REVIEW SUMMARY: A much weaker book than Eragon.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: An inexperienced dragon-rider must train to become the warrior who will save all the land from an Evil Emperor.
PROS: The thread involving Eragon’s cousin was entertaining. The last 10% of the book was the best part.
CONS: The other 90% was slow-moving, boring and lacked many qualities which would have otherwise immersed the reader.
BOTTOM LINE: Maybe this is a classic case of middle book syndrome?
Having really enjoyed Eragon, the first book in Chritopher Paolini’s epic fantasy Inheritance trilogy, I was very much looking forward to the sequel, Eldest. Sadly, I was very disappointed.
Eldest, which picks up immediately following the conclusion of Book 1, continues the story of young Eragon, first of a new generation of the heroic dragon riders. Eragon is still a noob though, so he and his dragon, Spahira, need to undergo some training. They head off to the distant and magical elf city to get that training, hopefully in time to help defend the land of Alagaësia from the evil forces of the still-unseen Emperor Galbatorix. Meanwhile, Eragon’s cousin Roran is wanted by Galbatorix’s cronies who threaten his small hometown unless they give him up.
A simple story, to be sure, but I kind of expected that. Eragon was that way too but I though the story was garnished with enough embellishments to make it a very fun and quick-moving read. Eragon also had a certain amount of charm. Unfortunately this was not the case with Eldest.
The story is told in two threads – the main one following Eragon and a minor storyline follows Roran. Unexpectedly, I found Roran’s tale much more entertaining. His predicament with the monstrous Ra’zac was an interesting exercise in choosing the lesser of two evils – surrender to the enemy or put his town in danger. The side story with his hidden love for Katrina added some much-appreciated drama to the book. Roran’s evolution from victim to hero was well done and believable. He’s not a very likable character, but he is an entertaining one.
Eragon’s tale, however, was way too long considering the amount that happened. Basically, there’s a brief skirmish, a journey to a faraway elf city, warrior/magic training and a big battle. Does that really take nearly 800 pages to tell? (It shouldn’t.) Is this supposed to make it feel “epic”? (It didn’t.) This story would have been much, much stronger had it been pared down to about one quarter of its size. There was also much political maneuvering done by the cast in the beginning chapters, the inclusion of which I found to be odd. This is a book aimed at younger readers who are bound to find those parts even more unbearable than I did. Also, instead of having the “hero falls for Elf” subplot, it might have helped the book to throw a few scenes in there showing the enemy (Galbatorix) who, despite being the strongest and most feared villain, remains fully offstage throughout two door-stopping books.
The last ten percent of the book (when the storylines of Eragon and Roran merge – the aforementioned “big battle”) was the best part. That’s where Eldest really started to live up to the promise of the previous book. It had action, drama, plot twists and it moved quickly. Unfortunately, the high quality of this last ten percent only drew attention to the fact that the first ninety percent of the book was sub-par.
Is this middle book syndrome? Perhaps. As it stands now, the final book in the Inheritance trilogy will have to have to work extra hard to attract my attention.