The Inheritance Cycle: Inheritance

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This is my essay/review about Inheritance by Christopher Paolini. I have finally completed reading the series and boy am I glad to put it to sleep.


This thing is long. Please see this short version if you'd prefer an essay that's more concise and is geared more toward outlining examples of what NOT to do (useful for writers).

After completing my essay on Brisingr about three years after the book was released, I determined that I'd prefer to finish the last book in style. That is, I decided to read it and talk about it while the anti community was still talking about it. Participate in the discussions. Have an opinion and stuff before everything got moldy. And guess what?

I liked the book.

Okay, scratch that. Sorry, didn't mean to give you a heart attack; I'm totally, 100% kidding. I did not like the book. I lied. Fortunately for me, I did not have to say that in the ancient language. I thought the book was awful. BUT! It was actually my favorite of the series, and you'll find out more about why if you read the (comparatively small) section of my essay about "good stuff." But first . . . a mountain of criticism. This essay can be read by people who have not read the book and do not intend to read the book; I provide full context where appropriate so all audiences can understand why I'm saying what I'm saying.

And thanks to the folks on LiveJournal who got really excited about me finally posting this and offering all kinds of commentary and celebration when I did.

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

  1. Spoilers.
  2. Swear words.
  3. EXTREME COMPLAINING. (I had a PDF copy again. Makes for easy quoting and in-depth analysis.)

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: Contradictions and Plot Holes * PLOT ISSUES: Nonsense 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.

Be awed, for I am deep.

Maybe I'm being picky, but in his dedication, Paolini says the book is for "my family, and also for the dreamers of dreams." I could give him a pass on this if every other damn thing that drips from his pen wasn't overly dramatic, but . . . dreamers of dreams? As opposed to dreamers of turnips? Having dreams makes you a dreamer, right? C'mon. It sounded pretty cool in the 1800s when O'Shaughnessy did it--in an ode that was framed for this kind of language--but in a dedication? Yug. It's as bad as if he was always telling people he hoped their swords would stay sharp or something.

And now, a detailed account of history. Without the details, or the history.

Paolini's fourth Inheritance book opens with a short history of what's happened so far. And we get this:

Then humans sailed to Alagaësia. And the horned Urgals. And the Ra'zac, who are the hunters in the dark and the eaters of men's flesh.

Notice he doesn't tell us where the humans and Urgals and Ra'zac CAME from. Elves come from across the silver sea, but humans and whatnot just kinda came there from, er, somewhere? Where did they come from, Paolini? If you're going to bludgeon us with unnecessary history lessons, why not come up with something other than "they came from across the sea"? At least the myth of dwarves being formed by a god from the stone is an attempt to establish origin. Ooh, you know what I want? Urgals from space. Humans as failed elf clones. Let's science this thing. That would be awesome.

What is this "summary," anyway?

Then the god Helzvog made the stout and sturdy dwarves from the stone of the Hadarac Desert.
[ . . . ]
And from each dragon they could, they took the heart of hearts--the Eldunarí--that holds the might and mind of the dragons, apart from their flesh.

At first, this "history" reads like it might be in a mythology/history book--possibly in a dwarf tome since parts of it suggest legitimacy for the dwarf god Helzvog and pretty much just said every other race came from somewhere else, though I doubt the dwarf race would acknowledge that elves were stronger than they were--but now I'm confused. This late-addition junk about the Eldunarí appeared part-way through the third book, Brisingr. When it appeared, a bunch of patchwork justification for why no one knew this stuff was thrown into the mix--because after all, dragons have to keep the knowledge of the Eldunarí secret or it could be used against them. This is so secret that Eragon's dragon Saphira never even shared it with him. And yet here it is written bald-facedly in a legend. The only explanation, then, is that this is not supposed to be any race's myth. It has to be narration. Which means, as it's from the omniscient narrator, everything in it is gospel. Which means . . . dwarf gods are real. QED.

And for that reason, it's kind of annoying to keep seeing reasonable doubt regarding gods and fake "mysteries" grafted into the story. Dwarf gods exist, or at least Helzvog does, and he literally made the dwarves out of stone. 'Kay.

And now, Paolini's how-to on removing all suspense from your novels.

Eragon's cousin Roran and several other members of the Varden (the story's rebel group) get crushed under a crumbling wall. Roran is the only one who survives because he happened to be underneath some kind of support thing when it fell. Roran relays the news of everyone else's death without any emotion--very matter-of-factly--and they don't even bother to extract the bodies or mention the names of the poor men who died.

Paolini, you see, you're trying to inject your story with reasonable doubt about who might die, but you're doing it really poorly if a wall collapses and EVERYONE DIES EXCEPT THE IMPORTANT GUY, who makes it out with a broken wrist that can be healed immediately. It doesn't fool us into thinking your main characters are actually in mortal danger. They are immune to death in silly ways. (Dude, and we even find out later that just before the collapse disaster, Roran narrowly escaped dying by crossbow because one of his men happened to step into harm's way and save him. And another time, he luckily escapes being assassinated because someone else happened to get killed first on the assassin's way to his tent.) Roran can't even get shit on himself. (I mean that literally. He happens to stand up just in time to avoid a woman dumping a chamber pot on him in an enemy city.)

Roran could not die under a wall. A character like Roran could only die in self-sacrifice because there was no other way, or in a prophesied scenario, or, I don't know, saving a disabled child who's holding a puppy or something. Nobody reading was scared in the least when Roran disappeared under a pile of rubble. Because Paolini is not the kind of author who puts important characters in actual harm's way unless they have been groomed for it all along and their death means something or isn't final. Don't think we ever believed it if you put important characters in danger and SAID they'd died, either, Chris. You tried that already with Murtagh in Eldest, and we didn't believe you then either. Do you really think we're going to think you changed your tune when you do it to Angela? Because yes, he pretends Angela died too, by having people report that she's dead despite not showing us a body, and surprise surprise, she walks in again at the end of the chapter. No, we didn't get taken in, man. We believe it if you kill your spellcaster, who dies in self-sacrifice and leaves behind no mysteries. We don't believe it if you kill Angela, who clearly still has a part to play.

Let me hint at something repeatedly, then present it as a revelation!

Paolini doesn't trust his audience. He thinks we're kinda oblivious. (And I guess we are, if we're still reading these books expecting to get some kind of pleasure out of the experience.) Anyway, I've noticed it's very common for him to say something that we can completely understand, but then just in case we need our sweet little hands held, he'll have an ignorant character show up and ask questions so he can explain stuff to us that was usually pretty obvious.

A good example would be when the king of the werecats shows up, and in a speech about fighting capability, he notes that "the one-shapes" follow werecats' orders even though they're just dumb animals. It's pretty clear, coming from a werecat, that he's talking about regular cats here (even though theoretically every creature that can't shapeshift should theoretically be a "one-shape" to them). Despite that, Varden leader Nasuada parades her ignorance and is all like "gee, what's 'one-shapes' mean?" and the king werecat gets to dump more exposition on us about what their relationship is with cats. This would have been SO much more effective if he just let us see it once it was relevant. . . .

Eragon is horny in a really creepy way.

This isn't really major because it could be taken a couple of ways, but during a moment when elf princess Arya shuts her eyes and isn't aware of what Eragon is looking at, he . . . and I quote . . . "took the opportunity to study her with an openness and intensity that would have been offensive otherwise." This is kinda like sneaking in to watch somebody sleep, which is brought up frequently as one of the creepiest things Edward does in the famous Twilight series. (I will not be reading that series. I do not need another Inheritance on my hands, and believe it or not I normally do my very best to stay AWAY from bad books.) With this, we realize Eragon knows he's not supposed to be looking at Arya that way . . . but as long as she isn't aware that he's doing it, HE'S GONNA DO IT. It rubs me the wrong way. Especially considering her entrance inspired the narration to say "an ache of longing filled him." Paolini is still not making very good choices when it comes to his romantic language attempts. If he's going for compelling beauty when describing Arya, he's not going to get there by making Eragon's internal dialogue sound like a horndog. (I wouldn't mind, actually, if that's what he was supposed to be, but the pedestal worshipping "omg she's a goddess" overly respectful vibe seems to be what Paolini is trying for most of the time, so Eragon's hardon sort of spoils it.)

Oh, Roran, truly you are a friend of the womenfolk!

But wait, there's more! I thought it was kinda cool initially when Roran didn't care that doing the laundry is supposedly "women's work," because he wants to help his wife and whatnot. And I guess it's okay, considering their society, for a woman to protest that laundry is women's work. But then, in the midst of Roran trying to convince Katrina to let him have a turn and take a little rest, he starts to sound abusive. It's played as cute. He may be arguing that he is going to DO this "women's work," dag blast it, and who cares what people think, but in convincing her to let him take over he calls her names ("stubborn"), barks commands ("Move." "Shoo." "Get out of here." "Now go!"), and finally threatens to tie her up if she doesn't take a rest and let him scrub. It bothered me because Roran's saying stuff like "I'm not going to argue" and throwing his weight around like a MAN'S MAN, but all in the name of doing a favor for his wife while giving the finger to gender roles. It's sort of dissonant. If someone decided he was going to do one of my chores and I had to say I wanted him to leave it to me more than once, I would kick him the hell out of my house. I don't appreciate people FORCING me to accept chivalry. It isn't something I consider honorable. It's something a guy does when he thinks he's honoring a woman but is actually dominating her. (If she expresses that she likes this behavior, or is cute and coy about it, or whatever they establish, fine. But if a guy tells a girl repeatedly how things are going to go no matter what she says--and "jokes" that she's gonna get tied up if she doesn't let the man do what the man wants--I get a really horrific taste in my mouth.)

And Chris still hasn't figured out the difference between writing a strong hero and writing an antisocial bastard.

Eragon is still being written as the hero, but displays actions and attitudes that are mean and petty at best, sociopathic at worst.

At one point when Arya wants to offer assistance and the people who need help won't let her help because they don't trust her magic, Eragon suggests that she use the ancient language to tell them she means no harm, because "they'll have no choice but to believe you." He advocates using this truth-speaking language to MAKE people believe what he wants? (Well, in the last book he tortured a guy into swearing he would separate himself forever from his loved ones before sending him blinded into the wilderness, so I guess that's a silly question. Of COURSE he would do that.) Another time he starts wishing in gruesome detail that he could completely destroy a city and--and I quote--"indulge in every savage urge and leave behind him nothing but a pit of smoking, blood-soaked ashes." Nice hero, eh?

He frequently acts like a tyrant and no one even acts like they resent it, and sometimes he acts like he doesn't grok normal emotions. (For instance, at one point someone is sad that a spellcaster she's known for over a thousand years is dead, and Eragon's response is to be surprised she feels that way because he didn't think she really knew him very well. He doesn't get it when someone's sad that a person is DEAD? He does the same thing when Glaedr the ancient dragon becomes morose when visiting the home of long-dead dragons and Riders; Eragon only "starts to feel sad" because Glaedr is mourning while he's in mental contact with him, not because the place's sentimental value affects him at all. He reacts to the old dragon's sorrow by diminishing the mental contact so he won't have to deal with it.) And when he threatens people, he's rewarded with respect or information, not resentment and desertion.

Roran's no better as he also fantasizes about war (and declares the rush "better than love"), and uses a woman's protectiveness against her as he threatens to cut her companions to pieces if she doesn't tell him what he wants to know, then hits a woman in the chest and threatens to knock out her teeth and keep them as a trophy if SHE doesn't talk. And of course Saphira gets off on people being afraid of her, at one point taking pleasure in the screams of humans because "She was a dragon. It was only right that they should fear her."

Poor disabled people! They really should have been born dead.

Here's a clip from the story after a baby is born with a minor congenital abnormality. Note how sensitive the narration is to such disabilities.

Children cursed with a cat lip were rarely allowed to live; they were difficult to feed, and even if the parents could feed them, such children would suffer a miserable lot: shunned, ridiculed, and unable to make a suitable match for marriage. In most cases, it would have been better for all if the child had been stillborn.

I understand we're in a pseudo-medieval time here, but does the narration have to go there? Does the NARRATION have to recommend that it's better to be dead than have a facial abnormality? I think this was a terrible choice. And of course the solution here is to fix the baby, since nobody's going to be able to love such a person, I MEAN REALLY.

Are you sure Eragon isn't you, Paolini?

Wherever he looked, he saw an overwhelming amount of detail, but he was convinced there was even more that he was not perceptive enough to notice.

I found this sentence kind of ironic. Eragon's been told that he's not actually SEEING what he's looking at--a wise old dragon told him so, so it must be true!--and therefore he's trying to see more. However, very much like his author, Eragon doesn't seem to understand that detail is NOT what you need in order to fully and properly understand something. What I'd like is for Paolini himself to stop fixating on details and understand essence.

I did too do the research! Let me show you. Everything.

In the past, Paolini has been accused of not really doing the research when it came to discussing medieval-type towns and whatnot. We can excuse him somewhat if he's writing in a world that is not ours which clearly evolved under different influences, but he got some criticism over making the supposedly poor town that Eragon grew up in have various features that only rich towns had. Now I've encountered a chapter that suggests he's done some research; in discussing a settlement called Aroughs, suddenly we get a metric ton of explanation of how exactly the place functions, using only medieval-type technology. This strikes me as overkill: okay, he did the research, and then he feels compelled to prove it to us by . . . reciting it? We honestly don't need to know about how a canal is this far away and then it's divided here and that powers the mill which grinds the flour and then the peasants cart their grains to the mill and then the sacks of flour go on barges and then they get floated down the river and oh by the way they use this to move other goods; shall I list the local exports? DON'T SAY NO, BECAUSE I'M GOING TO, WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT. Considering even Roran, after hearing this recitation, believes that none of this information is helpful, I'm confused as to why it's there, unless he's just trying to show us he did research.

Dirt ball. More dirt ball. Should I describe the dirt ball? DIRT BALL!

There's an exceedingly boring chapter in which Eragon talks to the dwarf king Orik and they pretty much say nothing. Usually I appreciate character development in quiet "non-action" chapters like this, and I think that's what he was trying to do by having these old friends discuss the perks and the disadvantages of their positions. Unfortunately, the conversation Paolini chose for them didn't flow, because he used it to shoehorn in more crap he came up with. We get over seven HUNDRED words about Orik making a ball of dirt. Apparently it's a dwarf custom and has this tie to religion and Orik's doing this because none of his friends want to play with him anymore now that he's king. (Notice how I summarized that in thirty words. Dude.) And just in case you were wondering about dwarf facial hair, you get some details about which dwarves wear freaking beads in their beards. Good stuff.

Being a victim of mind control makes you a bad person.

I'm annoyed that Paolini keeps writing brainwashed half-brother Murtagh as though he's a traitor through his own devices. Murtagh, when he was introduced in Eragon, HELPED Eragon's worthless ass quite a lot, and he only became a problem once his VERY WILL was ripped from him through mind control. And yet Paolini insists on including lines in the book like "Roran was the only family he had left--Murtagh did not count, as far as Eragon was concerned." Excuse me? Murtagh is his half-brother, and though they don't share a past, they certainly have shared some valuable interaction and, previously, they shared loyalty. It's not like Murtagh betrayed him. I wouldn't mind if Murtagh "didn't count" because of lack of a shared childhood, but he sure seems to consider Brom his true father even though he didn't lift a finger to raise him as a son, and he doesn't spend ANY time in this book mooning over the loss of his uncle Garrow (who raised him). This is really inconsistent and silly.

Don't mind me; I'll just be over here making insensitive comments about the disabled.

I've noticed Paolini makes a lot of unfavorable comparisons to ill, elderly, or disabled people. In my last essay I already noted his tendency to overuse "blind" as a synonym for "foolish," but in this one I noticed a lot of similes along the lines of "forcing him to stand hunched over like a cripple" or "Eragon had to hunch like an old man with rheumatism." I guess this is just an extension of his usual tendency to compare EVERYTHING to SOMETHING ELSE, but this goes a little beyond annoying. I don't see why using "an old man with rheumatism" helps us at all while being told that the tunnels are low and therefore Eragon has to bend over. What if I'm an old man with rheumatism? (I'm not, but . . . what if?) What if I'm blind listening to the audio version? What if I'm a "cripple"? If I were an amputee, would you jokingly refer to a foot injury making you a "gimp" in my presence? If you wouldn't, why is it okay to do it as long as you assume no "gimps" can hear you? I think it's unnecessary.

BLOOD LIKE RUBIES, BONES SNAPPING LIKE TWIGS. Want to know what intestines smell like?

There's way too much torture in this book. I won't say much about it, but there's quite a lot of gruesome description that really isn't necessary, and with Paolini insisting upon describing the texture of blood and the sounds of snapping bones and comparing destroyed body parts to gemstones or elements of nature, it's extremely hard to stomach. Try this on for size:

The iridescent blue blade cut through bone and flesh as if they were equally insubstantial. Blood trailed from the tip in long, twisting ribbons that slowly separated into glistening drops, like orbs of polished coral, while the men he cut doubled over, clutching at their bellies as they attempted to hold closed their wounds.

You know what? Forget this. Paolini just watched 300 (and he's clearly the type of person who thought it was OMGTOTALLYBADASS LOOKIT ALL THE DEATH IN SLO-MO HEHEHEHEEH), and he's forgotten that real life doesn't have special effects. Good thing if you're Eragon you can feel like time slowed down for no apparent reason in the middle of battle, so that your author can slide in disgusting descriptions like this.

Who do you think you are, Dan Brown?

Paolini displays a new tendency to insert incredibly short chapters in this book (as short as around 300 words). I mean, some of his weapon descriptions are longer than that. I'm not sure why he does it, but at one point, Eragon had just been told that he was going to magically forget something very important--a well-guarded secret--as soon as he emerged from a chamber. The chapter "Return" begins and ends within a page or so, and the only thing it's about is Eragon indeed forgetting the very thing he's just been told he was going to forget. It's written as if this is supposed to be powerful and dramatic. I didn't get it. I thought it was pointless. Why didn't he just write the scene and continue a chapter instead of trying to make it seem poignant? (It didn't work.) And now that my bitching about it is about as long as the chapter was, I'm going to shut up.

Maybe I shouldn't have suggested we "science this thing":

I don't really have a great reason for objecting to this, but it bothered me that Paolini threw in modern science references several times. What he describes as having occurred on Vroengard Island is clearly mutation, the result of a nuclear explosion (apparently set off by magic). Radiation has changed the place in a remarkably short time (I'd say unrealistically short, but I don't really give a crap if this is fantasy and the radiation might have been magically enhanced). And then an ancient dragon tells Eragon some crap he doesn't understand that appears to be about a) light waves/particles and b) the nature of the atom. There's not really a reason for an old dragon to be randomly sciencing Eragon. It's just to show how wise they're supposed to be I guess. The references to science without the characters having any science understanding was kind of obnoxious.


