon still doesn't get why he can't wait a month or so, Roran "hints" again and Eragon finally has this revelation:

It took Eragon a moment to grasp Roran's meaning, but once he did, Eragon could not stop a broad smile from spreading across his face. Roran's going to be a father! he thought.

Oh, ya think? And since Eragon's like "Wait, why do you want to get married so quick, people will think it's unseemly" . . . seriously, is EVERYONE this oblivious? Either way you do it, Roran, you're letting on that you guys did the deed, mmkay? And when Roran says "If we're not married and quick, the old women will have something far more interesting to gossip about than my impatience," I gotta say your "impatience" is probably going to be discussed anyway, dude. . . .

ELDUNARÍ IS REALLY OBVIOUS.

While in battle with Murtagh, Eragon says he'd rather tear out his own heart than go willingly to Galbatorix, and Murtagh replies, "Better to tear out my hearts." Immediately I assumed that was not a typo and Paolini was trying to be slick about revealing something. HEARTS? Murtagh has more than one HEART? And just like the obvious pregnancy reference above, Eragon pretty much didn't react to it with any normal wonder and only grasped it as a clue when people spelled it out for him. This is the problem with having a character who's supposedly all kinds of clever and special but actually building him to be obtuse.


PLOT ISSUES: Nonsense, Holes, and Contrived Events

This is my biggest section of complaints because so much of this book was ridiculous. Anything I found confusing, contradictory, or poorly conceived which DIDN'T have to do with predictability or writing style ended up in here.

[A]n archaic dialect of Eragon's own tongue.

Hmm. Paolini has been using English to represent "Eragon's own tongue" so far, but doesn't see fit to name it because maybe he's hoping we won't notice it's just the common language. C'mon Paolini. Name it. You name everything else, including swords, and you name your main characters three or four times depending on who's talking to them. I bet you named your buttcheeks. You can name the language.

[M]ortal man and Dragon Rider alike

Hang on, Eragon's not mortal? He can be killed, so he's mortal. I guess it's pretty common in fantasy to throw this word around as if it means you just don't die of old age, but that really isn't what it means.

[C]asting what spells he felt were necessary, such as one to thwart attempts by Galbatorix or his minions to scry Roran.

Maybe I'm being too picky again, but I seem to recall that a lot of trust is put in the results of a scrying. If someone can just cast a spell to not be scryed, why doesn't everyone just do it, and why does anyone trust the results if you might just be missing obvious information because someone prevented you from seeing it? I really do prefer that magic systems both make logical sense AND are applied practically. This magic system seems to be sort of a series of things the author thought up along the way, and as he adds more crap to it he doesn't realize that a) the earlier stuff he invented might have to be altered and b) as ancient as the use of magic is, this stuff would have been thought of and worked out before. It's never really treated like it's something that's been part of this land since antiquity.

Saphira:

I forget sometimes that you are still unaccustomed to these emotions, while I have fought tooth and nail for survival since the day I hatched.

That's Saphira claiming that the boys she's talking to don't understand violence and whatnot. Funny, that's not how I remember it--I seem to recall Saphira hatching for Eragon, and he took care of her and hid her and all this other bonding junk. I don't recall "fighting tooth and nail for survival" at . . . really any point until they both went into battle. Maybe I'm wrong. But this seems really weird. Not to mention, Saphira, "the day you hatched" wasn't long ago.

SORRY DOOD I NEED TO BE THE MOST BADASS IN THIS STORY

When Roran asks Eragon if he can make him stronger and faster with magic, he answers with this:

"I don't see how. The energy needed to do that would have to come from somewhere. Saphira and I could give it to you, but then we would lose as much speed or strength as you gained."

He's established that with his magic system the energy does indeed need to come from somewhere. But that doesn't apparently always apply quite as literally as he's implying here. I mean, he tossed off a blessing (that ended up being a curse) for Elva, and it sorta forced her to grow up ridiculously quickly. Where did THAT energy come from? Especially since he didn't notice that it had happened? If magic is intimately and literally connected to the casters--to the point where they actually lose speed or strength if they cast for someone else to have speed or strength--how is it that, say, Eragon didn't lose years when he made Elva grow up quickly, or something like that? It seems like his magic system only makes sense in weird little pockets of logic that wouldn't actually add up to a comprehensive set of physical laws. And you know why he does this? Because he constructs his physical laws around what he wants to happen instead of having things happen that reflect the physical laws. When you do it backwards, you get to have fun little bits like a rationalization why Eragon gets to continue to be faster and stronger than everyone else. Isn't it nice that his magic system contains an excuse for him to not be able to make anyone else as cool as him?

I'm only haunted by death when it's convenient.

This has confused me for some time now. Eragon doesn't seem to have much of a problem killing bad guys. Seriously. He mowed down tons of them in the last book, and yes it was out of necessity but he honestly didn't seem to mind. But then he ends up killing a couple birds while sucking up energy to heal his cousin, and we get this:

With the memory of the deaths he had caused still heavy in his mind, Eragon reached for the jar of mead by his side, hoping to fend off a tide of morbid thoughts.

He gets "morbid thoughts" and heavy sadness and even some tears (a bit before the above sentence) because of killing birds. Gee, good thing Eragon's not a warrior who has to kill people or anything! Oh wait.

Similarly, there's this:

Eragon donned the leather-backed shirt, wrinkling his nose at the stench of death and desperation that clung to it. . . .

The death and desperation is just 'cause it stinks from his having worn it in a battle. It's not because it's the skin of a dead animal or anything. So even though he said this: "I cannot in good conscience eat a beast whose thoughts and feelings I've shared," he doesn't mind wearing their skin. I think other people have pointed out that the self-righteously vegetarian elves still wear leather and whatnot, so this probably isn't a new idea, but I found it really jarring, especially since this was like a page away from where he was whining about not eating meat.

Not to mention he gets all weepy over PLANTS he kills in a similar fashion:

He stood and looked back at the trail of brown plants that stretched out behind him; a bitter taste filled his mouth as he saw what he had wrought.

So . . . does he cry when he has a salad, too?

Maybe he shouldn't wear clothes made of animal OR plant-based fibers either. Eragon and all the elves should take off their clothes, including their leather boots, and run around nude and show us their hairless groins. We need more of that.

Body parts, meet solid objects.

It bothers me that Saphira finds the entrance to Helgrind not because of any combination of cunning and detective work, but . . . by accident. Because her wing happens to go through the illusion of sheer rock face that protects the entrance. Nice, since if that hadn't been an illusion she would have been smashing her wings into rocks. ::sigh:: Much later in the story she accidentally knocks over a tent with her tail. The narration happily mentions that the tent was empty. See 'cause now it's funny if carelessness resulted in Saphira trying to put her body parts through solid objects, as long as nobody got hurt!

Who cares if my dragon might be in mortal danger? I'mma go here and sniff things.

How about the scene when they go inside Helgrind and get attacked? I don't understand, after how much Paolini tries to play up the super-telepathic connection between Saphira and Eragon (which is in no way taken from Anne McCaffrey), Eragon doesn't give ONE thought to how Saphira's doing in her battle with the remaining Lethrblaka after they disappear from view. Sure he's a bit preoccupied with healing himself and Roran and then venturing into "the bowels of Helgrind" in pursuit of the Ra'zac, but . . . shouldn't he have maybe ONE fleeting thought of his dragon soulmate and whether she's, oh, getting killed? I guess his brain can only hold a couple things at a time, though, and it's more important to relay, through lukewarm, simile-infested descriptions, that there is water somewhere dripping (in a "steady doink . . . doink . . . doink," no less) and what sorts of moldy, nasty smells are in the air. I mean, if he's not worried about her because he's confident she'll win her fight, perhaps THAT should be expressed. Something should be. Not just "Hey, let's pursue our enemies even though we don't know what's happening to the dragon!"

This is a five-star dungeon!

I'm confused as to why Katrina has a candle lighting her cell. You're lucky if you get fed in medieval jails, right? So you think someone was on duty in the Ra'zac's dungeon to provide prisoners with candles? There should be an explanation for this, but there is not. There is also no explanation for why Sloan does not react at all when Roran is calling Eragon's name within both their hearing range.

Methinks Katrina and her daddy might have had a complicated relationship.

