Fantastic Reviews - Fantasy Book Review
Eragon cover art Eragon by Christopher Paolini

Alfred A. Knopf - copyright 2003
(previous self-published edition copyright 2002)
497 pages
cover art by John Jude Palencar

Book reviewed November 2003
Rating: 5/10  (Mildly Recommended)

Review by Aaron Hughes

          A†recent Paul Collins article in The Believer called "Read the Book That You Are Reading" urged reviewers to judge books only by their texts, disregarding any prior knowledge they have of the authors.  I generally agree with this sentiment, but I would be doing Christopher Paolini no favors by following Collins' advice here.  Now nineteen, Christopher Paolini wrote most of Eragon when he was only fifteen and sixteen, and the highest praise I can give the novel is to say that it is a remarkable effort for a sixteen-year-old.

Eragon is the name of the book's protagonist, like Paolini fifteen when he starts his adventure.  Eragon is an orphan living with his uncle and cousin in a small farming village in a remote corner of the kingdom of AlagaŽsia.  This quiet life is shattered when a large blue stone materializes in front of Eragon.  He is at first puzzled as to the nature of this stone, but when a baby dragon finally emerges, it occurs to†Eragon that perhaps it was a dragon egg.  (For a character created by a teen prodigy, Eragon is often not real quick on the uptake.)† Eragon and the dragon, Saphira, promptly imprint upon each other ŗ la Anne McCaffrey, and thereafter can communicate telepathically.

This is an extraordinary turn of events, since dragons disappeared from AlagaŽsia years earlier.  The age of the benevolent Dragon Riders came to an end when one of the Riders, Galbatorix, went bad, killed off the Riders who wouldn't join him, and made himself ruler of AlagaŽsia.  (This is all part of the impressive depth of backstory that Paolini peppers through the narrative.)

Soon after Saphira hatches, two evil creatures called the Ra'zac, agents of Galbatorix, come for Eragon and his prize.  Eragon's uncle gets in the way, and Eragon vows to seek revenge on these Ra'zac.  Joined by Brom, the village storyteller, Eragon and Saphira roam half the country trying to track them down.  This makes precisely as little sense as Luke Skywalker spending most of Star Wars trying to hunt down the particular stormtroopers who killed his aunt and uncle.  As a result, there is little dramatic tension in the entire first half of the novel, which has the aimless feel of a travelogue.

Brom the storyteller has a surprising and useful depth of knowledge about dragons.  He is also highly skilled in swordplay and the use of magic, and instructs Eragon on these subjects as they travel.  He is clearly more than merely a storyteller, but he refuses to identify himself.  Like most of the mysteries in this book, however, his true identity will come as no surprise to an attentive reader.

Midway through the book, Brom confesses that he only went along with the wild goose chase after the Ra'zac to buy time for Eragon's training.  At that point, Eragon begins to pursue more worthy goals.  Assisted by Murtagh, a troubled and impulsive but very brave young man - whose identity is also secret but also not difficult to guess - he rescues Arya, an elf princess, from Galbatorix.  (Actually, I don't think Paolini ever says Arya is a princess, nor that she has hair braided into spirals around her ears, but I am hard pressed to picture her otherwise.)† Arya has been poisoned by Galbatorix and left comatose.  Eragon and his friends set off to find the Varden, a group of rebels against the tyranny of Galbatorix, to join the rebellion and hopefully find a cure for Arya.  As the last of the Dragon Riders, Eragon may be the key to the Varden's†hopes of resisting Galbatorix.

       I found the pace of this book extremely slow, as Eragon and friends pointlessly explore nearly the entire map of AlagaŽsia.  The main conflicts, including the ultimate battle with Galbatorix and the unveiling of Eragon's true parentage (could he be Darth Vader's son?), are left for future volumes in the series.  (Eragon is the first book†of the†projected†Inheritance Trilogy.)

I would have thought Eragon much too slow-paced for its young adult target audience.  (The publisher's target audience, that is.  I am not convinced that Paolini wrote this with younger readers in mind, and there is a rather morbid scene where Eragon comes across a huge pile of corpses that suggests otherwise.)† However, I have spoken with young readers who like the book very much, and it has enjoyed astonishingly brisk sales so far, so I may be mistaken about this.  Whether it will appeal to the Harry Potter readers in your family depends largely on what they enjoy about the Harry Potter books.  Eragon has the magic and intrigue of the Potter series, with an added touch of realism (as when Eragon learns just how uncomfortable riding bareback on a dragon can be), but lacks J.K. Rowling's humor.

The book's saving grace for me is Paolini's remarkable facility with language.  The evocative title exemplifies Paolini's flair with words.  Most of the places and creatures in this book are quite familiar to fantasy readers, but the author finds new ways to describe them.  This is how he depicts a precipitous cliff, for example:

Several miles east, a mountain of bare rock speared the sky with spires and columns, a tenebrous nightmare ship.  Near-vertical sides rose out of the ground like a jagged piece of the earth's bone.
          You could accuse Paolini of getting the word "tenebrous" out of his thesaurus, but he didn't find "a jagged piece of the earth's bone" in there.  At times Paolini tries too hard, forcing his characters to say something like, "Widsom flies from his mouth," instead of just, "He's right."† But he succeeds much more often than a writer his age should.  Perhaps Ursula LeGuin could write like this at sixteen, but most mortals cannot.  Whether Paolini will develop LeGuin's wisdom and originality remains to be seen.
The movie Eragon opened in the USA on December 15, 2006.  Distributed by 20th Century Fox.  Runtime 104 minutes.  MPAA rating PG.

The film was directed by Stefan Fangmeier, known mainly for visual effects work, a first-time director.  Peter Buchman, who wrote the script for Jurassic Park III, wrote the screenplay.  It was filmed in Hungary and Slovakia.  Special visual effects and animation were by Weta Digital and Industrial Light & Magic.

In the movie, newcomer Ed Speelers plays Eragon.  Jeremy Irons plays Brom;  Sienna Guillory is Arya;  Robert Carlyle plays Durza;  John Malkovich is Galbatorix;  Garrett Hedlund plays Murtagh;  Alun Armstong is Uncle Garrow; Chris Egan plays Roran;  Gary Lewis is King Hrothgar;  Djimon Hounsou plays Ajihad;  Singer/songwriter Joss Stone is Angela;  and Rachel Weisz is the voice of Saphira.

Eragon movie tie-in paperback cover (right)
Eragon movie tie-in cover

Eragon - Paolini International cover Eragon (Inheritance, Book 1) by Christopher Paolini
Paolini International - 475 pages (self-published edition)
Copyright 2002

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Other Christopher Paolini book reviews on Fantastic Reviews:
Eragon  (review by Jackie Sachen Turner)

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Links to websites about Eragon & Christopher Paolini:
Randomhouse official site: Eragon, fantasy novel by Christopher Paolini, Inheritance Trilogy | Author Profile: Christopher Paolini
BookLoons Reviews - Eragon by Christopher Paolini - profile of young author Paolini
Green Man Review: Christopher Paolini, Eragon (Inheritance, Book One)
Christopher Paolini and Eragon: A Homeschool Success Story
Shur'tugal :: Inheritance series

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This page was last updated - 14 August 2010