Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Book Review: Eragon

It's a new year, and I've got big plans for my blog! I am going to be writing reviews of the books that I am currently reading throughout 2018; hopefully I'll read a lot of books so this will actually be interesting.

As I haven't finished any books yet in 2018, I'm going to start this series off with books I have previously read. I chose Eragon as my first review in this (hopefully) long series of book reviews because I am currently reading Inheritance and figured if I was going to review that book when I finished it I ought to have the first three books in the Inheritance Cycle reviewed as well.

Eragon was written by Christopher Paolini, and was written during his teenage years. I also wrote my first novels in the tender years of teenagerhood (and now I'm making up words...), so I understand both the experience of writing that young and also of looking back at said writing and acknowledging it isn't always that great. I will review this book based off of my experience reading it, and my understanding of literature, not based off of the author's age when the book was written. However, I do believe some grace can be extended for teenage writers...because, well, they're teenagers.

First, let's see what this novel is all about:

The book tells the story of a farm boy named Eragon, who finds a mysterious blue stone in the mountains. He doesn't know its origin or its worth, so he attempts to use it as payment to a butcher.  He discovers, however, that it is actually an egg when a dragon he later names Saphira hatches from the stone. The tyrant King Galbatorix finds out the location of the egg and sends terrible creatures, the Ra'zac, to seize it for him. By the time they arrive, Saphira is a growing dragon and she and Eragon flee together after Eragon's uncle is killed and they are forced from his home. They flee with a storyteller from their village, Brom, and decide to search for the Varden, a group of rebels who seek the downfall of King Galbatorix.

I'm going to start this review by saying I was instantly in love. The fantasy genre is my home. I love to dwell in the beautiful medieval settings surrounded by elves, dwarves, and all manner of magic. That is, without question, my favorite genre of all time. This love was born when I was a child reading The Chronicles of Narnia, and grew exponentially as a teenager reading The Lord of the Rings.

I came to the party late, not reading Eragon until 2016. This was not for any particular reason other than that I can't force books on myself. When I want to read a book, I will, but not before. And when I decided I was ready to read the Inheritance Cycle (with not-so-gentle prodding from my eldest brother), I was prepared to be swept off of my feet.

When I read the very first line of Eragon, I knew my hopes were being realized. I was in love.

"Wind howled through the night, carrying a scent that would change the world."

And then I read the rest of the book.

I won't say I hated it, because I didn't. Yet I was sorely disappointed in the subsequent story after that first enticing line.

As a reader, I was bored. And I mean bored. I couldn't finish the book and set it aside for a good two months before picking it up again. The only reason I picked it up again at all is because I have this OCD problem where I can't leave something unfinished. I had to read it. And that resignation of duty was pretty much how I read the whole book.

Now before you say, "of course, you're one of those readers...bored with a book over 400 pages...." I can tell you straight up, I am not. Remember, I loved The Lord of the Rings, immeasurably so. I have reread them countless times. I have read the Silmarillion, not out of duty, but for the sheer joy of it. And yes, I have reread that book as well. I recently read a book by Jason Hough called Zero World that is 600 pages or so long and I couldn't put it down. Granted, that one is an entirely different genre...but still. It wasn't the size of the book that had me bored to tears. It was the content.

Every character felt flat. I couldn't connect to any of them. None of them leaped off the page to grab my attention. Not a single one of the characters felt three-dimensional to me. The moment I realized this book had failed me was when I was reading a particularly "intense" battle sequence and I legitimately did not care if the characters I was supposed to love lived or died. I had no interest in their lives at all.

The plot, such as it was, felt like so many fantasy stories poured into a bowl, mixed together, and then spilled all over the page with no real forethought or planning. Not to say the plot of the book wasn't planned out, as I am sure it was. As a writer myself I do understand the complicated process of outlining a novel. I meant the haphazard way every fantasy trope...ever...was thrown about in the reader's face every few pages had no forethought or planning. Or if it did, it was poor judgement on Paolini's part. I found it excessively annoying.

This book became a sensation when I was a teenager and everyone I knew was reading it. After having read it, however, I cannot understand why. Fantasy lovers can perhaps try to enjoy it simply because it is a fantasy novel that will pull on all their familiar heartstrings because it is just that. Familiar. Where is the originality, I wonder?

And yet people really do love it. So maybe being the same as every story that came before really is enough.

But it wasn't enough for me. I was more bored than I can adequately explain.

And I haven't even discussed the writing...

I won't go into too much depth on this subject. Suffice it to say, the writing wasn't great.

The reason I don't want to talk about this aspect of the book as much is because I was also a teenage writer and so I understand. The book I wrote at 17 can hardly compare to Paolini's first novel, so I don't feel it would be fair to complain about his style of writing at a young age when my own was worse. All I will say is that it is long-winded and very cliche.

My overall thoughts on Eragon are this: it is a boring book that leans heavily on old fantasy tropes to pull the hearts of its readers and not on original content or amazing characters or dazzling new worlds.

In conclusion, I did not enjoy reading this book and I would not recommend it to my friends unless they are avid fantasy readers who don't mind wasting a few hours (and I do mean wasting).

If you find this critique of Eragon harsh, I would recommend you don't read my coming review of Eldest. However, if you stick around long enough, you'll hear me sing a different tune. Spoiler alert! I loved Brisingr.

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