Before they can escape from Helgrind, Katrina demands that they have to find her father! Yes! Must find Daddy! But . . . when she is informed that he is dead, here is her reaction:

She closed her eyes, and a solitary tear leaked down the side of her face. "So be it."

Oh, that's realistic. Interestingly enough, this is the only time I caught in this book that anyone cried a single tear. Perhaps my previous essays harassing Paolini for this ridiculous single-tear habit have been taken to heart.

I'm so mad I could kill you. No really.

Also unrealistic: Saphira gets pissed at Eragon for wanting to stay behind, and she attacks him. Like, seriously. The kinds of attacks she levied at him would have seriously, seriously hurt him if she had landed any of those blows (and he avoided it only by nimbly dodging), so why would she do it? If she's so angry about his wanting to stay behind, it's because she loves the piss out of him (though I can't really imagine why). So why would she go all out on attacking him, and why doesn't he seem bewildered or particularly weirded out by this?

Why, when Eragon levitates himself, does he claim to be "hanging unsupported"? He's supported. Just not by something visible. Er, I kinda know something about that. I write about flying while being supported by something you can't see or feel all the time. (In first person, thank you.) BEING unsupported is a whole different ballgame, mister. ::Puts nose in the air::

And just as a note, I think it's really silly that Eragon reclaims his will to live because he's so inspired by a bumblebee. If he was trying for surreal while Eragon was in an altered state of consciousness, he just didn't really make it . . . it didn't work for me.

Watch me torture a guy, then feel sorry for ME. I'm the protagonist!

Eragon decided to deal with Sloan--an enemy who sold him out--not by killing him, but by using magic against him in a torture-like way, compelling him to leave his daughter forever and start a new life in a faraway place. This is supposedly to avoid having to kill while sending his problem far away . . . in other words, it's done pretty much for selfish reasons, especially since he takes away Sloan's "reason for living" by forbidding him to be with his daughter. And here's what Eragon has to say about it:

The accomplishment left Eragon feeling soiled, as if he had done something shameful. It was necessary, he thought, but no one should have to do what I did.

But Eragon. This was YOUR IDEA. (And yes, you did do something shameful, you brat.) Instead of just killing this poor guy, you tortured him by making him promise to avoid what he loves most and made him walk off into the wilderness blinded. (Oh, and you gave him a magic spell that makes the animals you care so much about come to him blithely to be killed for food. As long as you don't have to see it happen, it doesn't matter much to you that animals die, does it? Murderer.) Am I supposed to feel sorry for Eragon or feel that he has made a difficult moral decision and sympathize with him? I don't.

Later, when explaining these events to Arya, Eragon says this about it:

"I will kill in war. But I won't take it upon myself to decide who lives and who dies. I don't have the experience or the wisdom. . . . Every man has a line he won't cross, Arya, and I found mine when I looked upon Sloan."

So, basically, he just doesn't think he has the right to take someone's life unless someone else has decided he should. It's perfectly consistent, then, that he feels he DOES have the right to avoid killing someone by instead laying a fate upon him that the victim feels is worse than death. You know, I can see where he's coming from if he doesn't want to condemn a person to death, both choosing and executing the death. But why did he choose what he chose for Sloan? BECAUSE IT'S IN THE PLOT. Why did he fix things so the guy basically has to become someone else in order to live free again? BECAUSE IT'S IN THE PLOT. Why not just wipe his memory and set him free or something if you're worried he's going to be a danger but you don't want to kill him? BECAUSE THAT WOULD MESS UP THE PLOT, DUH! This was actually a part that Chris didn't originally intend to write, I think, because he cites this bit as what made his series have to be four books instead of three. But he's still got this terrible reasoning for what Eragon did to Sloan. If he doubts his experience and wisdom so much, why does he trust himself with any position of power at all?

I sure as hell wouldn't. I wouldn't vote for him for class president. I wouldn't trust him to bake my birthday cake.

Yet again, Eragon has Protagonist Powers!

I have now found Brisingr's equivalent of when Eragon randomly said the ancient language's word for "fire" and ended up discovering his ability to light a magic flame. While thinking about Sloan and turning over everything he knows about the man, Eragon ended up doing this:

There occurred to him, then, three words in the ancient language that seemed to embody Sloan, and without thinking about it, Eragon whispered the words under his breath.

Guess what this results in? Eragon accidentally stumbled across three ancient language words that happened to be Sloan's "true name" (which means he can control him with magic). There is no precedent for this in this series at that point--that a person can stumble onto a person's true name by kinda thinking about the person and happening to let the words come out of his mouth for no apparent reason. This is awfully lucky, don't you think? But not just lucky. You can tell from the way this is written that this is a huge plot point. Why, Paolini, couldn't you have invented some reason why Eragon might be led to those words, or maybe let him stumble upon it by uttering a few different combinations instead of having the revelation crash down upon him because of a chance muttering of the very three words that result in Sloan's true name the VERY FIRST TIME he tried??? And then later, when Arya and Eragon are discussing whether he is in danger of Galbatorix learning HIS true name and using it against him, Arya replies dismissively, "True names are not so easy to find as you think." He just accepts this. Well, if you're sitting around just randomly having true names fall into your brain and out your lips, you have every right to imagine that true names are pretty easy to find, eh? This is such a contradiction. Especially since she suggests you have to know someone very well to guess their true name, and they agree that it's not even worth trying to guess each other's. Eragon knew Sloan better than Arya? Well, no, he didn't. He's just a lucky shit. Because he's the protagonist.

Nasuada's totally their bitch.

Here's something that makes no sense to me, which occurs when Nasuada is talking to Fadawar when the warlords come to discuss loyalties:

He had switched to his native language, which forced Nasuada to respond in kind. She hated him for it. Her halting speech and uncertain tones exposed her unfamiliarity with her birth tongue, emphasizing that she had not grown up in their tribe but was an outsider. The ploy undermined her authority.

It "forced" her to speak in her native language, even though it made her look ignorant? At this point Nasuada has just been accused of being unable to make good decisions because she is a woman. If I were her, I would not allow this man to control the conversation by changing languages--why is she "forced" to respond in a language she doesn't speak well just because he switched? He demonstrated he could understand the tongue she's more familiar with, so what custom is she honoring and what's the point of honoring the custom if she's pissing him off regardless? By accepting his terms she's just showing him that she does, in fact, defer to him and let him control her, putting her at a disadvantage. Why is it she can't just continue to answer in her preferred language? (Not to mention that after she switches languages, the speech Paolini writes for her does not change at all in sophistication to indicate that she is stumbling a bit. Referring to the men as "starving dogs" and using phrases like "I cannot indulge in favoritism" and "I have no enmity for the wandering tribes" does not indicate that she is having any difficulty with the language.)

A running elf is the fastest thing ever!

At one point Arya decides to be a rebel and take off running to look for Eragon after everyone is so dismayed that he stayed in the Empire instead of returning to the Varden with Saphira. An orc (um, I mean, an Urgal, or a Kull, or something) offers to go get Arya for Nasuada, but she assures him that he'll be hunted down, while Arya will pass for human at a distance. A bunch of excuses are given for why nobody goes after Arya. Look, if it's that important to you that she not go, HELLO, YOU HAVE A DRAGON. DON'T TELL ME AN ELF CAN OUTRUN A FLYING DRAGON. But the reason they don't invoke the dragon solution is that Arya needs to be able to run off on her own. This is because a plot element is dependent on it. Paolini has a REALLY BIG PROBLEM with this sort of thing. He invents silly, not-very-well-thought-out plot threads, and then either editors or his later readings reveal that there are holes. His response is probably something like "Hmm, well she HAS to be able to do this nonsensical thing because such and such is dependent on it, so instead of streamlining it so it makes more sense or rearranging things so it doesn't happen at all, I'm going to APPLY A BUNCH OF PATCHWORK CRAP TO IT TO PLUG ALL THE EXCUSES, and then deny that they're leaking!" I have a pretty high sensitivity for late-stage, patchwork editing, but this "Oh, no, you can't go after her because of THIS half-assed excuse!" bull really set the sirens wailing. Know what would have made a lot more sense?