And it makes me sad that the werecats can command/brainwash/hypnotize regular cats to do their bidding. They force them to fight the enemy soldiers--yes, kitty-cats, ordinary cats--and I'm sure plenty of them died. It's one thing to go into battle based on your own choices, but . . . is there an Alagaësian humane society I can report this to?

Let's symbolize a new beginning by giving the blind guy pretty eyes!

Annnnd . . . I'm trying to figure out what point Paolini might have been trying to make when he healed blind traitor Sloan's eyes and pointed out that he'd made them BLUE eyes, rather than whatever (presumably dark) color he'd had when he was born. Now don't get me wrong. I love blue eyes. Perhaps I'm biased, of course. . . .

But I must say it irks me to have Sloan's transformation for a better future being symbolized by having his eyes turn blue. Though I guess plenty of epic fantasy type things like to use that trick as a symbol. The Spice must flow, after all.

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.

Sentences aren't Christmas trees. Stop decorating them. NO! Just--BAD CHRIS! HAND OVER THAT TINSEL RIGHT NOW.

Here is my exceedingly long list of unnecessary similes and metaphors in this book.

Maybe this should be obvious, but even in the ultimate volume of this series, Paolini never particularly improved his tone-deaf prose or his tendency to decorate awkward sentences instead of pruning them. We still constantly encounter overdescription--and not just of weapons and clothes and faces and courtyards, but regular unneeded comparisons of perfectly good images to other things in a ham-fisted attempt to enhance them. We can picture post-battle smoke as viewed from the sky just fine without being told that it "hung over Belatona like a blanket of hurt, anger, and sorrow," and I think it would actually be more poignant if he would stop forcing these associations onto every image. Let us imagine. Let us feel it ourselves. Stop telling us what every cloud of smoke "means." (Not to mention he tends to overuse the metaphor of "blanket." I found this one later: "The fighting had polluted the room with a collection of horrific odors, which seemed to press against Roran like a thick, heavy blanket made of the most unpleasant substance he could imagine." Not only was this unnecessary, but it turned out lazy as well. Might as well have said "it pressed on Roran like a blanket of . . . uh, bad stuff, and was bad." Come on.)

Occasionally applying human elements to images and whatnot can be very powerful. It's not wrong to do it. But when you're doing it constantly, beating us over the head with attempts to make every image poetic, it's distracting, unnecessary, and absolutely hokey. "Long black shadows stretched out from every object, reaching eastward as if striving to touch the horizon." Okay, great. Not bad. "A strong, musty aroma clung to the girl, like the smell of a forest floor on a warm summer day." Seriously? Does she smell like a forest floor (really? WHY???), or is he just suggesting her aroma is hanging around her the same way aromas tend to hang around other stuff? "A column of dust billowed toward the clouds above, like a pillar of white smoke." Really? "A column" of dust needs to be compared to "a pillar" of white smoke, which is almost the same thing and doesn't visually enhance the scene at all?

If just about every time an image pops up, the reader has to put up with comparisons and weird personification, we get seasick. "Her neck was arched like a drawn bow, the tip of her tail twitched as if she were hunting. . . ." Enough already. This would convey the stress and impatience of a waiting dragon much better if we could see the arched neck and the twitching tail without the similes making us imagine bows and hunting. A little of this is okay. Weaving it into EVERY SENTENCE is not. Having no natural understanding of voice and tone and no knack for writing character cannot be amended or hidden through excessive adjective insertion. Whenever I read a Paolini book, I feel like I was promised a comfortable shirt and was given an ill-fitting, scratchy garment whose tailor elected to "fix" its flaws with a frigging Bedazzler.

I'm chokin' on some small parts here.

Let's pause the action while I paint a picture.

In addition, there's still this pervasive tendency for the action to STOP suddenly whenever Paolini wants to describe something or someone. As an example, try this. Some minor character named Baldor is RUNNING up to the main characters calling their names, arriving unexpectedly and clearly wanting something. What happens now?

Let's describe Baldor, of course.

It took Roran a moment to realize it was Baldor running toward them through the mud, weaving between men and horses. He wore a pitted leather apron and heavy, elbow-length gloves that were smeared with soot and were so worn that the fingers were as hard, smooth, and shiny as polished tortoise shells. A scrap of torn leather held back his dark, shaggy hair, and a frown creased his forehead. Baldor was smaller than his father, Horst, and his older brother, Albriech, but by any other comparison, he was large and well muscled, the result of having spent his childhood helping Horst in his forge. None of the three had fought that day--skilled smiths were normally too valuable to risk in battle--although Roran wished Nasuada had let them, for they were able warriors and Roran knew he could count on them even in the most dire circumstances.

So, not only physical description but history and philosophy and comparison to others in his family. Great. If I was at all interested in WHY Baldor was running up to them weaving between crap and getting all out of breath, I've completely lost interest by now. When you digress like this, you distract us and have to make an effort to bring us back to anticipation. Which never works if your writing just clunks along indulgently like this.

And speaking of which. . . .


Their scales were like gems

Ah, I see my hopes that Paolini would learn to stop dropping geological similes into the text constantly were all in vain. Just for that, I'm going to count the damn things. That's right! I'm going to COUNT THEM! LOOK AT MY COUNT of times Paolini uses geological descriptions--that means stones, gems, or metals. Is it like iron? Or is it like stone? ARE HIS EYES CHIPS OF OBSIDIAN? Of course they are!

Writing in archćic spćk is even more fantasy-ish than randomly inserted umlauts and apostrophes!

And for two-and-eighty years, Galbatorix reigned supreme among the humans.

And so it came to pass that Eragon, an orphan of only five-and-ten years

This hokey business of saying the numbers in a pseudo-archaic way is Paolini's apparent attempt to make this sound like an old story. It's extremely silly. This is narration. This is not in the voice of a character who's using a dialect. Presumably, Paolini is "translating" a story from an alternate world. There is no reason to transform the numbers so they're outside of our usual conventions just to make it seem, I don't know, fantasy-ish.

Let's start half of the chapters in exactly the same way!

There's been absolutely no change since the last book in Paolini's tendency to begin a chapter with some sort of action--be it a battle or a person just walking into a room and talking to someone--and then after a couple sentences . . .


Seriously. Check it out. Nearly half the chapters begin this way. I feel like counting this too! I like counting things! Check out my analysis of this pattern!

And speaking of patterns. . . .

[W]e would fall before him like dry leaves before a winter storm.

Oh, now it's a winter storm. Wait, let me backtrack. Here are two lines from Brisingr:

if anyone dares oppose us, we shall sweep them aside like dead leaves before an autumn storm

brushing aside [Eragon's] defenses as if they were dry leaves in an autumn storm

He is frigging obsessed with this nonsense about sweeping aside leaves. Why is no one on the editing staff noticing that dead leaves are getting swept away constantly in terrible similes? Not to mention that the winter storms and autumn storms are joined by the phrase "like a summer downpour" soon after this new example, with "swept us from the face of the earth as easily as a flood might sweep away an anthill" later in the book and "the words lay in his mind like a handful of dead leaves" toward the end. And at one point, "we shall sweep you aside like so much chaff" appears. Paolini may be developing a fondness for silly weather comparisons because he is under the impression that they sound powerful and dramatic. Well, repeat them as often as you do and we'll see exactly how fresh they stay.

And speaking of repetitive, how about this:

Relief and trepidation swept through Eragon.
Relief swept through Eragon.
As his hand closed around the hilt, a sense of relief swept through him.
Relief swept through Eragon as he saw his cousin alive and well.
An urge to strike the king swept through Roran.
Dismay swept through Eragon.
Eragon watched for a minute longer, then a sudden rush of emotion swept through him.
Wonder swept through Eragon, wonder that such a thing had come to pass.

I've heard of writers having catch phrases, but this is ridiculous.

Description is a life-or-death matter!

While Eragon is running frantically trying to find something--and I mean he's going full-on bat out of Hell, literally described as taking the stairs FIVE AT A TIME--he stumbles into a room and . . . "spun around, gathering quick impressions." Then: description. Weapons described. Pennants. Where the windows are. What the torches are mounted in. Fireplace description. Table locations and descriptions. Oh yeah, and a dude in a robe standing on a dais or something with a bunch of soldiers. I'm still trying to figure out how in the world Paolini still thinks interrupting action with significant time-stopping descriptions is in any way a good idea. Don't forget to describe THE GOLD THREAD IN THE SOLDIERS' TUNICS, Paolini. We care about that when the next words are "Kill him!"

You know what they say about highborn women.

He inclined his head ever so slightly, displaying with his bearing the supreme confidence, even arrogance, that was the sole province of cats, dragons, and certain highborn women.

Wait, what?

Remember that, guys. There is a type of arrogance that only cats and dragons and prissy bitches have. Umkay.

That was so frigging unnecessary. Moving on.

Sometimes descriptions are just WEIRD.

The shifting grass reminded him of the fur of a great green beast.

I think this is really ugly. And awkward. A "great green beast"? Are there great green beasts? I don't think so. I can see suggesting the rippling grass might look "like fur," but why elaborate that it belongs to a great green beast? It sounds like he was just casting about for a good way to describe it and just kind of settled for this hokey abomination.


Eragon stared down his chest at his thumbs. He placed them side by side, to better compare them. His left thumb had more wrinkles on its second joint than did his right, while his right had a small, ragged scar that he could not remember getting, although it must have happened since the Agaetí Blödhren, the Blood-oath Celebration.


And I need more detail about how Nasuada cut her arms apart, please.

Blah. I have now encountered three full paragraphs--356 words--detailing Nasuada's scars from when she cut herself during a pissing contest and the philosophy surrounding those scars. Really?

Gotta find new ways to describe people!

During Nasuada's first POV scene in the book, we randomly have her wondering if she might like to marry King Orrin. It's a fleeting thought, basically based on his power, but the narration uses it to launch into "he isn't bad-looking" and then explain to us exactly what "not bad-looking" is to Nasuada. It struck me as jerky after the mention of Nasuada's dark skin was much more naturally introduced than it was in the last book. (Remember, people whose skin color ISN'T described are, by default, white.)

Our old friend the dreaded speech tags.

"How is it you keep besting me?" he growled, far from pleased.

. . .

Uh, first off, yeah, I know that's dialogue, but what I'm complaining about narration-wise is "HE GROWLED, FAR FROM PLEASED." Yeah. Arya just kicked Eragon's ass for the billionth time in a practice sword fight. You already know this is a situation which would not generally "please" anyone. On top of that, now he's uttering an obvious statement of frustration, and the annoying speech tag has to further specify that he is "growling" this question besides. And then Paolini adds "far from pleased" onto the end of it as if this is necessary? It's insulting, unnecessary, and SILLY. Why????

What's wrong, Nasuada? Is there a cockroach in your clothes?

So . . . what is this crap? Is Nasuada uncomfortable with her dress? Or does Paolini just not really know how to make a woman fidget without playing with her garments? Four times within five pages, there is stage direction about what Nasuada's dress is doing. Usually it's Nasuada picking at it or rolling threads between her fingers. People also nod or shake their heads way too much, or toss their curls, or shake their fingers. He can't just have someone speak; he has to narrate what they're doing. It's overdone often.


The passageway smelled like damp straw and moth wings.

Anyone reading this know what moth wings smell like? I don't.


As soon as I saw the chapter title "Black-Shrike-Thorn-Cave," I thought, Oh no. Because the weird and pointless hyphens suggested to me that this was going to be a Saphira chapter. And oh yes, it was. The contrived attempt to make Saphira sound like something other than human is just as awkward and ineffective as in the last book. Saphira again sounds hopelessly thick sometimes--canned thoughts that amount to "Oh, those silly humans doing their illogical things that I don't understand because I am a dragon" are all through the narration. Paolini's not even good at capturing the human experience for the most part. He really should have accepted his limits and not tried to go here. I was trying to isolate why this doesn't work for me--besides the obvious silliness--and I think it might be partially because the observations Saphira makes force her into dumb animal mode. Dragons are awe-inspiring and deserving of all that fanboy love because they're fiercely intelligent and they command this ancient respect. I don't like seeing them reduced to this petty, vain, childish, brutish caricature. If a dragon's going to get angry and make somebody pay, I want to see fierce cunning, not uncontrolled brattiness. Saphira's narration is basically human narration with deliberate confusion and hyphenated adjective strings (not to mention her supposed thoughts don't seem to reflect how she talks or presents her thoughts to Eragon).


Paolini is in love with the word "crimson." He uses it to describe stuff nearly thirty times in this book. That may not sound like much, but considering most of the time it isn't even necessary since it's part of an adjective dump, it got obnoxious very quickly. Especially since it was often applied to body parts, like when someone's hand was ripped open and the "crimson muscle" was showing, or to describe the tongues and mouths of dragons. I saw it used to describe nature conditions once, hallucination twice, dragon body parts six times (maw, head, wings, tongue, nostrils), people's body parts three times (muscle, blood), a person's blushing twice, weapons twice, and fabric (usually uniforms) a total of seven times.


This is Paolini's favorite speech tag, apparently. I counted the times he used "growled" where "said" might normally be used (though of course I understand that sentences which are "growled" might not appropriately be rendered as "said"). I found 49 instances of people "growling" their words. This does include Urgals and dragons, who presumably would sound kinda growly, but since the dragons talk telepathically I'm not so sure they should be "growling" their words either. I didn't count it if someone actually did growl, wordlessly. (There were a lot more of those.) Listen . . . "growl" is for ONCE IN A WHILE. It completely takes the power away from such words if you use one like this nearly fifty times in your book to emphasize the strength, anger, or tone of a sentence. No one should ever be using "he growled" fifty times in a book.

Will you be mad if I just need to get piss-drunk once in a while?

At one point after a battle Eragon and Arya get drunk together. I don't have any problem with this, especially considering what they've been through. But what I don't get is why, after they start drinking, the narration pauses to justify the drinking to us. In a really awkward way. It's like Paolini wrote it without this paragraph, then either got criticized or criticized himself about the heroes getting drunk and looking irresponsible. So he rambled about how he'd seen so much death and how randomly none of his mental tricks would "work" to calm him, so he NEEDED to do this. Eragon, we don't care if you get drunk. You're allowed. Don't give us excuses like a whiny kid. Unless you're gonna accuse other people of being responsible for horrible things through inaction when getting drunk caused YOU to be out of commission during a crucial time. No chance that's going to happen, right?

Narrating the sacred

Paolini spends far too long on an irrelevant scene in which Saphira flies them through a storm for no real good reason, and we're treated to several "poetic" pages full of descriptions of the beautiful post-storm night sky. It reads exactly as if Paolini invented this contrived reason to push his characters through the storm SO THAT he could write about these images, but I'll talk about that later. What I think was a poor author choice here was that after Eragon realizes, based on his flying observations, that the world must be round and the sky must be hollow . . . the serenity and power of that observation is yanked away immediately as Paolini begins to narrate to us what exactly this is supposed to "mean" to Eragon. He babbles on for a while and then hands down a trite little revelation about how people probably wouldn't fight each other anymore if they could see what he's seen. It cheapens it so much.

You know what would have driven home the majesty and beauty he was going for?

Some freakin' silence.

Don't narrate the sacred, okay? Just invoking an image like "OMG I see what the world actually is" and then leaving us to marinate in that would have actually been good storytelling--a good character-building lesson in perspective for Eragon. Instead, we get a litany of hollow platitudes yammered into our ears, rambling about how small he'd once thought the world was and how big it seemed now, and specific ways in which he "was once an ant is now an eagle" or some crap, and on and on about how he's reorienting his life because of this perspective shift.

You can bet he moves on unchanged from this, continues to act like a sociopath, and experiences no personal growth as a result. It was just an excuse to have an adjective party for a Kodak moment, methinks.

Hi, I'm the narration, and I say completely obvious things.

The lower Saphira flew, the larger the buildings appeared.

Really? Things look BIGGER when you get closer to them? This was necessary.

How many words DO we need before we get a picture?

There are over five hundred words of description to set the scene when Eragon and Saphira fly over Vroengard Island. Now, they're going to a legendary place, and they're seeing it from the air. Some description is justified. But nine paragraphs' worth? And some of it was actually okay, but as usual, Paolini ruined it with his overuse of similes combined with unnecessary discussions of comparative architecture and variety in the color of the streets' stones and rambling about the size of the buildings. (And there were obnoxious hints about a nuclear explosion without saying "nuclear explosion" because obviously these magic-using fantasyland dwellers wouldn't know about atomic science.)

I know I complain about description a lot, but . . . come on.

As they approached the throne, Eragon continued to study the chamber around them. It was, he thought, a strange room for a king to receive guests in. Aside from the bright path that lay before them, most of the space was hidden within impenetrable gloom--even more so than the halls of the dwarves beneath Tronjheim and Farthen Dűr--and the air contained a dry, musky scent that seemed familiar, even though he could not place it.

Let's review . . . Eragon's striding up to face the evil king that he's been preparing to kill for the last 2000+ pages of hell. This is an excellent place to drop description on us, right?

Well, actually, right.

It's natural that he'd describe what things look like, and I'm not arguing against it. It's natural that Eragon might wonder what sort of quarters Galbatorix occupies, or might have envisioned what setting his final confrontation would take place in. He would notice these things. Especially, probably, the smells. Some attempt to attach these images to Eragon's feelings would help--it doesn't cut it to just say that he thought it was a strange room for a king to receive guests in--and maybe include some dread, some visceral reactions to images, some wondering if this was where he might die. But yes, some description here = actually okay.

But does it help us at all to start comparing the gloom to the darkness of several other cities he's visited while hanging out with dwarves? Takes us out of the moment. It's unnecessary and it's distracting and it's a just plain PERFECT way to take the wind out of any sails we might have open hoping for a clashing of titans.

(Of course, what we get right after this is the paragraphs of description of Galbatorix himself, including speculation on what he eats. Eragon suggests he looks "as if he had eaten nothing but rabbit meat and turnips through the winter." What. Don't worry! After this, you get a paragraph about his sword, too!)

And description's great when Roran's in crisis too.

He shook the sweat from his eyes, then moved around the body and the pile of scattered bricks, hopping from one patch of open ground to the next, much as he used to hop along the stones by the Anora River.

That's exactly what we need during the fiercest battle of Roran's career. We need descriptions of him hopping around grisly obstacles compared to how he would happily hop along stones during his innocent days. Again, this does not enhance anything, and it confuses the tone and imagery mightily. We can picture Roran "hopping" without you telling us about another time he hopped!!

