Science fiction and fantasy                                            



Eldest

by Christopher Paolini

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One of the most pleasing features of the Inheritance series is the way the author matures in tandem with his main character. In Eldest Eragon and Saphira continue to grow as dragon and rider, and as they do so their story becomes ever more subtle and complex.

The novel begins in the aftermath of a battle which has left Eragon scarred and the Varden badly damaged. Although the forces of Galbatorix are in retreat they are still dangerous. The Varden and their allies also face threats from within, as power struggles and money troubles jeopardise the fragile state. Eldest is more deeply involved with politics than Eragon, as the young Rider comes to a deeper understanding of Alagaesia and the people who rule it.

In this book we see a lot more of Roran, Eragon's cousin. Roran has been devastated by events, and has come to the conclusion that Eragon is to blame for a lot of what has happened. Roran is intent on marrying Katrina, but he has no means to support her and it's likely that her father will oppose their marriage. Time is running out for the couple. Katrina has other suitors, and her father is encouraging her to marry soon and into wealth. But when soldiers come looking for Roran he suddenly has more pressing matters to worry about than courtship. His entire village is endangered, and Roran has to choose between resistance and surrender.

Whilst Roran struggles against the Empire, Eragon leaves for Ellesméra, home of the elves, to complete his training. The Inheritance series is strongly influenced by Tolkien's Middle Earth, and this is most apparent when Eragon goes to study with the elves. Like Tolkien, Paolini has invented an elvish language, and Eldest has the reader frequently flipping back and forth to the glossary to look up translations. Footnotes would have been a good idea. The elves are also quite given to song, and in many ways Paolini's elves and dwarves are similar to Tolkien's to the point of being derivative.

What Tolkien didn't have, however, is Paolini's take on teenage romance. Eragon is in love, but his advances are clumsy and his affections inappropriate. It's an amusing and realistic depiction of a young man's passion, sympathetic and unflinching. Eragon is a flawed hero, and it's hard not to feel for him as he struggles with love, learning, and his injury. Eragon is increasingly frustrated by his frailty, and wonders how he will ever gain the strength to be able to defeat Galbatorix, no matter what he learns from the elves.

Both Eragon and Saphira learn a lot during the course of this novel. Their lessons add depth to a story which offers an unusually modern take on some traditional fantasy themes. It's normal for magic to co-exist amongst superstition and religion in many works of epic fantasy, yet in Eldest the elves buck this trend with some very rational views, and they're not the only ones. So not only is there a struggle against tyranny and oppression taking place, but this is a world on the brink of its own version of the Enlightenment.

This novel introduces several major revelations which keep the plot from stagnating or becoming too predictable. With Eldest Paolini has hit his stride as a writer, delivering a story that's considerably more intricate and sophisticated than Eragon. Although it's not a breathtakingly original piece of work, set as it is in a world which owes a hefty debt to other fantasy writers, the novel makes up for this with its compelling candour and heart.

Book Details

Year: 2005

Categories: Books

  YA     Fantasy
 
  Cheerful
  Male Protagonist  

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4 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson
Read more about Christopher Paolini