Have Nasuada shrug and trust Arya. Be dismayed. Be disappointed. But respect her decision instead of pretending there are a bunch of dumb reasons you "can't" go after an uncatchable running elf. Jeez.

RIIIIIIIDER FAAAAAAAAAARTS

Oh lordy. And then this here takes the cake. Unless I am really missing something obvious, this is a HUGE PLOT HOLE.

Arya:

"A Rider does not walk unnoticed in this world, Eragon. Those who have the ears to hear and the eyes to see can interpret the signs easily enough. The birds sing of your coming, the beasts of the earth heed your scent, and the very trees and grass remember your touch. The bond between Rider and dragon is so powerful that those who are sensitive to the forces of nature can feel it."

OH MY GOD. RIDER FARTS.

So. Some elf chick--fairly old and moderately trained of course, but still just some non-Rider elf chick--could track Eragon by "listening to the whispers of the land." Eragon smells like Rider Farts. Which means that Galbatorix ought to have no problem finding Eragon! His presence leaves freakin' tracks! The damn birds and beasts and PLANT LIFE can tell where he's been! Galbatorix would rather send out foot soldiers to look for him? Okay, Galbatorix has Evil Overlord Syndrome and prefers to find somewhere dark to laugh and be crazy, unseen except for giving the hero something to do like Dr. Klaw from Inspector Gadget. (Does Galby have a foul-tempered cat who will yowl in compassion after "I'LL GET YOU NEXT TIME, ERAGON! NEXT TIIIIIIIME!"?)

So, being that he has Evil Overlord Syndrome, he of course must depend on inept underlings while never getting off his ass to do his own dirty work. (It's much more fun--and much more accommodating for the hero of the story--if he gets to show off his Evil Overlord-ness by cursing his bumbling minions' inability to capture the hero, despite it being obvious that they don't have the skills to do so EVEN THOUGH THE EVIL OVERLORD DOES.) After all, if he didn't just send out search parties that can't smell Rider Farts, said Rider would not have the time to build up his skills Jedi-style and get the power to actually be a match for the bad guy once it's time for them to go head to head.

To tell you the truth, I'd have had no problem believing that Arya found Eragon without being able to track him. If he went to obvious places and she checked the obvious places, hey, whatever. But he went and invented the Rider Farts and now people can tell where he's been! This is a problem! He can't erase his footprints and it doesn't take great skill to see them. Oh, Paolini, that hole is going to bite you in the ass SO hard. . . .

I've totally been thinking about Saphira this whole time! I just forgot to actually think about her ever!

So after Eragon has been on his own without Saphira for about sixty pages, we see this: "It surprised Eragon how relieved he was to see her. He had not truly felt safe since he and she had separated." Except at no time during the sixty pages was this actually voiced. It seemed like he pretty much didn't think about her. Let's see. He thought about how levitating in the air was weird after he was used to flying with Saphira, but no missing her occurred. He mentioned her tangentially when he remembered that Roran and she had helped him win a battle, but no missing her was brought up. She was mentioned in conversation a couple times in the usual "I AM ERAGON, AND I AM A RIDER, MY DRAGON IS SAPHIRA" kind of crap. And then there was even this bit where he was thinking about how he was glad to be rid of her:

Still, he appreciated the opportunity to be by himself. He had not been alone, truly alone, since he found Saphira's egg in the Spine. Always her thoughts had rubbed against his, or Brom or Murtagh or someone else had been at his side. In addition to the burden of constant companionship [ . . . ] He welcomed his solitude. . . ."

You know, followed by how he didn't even have the desire to scry her because if she actually did get hurt he'd know it so, you know, unless she was dying he didn't really give a shit. And while spending the night in the hotel room, he mostly thinks about how horny he is for Arya and how he plans to pursue her even though she has rejected his advances a few times. Then Eragon and Saphira finally have a sort of pale reunion through a scrying glass and all of a sudden he "misses" her, but seems mostly worried about whether she's still pissed at him. If the dude is that emotionally disconnected from his TELEPATHICALLY BONDED LIFE-MATE, it's scary to think what kind of person he might be if he were put in a powerful, risky position, like a leader or a warrior or . . .

. . . Shit.

Betrayal and murder threats. A usual day in the life of Stronghammer.

It seems inordinately unwise of a warrior like Roran to walk around well aware that a woman in his camp (Birgit) wants to kill him. Especially considering she walks up to him at one point and waves her dagger around and reminds him she's got a SCORE to settle with his ass. Does it strike anyone as truly ridiculous that Roran does nothing about this? Surely he could either dispatch a couple spies to track her every move so he stays safe OR call on his good old cousin to reprogram her inconvenient, murderous desires. (Shouldn't be too hard for him to "stumble upon" her true name too, right? Hey, why not Galbatorix's while he's at it?) Anyway, my point is that having a lady who is unrepentant about her plans to KILL YOU walking around with her pick of times to do so seems really irresponsible. If you like keeping your guts in your body that is.

Cartoon physics and very unwise magic users!

Arya kicks a soldier in the head. This causes him to hurtle through the air and land more than THIRTY FEET away. Is there a reason for this? Do you realize how high and how hard you would have to kick a person for that to happen? Eragon also pointlessly injures himself by punching a dude (you know, to the point where he has screwed up his hand and can't fight), which makes me wonder what exactly stops him from just "Brisingr-ing" people and setting them on fire. And again, this is the guy who just couldn't bring himself to kill Sloan even though that guy had personally gone against him of his own free will and represented a danger to him, but then a bunch of soldiers who were being controlled by Galbatorix are fair game for getting punched, kicked, and SPINE-TWISTED to death. Got it. Funny, Arya asks the same question after Eragon strangles a guy who spent half a page begging not to be killed, and after murdering him Eragon immediately starts spouting pseudo-intellectual philosophy about how killing is okay when they're being threatened--though he didn't try at all to find a way around killing. All he can do is intone simplistic platitudes about how killing others means killing a part of oneself, and of course Arya is so wowed by his insight. Because Eragon is very wise you know.

I'll just be over here checkin' out my wife's cancer. Don't mind me.

So! When Eragon returned to the Varden, people swarmed around him and shouted a bunch of stuff. Most of it was just, like, superstar treatment, which makes sense. Some lady screaming about how she wants Eragon to marry her, and people wishing blessings upon him, and starstruck fans calling out for him to come to dinner with them to be honored, etc. But some of the ruckus was people crying out for his help. Most notably, people wanted healing. Specifically:

[W]ould he please heal a son who had been born blind, or would he remove a growth that was killing a man's wife [ . . . ]

You'd think, yeah, totally, Eragon would be like "I'M SO ON IT!!!" Well, you'd think that if you didn't know he has a history of being incredibly indifferent to others' plights, tends to be a weeny bit sociopathic, and behaves inconsistently since he cries over his salads but doesn't seem to give a horse's nutsack if a conscious creature is suffering. So what does he do after a man in the "audience" pleads for his assistance in HEALING HIS DYING WIFE?

Dismounting, Eragon walked among the friends and acquaintances of his childhood, shaking hands, slapping shoulders, and laughing at jokes that would be incomprehensible to anyone who had not grown up around Carvahall.

You can't make this up, folks. Some lady is dying of a malignant growth. Gee, I think I'll hang out with my buddies and laugh at a bunch of inside jokes. After all, I'm a frickin' rockstar. Screw your wife with cancer or whatever! I'm sure it's not really important. If she's still alive later after I'm finished getting my ass licked and arguing with my dragon about who smells worse and drinking and playing poker or something, I guess I might have time to heal her probably otherwise fatal disease that may or may not actually be close to killing her. Being begged for healing assistance and then just completely ignoring it doesn't make me look like a raging dickhead or anything. Imagine being that guy. No seriously. Here you go.

Waiting in terror as your wife is consumed by a painful and life-threatening illness, you hang all your hope on the Rider who is soon to return. Your heart leaps when you hear that he has returned to the Varden. You hurry out to meet him, seeing him land there in all his glory, and you cry out with your desperate request--having to fight, of course, for your voice to be heard amidst all the clamor. And he hears! He hears your words! And as he dismounts his regal beast, on equal footing once again with the other men, he moves toward you. . . .