What's a synonym for "eye"? I CAN'T say "eye" again!

His lips were torn and his right eye was ruined, but he could still see out of his remaining orb.

::sigh:: His remaining orb? You know what, I give up.

Bad Dialogue

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

Exposition of the century

"Even so . . . And to what do we owe the unexpected pleasure of this visit, Your Highness? Werecats have always been noted for their secrecy and their solitude, and for remaining apart from the conflicts of the age, especially since the fall of the Riders. One might even say that your kind has become more myth than fact over the past century. Why, then, do you now choose to reveal yourselves?"

Thank you, Ms. Exposition!

There's this thing called "As you know, Bob." Check it out on TV Tropes, though believe me when I say this is way older than that site. How this works: Paolini decides he's introducing the werecats now for his own snerty reasons. But that immediately raises the question of well, where the hell have these guys been, and why are they only being introduced or courted as allies NOW? In order to answer this, Nasuada has to greet the king of the werecats by repeating a bunch of crap he already knows. "By the way, King Werecat, since your kind is noted for this and usually doesn't get yourselves all involved in other creatures' wars and all this stuff about the perception others have of you in society . . . what the hell are you doing here?"

This is bleedingly, horrifyingly terrible exposition. It's so bad it has been a textbook example of what not to do since long before fiction nerds on the Internet started making a community around picking it apart. Paolini's trying ever so hard to be subtle here by working a quick excuse for the werecats' erstwhile absence in this war into Nasuada's dialogue, but oh my goodness, this is so written that it's insulting. When I read this line I burst out laughing and then said, out loud, "ARE YOU SERIOUS?" It's so clumsy and poorly conceived and so clearly included as a patch on a plot hole that I can scarcely believe it is not a parody. I didn't think people still made this mistake! At least, not people who have editors!

He "As-you-know-Bobs" us one more time when a priest of Helgrind appears and announces, for no good reason, that many people have a misconception about their religion, but "corrects" this misconception while talking to Eragon in his "villain who explains everything at the end" way. And . . . it's a SECRET, by the way, what their REAL worship consists of! Good thing he's not randomly telling the hero of the story his secrets! Oh wait.

Such eloquence! It's hard to believe your speech wasn't written by a bard!

The tendency continues in this volume for overly ornate, decorated dialogue to spew forth from characters' mouths, after which someone else praises their eloquence instead of responding to the content of the speech. Because I identified the trend in the last book and he's still doing it in this one, guess what I'm going to do?

Count them.

Follow that link to see how many times people blather their way through overdramatic lectures and get praised for their eloquence by either another character or the narration itself.

Mistake or forced archaic phrasing?

"He is the most unhappy creature I have ever met. . . . I would we could help him."

You have a problem if your silly pseudo-archaic language is so opaque that I can't tell if this is a mistake or not.

Say, do you have ropes longer than the universe, too?

"These are customs older than time itself."

No they're not.

WTF does that mean anyway? Nothing can be "older than time itself," unless you're philosophizing about deities or something. BIRTHING CUSTOMS from a race clearly said to not have even arrived on the scene until after elves and dwarves are not "older than time itself." It doesn't sound dramatic and serious when you say they are, either.

Sometimes you're aiming for insight and get BRAINFARTS:

"I fight to win, not to lose. . . . "

Roran, really? That's so profound. Fighting to . . . WIN, and stuff. Not to LOSE. Simple and poetic, that! *snort* I don't know about you people, but I prefer fighting to lose.

What's wrong with thine English, Orik?

"Nor do I want to sit alone in my tent, watching mine beard grow."

Yeah, Paolinish dwarves talk funny. But why is it that the contrived dialect he's grafted onto them is so inconsistent? It's "my" tent but immediately after that "mine" beard?

I can't spew genius on command. Who do you think I am, the legendary poet Paolini?

"It doesn't rhyme, but then, you can't expect me to compose proper verse on the spur of the moment."

Well, why NOT, Eragon? This sounds like a poor excuse. After all, most of the dialogue in this book is painfully "written" and planned and staged. I see no reason why perfect poetry can't pour from your mouth without any preparation. What's wrong, Paolini? Couldn't think of anything to rhyme with "thardsvergűndnzmal"?

Stuff stolen from other works

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


Then the elves sailed to Alagaësia from across the silver sea.

That's where Tolkien's elves came from too. "Across the sea." There's an elf factory over there, didn't you know?

There's a bit where Eragon and Saphira are tearing into a long-awaited meal (and Eragon, despite preaching vegetarianism in previous books, has suddenly become a carnivore). For no apparent reason--considering they're mind-linked and all--Saphira decides to ask Eragon whether he's enjoying his meal. That's not how she asks, though.

Is it good? Is it scrumptious?

That sounds kind of weird, doesn't it?

Probably mostly because it's lifted from somewhere it actually did belong.

It's not enough to set your dragon fantasy in Middle-Earth with umlauts? You have to lift quotes from The Hobbit too? C'mon dude. And don't give me the "it's an homage!" nonsense either. This whole thing being a Star Wars rip-off set in a pale imitation of Middle-Earth has already used up your "homage" tokens and then some. There's no literature bank, you know, so the extent to which you have borrowed does not just leave you in debt. It makes you a thief.


As mentioned above, for some reason Paolini has Eragon turn Sloan's eyes blue while granting his vision again. I can't think of any particular reason why he'd want to do such a thing, except that science fiction and fantasy stories tend to love switching up eye color for symbolism's sake.

But I don't suppose Paolini would ever gank story elements from Frank Herbert, right?

If that doesn't convince you, look up the name of the original Eragon's dragon. (You know, the ancient elf guy Eragon was named for.) Okay, I'll save you the trouble. The first Eragon's dragon, and the first dragon to ever have a Rider, was named Bid'Daum. AND I'M NOT EVEN KIDDING.

THPPTT BACKWARDS TBprffffff. . . .

::sigh:: Never mind.


I have seen things that defy belief: whirlwinds of light spinning in caverns deep below the ground, men who age backward, stones that speak, and shadows that creep. Rooms that are bigger on the inside than the outside. . . .

I smell references. I don't think I know what the whirlwinds were a reference to, or the speaking stones (unless these are internal references, which they might be), but I think Solembum is talking about meeting Merlyn (T.H. White) and the Doctor. Universes can intersect, you know! It's mysterious!


Angler frogs, he thought suddenly in the ancient language. That's what their name is: angler frogs. And he knew he was right, for the words seemed to fit like a key in a lock.

Well, this isn't stolen from any work of fiction, but I threw it in here because it annoys me that their "true name" is "angler frogs" when that's clearly based on angler fish, and our name for angler fish is based specifically on a type of fishing technique that hasn't been mentioned as existing in Alagaësia.


"Turn and fight me, you maggot-ridden cur!"
"I need no hammer to kill you, you beardless bootlicker."

Roran, please, I beg of you, STOP taking insult lessons from the French Taunter!

PLOT ISSUES: Ridiculously Predictable Events

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

That's not how a red herring works.

"Do you think that the Vault of Souls contains spirits?" asked Eragon.

Okay. I swear to you that I am writing this down during my first reading of the book, stopping at this point, not having read any spoilers, etc. I am saying right now that as soon as I saw the phrase "Vault of Souls" in conjunction with a suggestion that it could be what Eragon needs to defeat Galbatorix, I knew that the answer would involve at least one Eldunarí--the disembodied dragon heart that contains the essence of a dead dragon--turning out to be the "souls" that are ever so cleverly NOT referred to here. And then when Eragon finds out where he might be able to go to find this Vault of Souls and asks Solembum the above question, the following conversation takes place:

Spirits are not the souls of the dead.
"No, but what else could they be?"
If you find out, I would be interested to hear what you discover.

Are you kidding? This is the most obvious thing I've ever seen, but when the Vault of Souls was first mentioned I thought Paolini would be AWARE that his audience would know what he was referring to. Now it's clear that he thinks we can't tell he's talking about dragon hearts, and his characters are just so mystified! Even after they know what dragon hearts are and that something that can defeat Galbatorix is in that "vault"! I'm actually offended that Paolini seems to think we couldn't see through this or that the truth is going to be a freaking revelation.

After this "gee, what could the souls be?" bit, the characters start kicking it around a little bit, and I must admit, I started reconsidering the accuracy of my above prediction when Eragon blatantly asked Glaedr whether the souls could be dragon hearts, and Glaedr said it was impossible because something and blah and magic. I actually thought, there, Hmm, if Paolini came up with ANOTHER secret weapon to be hiding in there, which could be described as "souls" but are NOT Eldunarí-related, I will actually be impressed! I gave him a bit of credit. I wondered.

And then the vault did turn out to contain dragon hearts after all. And Glaedr was only sure that they couldn't exist because um magic, and because erased memories make characters who should know what's going on unable to fulfill their duties of being trustworthy. Surprise! It's a poorly carried out red herring! Imply something, explicitly state that IT'S NOT WHAT YOU THINK IT IS, and then say "just kidding, it was actually that obvious thing all along! Aren't I clever?"


Fat soldiers don't exist. And fat people are lazy.

From what he knew, Barst was not the sort of man to have a belly. He would not let himself go soft, nor would Galbatorix have chosen such a man to defend Urű'baen.

As soon as we first saw Barst, with attention paid to his armor bulging outward "as if to accommodate a large belly," I knew Paolini wasn't going to write one of his heroes as a fat guy. Despite the fact that overweight people can be extremely strong AND very healthy--heavy people are NOT necessarily weak or unhealthy--this writer wouldn't write it. So it was immediately obvious that there was something secretly in his armor. Gee, what could it be?

The only explanation that made sense, then, was that Barst had an Eldunarí strapped to his body underneath his oddly shaped breastplate.

Oh, ya think? I only figured that out as soon as Barst was described.

HE CONTROLS YOU UTTERLY BY YOUR TRUE NAME. (Except that your true name can change at any given time.)

So, true names.

Yeah, we all knew that was going to screw things up.

As soon as we found out that Sloan could be controlled absolutely by someone using his true name against him BUT that he could escape that fate if he changed who he was . . . it should have been obvious that people who are bound to unenviable oaths can change themselves and escape. I figured that would be what would happen to Murtagh, especially since he just kept talking about how depressed he is that he belongs to Galbatorix "forever" (which always means there's a loophole). Furthermore, Murtagh seems to have quite a lot of freedom for someone who's being puppeted by a dark lord, eh? In fact, he's got enough free will to go down to the dungeon, secretly consort with the prisoner, and fall in love with her!

See where this is going yet?

So of course, like an episode of Sailor Moon, the true power of love and friendship saves the day. Murtagh CHANGES WHO HE IS by realizing his love for Nasuada, and that frees him of his oath to Galbatorix and lets him fight against him. Oh, joy.

C'mon now. Oaths sworn based on a true name can't be that hard to break. After all, part of Saphira's true name is known to refer to her being the last living female of her kind. That changes immediately as soon as a female dragon hatches. Forcing your name to change should be even easier to do if you figure out your own true name. Change something changeable about it and escape your oaths.

Everyone's in on the joke except you, Eragon.

And at the end, Eragon goes to the Menoa tree, because he promised to pay the tree back for the gift of the brightsteel it gave him in the previous book. He seems really puzzled when the tree basically laughs at him and tells him to get outta here because he's paid up. Was Eragon himself not paying attention when the narration pointed out the twinge he felt when he last met the tree? It totally took something unmentioned out of his body. That was its payment. I thought that was clear, but he's too much of a thick chucklehead to have realized it, I guess. (Maybe the tree is gonna clone him? Heh. Oh God, please no. Not more Eragons.)

PLOT ISSUES: Contradictions and Plot Holes

Anything that contradicted itself, got left unexplained to the detriment of the story, or went against the canon set down by the author is analyzed here.


In the introductory ramble about the history of Alawhatsia, we get this:

[A]ll who gazed upon [the dragons] despaired, for their beauty was great and terrible. And they lived alone in the land of Alagaësia for ages uncounted.

Yeah, so, if dragons "lived alone," who is looking upon them in despair exactly? ARE THEY ALL AFRAID OF EACH OTHER?

. . . Michelle, where WERE you? Were you really the executive editor of this book? I thought professional editing did still involve fact-checking and content review.

Arya sent the egg away with magic, toward one who she hoped could protect it.

If Arya could use magic to teleport the egg, why didn't she do that in the first place? Seems a lot more practical than a wild goose chase physically bringing the egg to random people to see if it would hatch while traveling in constant danger for twenty years. Strangely enough, right after this the narration claims that Arya's spell "went awry," which doesn't really make sense because a) it didn't say how it was "awry," and b) it did get to Eragon who became a person for whom the egg hatched, right? How is that "awry"? Sounds pretty much exactly like what she wanted to happen. And though the narration claims she had been trying to send the egg to Brom, what good would that have done? Would it have hatched for him? Why didn't she do that originally, anyway? Why didn't they all just pretty much teleport the egg around to trusted people so they could test who it would hatch for? Later in the story we get yet another switch-up, where a secret weapon--I mean, a bunch of dragons who hid themselves, waiting for the right moment--turns out to have been responsible for making the spell "go awry," on the off chance that the egg might hatch for Eragon. (They thought there was a "small chance," so they didn't know. Just once in a book like this I'd like to see one of those gambles not pay off.)

After much thought, Eragon discovered Sloan's true name in the ancient language, the language of power and magic.

Has Paolini actually read his own book and stuff?

Here's the passage wherein Eragon "discovers" Sloan's true name "after much thought."

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.

That is not "after much thought." It just CAME TO HIM, and he discovered it was Sloan's true name specifically "without thinking about it." Because Eragon has Protagonist Powers. And, as mentioned in my last essay, the ability to randomly know someone's true name is unprecedented, yet when Eragon and Arya discuss it later she claims it's silly to worry that Galbatorix might learn Eragon's own true name through a similar process. Even one of Paolini's own characters recognizes how silly that would be. Yet here, Eragon just sorta figured it out for no apparent reason with no apparent provocation--this is his cousin's fiancée's dad, not a close friend--and I don't appreciate this rewriting of how it happened to make it seem like he actually put in effort.

Later in the story, for a plot-relevant reason, Eragon and Saphira are forced to try to figure out their own true names as a password. And not only do they allocate three DAYS to the undertaking, but they sit there and discuss it and try to help each other and tease out the elusive hidden names. I want to know how the heck Eragon can have Sloan's true name suddenly occur to him on the first try if he has trouble figuring out his own or that of his soul's closest companion. This pretty much proves that he had to have gotten extraordinarily lucky when guessing Sloan's true name. To his credit, Eragon does actually begin to wonder about this, but concludes that the explanation is something like "Sloan's identity was simpler." Well, how convenient. Of course someone who isn't the protagonist is just a construct whose entire identity can be uncovered easily. Eragon and Saphira, despite behaving like puppets approximately 98% of the time, are ever so much more layered and complex than that. Nope, not buying it. I've spent time in both of their heads through their narration. There's not that much to them.

Still in the intro here. . . .

Eragon went to the sentient Menoa tree in Du Weldenvarden. He spoke with the tree, and the tree agreed to give up the brightsteel beneath its roots in exchange for an unnamed price.

There you go. Paolini doesn't read his own books.

Sure, the Menoa tree "agreed" to give up the brightsteel. After Eragon spoke with the tree. You left out the part where the tree didn't frigging answer him and Saphira attacked it and it freaked out and it tried to kill them. That's fine, though, Paolini; rewrite history and pretend this was civil. Don't acknowledge that your protagonists are tyrants.

No fair! You don't have a ridiculous sword that catches on fire!

During the first battle of the book, Eragon complains when Arya is still able to use the "brisingr" fire spell and awwwww he can't anymore because his sword bursts into flames ridiculously every time he says that word. So, number one: So? Why should he care if it does that during a battle? And number two: are you telling me there's no other way to conjure fire when you need it without lighting your sword up too, even though it's kind of your own fault since you were the dolt who decided on its name? It's acknowledged that "fire" and "flames" are different words in the ancient language. He could just use the other one and conjure fire if that was what he really wanted. This totally isn't cute.

Pregnancy, at your convenience.

Early in the book we see pregnant Katrina hurrying out of a tent, and the narration notes that the wind is blowing her clothing so that the shape of her "growing belly" is visible beneath. (Guess we needed a slick way to remind readers that she's pregnant, in case we forgot.) My first thought was that a significant amount of time must have gone by between the end of the last book and the beginning of this one, which seems contradictory because this book's first battle appears to be the very next one they'd planned in the last book. But then I remembered that I can't really expect Katrina's pregnancy to develop by normal standards. Paolini already demonstrated that he does not understand how pregnancy works in the last book. Which, if I must remind you, involved Roran and Katrina hurrying to get married quickly enough that no one would suspect she had already been pregnant during the wedding, yet despite their getting married fast enough to avoid suspicion, Roran "felt the bulge of her growing belly" that very damn night. So apparently in Paolini's mind ladies start bulging outward as soon as it's convenient. Katrina's baby bump being visible to Eragon is probably author fail like in the last book, not a signal that time has passed.

In danger? Your husband on the front lines of the war? Oh, you silly woman.

Eragon reassures Katrina that Roran's fine, even though an enchanted ring designed to tell her when he's in danger gave her a ping an hour before. He just kinda waves her off like it was no big deal--"nicks and bruises," he said, rather than explaining that he got stuck under a collapsing wall. What I think he really ought to have told her at this point is that her husband cannot be killed because he is a main character, and therefore if a wall collapses he will always be standing under a support beam that will shield him or whatever. No big deal; he only lived through the experience because of pure chance and shitty writing. Katrina, why do you bother having that ring on at all? Nothing's going to happen to the guy, and it will only serve to make you hysterical so that men have to come over and remind you that you're a silly woman for fretting. Just go sit in your chair and do some sewing and be pregnant and stuff.

And girls, no matter how "strong" you are, you will be kidnapped.

And speaking of The Ladies, Paolini's still directing female characters to remove weapons from the mysterious "folds of their dresses" (where? WHERE? folds of dresses can't hold weapons without some kind of strap!), and Eragon's still saving Arya in weird "swinging to the rescue" ways. It seems a bit more balanced than in the previous books, because she helps him avoid injury sometimes too, but the scenes are never set up like "Arya to the rescue!" the way the "damsel in distress" scenes are set up when Eragon rescues her, and at one point when he runs to assist her when she's being attacked by twenty soldiers, they beat the bad guys and she follows it with her "you didn't have to save me, I was fine to beat them by myself!" protest. Arya, your strength is admirable, but your author is far too traditional to let your efforts go uncommented. I'm afraid you're going to continue to be portrayed as thinking you're a lot more capable than you actually are in practice. Nasuada has to be rescued too. She's a good target for kidnapping, sure, because she's the leader of the rebel army, but why doesn't anyone ever kidnap King Orrin or Roran or Eragon? It'd be pretty kickass if Arya had to rescue one of them.

