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Eragon

- First Impressions - Subsequent Impressions - Characterisation -
- Comparisons - Shortfalls - Summary -

By the time I had first heard of Eragon, it had just debuted as a film by twenty first centuryfox, and reviews of both the book and film were loud and...scathing. Every review I heard exclaimed over how it was a Tolkein rip-off, and an extremly bland fantasy tale at that. Indeed, it was muttered that the only reason it shot to fame was because of the age of its author, 15 year old Paolini.

These reviews were to put me off seeing the film, and I didn't even think about looking for a copy of the book. However, one afternoon I was in my local Waterstones, where there was a 3 for 2 offer that unusually included the FSF section. I quickly managed a pile of five books, but was struggling for a sixth (particularly as not all books were included in the sale). I decided to go to the front of the shop where the new/bestseller books are displayed, and my eye immediatly fell upon Eragon, as the jacket illustration was taken from the film. On a whim I picked it up - it could be one of my free books, so it wouldn't be a loss, whatever I thought of it. Besides, I've never really been a fan of listening to other people's reviews.

Having aquired Eragon, it sat on my bookshelf for many months. I was dubious about it being any good, and had several other series where final books had (finally) come out, and set about reading those first. Yet all was not lost. One weekend I was bored, and my sparse London bookcase caught my eye. The only book on there I hadn't read was Eragon, so I pulled it out and settled down on my bed to read.

First Impressions

The first few chapters had me convinved that the book was going to abysmal. The prologue seemed cliched, and the first chapter had poor sentence structure, and descriptive paragraphs were simple. Infact, the whole framework seemed hap-hazard, and doesn't lend itself to a comfortable reading spree.

Subsequent Impressions:

Despite my initial "eye-rolling" impression I stuck with it, and by the end of the afternoon I found that I had become subtly engrossed in the story, and expressed the crucial "what happens next?!" mentally. I genuinly wanted to know what was going to befall the characters. I'm not sure where this change occurs in the text. It may be that Paolini becomes more accomplished as he writes, but this effect seems unlikely due to the number of edits he acknowledges, particularly regarding the first three chapters. At present I have put it down to becoming more familiar and accustomed to Paolini's style, which is no bad thing.

By the end of the book my impressions had taken a U-turn. Also, rather than being a Tolkien/fantasy rip-off, I see it as a good debut fantasy novel (though clearly with room to improve). Though comparisons with other fantasy authors can be clearly made, I feel it still retains a high level of originality.

Characterisation:

I believe this was one of the strongest parts of the book. Paolini paints his characters well, and the reader can easily imagine them and have no problem painting their own mental character. Incidentally, I thought the actors in the film adaptation didn't conform at all to my mental picture of them, and avoided looking at the screenshots included in my book. Below I have outlined a few characters:

Eragon

Portrayed as a young lad on the cusp of manhood. Outwardly he doesn't seem particulary special, and his general attitude is unassuming and cautious. Out of all the characters, Eragon's personality changes most throughout the book, becoming a typical fantasy adventurer, - growing in skills and becoming more confident in himself and his abilities - initially setting out on a quest of revenge, but finding out that he has a bigger, more important role to play in the history of Algaesia. However, Eragon - I feel - always retains a certain youthfulness about him. By the end of the book he is still "unfinished" for want of a better word, but again, this is no bad thing, particularly as there is a sequel of course.

Brom

The second main character, and again is portrayed very well. He is much older than Eragon, and keen to impart his knowledge and skills, even if it leaves Eragon battered and bruised! Brom's character evolves throughout the book, but these changes are related to how the plot unfolds rather than the personality changes that we see with Eragon.

Comparisons:

As initial reviews were keen to point out, the book has obvious parallels/inspirations from other works. The most obvious of these would be "Tolkein's" human/eld/dwarf world, but this particular world set up is not unique to Tolkein, and has been used my many authors. It is true that Paolini's elves and dwarves conform to the 'norm' but there is only so much re-invention that can be done to these races. Besides, ifyou try to re-invent such things on too grand a scale, you're likely to be just as critisised I feel! Thus, I feel that any reviews that state the "he copied Tolkein" can be safely ignored.

There are other comparisons that I have thought of that I will outline briefly. The most obvious to me is the similarity to Robert Jordan's 'Wheel of Time' characters, particularly Rand al Thor and Lan. Rand, like Eragon, is a simple farm boy, having no clue to events outside his home valley. They both become highly proficient in the sword - thanks to Lan/Brom - and magic.

Additionally, Brom is also similar to Tolkein's character Aragorn, from 'The Lord of the Rings'. In the beginning, they both seem to have plain and unimportant backgrounds; Brom a storyteller and Aragorn a ranger, but both are shown to be much more than they appear. However, aside from being good with a sword, that is all they really have in common.

One final comparison can be made with Mercedes Lackey's 'Dragon Jousters' series, where the main character is a low born, and became a slave at a young age. However, he has the fortune to hide and keep a dragon egg, rearing it in secret, as Eragon does, and then goes on to fulfill his destiny.

Shortfalls:

One of the major shortfalls as I see it is the length of the book. It is a fairly substantial 500 pages, but there never seems to be adequate time for full descriptions and the like, and some sections of the plot seem rushed. However, this could be a product of the plot, which sees the characters traversing the length and bredth of Alagaesia over rather rapid lengths of time, which at times does stretch believability. However, I would attribute this to a poor map rather than Paolini's writing. Personally, I love the inclusion of maps, and refer to them often throughout the book, but I feel this one could have used some tweeking, or at least a modification of scale.

A relativly minor niggle is that the book had no 'end'. At the time of buying I was unaware that there was a sequel (which is probably just as well as I would have been put off from buying it even more), hence the minor problem. However, I feel the end could have been more rounded to give at least a sense of completness. Also, without reading the final installment, this review remains similiarly unfinished.

Summary:

- reviews from other sources seem to slate the book unneccessarily
- occassional poor writing and/or cliches, but generally of a good standard
- a good easy-read fantasy book
- doesn't end, sequel required