And is swallowed up by the celebrating crowd, but not against his own will. Oh, no. He goes willingly. Willingly, he pats his fellows' backs and exchanges the gales of laughter, turning a blind eye to your plight. He heard you, saw you, understood you, and chose not to help. And with that, you are out of the Rider's mind, of no concern to him, just one more voice in an overwhelming crowd whose other demands involve dinner invitations and marriage proposals. Yours being the only life and death request, you find it hard to believe that your pleas could be handled so callously, but . . . after all, he is a Great Dragon Rider, yes? Will you continue to trust him, and know that in his wisdom he will be sure to return and heal your wife before it is too late? Will you continue to suffer in silence and accept that your wife's fate is his to decide?

. . . Well hell no, you wouldn't. If you gave a crap about your wife, Eragon would have now become someone you resent and possibly even hate. Because the narration explicitly states that Eragon heard this request, WE know that he did, though maybe in this situation the man in question would doubt that his plea had been heard. But knowing you'd been heard and summarily ignored because Eragon needs to go pat his buddies on the ass and obsess over his sword not being good enough, would you really respect him? Hardly.

Eff you, Eragon. You fail as the Alagaësian Jesus.

A few chapters later we do have the guy return AGAIN and beg for help from Eragon, and this time he actually shows up going "what's all this then?" and heals the lady, but two things bother me: One, he doesn't appear to have any recognition that this is the second time he's been asked, and two, even if he did remember, he made that lady suffer for longer without any knowledge of how close to death she actually was, and postponed fulfilling the request in an incredibly insensitive way. Someone else--his elf guard, actually--had to decide for him that this request actually was worth disturbing him, after turning away countless people who kept coming to his tent during the night. There's also the fact that this SERIOUSLY read like an afterthought, and I'm kinda half wondering whether a reader or editor had to say "Chris, you can't invent a suffering woman and then have him ignore her because well because." Maybe he didn't need that help, but honestly, this whole rant wouldn't have been necessary if the guy's first time pleading for help was outside the tent instead of in the crowd. Eragon stomping off laughing with his childhood buddies right after a request like that was a terrible, terrible idea unless your purpose was to make Eragon absolutely seem like a jerk. (And we all know Paolini wouldn't do that. Eragon's a hero.)

And we're not tyrants or anything.

So then Saphira figures it's her turn to be a huge bitch, and when Eragon is getting tired of greeting all his fans and followers in the tent, she starts growling and putting her claws out so they'll all panic and run. You know, because it's more diplomatic to be threatened by a giant sapient lizard than it is to tell the fans that Eragon's had a long day and wants to go to bed or something. Great move, Saphira. Make them all afraid of your dragon PMS. This after everyone was worried about freaking Urgals who have been loyal so far.

Seriously, if Paolini is NOT trying to make his main characters look like tyrants, it would be a good idea to stop writing scenes in which they use their power and reputation to scare or threaten people (or think seriously about doing so). Another such scene is where Saphira wants mead and the guy who controls such things says she can't have any, but changes his mind when FIRE STARTS TO COME OUT OF HER NOSE. Way to leave a threat dangling, you jerk. And later, Eragon is pissed off that one of the clans of dwarves hates his guts. This enemy dwarf clan was nearly wiped out by the Empire at one point, and while wondering what to do about them, Eragon thinks, "I will have to find a way to make peace with them. That or I'll have to finish what Galbatorix started." Seriously? There's no sign that he's kidding here. If you can't make peace with them, you're going to KILL THEM ALL?? And then there's the scene where Eragon is considering trapping all the council members in the room and threatening them if the vote doesn't go the way he wants it to. And then there's a scene where he's on the verge of pulling out his sword and threatening his teacher Oromis because he's frustrated about something being kept from him--it even says it explicitly this time, "Eragon bellowed, on the verge of tearing his sword from its sheath and threatening all of them until they explained themselves." How about when a tree spirit doesn't answer fast enough for Saphira and she gets the tree's attention by biting the crap out of her roots and blowing fire at her? She soon admits it might not have been wise to do that, but later explicitly refuses to apologize and justifies her behavior, and doesn't get punished. Ass! These are not things a sympathetic protagonist usually expresses. Does Chris not actually realize it?

I'm too special for this ugly sword. It makes me have sad feelings too.

Shortly after he gets back to the Varden, Eragon starts obsessing over swords. He needs a sword! He needs it now! And even though he has Murtagh's sword and could fix its small defects with magic, his attitude is "I need a sword, but not this sword." (Yes, those are his words.) With women dying and blind babies right there in his power to help given half an hour or so, this makes Eragon seem like a total jerk. Not only does he devote undue attention to acquiring a weapon for himself . . . he does so when he HAS A USABLE ONE ALREADY. Eragon, can't you obsess over that crap after certain life and death matters are settled? Please? Please stop going out of your way to make your readers hate you?

Random burst of affection for Nasuada that never showed up before and isn't mentioned again:

I don't like that in a paragraph of telling-not-showing, Paolini decides that Eragon is gonna start having a bond with Nasuada. I mean, I'm not kidding, he says "they spoke of many things" and suddenly Eragon's like "dude, Nasuada's awesome!" Paolini helpfully narrates to us that Now They Have A Bond. The way you're supposed to do this is showing it developing. And while I really don't think he should have been OUT to add words to this, a little goes a long way when you actually SHOW them connecting through conversation. But given this description of Eragon's inexperience with the ladies--"he had grown up in a world of men and boys, and he had never had the opportunity to be friends with a woman"--I think what we're seeing here is Paolini probably couldn't have written such a scene. I don't think he knows how to write about friendship/connection between a man and a woman (well, considering he doesn't really have the ability to write about most human relationships, this is unsurprising). He couldn't show us naturally how they began to connect and develop a more-than-liegelord-over-her-vassal relationship, so he just told us it was there and expected us to accept it. *Burp* Oops, sorry, I couldn't swallow that one.

Excuse me? Can I interrupt here to give Elva a hug?

I have a bone to pick with the whole Elva thing. If you haven't read the books, Elva is an accident; Eragon mistakenly cursed her by making her "a shield from harm" instead of "shielded from harm" when he tried to give her a magical blessing. Now in this book he's grappling with whether he should try to fix her, even though she's now developed into a person who is forced to feel other people's pains and hurts so that she can stop them (and also has some degree of future-telling ability for the same reason). First off, everyone treats her like a criminal and shuns her, which isn't so hard to believe except that even the narration does it, insisting on describing her as having "horrible purple eyes" and whatnot. (I have to pout there. I have a character who has a lot in common with Elva--my Delia isn't cursed or compelled in a ghastly way to avert misfortune, but she is precocious, empathic, able to tell the future, and purple-eyed. A little respect for these misunderstood magical people, please? Purple eyes aren't horrible!! RAWR!) Anyway. . . .

So first Eragon's talking to Nasuada about whether the curse can be removed for Elva's sake. He promised to try. But Nasuada thinks Elva's condition might be really useful and that her suffering might be justified considering the good it could do. This is a good moral dilemma, sure. But when they decide to ask for Elva to voluntarily continue suffering since it might help defeat the Empire, they're talking about what they'll do if she refuses and decide that oh, if her CHARACTER is such that she would refuse to help in her own self-interest, she's not someone you want on your side ANYWAY! Excuse me? You ask for a favor, the person says no, and that means you have every right to say FINE THEN I DIDN'T WANT YOUR HELP ANYWAY . . . ? Are you gonna take all your swords and elves and go home now?

Elva, predictably, refuses to continue bearing her burden, and then Eragon announces that she'll have to provide the energy for her own cure. He claims that he can't do it because he'd have to keep sending it to her his whole life and it would kill him if he got too far from her. Why wasn't any of this considered when he laid the spell in the first place? I whined about this already when I crapped on Eldest, but if Eragon insists that he can't make people faster or stronger with his magic without losing speed/strength himself, why is it that he was able to do something so powerful to Elva and never notice that it happened? (She's actually just an infant, but has grown at an accelerated rate, yet Eragon didn't lose years or energy or anything.) So why are the rules different now, just because supposedly uncasting a spell has some intricacies that casting one doesn't?