You hit like a girl! Oh, I'm sorry, was that politically incorrect?

Of course, despite all the ass-licking he gives to Arya for being ever so beautiful and lust-inspiring, it's fair game to call someone a woman as an insult. The phrase "you hide behind these children like a frightened old woman" appears in this book when Eragon's trying to call Galbatorix out on being a coward. Lovely.

She's having a baby! EXPLOSION IMMINENT!

And I had to just chuckle sadly when Eragon is summoned for his magical skill because "Mother's birth pains have just begun!" Eragon PANICS and rushes to bury something he's hiding and throws his cloak on and he's like AAAAHHHHHHHHHH!

Um . . . so did someone fail to mention that CHILDBIRTH TAKES HOURS AND HOURS? I mean, unless by "birth pains" they meant that it's actually the part where she's pushing, you've got a LONG wait ahead of you, boy. You can take a second to get dressed properly. This is a Paolini fail, though, not a character fail . . . I could see clueless men/boys being all like OMG SHE'S IN LABOR WE HAVE TO GET THERE RIGHT NOW, and I can even see a woman (especially one who's not given birth before) kinda freaking out and wanting reassurance, but considering Roran and Katrina act like the woman needs emergency care too, this seems goofy. (Furthermore, Elain HAS given birth before. She has two sons. Unless there's some reason to believe this birth might be weird, there's no damn reason to panic like this at the beginning of labor!)

And of course when the child is less than a day old she "smiles" because of something Eragon did that pleased her. Dude, babies that young don't smile yet. It was probably gas.

All women want to have babies. Even if they never thought of it before or since this paragraph.

And speaking of babies. I think Paolini is doing his best to get into the female mindset when he narrates from the only female (non-dragon) perspective in the book, and I'm annoyed at the simplicity of what he's doing. When Nasuada wakes up after being kidnapped, she immediately believes she's about to die, and the first thing she focuses on . . . for two paragraphs . . . is how much she regrets that she didn't have babies.

This is not an entirely unlikely scenario, by the way. But considering a) Nasuada never expressed this before (and didn't do so again for the rest of the book), and b) no one else who thought they were about to die (you know, all the males) focused on wishing they had spawned, I think this was an attempt to make Nasuada seem feminine. It seems flat, though. Because the "gee I wish I'd had babies" schtick lacks emotion and has no connection with any sense of the idea. It's like he was just phoning it in and you can tell.

Women's rights apparently can't exist in a land this rife with umlauts

Ah, and then there's Elva, who actually points out how sexist Alagaësia is while acknowledging that she'd like to keep her curse (even though Eragon has figured out by the end of the story how he can remove it):

"I am still an oddity, but I can be useful as well, and I have a power that others fear and a control over my own destiny, which many of my sex do not."

Though she says this while sitting in the palace of a female monarch, what she says is true about the ladies. Too bad it never occurs to Eragon that his ultimate magic word which could have cured Elva completely could also probably do some good to alleviate the sexism of the land, but I doubt he (or Paolini) would see women's powerlessness as a bad thing. He'd probably just point to tokens (like Nasuada, and Arya) and suggest that women CAN be more than they are. It's easier to just say that's the way things are (and, therefore, the way they should be). But if you're wandering around the land trying to put everything right, that kinda strikes me as a biggie. . . .

If we weren't meant to eat animals, then why are they made out of meat?

To finish off a chapter that started when Eragon was hungry, the boy and his dragon chow down on meat.

Yep. Moralizing vegetarian Eragon chows down on meat.

I wouldn't have a problem with it if he'd actually gone through a phase of questioning his beliefs and the practices he wanted to uphold and ultimately decided eating meat was best. But I don't remember him coming to the conclusion that now he's an omnivore. I do remember him sobbing over dead grass and trees and feeling horrible when he accidentally killed birds while sucking energy from the forest. And I do remember him saying "I cannot in good conscience eat a beast whose thoughts and feelings I've shared." Does that mean it's okay for him to devour an animal with "thoughts and feelings" as long as he didn't personally mind-meld with the particular animal? And though I do remember him thinking maybe it's okay to eat an animal's flesh if nothing else is available or it would be rude to refuse, he then proceeds from that point to eat it when plenty of other food sources ARE available and acceptable, as if he's never agonized over this. Actually, this inconsistent reasoning sounds a lot like how he approaches killing other people, too. This switch to carnivore might make it difficult for the elves to respect him as their darling.

Healing a baby's face vs. killing Galbatorix. Which one takes longer? The answer may surprise you. . . .

So at one point Eragon heals a baby's facial deformity, closing her cleft lip/cleft palate. This takes him all night--quite a bit longer, methinks, than a modern surgeon without magic takes. It seems a little weird, considering the extent of the healings he's managed in the past, but I could actually at least buy that this is somehow different because it's not really "healing" so much as changing how the baby's face had naturally been made. I don't honestly understand why he has to so intimately understand her facial structure to heal it when he's been able to heal dragons and men without singing or creating special spells, but okay, fine, Eragon has to invent a special spell for this because that's Just How Things Are in Paöliniland. But then when the elves examine the baby they absurdly praise him for being OMG THE BEST EVAR. Arya comments as follows:

"Not even our most skilled enchanters could improve on your gramarye. It is a great thing, what you have given this girl."

Are you freakin' serious? Eragon is a human kid, Dragon Rider or not, and he learned the ancient language of magic just mere months ago. And somehow HE IS OUTDOING ANCIENT ELVES WHO SPECIALIZE IN THIS SHIT. This is so ridiculous that it makes me sick. Unless Paolini is actually expressing that elves kind of suck at magic despite being there when it was invented, and unless he is saying that mending a cleft is a work of genius unrivaled by anyone ever, I simply don't get this. How have there not been elves who are better at magic than this hayseed?

Roran fantasizes about violence. 'Cause he's a soldier.

Roran is described as always calculating the chances that someone might try to kill him. In one scene, he's fantasizing about how exactly he might be able to kill guards who are ON HIS SIDE if by chance they were to attack him for some reason. This is supposed to show what an efficient--and obsessed, I guess--soldier he has become. But what I want to know is . . . WHY ISN'T HE THINKING ABOUT BIRGIT? In the last book I noted that a woman actually walked up to him, threatened his life, and came very close to using a weapon on him, before she walked away reminding him that they have a score to settle. Roran, this woman represents a very real threat to your life. Any particular reason you're not worried about that while plotting the demise of people who haven't ever even acted like they want to hurt you?

Eragon pretends he's not racist.

It kind of bothers me that Eragon has to suppress murderous instincts at one point when watching a bunch of Urgals walking around. He blames this on having visceral memories of having to face their kind in battle. Now, I could understand him being mentally accepting but physically uneasy around Urgals simply because for so long the humans from his village regarded them as enemies and thought of them like monsters. But Eragon's suggesting he feels uneasy because he's faced them in battle? How many humans have you faced in battle without feeling like you want to kill other humans, Eragon? I just didn't like how this was played off like he only hates them because of what was done to him by others of their kind.

Obviously I can't understand something if I don't know its name!

At one point Eragon philosophizes about how he doesn't know the NAME of the self-mutilation religion of Helgrind and therefore he cannot have true understanding. Being that NAMES of things are ever so important now. Well, considering you figured out the "true name" of a PERSON without doing much of anything, can't you conjure up a religion's name out of the ether with your Protagonist Powers? Or perhaps you could try asking someone, dumbshit.

"Buried" and "dead" are not actually synonyms.

This is a minor but puzzling contradiction: Roran gets attacked by an assassin, and escapes narrowly with his life after killing his assailant. Then he starts philosophizing about whether people have the right to take each other's lives and whatnot, who decides who should live and who should die, blahblah, and he refers to the dead guy as being "buried" while he himself is "above the ground at least for a few more hours." As these thoughts are being gnawed upon, the assassin is lying, very much NOT buried, outside his tent. I don't get why he referred to him as "buried" if he's, you know, NOT AT ALL BURIED. Ah, the mistakes we make in the name of pseudo-poetic philosophy.

Even pigs won't wallow in their own dirt.


I'm pretty sure pigs wallow in dirt. I'm not sure about "their own," but if Paolini is trying to say that they don't wallow in their own shit, well, yes, they do that too if they're forced to in absence of mud and whatnot, though they avoid it if they can. Please, Paolini, don't tell me you said "dirt" instead of "POOOOOOOOP" if that's what you meant. My thesaurus has around two dozen synonyms for "excrement" in it if you don't want to be too explicit. AND DON'T TELL ME YOU AREN'T ON A FIRST-NAME BASIS WITH YOUR THESAURUS, PAOLINI. You can deny "having relations" with your reference book all you like, but we've been directly observing this affair since Eragon came out in 2003. We have witnesses!

Now that the audience knows, secrets aren't secrets anymore.

In the previous book, Eragon finds out about the existence of the Eldunarí, a dragon's heart of hearts. The explanation for why Eragon never knew about such an important detail despite being soul-bonded to a freaking dragon is that somehow dragons keep this knowledge hidden for the sake of their own well-being. Well, fine and good, BUT . . . in this book there's a place where Glaedr, a dragon who's perished and only lives on through his Eldunarí in Eragon's possession, mentions Eldunarí in passing to Nasuada, who probably had less reason to know about this strength/weakness of dragons than Eragon ever did. My question is . . . WHAT HAPPENED TO THE OH-SO-GUARDED SECRET?

And speaking of dragon hearts:

For someone as detail-oriented as Paolini, I find myself kind of shocked at how inconsistent he is. According to the rules he invented for the ancient language, the plural of Eldunarí is Eldunarya, and don't tell me he doesn't know it because he said so when he was asked about it specifically in an interview. Why does he make this mistake so much? He never uses "Eldunarya" in the entire book. Paolini once assured us that we couldn't take Eragon's use of the ancient language literally at first because he apparently speaks it terribly and a direct translation would be ugly, but what's his own excuse for not following his rules in narration?

Dragons are just humans who are obsessed with hyphens

Saphira's ridiculous hyphen-ridden narration has a lot of inconsistencies. For instance, in an attempt to make her sound dragony, Paolini substituted single nouns with clumps of descriptions, so when Saphira's thinking about humans, she thinks of them as "two-legs-round-ears" or whatever. (I discussed in my last essay how silly I think it is to fixate on something as small as their ears when you're a dragon, considering that's something humans and elves notice as different between them but is unlikely to be the primary thing dragons would notice. Considering Saphira is aware of the elves' minds and refers to them at one point as "song-filled," I think something about the difference of their MINDS would be more immediately apparent and thus more appropriate than a designation based on ears. But anyway.) So for some reason even though she refers to humans as being "round-ears," elves are often just "elves," and sometimes "two-legs-pointed-ears." Why? Especially since much more of her time has been spent around humans than around elves?

It makes perfect sense to shield soldiers from some attacks but not others!

At one point Eragon's in a battle at Dras-Leona, where his brainwashed half-brother Murtagh is hanging out waiting for him. He and Arya are killing Empire soldiers, but they're getting overwhelmed, so they try magic, and none of it works. Eragon wonders why. Right as he's wondering "hey, why doesn't my magic work?" suddenly Murtagh announces that the men are under his protection and that's why. (Murtagh was not in range to know what Eragon was thinking, but his voice was magically enhanced so that he could announce this from far away out of sight where he was in battle.) So . . . if all the soldiers are protected by magic, why is it that they're not physically protected too? Eragon and Arya have already killed dozens of them by this point. Why protect them against magical attacks but not physical ones? This reads like a badly planned D&D campaign. "The soldiers are impervious to magical attacks, but not physical ones." How convenient!

Poor Elva. I just want to take you home and hug you and give you a childhood.

And now the matter of Elva. Elva is a character who can feel other people's pain and is aware of bad things about to happen to people because of a curse Eragon accidentally put on her when she was a baby. She's not even two years old, but was forced to age rapidly in order to handle her curse, and presents as a young child (perhaps four years old). For most of her life she was magically compelled to try to prevent the deaths, pains, and unfortunate circumstances that she was aware of. At one point Eragon tried to free her of her curse, but she kept part of it for unknown reasons. (Thankfully, now she is aware of others' pain but is no longer compelled to try to prevent it. She can choose now.)

Now, Eragon, despite having been the one to curse her with such a life, believes she owes it to the rebels to use her talents for helping them. And because she refused to go along on a mission and somebody died, he walks up to her after the fact and tells her, point blank, that it was her fault the guy died. In fact, he said, "You killed him." He out-and-out blames her for a death because she refused to come on the mission.

Paolini has directed Eragon to manipulate her and shame her. I disagree that she "killed" anyone by refusing to participate in a mission. How is it that Eragon, with his ability to see into minds and know others' intentions, isn't just as much to blame, especially with the amount of experience he has? Why isn't Angela blamed if she's a fortune-teller? You might as well say Elva killed anyone whose death she didn't or couldn't prevent. Didn't Eragon fail to prevent Brom's death? His uncle's death? Later in this story he gets drunk, and he's too drunk to help when the base gets attacked. Six of his commander's guards die before he gets magic to clear his head and is able to join the fight properly. Since there were things he could have done and didn't, why doesn't he see how hypocritical this is?

Hey Eragon--since you're capable of making plenty more "mistakes" considering you created Elva's plight in the first place, by this logic, you're remiss in your duties if you haven't made MORE Elvas. How about an army of Elvas? Doom a whole posse of children to grow up with Elva's pain so your cause can be forwarded. If the argument is that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few (or the one: Elva), how come you can justify NOT impressing this curse upon at least a few more babies so they can be manipulated to serve you at their own great personal agony? Not to mention that everyone on that mission was an adult with lots of experience, and as grown-ass people they should kind of be responsible for themselves. But no, Paolini writes it so that the death of a thousand-something-year-old elf is something a baby should have on her shoulders. And wouldn't someone have had to carry Elva around or let her ride on their backs? She can't keep up with adults with her tiny little body. She would have had to be dependent on them to protect HER too. Think she might've been in danger, since she could get dropped and left to fend for herself at any moment?

I noted in my Brisingr essay that it's not just Eragon who harbors hate for Elva--it's the narration, meaning Paolini himself. The narration wouldn't refer to her "horrible" purple eyes and take great pains to make her seem creepy and monstrous if she wasn't being designed as one of those unfortunate people who was CREATED to let Eragon use her and make his points and stuff. And listen, I have had the unenviable experience of trying to write a kind of creepy character in a somewhat sympathetic way. It isn't easy, but if people in the story are put off by such a character, you really don't need the narration doing it too.

I must say I very much sympathize with Elva, considering my character Delia is, for all intents and purposes, vastly different but has experienced common threads. (And I'm not just talking about the black hair and purple eyes. Which she already had when I invented her in the year 2000, thanks.) For instance, like Elva, she can't properly defend herself without having to experience any effects she inflicts on her enemies. (Writing a scene involving her getting in a fist fight with someone twice her size was soooo much fun! /sarcasm) While a situation like this does force some semblance of automatic "caring about others," there's a balancing sense of feeling like other people's negative experiences are an imposition. They invoke sympathy, but they can also invoke a strong wish for self-preservation. Like, can't I make you people leave me alone? Can't I worry about just myself sometimes, the way you do? Do you really think I'm here to be your tool, like I'm not a whole person in my own right just because I can help you? What the hell do I owe you?

Ahem. If I continue in this fashion I shall never get off my soapbox. So let's get back to Elva. Eragon goes over there and accuses her of murder and scolds her until she cries--oh, and demands that she has to help him in the future OR ELSE--and she totally backs down AND APOLOGIZES. Elva really shouldn't owe Eragon shit. I think it'd be awesome if she did decide to help--not through being threatened, but because she believes in the cause and wants it to succeed--and I'd like to see her come to that conclusion NOT through browbeating. But she's spent her life with absolutely no choice about whether she will help people. She HAD to help every time she felt something was wrong. Can you really blame her for reveling a bit in the ability to say no? When her entire existence has focused exclusively on preventing pain, how the hell can you tell her she's obligated--through no fault of her own, but through YOUR FAULT, Eragon!--to keep putting herself in a position to feel agony so she'll be able to prevent it?

This is horrible writing. And it's written as if Eragon finally put Elva in her place and taught her a thing or two, immediately after which he gets drunk and fails to prevent six deaths. The narration sometimes grafts on an afterthought of him feeling guilty to have inconvenienced her with her curse, but it's woefully ineffective. Eragon doesn't give a crap about Elva except when he can use her. I would have been a lot happier with the situation if Elva continued to act out her free will and decide on her own whether she wants to help. Instead, Paolini painted her as a villain because she didn't serve Eragon's cause, and "broke" her as a character by having Eragon chastise her. Followed by some foolish philosophy where Eragon thinks about how mature he feels now that he's yelled at a child. (You know, because he used to be the child who got yelled at, and now it's him delivering the lectures! He feels all adulty! This is about his character growth and continued superiority, you know. Eragon, why don't you go kick a puppy next so you can congratulate yourself on your newly enhanced foot/eye coordination?)

Eragon's not at all a hypocrite.

And then, finally, to add insult to injury, Galbatorix is shown to be ever so underhanded because he threatens to kill little kids if Eragon and his allies don't stop attacking him. When Eragon accuses him of cowardice for this, Galbatorix points out that Eragon's party also brought a kid--Elva. And Eragon argues that no, Elva AGREED to come.


I mean, she DID, but Eragon had to shame her and browbeat her into feeling like she owed them her help!

Eragon's words:

"You could have warned all of us. I watched Wyrden die, and I watched Arya tear half her hand off, because of you. Because of your anger. Because of your stubbornness. Because of your pride.... Hate me if you will, but don't you dare make anyone else suffer for it. If you want the Varden to lose, then go join Galbatorix and be done with it. Well, is that what you want?"

That sounds an awful lot like Elva "chose" to help you, Eragon.

What an asshole.

Does it really count as a secret anymore?

Shortly after the Varden leader Nasuada is captured, evil king Galbatorix reveals that he's not going to torture her to get information, since he already has all the secrets she thought she had to hide. The existence of dead dragon Glaedr's "heart of hearts" is explicitly stated as one of the things he knows about. Later, when Nasuada is being tortured, she comments to Galbatorix, "explain your mistreatment of the Eldunarí you captured." And the narration says "In her anger, she allowed herself that one slip." But I'm confused how this is a "slip." He knows what an Eldunarí is, and she knows about the Eldunarí situation, and they both know each other knows about them. I don't see how it's considered a "slip" for her to acknowledge that she knows what he's doing with those dragon hearts.

