TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:
As a casual glance through my blog entries will reveal, I am no fan of fantasy. I know, I'm sorry! But something about all those convoluted names, flitting fairies, and fire-breathing dragons gets under my skin. Given that statement, then, you might imagine that reading Christopher Paolini's "Eragon" and "Eldest" would've been a struggle for me. You'd only be partly right; while the beginning of "Eragon" felt like a painful slog through a muddy river, the story — mercifully! — picks up considerably afterward.
Let me provide a quick plot synopsis, in which I will due my level best to avoid anything spoiler-ish. Eragon is a farm boy, and, to be frank, a petulant, whiny teen. While out hunting in a mountain range, he discovers a blue stone which reveals itself to be a dragon egg. Neat. The tiny blue dragon, later named Saphira, quickly grows beyond Eragon's ability to keep her hidden. Unfortunately, that issue is the least of Eragon's problems, since two lethal, cloaked, beaked (!) figures, the Ra'zac, are hunting the egg and, by extension, Eragon and his Uncle Garrow for the evil King Galbatorix. Eragon eventually ends up on the run with Saphira, who communicates mentally with Eragon and has a nice snarky streak; Brom, a local storyteller who seems to know an awful lot about Dragon Riders; Murtagh, a capable fighter with plenty of secrets of his own; and Arya, a beautiful elf with extraordinary powers.
Like I said, "Eragon" started off at an absolutely crippling pace. The plot was clunky, the pacing awkward, and the writing style just plain tedious. At about the midway point, as the plot elements became more interesting, the story as a whole seemed to move more swiftly and surely. Suddenly, there was a sense of urgency and vitality that had been missing before. I even reached a place where I was eager to experience the climactic showdown in the dwarf city of Tronjheim. Considering I was ready to pack it in completely at one point, that's a remarkable turnaround.
While "Eragon" had some rough patches, I found "Eldest" to be a much stronger and far more enjoyable book. I loved how half the book focuses on Eragon's cousin, Roran, and his bloody, heroic quest to save his village from the Ra'zac and the grotesque Urgals. Unlike Eragon, Roran has no magical powers, so his battles are waged through sheer guts, strength, and determination. He is a compelling, flawed character — his moments of bleakly tallying the deaths he has caused are striking — and I found myself rushing through the sometimes draggy scenes of Eragon's magical instruction in the elf world just to get back to Roran's story. (See my review of Stephenie Meyer's "Breaking Dawn" for another instance where a secondary character's point of view spices up a novel.)
In the end, despite some misgivings about "Eragon," I have no problem recommending both books to fantasy fans in middle school and up. Although the complicated mythology and detailed scenes make these novels quite lengthy, there is a nice payoff in seeing how all the disparate plot threads and seemingly inconsequential characters come together in the end. This makes for a rich, rewarding experience for the reader. So, while "Eragon" and "Eldest" probably won't bring outsiders into the genre, fantasy fans will find lots to like here.
And, yes, I realize this means I will have to read "Brisingr," too!