So of course then Eragon's spell doesn't work right (not that he bothered to check with anyone who knows dick about magic first, so conveniently it fails)--it just removes Elva's compulsion to help others. And she's happy with this because she's basically freed from having to do something about the pain she feels. Which is odd since part of her persuasive speech about her need to be cured hinged upon the suffering she was forced to bear when sharing other people's pain. Now that she doesn't have to help even when she feels it, she's pretty cool with this and announces her intent to manipulate people freely using her ability. Which is kind of a dumbass thing to say to a bunch of people who are going to view you as a security risk. Keep your aces in the hole if you're smart, Elva. You're supposed to be, but you didn't act like it. Grr.

An inaudible spell served to insulate Eragon from the chill.

Waiiit. Earlier in this book Eragon was absolutely gobsmacked when Tenga lit a fire without speaking. He was appalled, in fact, that this guy would take such a risk just to light a fire, because casting spells silently is said to be extremely dangerous. Sound helps control the release of the magic, though you need will as well. So why's he doing it now?

Of course, that holds no candle to how absurdly Paolini breaks his own magical rules when THIS happens:

Faster than speech or conscious thought, Eragon plunged his whole being into the flow of magic and, without relying upon the ancient language to structure his spell, rewove the fabric of the world into a pattern more pleasing to him.

So basically, even though Eragon's not a dragon . . . and even though he's using magic not only in a way that hasn't been established to work but HAS BEEN ESTABLISHED NOT TO WORK . . . he can get away with this kind of b.s., and his reaction is described as being faster than conscious thought. You know what? I don't even care anymore. I already pointed out how incoherent this magic system is in books 1 and 2, and here in book 3 Eragon is weaving "the fabric of the world into a pattern more pleasing to him" through, I don't know, Super Speshull Quantum Magic or something. Since he can totally do that, just like he can say a magic word without intent and get fire (like he did in the first book) or guess someone's true name for no good reason (like he did earlier in this book).

You set up the Ancient Language to be the conduit of magic and you hold Eragon and other magic users to this rule all the way through, even though occasionally they just have to think in the Ancient Language. But this? It blows the whole thing out of the water. NOW THE MAGIC RULE IS ERAGON CAN DO WHATEVER HE WANTS BECAUSE HE CAN MAKE THE WORLD MORE PLEASING TO HIM JUST BY THINKING ABOUT IT. And then Saphira later comments on how dangerous that was to do, reinforcing my belief that using magic without language isn't something he's thought to have the expertise to do. Eragon makes a lot of really bad mistakes and doesn't die from them. I hate to say this, but it would be so refreshing for Eragon to die from making a mistake like falling out of his dragon's saddle (like he almost does all the time). A Dragon Rider who didn't die in battle or from a noble sacrifice but because he was screwing around in the sky and fell off the dragon? Classic.

The sky is loud, sorry.

I'm kinda disturbed by how often he describes "silence" when Eragon is up in the sky riding Saphira. There are certain things you're not hearing when you're up there, true. But wind at that height is a powerful thing, especially when you're moving too. It's . . . well, not exactly silent. I could see calling it tranquil at times but not silent.

Everyone is important.

There's this one spot when Eragon is busy being late to stuff he's supposed to do and then he stops to talk to Angela, ending up meeting (and blessing) a couple of ladies who are getting their fortunes told. They're described in detail and given mysterious qualities that are designed to make you wonder about them. Then they disappear and Eragon isn't allowed to know who they are or why they're important. Just once in a story like this I would LOVE for a scene like that to GO NOWHERE. I would love for incidental characters to be interesting, have a rich history that's only hinted at, and get treatment like they're people, only to NOT play a pivotal role (or a role at all) in the rest of the story. Sadly, I'm sure I won't get my wish. Paolini doesn't create incidental characters with this kind of description unless he is writing an important destiny for them, and that bugs me.

The painless soldiers.

First, when the Varden warriors find out that their enemy has sent soldiers who are impervious to pain, they actually learn this because ONE OF THE WARRIORS SAID SO. He explained the deal plain and simple--these soldiers agreed to be modified to feel no pain in return for safety promised to their families--and in so doing HE REVEALED THEIR WHOLE ANGLE. Shouldn't he have scared the crap out of them suggesting they had been reformed as superhumans or something? But another problem is that people who can't feel pain die just as easily as people who do feel pain. The only thing making them unable to feel pain changes is that they can't experience immediate pain-based shock (though their bodies can still go into shock), and they might not fear battle as much if the wounds they acquire don't cause painful suffering. These painless soldiers should not be any stronger or harder to kill than normal soldiers, and the whole "They CAN be killed!" revelation seems ridiculous. Mortal injuries are mortal injuries, and people bleed to death or go into shock easily. People aren't dying from pain on the battlefield.

When Roran later fights the painless soldiers himself, at first it's not revealed that the soldiers are the painless variety, and Roran thinks it's really strange that they've chosen an extremely vulnerable campsite in the woods. When they find out oh, these are those creepy guys who keep coming after us despite mortal injuries, Roran realizes YEAH, that's the reason they made an unwise choice! They didn't CARE if they were trapped! So . . . let me get this straight . . . because they don't feel pain if they die in battle, they're immediately both completely fearless AND unwilling to do the best job they can for their side of the war?

Ever heard of CIPA? Congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis. It's a real (VERY rare) condition that people are born with which causes them to be unable to feel pain. Guess what most of them die of? Hyperthermia. That's right; they overheat because they can't tell they're too hot when they keep exerting themselves, and they drop dead or get severe brain damage. Most of them don't live past age three, and if they do they still usually die very young because they can't feel early discomfort which alerts them of more serious problems. These people often accidentally bite their own tongues and lips off and stuff, just by accident, because it's there and it doesn't hurt to bite it until it comes off. Bottom line? Making you unable to feel pain actually makes you more likely to die of something that should hurt you but doesn't, and though these men would not have an identical experience because they will have learned how not to hurt themselves due to growing up with pain, they'd still have the same problems from the point they were altered on, including the inability to stop exerting themselves when they need to for their own well-being. (I kinda like to think the other side effects of CIPA might affect these guys too, one of which is being unable to sense the discomfort of a full bladder, which leads to wetting yourself a lot. Maybe Galbatorix has got a lot of pee-smelly soldiers. What do you think?)

Eff you, I'm getting married.

And speaking of insensitivity, how about we have a wedding a couple hours after this battle, before the dead are buried, while most of the wedding guests should be nursing bruises and flesh wounds and have to go wash blood off themselves before getting dressed for the wedding. (Oh wait. Actually NOBODY who is attending got hurt at all, even though they fought. Isn't that okay then?) It's also totally awesome to share your wedding anniversary with the death date of a bunch of your comrades. Slick, dudes.

And the excuse for it is "it would hearten people!" Yeah, a wedding is the thing to do to jack up the morale up in this place. Though probably burying the dead and tending to the wounded would usually take precedence. That and you just got attacked by your main rival, and all you did was "drive them off." Dude, Murtagh either has to hang out in the area or actually go home to Galbatorix without fulfilling his orders to capture you. What are the odds that he is going to leave you alone for long? Eh, no prob. Guess I'll go officiate a marriage now. Wait, and Elva is in attendance? I thought that just before this battle she was so hysterical that Angela had to forcibly put her to sleep. I'm sure she's in the mood for a wedding too. It's SO creepy to have this wedding just piling on the happy after giving a bunch of ridiculous excuses for why it should take place and then pretty much just giving up. When Eragon starts philosophizing on how so many things in their past might have gone wrong and NOT led to this day, Roran admonishes him, "Let us not darken this day with unpleasant thoughts about what might have been." Well, I kinda agree dude. Since THIS DAY IS ALREADY PRETTY WELL DARKENED WITH THE DEATHS OF AN ESTIMATED FIVE OR SIX HUNDRED OF YOUR PEOPLE.

I kinda forgot Eragon has a phobia.

I think it's odd that Eragon had a fear of public speaking and they made a thing out of it, but then when he had to officiate the wedding he didn't really give a thought to whether he'd be nervous beforehand, and the narration made a poor excuse for why he WASN'T nervous when he actually went through with it. (Oh, gee, he felt like he was dreaming after the battle. Convenient, yes?) I'd say he just shouldn't have bothered giving this phobia to Eragon, but perhaps it was a sad attempt to humanize him by giving him flaws, the way the famous Stephenie Meyer failed to make Bella accessible by giving her the "flaw" of clumsiness (which also turned into a plot point all the time)?