FOREVER! (Or until next week. Whichever comes first.)

Murtagh is forced to participate in torturing Nasuada. This is because he has sworn fealty to Galbatorix in the ancient language through being manipulated using his true name, and therefore belongs to Galbatorix "forever." Murtagh has enough free will to understand that this sucks for him, and he does not want to be loyal to Galbatorix, but even though he can't actively rebel he does seem quite capable of doing things that are NOT very loyalistic. Anyway, even if that did make sense, it's known at this point that a true name can change. (Eragon tells Murtagh that that's the case, too, during a battle in the last book. He knows it.)

And Murtagh's true name DOES change . . . because of looooove. So what I really don't get is why love is enough to change him and release him, but making him, oh, a pawn of the dark lord somehow doesn't change his true name. I would think that if someone's feelings could actually change who they are fundamentally, the bonds of loyalty would also change who they were. It would make more sense to make people swear an oath and then rename them in the ancient language somehow, I think. Eragon's true name contains his feelings for Arya. Saphira's true name contains a reference to her being the last living female dragon. Wouldn't Murtagh's contain a reference to his forced loyalty? It doesn't make sense. And since Paolini NEVER includes a true name in his books--on purpose--he can't get called on this.

Apparently mutation = BEYOND REALITY

When Galbatorix decides he's gonna torture Nasuada, one of the things he does is put a gross burrowing creature into her skin and let it nibble on her until she passes out from the pain. She's confused as to why she felt so much pain, because earlier, Murtagh cast a spell that was supposed to shield her from pain during torture. When she later asks him why it didn't work, he basically tells her he has no idea, but that he thinks it's because the burrowing creature is somehow unnatural and doesn't obey the laws and rules of the world. That sounded like a weird and silly cop-out to me. "Uh, it didn't work because . . . this weird thing is randomly an exception. Who cares about continuity?"

The "unnatural" grub appears to have been the result of a mutation, incidentally, which I guess is why they're acting like it's different from "natural" creatures. But apparently the author doesn't realize that mutation--because of radiation or anything else--IS a natural process and wouldn't make creatures suddenly alien and wrong and unaffected by the laws of reality. It's suggested that they don't operate by normal laws because they haven't been named in the ancient language, which suggests that evolution doesn't ever happen (or hasn't up until that point). This is getting silly.

But wait, there's more grub-related nonsense:

Eragon encounters these grubs on Vroengard Island and is creeped out by them, and Saphira suggests after the fact that she could have just eaten them for Eragon so he wouldn't have had to worry. Glaedr, the ever-so-wise disembodied dragon, cautions them both that they should never hunt something until they're sure it's prey. This is good enough advice. But then later they're attacked by giant snails which almost eat Eragon while he's sleeping (despite Glaedr claiming he'll "keep watch"; apparently his idea of keeping watch is waking Eragon up so close to getting eaten that he can't even stand up in time to draw his sword, which is great for narrative suspense but terrible for your record as a trustworthy lookout). How does Eragon avoid getting eaten? Well, Saphira, of course. She pounces on the snails, eats three of them, and cooks the fourth for Eragon's breakfast. And Glaedr jokes about how those silly snails didn't realize Eragon wasn't prey--a lesson they themselves discussed earlier.

But wait a second. Why was this safe? For all Eragon and Saphira knew at that point, these were frigging mutant snails; everything they've encountered so far on this island is a frigging mutant. How is it that Glaedr can be gravely advising against eating something that WE know would have hurt Saphira (the grubs, which would have started eating HER from the inside), but then acts all jovial and not at all scolding when she eats giant snails without a thought? Because of course it turns out that the giant snails aren't even mutants and they were safe to eat--the dragons of old used to munch on them regularly--so surely it's not even worth barking at Saphira for eating them. Guess you don't really have to worry about eating something poisonous if you're being thoughtless and rash but you're a Paolini protagonist.

Only one parent matters.

"My name," he said in a loud, clear voice, "is Eragon Shadeslayer, son of Brom."
My name is Saphira Bjartskular, daughter of Vervada.
And mine Glaedr Eldunarí, son of Nithring, she of the long tail.

Putting aside how silly it is that some dragon is known as "she of the long tail," what is this business of choosing a single parent to name oneself the child of? This might not actually be terribly inconsistent, but the problem is, we don't know. In the previous book, we saw that the humans at least have a tendency to have boys name themselves as sons of their fathers, while girls name themselves as daughters of their mothers, but here we have both a female dragon and a male dragon naming themselves as children of their mothers. It could possibly be that dragons are slutty and only the mothers are known, I guess. I'm just not sure why it's this way, and why Eragon seems not to want to mention Selena. She's his freakin' mom, right? Why doesn't she matter? Maybe because she's EVIL?

Magic? What's that?

Water dripped from the ends of the vines to fall into shallow, misshapen puddles, and the sound of the droplets striking echoed throughout the building, a constant, irregular beat that Eragon thought would drive him mad if he had to listen to it for more than a few days.

Okay, besides that being a completely unneeded bit of description (which, sadly, is only one sentence in a heap of four paragraphs of description that were equally unneeded) . . . this is silly. A noise is bothering Eragon so much that he thinks it would drive him MAD, and yet he doesn't think to use magic to either mute the noise or stop the drips from being possible within their earshot? The dude can boil gold out of the ground and create a force field to keep himself warm and magically enhance his vision and cause weapons to glance off his body during battle. Don't tell me something that's described as bugging him this much doesn't deserve a couple of magic words to shut it up.

Obviously, my life began when I was fifteen.

For what seemed like hours, the alien mind examined every one of his memories, from the moment he had set out from his family's farm to hunt deer in the Spine--three days before he had found Saphira's egg--up until the present. In the back of his mind, Eragon could sense the same thing happening to Saphira, but the knowledge meant nothing to him.

So . . . the invading creature was reading the Inheritance series?

Seriously. I mean, I know that Eragon is a puppet character who literally began his life at age fifteen when Paolini started writing about him; all of his "childhood memories" and anything that was established before the start of the book Eragon feels grafted on. But did this alien thing have to also consider nothing before the start of Book 1 significant whatsoever? It would have been more powerful to read his whole life back to its beginning, not to the point where Eragon's life tied up with a book's plot. I laughed aloud when I read this, imagining an alien consciousness barging into Eragon's brain and finding that he was literally born a teenager, before which there was nothing but constructs.

Behold my formal diction. Which is clearly so different from my normal diction.

It is I, Eragon. The more formal phrasing seemed natural to him after so long spent reliving experiences from ages past.

In this bit, Eragon's excusing his corny speech by blaming the ancient dragons he's been listening to. What I don't understand is . . . how is "It is I, Eragon" any more "formal" than HOW HE TALKS ALL THE TIME? Eragon has always talked far more formally than an uneducated farm boy should. After all this time, you're giving him an excuse to do it, and then it's not even one of the particularly flowery bits?

Practical ways to get past traps aren't allowed. They make for poor gauntlet runs.

"What if I used magic to transport us over there, the way Arya sent Saphira's egg to the Spine?" He gestured toward the area past the bodies.
It would require too much energy, said Glaedr.
Better to conserve our strength for when we face Galbatorix, Umaroth added.

WHAT?? Okay, so suddenly teleporting stuff requires an unacceptable amount of energy, even though Arya could apparently do it in a panic by herself to send an object many miles away? I don't see why this is suddenly monumentally difficult, but Eragon has like dozens of dead dragons in his pocket, and they've been doing stuff like feeding Saphira with energy so she can fly for two days without eating or sleeping. This sounds like a silly excuse for Eragon and the elves to have to come up with some other dopey "ingenious" plan to get past the trap.

Said "ingenious" plan involves sacrificing all the elves' weapons to jam them into the walls and stop metal sheet traps from coming out to slice everyone to pieces. Despite this mostly working, one elf woman almost dies and is saved when another elf levitates her to safety. Maybe the scene just isn't written very well, but what I'm picturing after they run through the booby-trapped hallway is that the elves' weapons are still there, jammed inside the walls to keep the metal sheets from coming out. Can't they unstick their weapons now and levitate them back to themselves? The whole thing totally reads like a moderately difficult level on a quest video game. What special object did you have to pick up to avoid this trap? Hooray, elven swords ARE in your bag of holding! Jeez, automated motion-sensitive slicer/dicers to cut you in half as you walk down a hallway? Seriously?

Your party is too big for a dramatic showdown. Let's fix that.

Then right after this the elven spellcasters are deleted. I'm not even kidding; they're frozen with a spell and summoned into another room without explanation. Understandably this upsets Eragon, Arya, Saphira, and Elva--the major players, who are the only ones NOT captured by the spell. And they're like "Hey, why not us too?" They conclude that Galbatorix, wily ol' wabbit that he is, is trying to confuse them, exhaust them, or make them fall for a trap. It's great that they even asked this question--"HEY, why'd you take our supporters but not the major characters??"--but it's terrible that there's no freaking answer, except that "oh, gee, that would have been too EASY. Galbatorix probably is enjoying the SPORT of this!" Can't have a mad villain without assigning him nonsensical overconfidence that the hero will be able to exploit and win.)

And what about swords? We gotta talk about swords.

On Galbatorix's lap rested his sword. It was a Rider's sword, that much was obvious, but Eragon had never seen its like before.

So . . . how many Rider's swords have you even seen, Eragon?

Formula: Give the villain enough rope to hang himself. Don't worry, he will!

And during the final battle, Eragon "buys time" by sort of tempting/tricking Galbatorix into a sword fight. Even after Galbatorix announces that fighting fair isn't how you become a king and dismisses it as absurd that he should have to fight Eragon "fairly" when he's clearly bested him with magic, he turns right around and says "but hey, have it your way," and agrees to let Murtagh fight Eragon. (So at least he's not going to do it himself, but still.) Eragon doesn't appear to have actually had a plan here, but during the duel Murtagh realizes that since falling in looooove with Nasuada he fights differently due to having something to fight for, and that changes who he is enough to break spells that are restraining the previous version of himself. What I don't understand is why Galbatorix didn't just force Eragon to submit to him without any entertaining little duels. He had victory sealed and it's very silly that he makes so many cartoon villain mistakes.

So, do any Urgals have paintings by their children with them, too?

To celebrate Galbatorix being dead, every race got excited in its own way, and the Urgals dealt with it by climbing a tower and blowing horns made from the skulls of their fathers. Okay, so that's kind of weird, but Urgals are kind of violent, so whatever. What strikes me to wonder is why these Urgals had these horns with them in the first place. If these were a sacred item that the Urgals were said to carry with them all the time, okay, cool. (But that was never mentioned.) I'm wondering why what is essentially a family heirloom would be something you'd take with you on the road to war, which they'd have to have done if they were there to blow said horns at Nasuada's coronation.

I can change reality as I know it. But I still can't get what I want because I have the intelligence of a bag of hair.

He also used the name of names to search for the belt of Beloth the Wise in the ruins of the great cathedral, but without success.

So basically Eragon has the power to rewrite reality because he has learned the actual name of the ancient language. And yet, what he wants to do is "impossible" because he is trying to find his lost belt in the ruins and obviously it isn't in the ruins. I can't imagine why someone who can actually use magic to change the rules of magic can't invent a spell to find his freaking belt if he wants to.

Rover is just sleeping, honey. Sleeping . . . in Heaven.

In a way, he had become deathless, for he no longer aged as others did, but would remain forever the same, caught in a dreamless sleep.

Except Brom is dead.

He's a mummy. He's dead. He's not "caught in a dreamless sleep." He's frigging dead. What is this??

It may be the worst thing that ever happened to me, but hey, it defines me!

Let's look at Elva again. At the end of the book, she turns down Eragon's offer of removing her ability to feel others' pain:

"Without my ability to sense others' pain, I would be only an oddity--a misbegotten aberration, good for nothing but satisfying the low-minded curiosity of those who consented to have me around, of those who tolerated me. With it, I am still an oddity, but I can be useful as well, and I have a power that others fear and a control over my own destiny, which many of my sex do not. [ . . . ] If you take away my ability, then what would I have? What would I do? What would I be? To remove your spell would be no blessing, Eragon."

Now, in the last book, she was asked to keep her curse for the sake of giving an advantage to the Varden. She refused, and in order to bring home how terrible her life was, she explained how horrible it was to have to feel people's pain and be unable to do anything about it. Eragon removed the part of her curse that forced her to try to prevent said pain, and after that she seemed happy (despite still having to experience what she invoked as the worst thing about her situation). And now that Eragon pretty much has control over every aspect of the magic (due to being able to rewrite reality using the ancient language's true name at the end of the book), if he wanted to he could rearrange Elva's curse so that she could be AWARE of others' pain but not have to physically feel it herself, right? That way she could be just as useful but not have to suffer. If her argument now is that she wants to be useful--and feared--and in control of her own destiny because she has power, does she really have to deal with the down side at all? She's given plenty to Eragon and his allies, not entirely of her own free will either, so he at least owes it to her. . . . This is really simple. Why make a little girl suffer like this? Why have her CHOOSE to?

I think there's a reason that this book contains a pronunciation guide, maps, and a dictionary to three languages, but no timeline.

Let's talk about the movement of time. I will say up front that I did not go back through the book and try to write out a timeline of all the events, because after all the counting and nitpicking I'm just plain not willing to. But let's talk about Katrina's pregnancy. She's "showing" on her wedding night, which I've complained about before. The earliest women start to have a "slightly rounded belly" is maybe three months, if they're thin and in good shape (though first pregnancies usually show later). Let's be super super generous and say Katrina was only two months pregnant when they got married. That leaves seven months for the entire events of Inheritance to take place. The ending of Inheritance has a detailed, long "epilogue" in its final chapters, tying up how Nasuada rebuilds the country after Galbatorix's destruction. Eragon is shown to moon over the extremely long silence from Arya. Eragon is sent on errands and has to make alliances with various local rulers. The treasure room containing Galbatorix's hoard has to be cleaned out, dealt with, and distributed. The physical buildings have to be rebuilt. The dragon hearts which went insane under Galbatorix's rule have to be rehabilitated. And then several months are taken up with uprisings and attempts on Nasuada's life. Katrina's baby is said to be born after the uprisings are over.

I am having a really really really hard time believing that all this happened--including the rebuilding and recovery from war--during a period of time significantly shorter than a year.

So the only explanation is that women in Alagaësia are pregnant for significantly longer than human women from our world, and there's no reason for it except that it would have been kinda inconvenient for the plot for Katrina to spawn before things were safe.

Because Destiny Said So. But where's my hot chick?

Eragon decides that his only acceptable future is to leave Alagaësia to raise dragon eggs and guard the Eldunarí collection. Part of the logic he uses to justify this is that Angela foretold it. Angela also foretold an epic romance. Where's that? Obviously it doesn't have to happen NOW, so it seems silly to say that "it must be right for me to leave because a fortuneteller says so." By that logic, shouldn't Arya be sleeping with Eragon about now? (Note that the fact that she doesn't do so is listed below in the "GOOD THINGS" section.)

I'm not sure what Paolini thinks love is, but it kinda bothers me that, for instance, Murtagh's love for Nasuada was strong enough to actually change who he was fundamentally, and yet he didn't even give a thought to how he could work things out so he could be near her. Love can change you from the inside out, and it can motivate you to do risky and ridiculous things. Murtagh's excuses for why he thought it would just be wrong for him to be near Nasuada read as pretty weak. I can buy it if he just needs time to heal, but I can't buy that his love was genuine if he's willing to cause Nasuada pain through his absence without even consulting her on whether they both think this is "best" for the future of their country.

But absolute power corrupts!

Eragon decides that he must leave Alagaësia because he's just too powerful and he doesn't want to become the next Galbatorix, even though he thinks he has good intentions. I really like the idea that Eragon can accept that even he can be corrupted, though of course this plays right into the motifs of "master of the two worlds" and "freedom to live," the last two elements of the Hero's Journey, not to mention the Lord-of-the-Rings-esque romantic sail-off at the end. But what I don't get is why he chooses what he does because of being afraid of his own power. Here's a simple solution, Eragon: use your ultimate power to create a special place to raise dragons and train Riders--hey, why not clean up Vroengard for the purpose while you're at it??--and then consider enchanting yourself to forget the word of power. I mean, unless all this is an excuse and you actually want more than anything to leave.

I dislike these "I'm sorry, but it's the only way" plot elements when you've given someone like Eragon control over the very fabric of reality. When you do such things, picky readers like me will say "well he could have this or that or the other," and the author no longer has the excuse of "he couldn't, for this reason." He can literally do anything. Which is supposedly the reason he's too powerful to stick around. Sure, you can claim he just didn't think of it--people do, after all, have to think of solutions as well as have them in their power--but if he REALLY wanted to stay and maybe hook up with Arya and be an "uncle" to Roran's baby, you'd think he'd damn well FIND a way. Especially since he sure wasn't on anybody's time schedule to leave by a certain point; he had indefinite amounts of time to figure out an alternate solution, but this is what he chose. How can such a person still be a slave to circumstances? And how will leaving Alagaësia actually prevent him from harming it if he went mad like Galbatorix and got it in his head to come back? (Oh wait, he "can't," because Angela said when he left he'd never return. Guess that means it's written in stone. Well, or in Paolini canon, which is the same thing.)

There's always got to be a second-class citizen somewhere.

Originally, when pacts were made between the elves and the dragons in order to create the Riders and fashion the ancient language the way it is in the present, only elves were Riders. This was extended to humans as well shortly afterwards, and since then only human and elf Riders have existed. After Galbatorix's overthrowing, Eragon decides that they'll go ahead and alter reality so that dwarves and Urgals can become Riders too, supposedly to help the races be equal.

Well, great idea. But you know what? You left out the werecats.

Chances are the werecats would have refused. They're extremely solitary creatures, granted, and they don't like to obey rules. But considering they formed an alliance with the Varden and did their part to overthrow Galbatorix, it seems like they at least should have been offered their share of this magic, right? Just as a gesture, even if it seemed like they weren't the types to accept. Why are they excluded? I can kinda see why they wouldn't include the Ra'zac, but werecats?

Are they still mutants if they get an ancient-language name?

