Book Review: ERAGON, by Christopher Paolini

Oh, I have to say it, just to get it out there: "Wow, this book reminded me of The Lord of the Rings." Maybe that isn't fair. Maybe everything has strains of Tolkien now, what with The Rings' all-around excellency, and its perpetual popularity, but I don't think that's an excuse. Some of Paolini's scenes are fresh and thought-provoking, some downright dazzling (as I feel fantasy really should be--more on that later), but others bear the unmistakable scent of eau de Tolkien--I can't really say which, either, or I'd spoil the book for you.

Now, don't get me wrong, it's damn cool that an 18-year-old can publish his own book independently, promote it to within an inch of its life, find a big fatty publisher to carry on the torch and land himself a spot (a #1 spot, I believe) on the bestseller list. Impressive, and downright irritating. When I was 18, I'm pretty sure I still wanted to be a rock star (not that "fantasy writer" has all that much more flair).

But, astounding backstory aside, the book must pull its own weight and I would say, half-heartedly, that it struggles a wee bit in that respect. When it comes to fantasy books, I am a huge sucker for theatrics--show me something so wild, so utterly out there that it causes me to pause in my reading and say, at least once, "Cool," with something like awe in my voice. That's part of the lure of Harry Potter (oh, not him again)--nearly every chapter introduces something like the Great Hall, with its ceiling enchanted to look like the sky outside, or a hex that makes bats come out of the aflicted's nose--and I fall for it, every single time. Owl post, honestly. Probably I'm going to get some die-hard fantasy fans emailing me and wanting to argue that Potter isn't "true" fantasy, or that the presence of elves is a base requirement for a book to even be considered fantasy, but I stand firm. To me, "fantasy" is about the possibility--here is a genre where the author can do anything she damn well pleases. The trick is to make it believable, and get all that plot/character/climax bit right.

So. How did ERAGON miss the mark? For the first many chapters, the cliches were out in full force, as hooded characters summoned each other to "go forth," and "waves of terror" washed over poor, singled-out Eragon--who was asking "Why me?", pondering his existence, and accepting his destiny, all at the same time. That was it, really. The characters felt a bit...borrowed, the script a bit stale, the scenery stuck on repeat, but as Eragon matured (around page 300 or so) Paolini's writing seemed to sharpen as well, so that, by the time Eragon & Co. reached that mighty climax of the story, the characters began to come into focus, the landscape got gorgeous and well-wrought, and the action began to beat to a more bearable drum. And I will say this--Paolini's got a good eye for details. His characters seem to raise their eyebrows or go pale or cringe at just the right time--and the giant gemstones! Egad! Those really made me pause and say, "Cool," at least once.


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