Women don't really count, but sometimes they do.

I also think it's odd that in a clearly patriarchal culture like Eragon's, the women are given last names that indicate them being "daughters" of their mothers and not their fathers (like Katrina's mother is Ismira and she's referred to as "Katrina Ismirasdaughter"). It's a nice change, I think, but considering how women don't get handled in this culture as if they have equal rights (Katrina even has a dowry!), I find it surprising.

I'm not sure Paolini understands how pregnancy works.

Katrina and Roran had to get married right quick because otherwise people would figure out that they slept together before they got hitched and that would destroy her reputation. People can do math, so she has maybe a month or MAYBE two if she wants to pretend her baby is premature when it's born. I don't know exactly how long the story is suggesting she was with child before they got married, but it basically can't be long. And yet, then we run into this:

He shifted his arm, fitting it against the curve of her waist and feeling the slight bulge of her growing belly.

Does Paolini not know that pregnant ladies don't start showing immediately? That it's actually hard to tell that you're pregnant for the first few months unless you have other symptoms? It's considered pretty early if you start to show at 9 weeks, I think, though I'm no expert. This early in a pregnancy, the only change I can think of is that she might be a little bloated in general. My parents were in a situation kinda like this in that they decided they should be married before I was born. Their wedding was in June. I was born in January. None of the wedding pictures even suggest my mom was pregnant. Go fig.

Elves are fast! Faster than anything! Except some things!

Nasuada wants to send Eragon off on a secret mission without his dragon, and doesn't want him to go alone, so she sends him with a Kull--one of the Inheritance Cycle's Uruk-hai rip-offs. Her reasoning is this:

"I have decided that a Kull should accompany you, as they are the only other creatures capable of matching your pace."

So it's about pace. Kull can run as fast as Eragon. Then that means that Eragon is NOT as fast as an elf, right? Because Garzhvog says this earlier in the book:

"I cannot run as fast as little elves, but I can run as long."

So, either Eragon can't keep up with elves (even though I thought Paolini suggested he can) or Garzhvog is kind of a slow Kull and was only speaking for himself when he said he couldn't run as fast as Arya. (Unlikely, as he's, like, a chief.) The next time Eragon can keep up with or outrun elves, I'm gonna whine.

Let me say goodbye, even though you're not leaving.

So there's a supposedly touching scene with Eragon, Roran, Katrina, and Saphira saying their goodbyes before missions. When Eragon is preparing to depart, he makes all his noises toward Roran and Katrina, which makes sense. But then Saphira does it. Which makes no sense because she's using words that suggest she and Katrina are about to depart from each other too, even though only Eragon and Roran are leaving. I mean, she touches her forehead, says weird overly dramatic things ("Katrina? Do not dwell on that which you cannot change. It will only worsen your distress"), and . . . then she's staying behind while Eragon goes off, knowing full well that Katrina's staying there too. Why did this read like an unsure farewell for the two ladies here?

It's just a flesh wound!

Roran's superior, Martland Redbeard, gets his hand chopped off during a fight. He barely reacts to it, gets annoyed when the healer brings his severed hand over and offers to reattach it, and tells him he doesn't feel like worrying about that. He tucks his own hand under his arm and shuffles off acting like it's really ridiculous of people to act like his hand getting cut off is important. Just shoving his stump under his arm seems to be plenty to stop the bleeding, too. Does Paolini not know how serious an injury a severed hand is? I thought maybe a reason for him acting like that would be revealed, but it wasn't in this book. If Redbeard turns out to be a painless soldier in hiding or something, that'd be one thing to explain the lack of reaction, but it still doesn't explain why he wouldn't want his hand back on, and it still doesn't help him live through the severing of a major artery.

Don't bug us, we're busy:

Eragon's got dwarf guards while he's attending meetings. When he comes out they're playing dice. I know it's got to be boring to be a guard, but seriously? They're playing dice? Which requires that your visual attention be drawn to your game pieces? This is really inappropriate unless they're off-duty guards except when Eragon is there to guard, and I didn't get the impression that they were.

I hate killing, except that I grin and laugh a lot while I do it.

I find it truly ridiculous that Roran bemoans his fate as a person who must kill, being all emo to Katrina and longing for his farm days--actually this is nicely handled--and then in battle he experiences joy and exhilaration, laughs with glee at the prospect of cutting down people who would hurt his family, and is seen with a "feral grin" as he starts developing a pile of bodies before him. He doesn't seem very sorry while he's doing it, so it surprises me that these triumphant images aren't at all what return to haunt him in his nightmares. It adds insult to injury when he starts demanding a body count and his spellcaster buddy answers that he killed 193 soldiers all by his widdle self, and he's all "AW I FELL SHORT OF GETTING TO TWO HUNDRED, DARN IT!" Where the hell is the dude who hates war and suffers at the thought of destroying a person's life?

You must be punished! Psych.

And on this subject, I actually understand why Nasuada feels like she has to punish Roran for disobeying his orders, even though doing so resulted in lives saved and battles won. It makes sense to make an example of him because in almost all situations, you can't reward the behavior of a soldier who decides he is better qualified to decide battle strategies than his superior (who, theoretically, has had his abilities determined by an even more experienced warrior). So I don't really disagree with his punishment even though that sucked. What I don't get is what Nasuada did after that. She wanted to teach him (and others) a lesson about disobedience, so she did, and then . . . she demoted the guy Roran wouldn't take orders from. AND gave Roran his own company. Sounds like she pretty much undid every message she sent with those fifty lashes. Now everyone knows it was all for show.

You have telepathic spellcasters who are building a case to convict someone. Don't bother reading the mind of the accused criminal or anything.

At one point there's an attempt on Eragon's life and his allies suspect that a clan that hates Eragon is responsible. Orik figures out how to frame everything to expose that clan's leader, Verműnd, as a traitor. What confuses me is that they've captured three dwarves who arranged the attacks, and they get spellcasters to invade their minds and find the truth about who ordered Eragon's assassination. The mind invasion reveals that they received their orders from Verműnd. Then Eragon has to let spellcasters read HIS mind so they can see the pertinent information. At the end of this, Verműnd still insists that these are "false charges." So . . . is there a reason why nobody can read Verműnd's mind? Or at least suggest it? I can understand needing to have probable cause to ask someone to submit to mental invasion, but when you've totally GOT the probable cause, why not even try? Especially since it was established right in this scene that spellcasters can mentally take information against the victim's will? A lot better than risking going to war against Verműnd's clan while possibly in doubt that he was responsible, right? Well, considering reading Verműnd's mind at this point could have messed up a sweet little plot point for the future, I guess that just wasn't allowed to come up.

I was gonna vote for you, but. . . .

Far be it for me to say politics aren't sometimes ridiculous, but isn't it sort of . . . unfair to have the dwarf-king voting determined by votes that are spoken individually, aloud, when yet-to-speak voters could still change their vote? It's said that the dwarf clan that controls the dwarf religion has a lot of clout, and that whoever he votes for usually gets the crown because people follow him. Who decided what order they speak in? 'Cause if you put the religious clan guy at the end to speak last, some people wouldn't know who he was gonna vote for. This is a suspenseful scene and that's kinda cool and all, but especially without any rhyme or reason given for why they speak in the order they do, it seems unbelievable that it would actually carry on this way.

I'm praying for the first time, again.

Eragon thought of the dwarf woman Glűmra and of her faith in the dwarven gods, and for the first time in his life, he felt the desire to pray.

Uh, except earlier in the story, Eragon, this happened:

"Pray to Sindri for luck, would you?"
And Eragon prayed.

I guess technically he prayed because he was asked to, not because he felt the desire to, but it feels off to me that the scene after Eragon "desired" to pray for the first time is set up as if it's his first experience praying, when he prayed earlier in the book.

It's great for your authority to fight anyone who wants to.