At the end, one of the many loose-end-tying-up things Eragon does is go around "naming" a couple of the mutated creatures on Vroengard Island--I guess this is an attempt to make them part of the world and therefore give them a place in the magic? Dunno. Anyway, he names the burrow grubs and the shadowy bird things. But he doesn't "name" the angler frogs he discovered earlier in the book. His "discovery" of their true name just sort of occurred to him--like it already existed and he figured it out--but he didn't use the name of the ancient language to actually officially "name" them that the way he did to his sundavrblaka and his síllgrathr. Guess the angler frogs just happened to have a name, but the others had to be given one. Er? And does everything start GLOWING when its true name is said, like people do in this book when they say their own true names? Doesn't seem like it, but it happens sometimes, presumably for dramatic effect.

PLOT ISSUES: Nonsense and Contrived Events

Anything I found confusing, contrived, silly, or poorly conceived which DIDN'T have to do with predictability, contradiction, or writing style ended up in here.

Sorry, we never bought that.

During the beginning-of-the-book recap:

The twins also abducted Murtagh and spirited him away to Galbatorix. But to Eragon and everyone in the Varden, it looked as if Murtagh had died

As I mentioned in a previous essay, everyone involved jumped to assume Murtagh was dead WAY too easily. They found no body. They found no evidence of a brutal fight. The understanding that he was dead was based solely on Arya's attempt to scry him, which yielded "Naught but the shadows of the abyss." Which pretty much means that scrying is good for nothing. If you can't tell the difference between finding out someone's dead and finding out that they've been abducted and brainwashed, what the hell good is it? This is a very corny way to tease out a "revelation," by the way. Murtagh still being alive at the end of Eldest was played as if it were a surprise. Dude, if a major character perishes in a battle and you're going to say he's dead, there WILL be a body and there WILL be a witness to the heroics and there WILL be a ridiculous funeral at which the protagonist will swear revenge or some such. It does not fool anyone when a major character "disappears" and everyone shrugs and assumes he's dead. I already attacked this absurdity in my Eldest essay, so why am I bringing it up again? Because it's still being glossed over in this unconvincing recitation in the beginning of Book 4. No one imagined Murtagh was just captured? Gee, you don't say.

BEHOLD, THE DEADLY, NOTORIOUS DRAGON-KILLING LANCE (that doesn't seem to be able to kill any dragons)

At one point Saphira gets injured with a magical lance and Eragon acts like a clown. First, he encounters unprecedented difficulty just figuring out what ancient language words to say when he's trying to stop her from getting speared in the first place, and the elves attack faster than he can even speak. And then when the spear actually hits his dragon, his first thought isn't on whether she's okay, but on kicking the shit out of the guy who attacked her. Only after the attacker is killed (by someone who again moved faster than him) does he worry about his dragon--and despite how conveniently linked they always seem to be mentally, Eragon is strangely unaware of whether she's in pain and even says he can't telepathically talk to her because the lance is magical and he might expose himself to enemies if he contacts her mentally. This is such b.s. Why isn't he already in contact with her LIKE THEY ALWAYS ARE AS A DEFAULT?

And why does Saphira have to be healed by ELF SINGING? Eragon's healings never involved singing before this. Is this just because he pretty much sucks at it, or is this another attempt to make the elves more, I dunno, elfy?

And if she was successfully pierced and wounded by an ancient mysterious spear DESIGNED to kill dragons, how is it that it did such a shitty job? I totally want to see how this story plays out if Saphira dies in Chapter 1.


And I'm pissed that a credibility-straining event has basically landed a suitable weapon in Eragon's hands. This lance, which is conveniently so ancient that nobody alive understands how it was made or why it works, is a special type that happens to be able to kill a dragon. (Nobody bothered to mention it in previous books because even though the mysterious twelve lances that were made in history weren't ever all recovered, people just kinda assumed they were broken and wouldn't ever be found, much like nimrods in this story always seem to assume a monster is dead if it isn't moving or a person whose body was never found is probably actually dead.) So, translation: random weapon that was only just introduced into the story at this late stage can kill Galbatorix's dragon AND Eragon happens to get hold of it because a local spellcaster has poor judgment and tried to attack him with it. I really, really hate deus ex machinas. Especially . . . ESPECIALLY . . . when they are obviously going to be vital to the story at a point that the author thinks will be a revelation, yet it is clear from its introduction in CHAPTER ONE what is going to happen. WE DON'T KNOW HOW TO KILL THE DRAGON! GOOD THING THIS WEAPON LITERALLY STABBED US IN THE CHEST SO WE COULDN'T MISS IT!

Hi, I'm Eragon, and my strength fluctuates depending on what's convenient for the plot.

Eragon is regularly claimed to have strength and speed markedly beyond that of normal men. Despite that, he has to drop his sword (which he TOTALLY HATES DOING enough that a line of narration is devoted to how much he hates doing it) in order to use both arms to catch Roran when he falls over from a standing position. This isn't consistent. A dude who can take stairs five at a time and punch people so they land thirty feet away should not have difficulty just supporting a normal-sized man with one arm. He doesn't even have to carry him. (Note: Eragon doesn't actually punch someone to land thirty feet away. It is Arya who did that, in Brisingr. But considering Eragon is supposed to be as strong as or stronger than she is, I'm assuming he has this in his power as well. Later in the book Arya also lifts a young man onto her shoulder after she's just been tortured and currently has nerve damage, and the narration says she does this "without apparent effort" and carries the dude. C'mon Eragon--did you just drop your sword because it's dramatic?)

Was this plot element supposed to go somewhere and then it just got lost?

In the beginning of the book, Eragon refuses to telepathically connect to Saphira because he suspects the attack she sustained may put him at risk if he touches her mind. After she's healed--presumably without being overtaken by evil magic or something--Eragon still doesn't connect to her, even though when she was suffering he supposedly wanted more than anything to soothe her with his contact. AND YET, in order to communicate Roran's fate to Saphira, he "risks a brief moment of contact" to tell her Roran's alive. Now, wait. If he still thinks it's risky, why would he decide that only a little contact is okay? If he supposes the risk is over, why not connect back to her like he normally is if they're in range of each other? It can't be because Roran's status is that important to relay to the others, because Eragon easily could have mentally contacted any elf, or just waited until he'd brought Roran out of the underground, right? This concern over the risk of telepathic connection is thrown away without explanation when Eragon emerges from the showdown with the local lord. For no conceivable reason, Eragon feels safe mentally chatting with Saphira again, and there's no indication of why he might have thought it isn't risky anymore (since he still seemed to consider it risky shortly after she was healed).

Behold, my inconsistent magical abilities

Eragon has been shown to be talented enough with magic to be able to "reweave the fabric of reality into something more pleasing to him" or somesuch, when it really matters. He can boil gold out of the ground so he can pay for favors, and he is able to pull a hidden box from under the ground by magically making the ground cough it up, and he can scry other people. This is all established because he's done all these things before. Yet, when his cousin is under a mountain of stone, suddenly he does not have the ability to blow up a pile of rock or turn it into sand or manipulate it, does not seem to be able to scry his cousin to see if he or anyone else who got buried might have survived, and basically becomes completely useless so that a dramatic scene can be written in which Eragon goes on a chapter-long run to the foot of the rubble and witnesses his cousin staggering out of it. All I can say is too bad for you if you happened to be written as one of Paolini's Varden extras who died under those rocks. Your name doesn't even get mentioned so that somebody might tell your wife and kids that you died while playing a part in a crappy book.

Hello, I am a king. Can I be your pet?

During a bargaining scene, the king of the werecats makes a bunch of demands about armor and food, and then . . . for no apparent reason . . . he throws in a bit about how if the Varden wins the war, their king or ruler has to put a frigging cushion next to their throne so a werecat can sit there if it wants to. It just seems . . . extremely silly. The king werecat wants to demand that future monarchs keep werecat pets? It reads like Paolini just saw this somewhere and thought it was a cool idea. I don't think it's a cool idea. Considering it comes with absolutely no implication that any "honored" cushion-sitting werecat will have any say in the government or any real benefit for, uh, sitting there . . . why would this be in preliminary army negotiations? Jeez.

Let's invent a new rivalry, for funsies.

So Nasuada says the werecats that fight on the good guys' side have to agree to have their memories scanned by Varden spellcasters. The werecat representative agrees to this but stipulates that the spellcaster who examines them cannot be Angela. He and his people have already had an unexplained negative reaction to Angela, and now he's bringing it up again (you know, in case we didn't GET IT that something is going on there and these two have a history). What really bothers me here is Nasuada's reaction:

Nasuada hesitated, and Eragon could see that she wanted to ask why but restrained herself.

Well of course she hesitated and then didn't frigging ask. Even though she was completely in a position to ask. If the whole motivation behind this were revealed THIS early, a contrived revelation couldn't be uncovered at an incredibly opportune time later in the story! Characters must be manipulated for maximum plotting effectiveness! Urgh, manufactured reasoning for failure to disclose pertinent information like this just pisses me off, and Paolini does it ALL the time. Sadly, the revelation is in no way satisfying when it actually happens. The werecat representative hates Angela because she cast a spell on him once when he was playing with a bird and torturing it instead of killing it. Angela just didn't like him doing THAT THING THAT CATS ALWAYS DO, and was offended that he didn't stop when she asked, so she made something embarrassing happen to him through magic. Well! Obviously that deserves ETERNAL HATRED. Kind of like the feeling I have for these books about now. It's yet another example of the silly windy "plot" elements that do nothing for the story and attempt to artificially make the characters seem like they have history.

IT IS NOT FOR YOU TO KNOW. (Because then I'd have to figure out a way to make it make sense!)

During an introspective bit when Eragon is angsting over WHYWHYWHY Brom never told him Murtagh was related to him, Saphira reiterates that "Brom had his own reasons" for everything he did. Earlier in the book, Angela doing goofy things was also blamed on her always having her own reasons that she refuses to justify. What's really dumb is that whenever the revelations for "why" these characters behaved as they did actually comes out in the wash, they're never things that needed to be kept secret, though Paolini does his best to throw little distractions in to suggest that revealing these things earlier would have somehow had terrible consequences. The mystery is entirely fabricated in these cases. I hate to tell you this, Paolini, but plugging a plot hole with "nobody knows why so-and-so acted in this nonsensical way; he just did! He's mysterious!" does not an authentic mystery make. It'd be equally silly to fuel an entire series around a war trying to bring down an evil tyrant who's evil because, uh, he just is, because he's crazy. Wouldn't that be dumb?

. . . Oh wait.

Just kidding, humans have gods after all.

In the previous books, Paolini got some crap for his presentation of religion. First the elves, always ever so wise and moralizing, were vegetarian atheists, so of course that is what Eragon became. I think he got a little crap from readers because of how matter-of-factly he presented the "there are no gods" perspective coming from the elves, so in the third book he attempted to balance this by giving a couple nods of legitimacy to the dwarf gods--neither admitting nor denying their existence. And it probably occurred to a lot of people at that point--including me, when I ranted about it in my Brisingr essay--that there'd been no mention of traditional HUMAN religions yet. (There was a weird cult built around self-mutilation, and that seemed to involve humans, but other than that, Eragon seemed to be a blank slate under the beliefs of the elves and then the dwarves, and admitted outright that he'd never prayed before.) In this book, during some dumpy exposition, Nasuada reveals that the tribal human peoples she is descended from have gods. One of their religious rituals involves a "drum dance." Tribal people always gotta have them drums. Especially if they're black.

I'm so ashamed of my super hearing. I'd better not mention it. (I'll just sit here and keep listening.)

All that and more Eragon heard, but he hid his reactions and kept his peace, for he knew it would only make the villagers uncomfortable if they were aware of how sharp his hearing had become.

Uh, AND it would take away your ability to eavesdrop without them thinking it's possible. But I'm so sure your primary reasoning here, Eragon, is to avoid making the villagers uncomfortable with your senses.

Magic? To ease a risky, painful birth? Out of the question, you filthy elf!

While Arya is trying to help a woman give birth, there are complications, and yet she doesn't help the mother and child with magic because "magic scares them" and "they won't let me." Too bad there is no history of these people refusing magical help in urgent situations (or, for that matter, non-urgent situations). There have been a few mentions of possible prejudice against it, but Eragon--a magic user--is hailed as a hero and given star treatment. Yet an elf who could save a mother and child's life is asked NOT to intervene. This isn't how people act. Especially if they haven't displayed their prejudices to this degree until now. All of this prevents Eragon from going in the birthing tent, because the customs and fears of the irrational and silly women within don't want a dude in there--Arya insists that this would "turn many of the females from your village against" Eragon. Guess it's better if everyone dies.

And on the subject of the baby, Eragon is pushed into healing the child's facial abnormality because they won't trust Arya to do it for some reason. I guess there just isn't a single other healer on the planet who can help, huh? I don't know why they'd trust Eragon any more than Arya. They already treat him a bit like he might as well be an elf, considering his magic, Dragon Rider status, and altered appearance. It's odd that they'd allow healing to come from him but not somebody who's better at it. Considering the TERRIBLE MISTAKE that happened last time he was trusted to do magic on a kid (see ELVA), I certainly think I'd rather trust an elf. . . . (Funny, I wrote that down about Elva before she showed up a moment after this scene and silently "rebuked" him with her presence in the same way I just did.)

And now, a probability-stretching ruse designed to show off Roran's balls.

At one point Roran manages to trick a group of soldiers into not attacking their camp. The way he does so is ridiculous. He tricks them with an illusion cast by their spellcaster, Carn, and not only do the bad guys completely fall for it; Roran didn't even know if his spellcaster had managed to cast the illusion. But of course, at a time that would have meant certain doom for their side, the bad guys don't even try to ride on into the camp and kill things. The leader of the soldiers even drinks ale that Roran gives him for no apparent reason. Why would he do that? Wouldn't he assume it might be poisonous? It was just such a silly scene, written as if Roran had masterfully played a trump card. Hardly.

Has Paolini actually worked out how the ancient language works?

I'm confused about why Paolini keeps saying it's impossible to lie in the ancient language. In language-based magic, what I kind of figure is that if you say it, it BECOMES true. I figured that spells are basically using the ancient language to say that something is so when it wasn't, and that MAKES it become so. I'm not sure why it would be the other way around. He really should have figured out whether the language is forced to only describe what exists, or whether the language shapes existence. You can't have both! It seems like forcing someone to change sides on a battle or do something they'd otherwise never want to do constitutes using the ancient language to make things so that were not so before. Saying you can't speak things in the ancient language *unless* they are true doesn't really make sense. Not to mention that it's said many times that if you BELIEVE what you're saying is true, you can say it in the ancient language even if it is not true. For instance, Murtagh is able to say that Eragon's father is Morzan while speaking in the ancient language, because he believes it is true even though it is not. (Sadly, that does not MAKE his parentage change, unlike the ease with which Paolini can do such a thing.) Arya can promise her mother before a battle that she isn't gonna die by saying so in the ancient language, and for some reason people are really impressed. Ooh, she's willing to say she isn't going to die in the ancient language! But . . . it's not a protection against death. (Or else everyone would say it!) It just means she fully believes she won't die. And who would go into battle believing they WILL die? Grr. You know, her mom should have thought of saying it herself!

Can you see what I see?

So Glaedr, the dragon whose mortal body is dead and whose consciousness rests in a weird golden stone, has decided to help train Eragon. After a couple chapters involving Glaedr's tutelage on swordplay and spellcasting, they're talking about another kind of training and Eragon "catches" himself answering Glaedr's question with a nod because "he remembered the golden dragon could not see him." He answers verbally so the dragon can know he's saying yes.


Apparently Glaedr is able to follow his swordplay--how, it's not said, but he's able to do so and able to "observe" more than well enough to advise. How, then, is it that he can't tell if Eragon is NODDING? That makes no sense. Later in the story this bit about how Glaedr can't see Eragon nodding is invoked again, even though just before that Glaedr was said to be "using Eragon's eyes" to look at stuff. How is he this aware of what's going on in the world and this in touch with Eragon but yet he's not expected to be able to understand a nod?

Super easy. Or nigh-impossible. Whichever.

And everyone again acts and talks as though figuring out an object's or person's true name is immensely difficult and very unlikely. Is Paolini seriously expecting readers to forget how simple it was for Eragon to stumble upon Sloan's true name when he wasn't even trying to? It's one of two things, man: Either it's possible to guess such things without any precedent or special knowledge or really anything but luck, or it's VERY VERY UNLIKELY and Eragon achieved something MIND-BLOWING when he did it by accident. Nobody seems to act as if either of these is the case. They just kind of act like it didn't happen. Eragon does a risky and pointless experiment to try to summon the image of an object by using the true name, and he's warned that IF HE GETS IT WRONG IT MIGHT KILL HIM. Why are there so many random rules that contradict each other in this book?

Murtagh can count!

While forming a scouting party, Eragon and Arya suggest taking two spellcasters. Nasuada denies this request and says they can only have ONE. Why? "Murtagh is familiar with the number of elves who have been protecting Eragon. If he notices that two or more are missing, he may suspect a trap of some sort."

Yeah, okay. If he knows exactly how many elves are supposed to be there, surely he won't suspect a trap if ONE is missing. But TWO missing will tip him off! What kind of freaky logic is that?

AND NOW I WILL LEAVE YOU TO YOUR CERTAIN DOOM, which isn't certain at all. MWAHAHAHA! Prepare to be presumed dead!

Eragon and Arya get captured and tied up in the usual "villainous plot" scenario. So. First the person who's responsible--a limbless priest Eragon has no real personal battle with and is therefore a Minor Boss from a video game--shows up to taunt them. The priest reveals stuff that wouldn't be revealed to someone who was going to live--of course--and then they're left with a "foolproof" time bomb of sorts: a creature that's going to hatch from an egg and devour them. But of course, despite being from a religion that delights in witnessing gore, neither the lead priest nor a SINGLE underling stays behind to watch them get eaten. They just lock Eragon and Arya in the room with the slowly hatching monster.

This is so failtastic that a bumbling traitor to the bad guys' side is able to just mosey on into the room and try to free them on the condition that he'll get to escape with them because he hates his life. But he's unsuccessful and they have to be saved by Angela (who was already named as dead, which we of course didn't believe). Why do villains ALWAYS do this? Everyone knows you don't leave the hero for dead. You watch him get eaten, or dipped in hot lava, or drowned in the impenetrable tank, or smashed on the rocks at the bottom of the cavern. Much like the monsters, you can NEVER assume heroes are dead just because you left them to die. How simple is this? More and more I'm insulted by this kind of nonsense. Especially when you can clearly see that we still have more than half the book to go and characters like Eragon and Arya don't die getting eaten by monsters anyway.

And how the heck did the bad guys get so lucky as to have two monster eggs that happened to be hatching just in time to be scary while our heroes raced against time to escape their bonds before getting eaten alive? Actually, it's NOT so lucky, eh? If the monsters had been born, oh, the day before, they could have just released them into the room and let them eat them post haste.


