REVIEW SUMMARY: I don’t consider myself a huge fan of fantasy, but even I found this book to be excellent.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Farm boy of unknown lineage discovers a sapphire blue dragon egg and must come to terms with his destiny.
PROS: Engrossing tale; great pacing; superb storytelling; often page-turning.
CONS: Somewhat derivative and cliché.
BOTTOM LINE: A hugely enjoyable simple fantasy story.
Man, I hate it when a commercially successful book proves to be hugely entertaining. It makes me think that I need to start reading from the bestseller lists and stop searching for the long-forgotten gems of genre fiction. Popular does not connote quality after all.
Then along comes Eragon a young adult fantasy novel that was born at the hands of a fifteen-year-old high school graduate (!) who nursed it to near-perfection for the next three years. Surely this upstart is incapable of creating a quality tale, the Holy Grail so often out of reach by seasoned writers, isn’t he? Well, that’s where I misjudged a book by its writer. To be sure, there are echoes of J. R. R. Tolkien and Anne McCaffrey in Eragon. I’m sure these are the books that influenced Paolini when he was growing up. Like when he was a five-year-old. But Paolini manages to tweak those ideas enough to make them, well, not fresh, but still loads of fun to experience.
The story concerns an orphaned farm boy named Eragon who discovers a beautiful sapphire blue stone. He quickly learns that the stone is no gem – it is the egg of a dragon, long-thought to be extinct. Eragon (smarmily close to “dragon”) nurtures the female hatchling, forms a mental link with her, and names her Saphira. As the evil forces try to locate the powerful beast, Eragon enlists the aid of Brom the storyteller (Hint: Brom is not just a storyteller) and is thrust into an adventure filled with creatures, beasts, swordplay, magic and intrigue.
(I really wanted to footnote the above character names with the Lord of The Rings and Star Wars equivalents, but I refrained for fear of making this fantastic novel sound too derivative. Oh, what the hell: Eragon/Frodo/Luke enlists the aid of Brom/Gandalf/Obi Wan to save the land from the evil Galbatorix/Sauron/Emperor. There, now that that’s off my chest, ignore it. Though there are similarities, Eragon embellishes enough to overlook those similarities and just enjoy.)
The fun part of Eragon is in the storytelling. This be the stuff of fantasy. Dragons and magic and ugly, nasty beasts (Orcs. I mean Urgals) and a beautiful Elf (Arwen. I mean Arya), a fighter with a mysterious past (Aragorn. I mean Murtagh.) dwarves, and of course super-bad evil warrior bad guys (Nazghul. I mean Shades). I particularly enjoyed the teacher/student relationship between Brom and Eragon as well as the relationship between the boy and his dragon. If there is anything negative I can say about the book it’s that sometimes Eragon just seen to intuit his abilities.
The narrative is quick-moving and the plot development is superb. Die-hard adult-fantasy fans may sneer at the lack of depth to the simple plot, but this is aimed at a younger audience after all. To its credit, every scene advances the plot while providing atmosphere. Slapping in a paragraph or twelve describing the countryside always ticks me off. (*Cough-cough!* Red Mars. *Cough-cough!*) Paolini deftly reveals plot twists to propel the story to its satisfying battle sequence conclusion. Speaking of which, Eragon is the inevitable first book in The Inheritance Trilogy. The second, Eldest, is one I won’t miss.