Roran has to lead a company of twenty humans and twenty Urgals against Empire soldiers, and he ends up getting in a fight with one of the Urgals because he forbade him to torture a human after they'd won. The Urgal demands to have this throwdown over who gets to lead the company and the two of them have to compare their penis size, I mean, fight to the death. Yes, this is a great idea for Roran to actually accept Yarbog's demands! This sets a wonderful precedent for How We Do Things In the Varden. Setting aside the fact that the Urgal leader had SPECIFICALLY PICKED THESE TWENTY URGALS for--and I shit you not--"a calm and even disposition" unlikely to push them toward conflict with each other, Roran still ends up in a pissing contest with one of them, and he bows to every single request the Urgal makes. No weapons! Do it in a LOINCLOTH while covered in BEAR GREASE! Come on now. This is just another scene to try to make Roran look like a badass (apparently Paolini didn't get the memo that we already GOT that when he killed 193 soldiers). Since letting a person under your command challenge your authority and dictate every term doesn't seem like it would set the best example of a leader, I don't see Nasuada approving of this tomfoolery. Then again, we're talking about a lady who earned her respect by repeatedly slicing her own arms open to prove her bravery. Maybe she WOULD approve.

I never acted like I was your daddy, but that was foolies.

I went into this quite a bit in the "author fails" section because I believe this was more an effect of Paolini trying to make his story less like Star Wars, but obviously the whole "btw your father isn't Morzan, it's Brom" thing was not well handled. In order to make it make sense, it was necessary to insert an entire chapter of explaining, excusing, correcting Eragon's "misconceptions" (which were based on what he'd always been told by people who were apparently lied to or mistaken), and filling in improbable details. And because I guess Paolini realized it was ridiculous for someone like Brom (whose supposed love for Eragon kept him close by and compelled him to help in risky ways) to never feel the need to express or convey that love to his son, he stuck in a STORED MEMORY scene. Because Brom, well, never ACTED at all like he knew he was Eragon's father the whole time they were together, it sure is nice that he decided to have R2-D2 (I mean Saphira) record a hologram (I mean, a memory) and "play" it for him so that it's clear Brom actually wasn't really cold for a father/son relationship. And despite how telepathically close Eragon and Saphira are said to be, he never gets a single whiff of the stored memory or the reason she's keeping it from him.

And dragon hearts, too.

Similarly, there's "always" been this thing called Eldunarí--the dragons' hearts--and even though this is central to the core of Saphira's being, Eragon had no inkling of its existence. When he waves his little fists and demands to know why she never mentioned something so important, she's like "why would I? I have an Eldunarí like you have a stomach." Except you can't steal Eragon's stomach and have it result in STEALING HIS SOUL AND MAKING HIS POWER DO YOUR BIDDING. Conveniently Saphira also promised not to tell Eragon about it, for her own protection. Until it was important in the story, that is. This smells like retcon so hard.

No dude, come here.

To save time--since he was ABSOLUTELY VITALLY NEEDED ELSEWHERE AND PEOPLE WERE DYING WITHOUT HIM, LITERALLY--Eragon requested that his teacher Oromis instruct him via the scrying pool, long distance. Oromis categorically dismissed this because NO I HAVE TO TEACH YOU IN PERSON AND THIS IS NON-NEGOTIABLE. And then, the only stuff Eragon actually does with Oromis is talking and eating his soup. Some of the other stuff he does in Ellesméra would have needed to be in person, but Oromis didn't have anything to do with those things and more or less seemed to demand Eragon's presence primarily so he'd be well positioned to do these other things unrelated to his education. Oromis's refusal to instruct Eragon from a distance wasn't necessary; it was a plot point. The closest thing to a reason Eragon needed to be there was to receive the Eldunarí, and since he just had a lesson on teleporting stuff long distances, it could have been sent that way. (Don't tell me precious stuff can't be done like that. Saphira's egg was teleported, dammit.) Why can't he just have a real reason, instead of it being Oromis just kind of being a jerk who says no because it makes the plot go forward?

That's some hella good job security. Except you swore not to do it.

And apparently there is only one elf in the whole frigging world who can make swords anymore. And it's this extremely elderly elf lady named Rhunön. Eragon's like "can't anyone else make me a sword?" and Oromis is like NO ONLY HER BLAH BLAH because somehow her having been responsible for making all the swords for Dragon Riders before means no one else can do it. Sorry, but Eragon used a falchion that broke during battle and a DWARF SWORD, so I think ANY elf blade would probably be a lot better than what he settled for previously. Why, at this point in the story, when coronations are rushed (robbing Orik of the awesome hellacious metal party he would have otherwise had as the new king), marriages are squeezed in after massacres, and dudes who have just been whipped have to move out the next day--all out of necessity--with all that, Eragon can't possibly settle for less than a sword that's directly approved of and created by the techniques of one of the oldest and most talented elves in existence? Screw you, Eragon. Stop being such a picky jerkoff about your weapon. Oh wait, I forgot, you can't. Because Paolini read The Craft of the Japanese Sword as research and wanted to describe swordsmithing in excruciating detail, and needed a reason to do so.

I was annoyed that when Linnëa the tree spirit said she'd trade Eragon the metal he wants if he'd give her "what SHE wants," Paolini writes it so it looks like we have no idea what she's taken from him, but he "feels a twinge in his lower belly." That was her taking what she wanted, nerd.

I'm not actually doing it if I move your hands and make you do it.

And even though Paolini attempted to lampshade this too, I think Rhunön's excuse fails on why she can get around her "I'll never make another sword" oath by basically possessing Eragon so his hands actually make it. Her logic? "It's different because I think it's different, and if I didn't, I wouldn't be able to do it." An elf who's lived longer than almost anyone on the planet is not bloody likely to make oaths she doesn't mean, and the purpose of her oath was that she didn't want to be responsible for creating the weapons that stole any more lives. "But the person I want to kill is BAD!" seems like a pretty hollow justification to offer an elf who must have meant what she said (or she wouldn't have bound herself with an UNBREAKABLE OATH). "Heh, well that's different then, because I say so!" is terrible logic when it's STILL through her (if not directly by her hands) that this new weapon is forged.

OMG that never happened before, except when it did, and that was contradictory too.

Hey, and speaking of the weapon in question, I have a huge bone to pick now! Paolini apparently thought it would be OMG badass if Eragon used a sword which would BURST INTO FLAMES as he wielded it. He found this out because he decided to name the sword "Brisingr," which is the magic word for "fire." But upon speaking it aloud, it burst into flames. How 'bout that? (And of course it makes for some "hilarious" scenes where people repeatedly ask him the name of his sword and he has to remember not to say it or it will light itself on fire. Haw haw haw! It's like a Looney Tune!)

But seriously, I am severely disappointed at this point because even for Paolini this is some sloppy shit. The first time this happens, Eragon drops the sword, shocked at its having suddenly caught on fire, and incredulously wonders "how he could have cast a spell without intending to."

Not kidding--those are the words he wonders.

And yet, the INSPIRATION for naming the sword "Brisingr"--the very scenes he'd just reflected on--INCLUDED that time he first used the word "brisingr" WITHOUT HAVING KNOWN IT WAS A MAGIC WORD, WITHOUT HAVING KNOWN IT WAS GOING TO DO ANYTHING, WITHOUT HAVING KNOWN HE HIMSELF HAD MAGIC.

Basically, it was contradictory then for him to have been able to cast a spell without having intended to (while thinking "brisingr" was a freaking curse word), and now when the EXACT SAME THING HAPPENED, he's just mystified as to how the crap that could happen. Not only had it happened to him before, but at this late stage he's finding it unbelievable that it could have happened at all! WTF?

And ya know what? This actually could have been a cool place for Paolini to retcon what happened in the first book. I mean, two instances of his saying "brisingr" resulting in unintended fire? At this point, Paolini's probably figured out more of his magic system (though of course it's still freaking incoherent). He could have possibly figured out, with Rhunön's help, why that word responds to him so readily. But no! She offers two explanations for why it does that, both related directly to the sword itself, and Eragon doesn't even wonder why his first ever spellcasting experience had to do with that word as well, when it was just as unintended. Are you trying to win a failing contest, Paolini?

Sun > candlelight

A single candle lit the inside of the gray wool tent, a poor substitute for the radiance of the sun.