With her free hand, Arya grabbed the woman by the front of her leather robes and threw her screaming thirty feet over the pews.

Yet another display of unnecessary force by Arya . . . I know they're trying to kill people, but . . . THIRTY FEET? Oddly, this is the exact distance she punched a soldier in Brisingr. Is this her signature move?

'Tis so sneaky of me to keep the fans guessing!

At one point, just before they kill the minor video game boss evil priest, Angela strikes fear into the priest's heart by revealing who she is:

"You ought to know my name, tongueless one. If you had, you never would have dared oppose us. Here, let me tell it to you...."
Her voice dropped even lower then, too low for Eragon to hear, but as she spoke, the High Priest blanched, and its puckered mouth opened, forming a round black oval, and an unearthly howl emanated from its throat, and the whole of the cathedral rang with the creature's baying.
"Oh, be quiet!" exclaimed the herbalist, and she buried her sunset-colored dagger in the center of the High Priest's chest.

'Kay. The chapter ends there and nobody asks Angela what the hell she said that made the priest freak out so much. But if Paolini was trying to drive me crazy with curiosity, he pretty much failed here. Angela is full of contrived quirks, from claiming she once ate the moon to randomly being revered by the elves, as if everyone's in on some inside info that Eragon is not partial to. I just don't care. Maybe she's descended from the "grey folk" that were mentioned as being instrumental in strapping down the magic language but somehow aren't mentioned anywhere in the opening history. If she's not, and she's the Alagaësian Q, or a freaking Time Lord, I don't care. She's probably the most interesting character we have here, but "teasing" the audience by just randomly not telling us things and then burying them while chortling isn't intriguing. It's silly. And it doesn't work.

Paolini does quite a lot of this, I guess attempting to throw in a "mysteries unsolved" feeling at this late stage. He invents random ghostly robed figures marching through Vroengard, and Eragon not only doesn't figure out who they are but doesn't touch on it again. Brom handed Saphira seven words for use in a trying time, but it was never revealed what they were, or what they were for, nor were they (to the reader's knowledge) used. An assassin keeps claiming he's Roran's friend even though he repeatedly tries to kill him, and his identity is never revealed. Angela invents an "epic romance" prophecy for Eragon at the same time as she invents a "you will leave Alagaësia forever" prophecy, and yet his motivation for "leaving and never returning" seems to be this prophecy even though he has yet to consider the "epic romance" pressing. Eragon promised a dude a ride on his dragon and never delivered. Et cetera. And though Inheritance fanboys may be losing sleep over this, I just can't express how thoroughly I just didn't care about any of these things enough to chew any nails about it. If he's trying to make attractive little mysteries dangle into the plot so we can have a sense of unfinished business, I think he made a poor choice.

I'll get you next time, Gadget! NEXT TIIIIIIME!

During a battle, Eragon deals a hefty blow to his foe: he magically bashes the hell out of the enemy dragon, shreds his wing, and tosses him halfway across the city or something. A battle happens with some soldiers, and the rebels are winning like they're supposed to. But then Murtagh heals the dragon and comes back to threaten Eragon. Murtagh is more powerful than Eragon because he has extra dragon heart energy thingies. He's in an excellent position to beat the crap out of Eragon and perhaps take him prisoner, even if he's been ordered not to kill him. What does he do?

He threatens him and says cartoon villain stuff, then flies away and says they'll meet on the battlefield again someday, where he will have his revenge.


Any reason that can't be now? When Eragon's tired, has depleted his energy stores, has an exhausted dragon, and has had no time to plan? Now would be a great time, Murtagh. So why wait?

Because of . . . reasons.

Like, because the plot says so.

Why are supposedly formidable enemies so frequently PUSHOVERS in practice?

Food for apple trees. Or preserved unchanging in diamonds. Whichever.

Eragon had thought it was the nicest burial he had ever attended. He much preferred it to the dwarves' practice of entombing their dead in hard, cold stone deep below the ground, and he liked the idea of one's body providing food for a tree that might live for hundreds of years more. If he had to die, he decided that he would want an apple tree planted over him, so that his friends and family could eat the fruit born of his body.

So Eragon, if that's the case, why'd you encase Brom in freaking diamonds when you buried him? 'Kay. (And he had a chance to "plant" Brom again later, and he didn't. Just left him still entombed in diamonds on a hill, with a slightly altered inscription.)

My swords have names. My people have half a dozen names each. My asscheeks probably have a name. But no, I never name languages!

Paolini continued through this volume to not name the common language the characters speak. Obviously it's not supposed to be English--not without an England. So he tiptoes around naming it, and has Arya talking about translation difficulties by saying stuff like "there's no equivalent in this language." (Even though the ancient language has a name and the dwarves and wandering tribes have their own. Even if he just called it "the common language" or "the human language" I'd be happy, man.)

Talk or I'll beat you up. And by the way, I can't be a bully, 'cause I'm the hero.

At one point in a previous book, a werecat named Solembum gave Eragon a couple prophecies. One of them was helpful and came true, and the other hasn't been addressed yet when Eragon's worried about battling Big Baddie King Galbatorix. So he calls Solembum in and demands information about how the hell he got that prophecy and what it means. Solembum conveniently has no idea why he--and all the werecats, apparently--have been told to give this information to a Rider. The prophecy is mysterious and none of them know its source or its meaning. They just know they're supposed to pass it on, and that the information is trustworthy because werecats are awesome and can't be fooled like other creatures so their mysterious inklings have to be accurate, even if they can't explain them enough to do anyone much good. (Makes for cool questing and riddle-solving, after all!)

Now what's notable here is that Eragon threatens Solembum. He verbally abuses him, and also physically assaults him (mildly), and demands to know the answer. He says "I don't know" four times before saying "For the last time, I do not know," and he says he doesn't know/can't say five more times AFTER that, too. And yet, after all this badgering, the werecat suddenly switches into a trance and tells Eragon what page of a certain book to look on for the answer, and then snaps back to himself with no idea that he's spoken important information. And of course Eragon finds the answer to the riddle in the recommended book. Moral of the story: Mysterious information will only be revealed a bit at a time to make for good storytelling, and threatening other people is an appropriate way to get what you want.

And about that prophecy. . . .

So Eragon is out of answers for how he's going to lead the Varden to victory. This is always a good time to invoke a prophecy.

Not kidding. Yeah.

The Vault of Souls is mysteriously referred to as a place Eragon should go if all seems lost or whatever. He's not sure what's there--hey, it's part of the D&D adventure!--but isn't it convenient that when he's purposeless and directionless, he's not saved by his own cunning or training or planning, but by . . . a prophecy handed to him in a ready-made quest? I actually liked that Eragon was so full of doubt over his own abilities. Kind of sucks that he got saved from without, just like every other time he's been up against something insurmountable. When he was injured fighting the Shade, he dealt with his injury for a very short time before some dancing elf ceremony healed him (and made him stronger and more elfy). He had no weapon to fight against the bad dragons, but then an ancient weapon that was presumed lost fell into his lap (well, stuck out of Saphira's chest). And then when nothing was left for him to do to ensure victory, a werecat prophecy gave him clear direction to exactly what he needed? (And no one knows who planted the prophecy, except that the werecats trust it?) I'd really like to see a protagonist with some agency. Too bad this one has all the clues for solving the mystery ungracefully chucked at him in the right order. It's so structured and contrived and written. When people ask me to give this story a break "because it's FANTASY," I say, "I read fantasy for the setting and the ideas and the innovation and the escapism. I don't read it to see authors pulling puppet strings on people I completely can't believe in and can't see as real."

And now for a forced side quest, during which our heroes will experience irrelevant personal revelations.

At one point on their quest, Eragon and Saphira are faced with a choice: take the long, safe way around, or FLY THROUGH A STORM to take a shortcut. What do you think they're gonna do?

Fly through the storm, of course. With the fate of an empire resting on their shoulders, it makes perfect sense to knowingly take the risky route, against the advice of the wise old dragon, right?

Truthfully, it's totally understandable. Because by this point, Eragon has figured out he is the hero in a hokey fantasy story and thus cannot die. Any contrived hurdle for him will serve as a page-filler, a writing exercise, a terrible attempt at shoehorning danger/anticipation into the plot, or yet another example of the plucky young hero teaching the older generation a thing or two. This is just padding. It's not going to teach Eragon or Saphira anything; it's not going to actually make the audience bite their nails; it's not going to lead to anything plot-relevant or character-building; and it's basically not going to do anything but sit there taking up the word count and showing off Paolini's "I just wanted to write this scene" disease (which editors are USUALLY good at curing crappy writers of). Toward the end of the chapter, which involved a few pages of Eragon gasping at the beauty of the stars and the sight of the clouds and whatnot, it started to sound like Paolini had recently been on a plane during a night ride through a storm and wanted to convey those specific images. And considering they spend nearly a whole day sleeping off the exhaustion they built up flying through the storm, I don't see how this was a wise decision.

Well, now we know where Eragon's values are. . . .

Though the valley still looked cold and wet and unwelcoming, the light gave it a newfound majesty. For the first time, Eragon understood why the Riders had chosen to settle on the island.

Well, of course. I mean, besides its size, natural resources, and location, why else would a famed group of heroes choose a place to live? Because IN CERTAIN TYPES OF LIGHT IT LOOKS MAJESTIC, of course. For the FIRST TIME, Eragon can see why it's so hospitable! IT'S ALL ABOUT THE LIGHT! What. You can tell this is Paolini-values speaking here, where the utility and practicality of EVERYTHING is of secondary importance next to how things look.

And now we come to the part of the book that made the great swankivy cry.

All throughout the books, lucky Mary-Sue-ish things have happened to Eragon. Nonsensical crap falls in his favor. He randomly gets dreams saying he should go rescue Arya. He gets healed of a devastating wound through a poorly understood mystical experience. Prophecies are chucked at him that always save his life or give him the next clue for his D&D quest. And now . . . A TIDY LITTLE "EXPLANATION" FOR IT ALL IS OFFERED, here, three quarters of the way through the last book in the series.

A big group of dead dragons were his guardian angels.

I am not kidding.

These dead dragons, each preserved in a horcrux-like Eldunarí, have been watching out for Eragon all along, giving him a nudge here and a hand up there. Sending him the right dreams. Blessing him from afar when all seemed lost. Manipulating everything as much as they can without revealing themselves. "Explaining" all the shit that made no sense as having been their doing.

It's like Paolini collected all the fan (and anti-fan) nitpicks over the years and tied them up with a bow by making these dragon souls function as Eragon's guardian angels, providing a so-called explanation when it just challenged the limits of believability that Eragon could get lucky that many times. There's not really any explanation of why they helped as much as they did, or why they didn't help more (and help more people). It's just a big hand-wave--a "God's Plan" excuse, so to speak. And if you question their logic, well, you're not a centuries-old dragon, are you? Who are you to challenge their wisdom? They did what they did because ultimately it's all in the best interest of Alagaësia, you know! And considering when they Explain Everything to the Hero, they seem to be very close to omniscient about what's been going on with the war, it seems odd that they elected to scare the shit out of Eragon and Saphira by ripping their minds apart and reading their memories in order to be "sure of their intentions" when they first walked into the chamber to encounter these Old Ones. If they've been guardian angel-ing it up all this time, you'd think they wouldn't have to mentally strip-search him to know that.

"May the stars watch over you"? More like "May the bunch of random dead dragons I just invented watch over you." Screw the stars. Their majesty as huge life-giving suns of worlds far away is just going to be compared to sparkly lumps of compressed carbon smaller than our fingernails anyway. (Yes, I'm referring to how he keeps comparing stars to freaking diamonds.)

And while I like that Roran apparently didn't NEED any help to be a badass--discussed below--he's gotten unrealistically lucky a whole bunch of times too, so it seems kind of obtuse of Paolini to not take the deus ex machina all the way and let it do its thing. I'm kinda conflicted about this. I'd have thought it was even more ridiculous if it explained EVERYTHING, but at the same time, at least it EXPLAINS "Protagonist Powers," and it seems inconsistent that Dragon Guardian Angels explain Eragon's ridiculous luck but not Roran's.

Hurry the hell up, Roran. We want some chicken wings!

So Roran's ruminating over how the hell they're going to attack Galbatorix's stronghold. He's thinking they have to do it soon, because . . .

the Varden did not have weeks' worth of food. They had only a few days left. After that, they would have to starve or disband.

Well, that's brilliant. Guys? This is why when you invade a city, you're supposed to appropriate its goods. I know it sounds kinda awful, but that's what armies are supposed to do when they're engaged in a hostile takeover. They can't just schlep all their food and supplies along on their horses until they win the war. They have to have a refueling plan. Why aren't they using the resources of the cities they've taken? I mean, I realize their leader has been kidnapped, but she has some advisors and they should know how to run things.

Just kidding. I can't get behind this plan I just thought up.

So Eragon has a battle plan. He asks all the people involved to express whether they're ready to go into battle, etc. Then he explains his plan. After he explains (without telling the audience), they're all shocked at how daring and risky a plan it is, and then . . . Islanzadí asks him . . . if he's "willing to do this." Hang on, Paolini! You do realize you wrote this as Eragon's plan, right? That he's the one who proposed it? Why, then, would he tell everyone else what to do only to be asked "Well, are you willing to do this thing you thought up in which you are instrumental and irreplaceable?" Come on. This is dramatic dialogue we don't need.

We all know who the second-class citizens are here.

Also during that same meeting of the minds, the greater and lesser leaders and big-time players discuss strategy, and for some reason the Urgal leader and the werecat leader are left out. I don't know why that is. After the big end battle, the narration describes "In front of the raised platform were the kings Orrin, Orik, and Grimrr, along with Arya, Däthedr, and Nar Garzhvog," so considering the werecats and Urgals were represented there, it seems kind of a dick move to leave them out of the actual planning.

Future characters appear for their cameos. Is this an inside joke for the author?

In my last essay, I observed that "passing strangers" were described with inappropriate levels of detail, after which Eragon was talked into blessing these two women. The story acted as though the women were not going to be important, even though they clearly have familiarity with Angela and deserve a blessing for some reason. I wrote this:

"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."

Now, it looks from this book that actually, I KIND OF did get my wish. However, without being specific about who these people are (and without allowing them to give their names, to further add to the freaking mystery), they do show up again in Inheritance. During a battle, these ladies show up to help Roran mysteriously, and again mysteriously do not reveal what they're doing there, and this time they have a boy with them too. And, again, I would like to say that if this little family was just kinda showing up and being "pilgrims on their own quest" (as Angela called them) without being important to the overall story, I'd actually think that was kind of cool. However, Paolini has said in interviews that he's interested in writing an unrelated story that takes place in Eragon's world, and that he's going to include some old characters and some new ones, the seeds of which he has planted already in the existing books. So my hopes are pretty low that these oh-so-delicately-described characters with a deliberate history are going to be nobodies. As a result of this knowledge about his intentions, I feel that these characters' appearance in this story is more of an obnoxious cameo than it is evidence that Paolini can write layered characters with real pasts that nevertheless don't turn out to be relevant. He also mysteriously makes his belt of Beloth the Wise go missing during a battle and he never ever finds it for no apparent reason, even though its loss disturbs Eragon greatly. This wouldn't happen--and wouldn't be so repeatedly focused on--if said belt wasn't going to show up as a lost artifact for some specific purpose in a related story.

At this point, though, it sounds kinda like I'm holding Paolini to an unrealistic standard. If characters show up and spout unnecessary detail and then disappear, I bitch about it. If they show up and spout unnecessary detail and then they turn out to be important, I bitch about that too. It seems like maybe I'm contradicting myself, but here's the problem. "Spouting unnecessary detail"--especially in narration--is not a good way to hint at an organic and believable past. Characters' interactions, their word choices, the looks in their eyes, and what they choose NOT to say are often much more effective than spending two paragraphs talking about how suspiciously strong someone's arms are and rattling off a litany of facts about their scars.

Villains always sit on a mean-looking throne on a dais. It's the rules.

Silliness: Why does Eragon go to fight Galbatorix and he's actually sitting on his big evil throne? That's just . . . one of the silliest things I've ever heard of. Also, with all the traps on the way to the throne room, how does Galbatorix ever get in himself? (Or does he never leave, except to go torture people? How do his concubines get in?) I'm sure there's an ANSWER--maybe the magic recognizes certain people and doesn't slice them to ribbons or stab them with amethyst crystals?--but the story never says. Which is kinda silly.

Where's the dragon? WHERE'S THE DRAGON? Peek-a-boo!

Eragon is wondering where Galbatorix's giant dragon is. They're in the throne room. Saphira can smell him but can't see him. Elva can't feel the presence of the dragon and Eragon for whatever reason doesn't seem to be actually using his brain to search, even though he's wondering where the heck this dragon is. Turns out, gotcha, he was in the room all along; it's just that he was SO big you thought his wings were the CURTAINS!

And . . . the explanation for nobody being able to sense a dragon despite having four telepathically gifted people in the room is . . . ?

I don't know either.

For a Big Bad we spent four books waiting to see, he sure turned out to be kinda generic.

Why oh why does Galbatorix have to be a villain who explains things to the heroes at the end? He has them trapped and Eragon's like "gee, how'd you do this?" and Galbatorix is all "Well okay, I'll tell you how I did it!" And he does. Never do this! I could be saying this to a villain, because what the heck do you have to gain from explaining the secret of your power to the people you're going to enslave or kill? But really? I'm saying it to our esteemed author. Never do this. You can have the heroes figure things out, but seriously, you honestly HAD THE VILLAIN EXPLAIN? I don't care if it feels good when he gloats about it! This is always, ALWAYS the downfall of the villain!


So at one point Roran gets seriously wounded. These are his thoughts:

He tried to push himself upright and fell back onto his stomach, too dizzy and hurt to stand. Before him was a fragment of yellowish stone, veined with coiled branches of red agate. He stared at it for a while, panting, and the whole time, the only thought running through his mind was: Have to get up. Have to get up. Have to get up....

So even when they're hurt and half out of their minds, Paolini's filling their heads with thoughts of stones.

Chris, just because you're obsessed with rocks does not mean you need to make all your characters obsessed with them too.

Good thing they defeated the Dark Lord. Wouldn't want to be taxed to death.

So, nonsense: After Murtagh conveniently falls in love with Nasuada enough to change himself and break free of Galbatorix's clutches, we have to figure out how to dispatch the dark lord. And Eragon figures out a way to magically force him to understand the pain he's caused. This causes him to be so unnerved and upset by the "voices" telling of the devastation he's wrought across the land . . . that he uses magic to commit suicide.

This is a dude who has in his grasp the word (or, rather, the Word, according to the book) which allows him to control the ancient language itself. Yet instead of stopping the "voices" that are reminding him of how bad he is and instead of doing something so he might forget such things, he instead elects to magically make himself be no more. You know what? I don't buy it. He completely enjoyed torturing others and getting off on others' helplessness. Making him face the pain he's caused others doesn't sound like it's going to be motivation to make him either repent or be driven beyond reason.

But I guess I'm wasting my breath (er, keystrokes) because Paolini already cast Galbatorix as "mad" anyway so I guess he doesn't honestly have to make logical sense anyway.

But what about the evil dragon? Oh yeah.

Oh and the evil dragon-killing lance that failed to kill both Saphira and Thorn (even though it successfully penetrated both of their flesh) DOES manage to fatally wound Shruikan, Galbatorix's dragon, despite this guy being ridiculously huge. I just have to nod and smile. The same weapon that couldn't kill the good guys can kill the bad guy just fine and I guess I just have to accept it. And all along people kept being so awed and creeped out by the mention of this particular dragon-killing lance (which of course had its own name). A werecat even said that particular weapon was "notorious." Why is it notorious?


What's this?

". . . [B]e sure to tell Jörmundur that as well," he said to the thin, high-shouldered swordsman who stood in front of him.
"Yes, sir," said the man, and the knob in his neck bobbed as he swallowed.
Roran stared for a moment, fascinated by the movement, then he waved and said, "Go."

Just for clarity's sake, I should say Roran is neither dazed from battle nor tripping balls here.

Yes, he's actually staring at someone's adam's apple and he's fascinated by its movement. Next thing you know the dude will be staring at a rock and admiring how it's "veined with coiled branches of red agate" . . . 'kay, never mind.

RUN AWAY! RUN AWAY! (And completely forget about the members of your party that you're abandoning!)

After the end battle, the palace is falling apart 'cause Galbatorix splodeyed himself, and everyone has to run. Nobody but Arya seems to think it's important to go back in and save the dragon hearts and the unhatched egg Galbatorix has been hoarding. So off she goes, and after the dust has settled, there she is again with the egg and oh yeah, the entire group of spellcasters that got mysteriously frozen and spirited away for no apparent reason. Don't worry, they're all fine! Cuts and bruises. Dunno where they were all that time, but why should that matter?

YOU SHOULDN'T BE KING BECAUSE um you have cooties?

After the big end battle, King Orrin and Nasuada are fighting over who should be the new ruler of the Empire. (First it's offered to Eragon because, well, he killed Galbatorix, but he refuses on account of being inexperienced and also because people would probably be suspicious of the Empire being taken over by yet another Dragon Rider.) So, for no apparent reason, Orrin has been a total cock in this book, though he seems to have no motivation. He starts whining about how it sucks that everyone is supporting Nasuada being "elected" as the new monarch. But he keeps not giving very good reasons for why he should be king, even though he's already king of Surda. (Mainly he seems to think that since he helped supply and support the Varden while they were revolting, he should get to be in charge. Not a very good argument.) Anyway, at the end he's literally throwing things and yelling "You don't understand!" Observe:

Nasuada frowned, but before she could speak, Orrin overrode her: "You don't understand...." He scowled and took another sip of wine.
Then explain it to us, said Saphira, her impatience conspicuous in the color of her thoughts.
Orrin snorted, drained his goblet, and then threw it against the door to the staircase, denting the gold of the cup and knocking several of the jewels from their settings so that they spun jittering across the floor.
"I can't," he growled, "and I don't care to try." He glared around the room. "None of you would understand. You are too bound up in your own importance to see. How could you, when you've never experienced what I have?"

And he never makes any more attempt to explain why he thinks he should be in charge, and why he's being a huge baby, so he haggles a little and then lets Nasuada have the Empire. This reads as pretty forced. Orrin has turned into a sour little alcoholic dickmonkey during this book and there seems little reason for it except that Paolini wanted another tense "let's elect our monarchy" moment, this time for the humans. (I'm still confused about how he thinks royalty works. Arya explained at one point that she's NOT a princess just because her mother is a queen and her inheriting the throne is "not how it works," and then now we've observed both human and dwarf ELECTIONS for a king or queen. Why not call them Presidents or something that's generally actually elected?)

And considering later they have to put a crown on Nasuada and they have to make a new one (since Galbatorix's exploded with the rest of him), they really ought to have collected those jewels that fell out of Orrin's cup when he temper-tantrumed it. That way they wouldn't have had to forge "a new crown from gold found in the city and from jewels the elves had taken from their helms or from the pommels of their swords." Why make elves give up their jewels? Orrin's throwing them around heedlessly. How dramatic.

Does that mean they're going to get married?

King Orik of the dwarves gives Saphira a ring as a going away present. It's supposed to be able to stop her prey from hearing her approach. She's totally excited and loves the damn thing. My first thought was that this makes little sense. First, because Saphira, as a dragon, is pretty damn good at catching her prey, so why give her an advantage? Seems like an asshole thing to do. Second, it seems like she'd scoff at a gift designed to make it EASIER for her to hunt. Where is her honor? Wow. I can see her being happy to get a gift, but what the gift actually does seems inappropriate. And what happens when she grows? Dragons keep growing, and she's young!

Epic romance?

I must admit, I really was happy when it turned out that Eragon and Arya didn't have a happily-ever-after ending. I believe Paolini did originally plan for this to happen--I mean it's pretty much required that the beautiful woman either marries the hero or turns out to be related to him--but he leads us to believe he intended to go in that direction with interview quotes like "You can't let your hero enjoy things too much, otherwise you don't have a story. You need a miserable hero... but Eragon does get a bit of romance in his life" as well as "Eragon and Arya's relationship originally went in a completely different direction in the first draft of Eldest, a direction that, in retrospect, did not adhere to who they were at the time. Fixing that mistake was one of the most painful writing experiences I've had." But now that Eragon and Arya DIDN'T hook up or turn out to be related, I think some of the fans will probably look at my previous predictions and say "HAHA, see, you got it WRONG! Eragon DIDN'T get the girl! Guess it's not so predictable now, IS IT?"

You're wrong.

Eragon and Arya didn't get married. They didn't start a romance. As far as I can tell, Eragon didn't even get laid. (I'm sure it would have been described, considering how much Eragon blushed when Saphira mated with Arya's dragon.) And their destinies drive them apart, so they won't be happily ruling as co-Riders in a new age. That's great and stuff.

BUT. First, please look at this conversation.

[H]e looked Arya in the eyes and said, "Would you like to hear my true name? I would like to share it with you."
The offer seemed to shock her. "No! You shouldn't tell it to me or anyone else. [ . . . ] Besides, you should only give your true name one whom you trust above all others."
"I trust you."
"Eragon, even when we elves exchange our true names, we do not do so until we have known each other for many, many years. The knowledge they provide is too personal, too intimate, to bandy about, and there is no greater risk than sharing it. When you teach someone your true name, you place everything you are in their hands."
"I know, but I may never have the chance again. This is the only thing I have to give, and I would give it to you."
"Eragon, what you are proposing...It is the most precious thing one person can give another."
"I know."
A shiver ran through Arya, and then she seemed to withdraw within herself. After a time, she said, "No one has ever offered me such a gift before.... I'm honored by your trust, Eragon, and I understand how much this means to you, but no, I must decline."

So, in other words, Eragon is again trying to throw himself at her, and she's like "you shouldn't do that, and I won't have you." She goes on to say she has NEVER shared her true name with anyone. Which is kind of like saying for all intents and purposes, she has never completely trusted another person, enough to put "herself" in their hands.

Flash forward to the end of the book.

Looking him straight in the eye, she said in the ancient language, "Eragon, if you are willing, I would like to tell you my true name."
Her offer left him dumbstruck. He nodded, overwhelmed, and, with great difficulty, managed to say, "I would be honored to hear it."

(They exchange true names at that point. Narration continues.)

More than ever, Eragon felt drawn to her. The exchange of names had formed a bond between them, but of what sort he was unsure, and his uncertainty left him with a sense of vulnerability. She had seen him with all his flaws and she had not recoiled, but had accepted him as he was, even as he accepted her. Moreover, she had seen in his name the depth of his feelings for her, and that too had not driven her away.

And after that they basically have a conversation about how she might actually consider "becoming something" with him, if his feelings don't change after some years since humans are just so fickle, but then the bomb is dropped that Eragon's leaving Alagaësia and they don't really have anything else to say about it, since obviously Arya can't leave now that she's been elected queen of the freaking elves.

Bottom line is . . . the true name exchange certainly sounds an awful lot like having sex with someone. It even sounds like the two took each other's virginities, so to speak, though I guess Eragon technically shared his with some dragons first. (Mmkay, I'm not going to analyze that.) I honestly am not trying to make this "dirty" or anything. I'm saying that they chose to give each other something MORE meaningful and more intimate than sexuality. As far as I'm concerned, people can't go around saying Eragon didn't get the girl. She gave him the tool to be able to control her very existence, because she trusted him not to abuse it. That's so far beyond just love that I hope I don't have to keep elaborating.

GOOD Stuff

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

Not all metaphors are bad.

With a pennant of blue and yellow flame streaming from her maw

I kinda like "pennant" here. Sadly, he then proceeds to make me hate it by using it like half a dozen more times throughout the book even when he's NOT talking about actual pennants.

As he drew near their tent, he saw Katrina standing over a tub of hot, soapy water, scrubbing a bloodstained bandage against a washboard. Her sleeves were rolled up past her elbows, her hair tied in a messy bun, and her cheeks flushed from her work, but she had never looked so beautiful to him. She was his comfort--his comfort and his refuge--and just seeing her helped ease the sense of numb dislocation that gripped him.

This is slightly cliché, I guess, because everyone knows the trope of "military dude comes home and all he wants is to see his love," but Paolini at least kinda did it right here. It's nice to see a little emotion--to actually see that a human relationship puts some life back in Roran after the horrors of war--and to see that his wife can be all gross from washing clothes but still be appealing to him because of what she represents. He also does a pretty good job with how torn Roran is when he has to confess to Katrina that a part of him was glad to "give up" when he thought he was going to die. That's a refreshingly realistic reaction--both to feel it in the first place, and to be ashamed of it later.

You will ride fast as you can to Feinster, then from Feinster to Aroughs. Fresh horses will be waiting for you every ten miles between here and Feinster.

*gasp* He figured out that horses can't run at top speed for a billion miles without getting tired! (This is a mistake that was made in Eragon. The horses seemed to run ridiculous distances without issue.)

"A Flour Made of Flame" was actually a pretty good chapter as far as action goes. There were a few inappropriate dumps of description and a few too many flowery similes (including several of the dreaded geological ones, most notably comparing clouds of flour to "ivory" in color--totally not necessary!). But otherwise, the action was well paced and easy to read and mostly easy to visualize. It was one of the few places in the book where I was interested in what was going to happen. This almost always happens with Roran rather than with Eragon.

Imagine that--practice makes perfect!

At one point Eragon asks Arya why the hell she keeps beating him at swordplay, and she replies, "I've had over a hundred years of practice. It would be odd if I weren't better than you, now wouldn't it? You should be proud that you've managed to mark me at all. Few can." Well, Paolini, very nice of you to acknowledge that practice is likely to give an elf a huge advantage over a dude who just learned swordfighting techniques within the last year of his life. I'm very pleased that this is being brought up. I'm also annoyed that Paolini doesn't appear to apply this logic anywhere else. After all, when Eragon mended a baby's cleft lip/palate, Arya had the opposite reaction: she praised him and said none of their spellcasters could have ever done such a great job. So what is it? THEY haven't had over a hundred years' worth of practice in THEIR art? Or is Eragon just that much more amazing at magic than he is at swordfighting? Bah. It annoys me that even when I'm talking about the stuff Paolini got right, it turns into a rant about how rare this is.

::gasp:: Some people who hate the protagonists AREN'T EVIL!

Roran comes to take over command from a Captain Brigman, who basically dislikes Roran because he's all YOU'RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME (even though you are). At one point Roran even has to reprimand him for insubordination and sends him to his room (okay, his tent), but he lets him come on the next mission. At that point he totally saves Roran's ass after the big battle, takes care of business, and comes through like a true soldier. When Roran has to pick someone to leave in charge, he picks Brigman, much to the surprise of HIS superior. He admits then and there that he and Brigman don't like each other but acknowledges that Brigman is good for the job and worthy of command. This is unusual in a Paolini story: someone who dislikes one of the heroes is actually redeemed without having to be dreadfully shamed and punished first, with a huge repentance scene. (The time-out in his tent wasn't a huge deal; it was offscreen.) I'll give Paolini props for actually not making absolutely everyone who dislikes the heroes get treated like a villain by the narration.

Self-doubt? Eragon? Naw!

I like that Eragon actually feels insecure about becoming the temporary leader of the Varden in Nasuada's absence, and I like that it's not just a fleeting "oh shit" in the back of his head. He actually spends some time dreading leadership, panicking, acting overwhelmed, worrying, and trying to avoid letting everyone know how much he doubts himself. This is one of the most realistic character bits Paolini has written, even though some parts of it are a bit too decorated and end up sounding emo.

Psychology of torture

The "Small Rebellions" chapter wasn't too bad as far as character development went. The development didn't really go anywhere, but the chapter was unusually free of silly similes, and had some dialogue in it that didn't make me wince. There were bits of it where I felt like I was listening to two people talk rather than feeling like I was watching a puppet show where all the voices are being done by the dude you can see pulling the strings. I can't honestly say it was GOOD, because sometimes it was preachy and a little disconnected, but it wasn't bad either.

Eragon's not perfect. Both the narration and Eragon himself POINT IT OUT.

At one point, while trying to discover his true name, Eragon had to look at his flaws as recited by others. His listed faults included arrogance, petulance, selfishness, anger, and something about the feelings he has for men he's killed (though the narration isn't specific). It's absolutely true that he has all these faults, and it's . . . I can't quite say GOOD, but REALISTIC for others to be able to point them out to Eragon. Problem is, none of these character elements end up being integral enough to his character to actually make it into his true name, so I guess they're being billed as not very important. I would have liked to actually see that conversation, truthfully . . . there are enough unnecessary conversations and descriptions that Eragon having to look at his shortcomings would have actually been a welcome one, but of course it was glossed over because it didn't lead to the plot-relevant piece of information. I wish Paolini would generally take a cue from this scene and proceed straight to the point more regularly, but in this case the whole scene has massive capability to lead to character development (though that's probably not what you're quite going for anymore when you're three quarters of the way through the fourth book in your series). I'm willing to take Eragon being realistically reluctant to acknowledge his faults as a point in Paolini's favor, but yeah, I wish it had been fully explored. Probably because I could name at least a dozen other character flaws he has, and I'd love for Eragon's creator to have acknowledged that he actually sports them.

Eragon has guardian dragons. But Roran is a true badass.

Eragon finds out at one point that a bunch of dead dragons are responsible for pretty much every time he's gotten lucky. He asks if they've been helping his cousin Roran too. The lead dragon, Umaroth, replies that actually Roran hasn't needed help from them at all. I find it kinda hilarious--and cool--that there's a character who apparently does NOT need supernatural assistance and is still a badass. In general, actually, Roran getting lucky like he does would have been BETTER explained if he also had Guardian Dragon Angels like Eragon does, but I was happy that "oh, uh, those dragons I never mentioned before were hiding and helping you in secret" wasn't the force behind everything that happened.

No reunion. Yay!

At the end of the book, Eragon visits Brom's diamond tomb and realizes that maybe, because he was preserved, it might be possible to bring him back to life. Umaroth the Eldunarí talks him out of it. I actually think the reasons he uses are kind of ridiculous--that it might not be possible and might not succeed in bringing his mind back like it should be--because if, after all, they have the ability to rewrite the laws of magic, they should theoretically be able to make anything possible if they really want to. But I do like that instead of serving what Eragon selfishly wants out of life, the story lets a fallen hero stay dead. (I don't really think Eragon wanting to have a relationship with his father is selfish, though. It just would have been incredibly cliché for Eragon to bring his damn father back from the dead to much rejoicing. I'm glad he decided against doing this.)

Also, no nookie. Yay!

It's also a good thing that Eragon and Arya didn't end up becoming lovers, though the way it was written suggests that this was only because of circumstances they'd both sworn themselves to rather than because they didn't feel for each other. I like that even though there were a few examples of "love saves the day" in this book, neither character decided to ditch responsibility out of silly love for the other. Though of course I argued above why what they DID do is probably a lot more intimate than "doin' it" would have been.

I like that Eragon recognizes that absolute power could corrupt him, and that he doesn't think himself above such a thing.

The thing I liked best about Inheritance (the final book, not the series):

Emotion. There were some touching parts, mostly the parts that made me sad, and the parts that made it seem like characters were not indeed completely one-dimensional. More layered feelings, with some complexity, were introduced. Ordinarily I'd just kind of expect that from an author, but I'm kinda proud of Paolini for kinda getting this. I would say that he's still only maybe a 4 on a scale of 1 to 10 when it comes to ability to convey emotion and character complexity--and he only ever gets up to 4 sometimes, and never goes higher--but there actually were a few times I felt for the characters and forgot I was reading a crappy book. Usually what jerked me out of it was some over-dramatic simile or a point-of-view perspective that sounded too much like plain old narration.

Also, I think some of it was an accident. No, I'm happy to give credit where credit is due, but I think I'm talking about the same thing that makes fanboys squeal over dragons no matter how poorly they're written. Sometimes the idea of something gives birth to the emotions all by itself. And some of the themes in this book--risking life, limb, and family during war; having to cross a threshold from which there is no return; acknowledging lack of compatibility; understanding that the places and circumstances of one's childhood are gone; death of a relative--are very dear to me, because I've personally been through them. If I read about them, regardless of how hollow the writing might be, I add my own emotion and remember how I felt, and that infuses the story with authenticity that isn't actually put there by the author. I recognized when I was doing this for myself and when his words were actually doing it.

Eragon's philosophizing moments and contradictory feelings were sometimes organic and they worked. It mostly just made me sad that this happened so rarely in the book. This kinda made it seem like he has the capability to . . . maybe . . . evoke emotion in his writing, even though he almost never hits the bullseye. The thing he really needs to learn is how and when to back off. Emotional evocation is easy. Humans do it eagerly when they read. Just get out of the way, Paolini. Get out of the way of yourself.

Also good: NO SINGLE TEARS. Huzzah!

My Personal Commentary

I have nothing to say except OH MY GOD IT'S OVER. PRAISE GŰNTERA.

May your sporks stay sharp.

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