No, really? Either Paolini's never actually tried to light any appreciable space with A SINGLE CANDLE, or he was REALLY testing his skills in an attempt to see how obvious a statement he could possibly make. Really, Paolini? A candle is a poor substitute for THE SUN? You don't say. In fact, check this out:

That is a picture of me. With five candles in front of me. (It's from a cheesy music video I made. Don't judge me.) Now, see how even with FIVE CANDLES, you can barely see past my shoulder? There was stuff behind me and next to me that you couldn't see. And Roran's got ONE candle in a whole tent? Mehhh.

Glaedr pukes his Eldunarí

Ew. Just ew. The narration specifically says it comes out of his throat all coated with nasty dragon saliva, so am I to understand he puked it up? Grossss.

Where's your magic water now, bitch?

After his big battle, Eragon is explaining stuff and he's thirsty. He looks around for water or wine and there isn't any so he just goes without. Considering he managed to very very easily draw water out of the air when he wanted to fill a pit with it to scry, Eragon should be able to at least get himself a sip of water if he wants it. He can boil gold out of the ground and it will just happen to be there to pay for things, too. Why not?


GOOD Stuff

I thought I should have a section where Paolini got a few things right or made me laugh.

I kinda like this description: "At the rear of the grotesque procession trudged a comet's tail of inhabitants from Dras-Leona. . . . "

Here is a surprising bit of insight from Eragon, when he was thinking about his brother and realized there might be something to him that he hadn't conceived of before:

Now, four days after the battle, another explanation presented itself to Eragon: Perhaps what Murtagh enjoyed was watching another person shoulder the same terrible burden he had carried his whole life.

Sadly, this seems cool to me because it's one of the few times when Eragon seems to see other people as sentient beings. It seems incongruous to me that Eragon could be so clueless about human nature, motives, and other people's perspectives when he has undergone training and magical enhancement that allows him to experience others' thoughts. You have to be very selfish and narrow-minded to NOT be thrust into understanding in this situation, so while it made me happy that Eragon was thinking about life from his brother's perspective, it mostly did so because it was a pleasant surprise after dealing with Eragon's jerkassosity for so long.

"The elves--and also the Riders in days gone by--called this place Mírnathor. The dwarves refer to it as Werghadn, and humans as the Gray Heath."

Oh look, Paolini has realized that various races will have different names for stuff (even though in his previous books he claimed that all the different place names were as different as they were because of all the different races who had named them--but Paolini, whoever wrote the map would have named everything in their own language, which would have been internally consistent, you see). This kinda irritates me (like the above example) because I only think it's good that he corrected it, not that he did it at all. He should have known to do it.

His nose ran, and tears dripped from the corner of his left eye socket, which was the less mutilated of the two.

::gasps in delight:: I got my snot!

In my last essay on Eldest, I got all p.o.ed because people kept crying "a single tear" and then not seeming to exhibit any other signs of crying or really even being sad. I said I wanted to see "boogers and red eyes and wet cheeks and actual SORROW." He has filled my snot request! And along with it he has delivered MORE THAN ONE TEAR! Gods be praised!

I kinda like this image:

To Eragon, they appeared decent, hardworking men who had lost their manners in the depths of their tankards. . . .

I used a similar phrase in one of my books once: "Obviously I had left my eloquence in my purse somewhere." I like the concept of losing an aspect of your personality or intellect like you can actually misplace it. I wonder, though, if he thought of this one.

Angela's answer to why she always seems to be there just when something interesting is happening:

"I like to know what's going on, and being there is so much faster than waiting for someone to tell me about it afterward."

I thought that was clever, even though having a character who doesn't appear to operate by the in-world laws of physics strikes me as less amusing and more just-trying-to-be-cute. If Angela is Alagaësia's answer to Star Trek's Q, so be it, but at least he's having fun with the character who weirds everyone else out.

She hid her distaste as the heat and smell of their bodies assailed her.

I do like it that once in a while Paolini uses language that suggests war is dirty and uncomfortable. Mentioning that people living in a refugee camp are kinda stinky is a good bit of realism not ordinarily invoked in Paolini's "battle is glorious and romantic" world.

Nasuada's protector, Captain Garven, brings up some rather good points about how half the battle of protecting her from harm is making people think her guards stick to her like white on rice. (His speech in which he relays the Nighthawks' importance is the right run of windbaggery I mentioned above, but it's quite a true statement he's making.) Interestingly, this and the previous two "good" items were right in a row in the story. It makes me wonder what inspired a string of "wins" in a sea of "fail." Did an editor start paying attention right there?

Nasuada felt the sadness of a fading dream.

That's a good comparison. Most people understand the special kind of sadness we get from awakening and realizing what reality is again. I don't know why Paolini chose to convey that this feeling arises in people after listening to a bunch of elves laugh, but so be it.

At one point Nasuada and Eragon are eating at a feast and Eragon starts to feel a lot better after everyone's drunk and they're treating him normally again. Paolini's narration points out that they joked around with Nasuada too, but even though they sometimes made jokes at Eragon's expense, they didn't do so to Nasuada. This is a good touch because after all, the people in question actually grew up with Eragon, and even though he is a respected figure now there's some room for familiar touches. Nasuada, though, isn't their peer in any sense, and it was smart to recognize that this tendency to roast people you respect in certain informal contexts would not extend to her.

I like that the Urgals have a gesture they perform that is very like crossing oneself to "ward off evil." It's nice to see a race that's regularly portrayed and perceived as evil having realistic reactions to what they think of as evil.

I actually really like that when Eragon and Nasuada were deciding whether Eragon should go on a super-secret mission, he defied her and she totally put him in his place. It's nice that the Dragon Rider isn't the supreme king/deity of everything all the time and that Nasuada actually successfully reminded him that he swore his fealty to her and needs to actually act like it. (Though it kind of sucks that she was so frank about the consequences of disobeying her; she told him that the punishment for disobeying orders is to be whipped or executed but that obviously she couldn't do that to HIM because it would kill the morale of the Varden. So she's told him straight out that she is between a rock and a hard place and pretty much can't do shit about it if he disobeys. Not very smart to give this little jerk ammunition.)

At one point just a paragraph details the information that Nasuada is giving Eragon to aid him on his journey to visit the dwarves. This is how it should be done. Normally in a situation like this Paolini cannot resist a chance to infodump, but here he just glosses over it, letting us know that Nasuada lectured Eragon with important information for two hours but without subjecting US to it. Yay!

I actually laughed when Eragon asked if there was anything he could do to appease the dwarf clan that hates him and Orik replied, "You could die." Clever! 'Course, I kinda wish he would too.

"Sorry," said Eragon as he bumped the basin.

Wait, no "'Sorry,' apologized Eragon"? YES!!!

A line of dialogue from Angela:

"Come now, was it really necessary to set your sword on fire?"

Paolini appears to be trying to sort of joke about how "unnecessary" this supposedly badass thing is, but I have to say this is my sentiment exactly and I'm amused he put it in. One thing I wonder is whether Angela--not the herbalist character in the story, but Angela, Paolini's sister--might have said this to him when he described having a sword that bursts into flames? 'Cause that would be hilarious. Angela goes on to make fun of his sword's name, which is also awesome, and I for one would have loved to see a sword named "Sheepbiter" as she suggested. Certainly better than the names Saphira came up with (even though Eragon was all impressed by her supposed skill with name suggestions).

I think he should have titled the last book Sheepbiter. Let's all start calling it that.


My Personal Commentary

I must say this was a terribly difficult book for me to read and I honestly do not think Christopher Paolini is improving as a writer. There were perhaps three places in the book that I was interested in what was going to happen (Glaedr and Oromis meeting their deaths, Orik's election, Roran going into battle), and there were MANY places where I honestly would have just put the book down and not thought of it again if I weren't trying to review it critically. It's frustrating, because Paolini has determination and imagination, but his incredibly debilitating flaws are his inability to write character and his absolutely tone-deaf prose (especially since he decorates it after the fact with gaudy adjectives resembling fake versions of the gemstones he's always shoving into his similes). If he would learn to write people as if they were something other than plot devices and learn to stop writing narration as if he is an overenthusiastic performer, he might improve. Until he does so--until he realizes he ought to--he will continue to be a lucky kid who grew up to be a below average writer . . . an artist whose art is only admired by those who don't know better.

See you in Book 4, nerds.


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