Thursday, August 14, 2008

Eldest by Christopher Paolini

BREAKING DAWN by Stephanie Meyer was just released, with quite the extreme response. People either love it or hate it, and some clashing discussions have erupted as a result.

The last time I saw such a bi-polar response to a book was ELDEST by Christopher Paolini. I find this interesting because the only thing these stories have in common is that they’re popular, part of a series, and heavily backed by their respective publishing houses.

In light of this similarity, and since the third book in ERAGON's series is coming out next month, I decided to revisit ELDEST.

Plot Summary: Eragon and his dragon, Saphira, have just saved the rebel state from destruction by the mighty forces of King Galbatorix, cruel ruler of the Empire. Now Eragon must travel to Ellesmera, land of the elves, for further training in the skills of the Dragon Rider: magic and swordsmanship. Soon he is on the journey of a lifetime, his eyes open to awe-inspring new places and people, his days filled with fresh adventure. But chaos and betrayal plague him at every turn, and nothing is what it seems. Before long, Eragon doesn’t know whom he can trust. Meanwhile, his cousin Roran must fight a new battle–one that might put Eragon in even graver danger.

As with all my book discussions, there are SPOILERS below.

I read ERAGON when it first came out because I was curious what this fifteen year old kid had produced, and I enjoyed it. His youth shone through the writing and plotting, but it was clear he had worked hard to create this world. When ELDEST was released, I decided to give it a try. I was sadly disappointed.

The main character, Eragon, didn’t go through much struggle in this story. He needed recover from injuries inflicted by the seriously nasty Durza in the previous book, he needed to learn how to become a dragon-rider-warrior by overcoming his human limitations, and he needed to learn how to better use magic.

He got all of these things, but had to work for none of them because they were literally wrapped up in a magical gift from the dragons. Sure, he had some difficulties early on, but he never had to really suffer or figure out how to become what everyone needed him to be. It was just, poof, there.

When I read a book, I want to see the characters struggle as much as I've had to struggle in my own life. There's no magical gift-giver waiting in the wings to help me get through my life, so I have a hard time connecting with characters who have to struggle for nothing. And if I can't connect with the characters, then I'm shut out of a huge part of the book-reading experience. For me, no amount of cool plot points or flashy story telling can overshadow that. I had this same problem with the Twilight series.

But we're here to talk about Eldest... The ending wasn’t as climactic as I think it was intended to be. The relation between Murtagh and Eragon had been (not so subtly) hinted at way back in the first book. Which made it kind of obvious that Murtagh had killed the Varden leader, having an agenda of his own.

The most interesting character in this series is Solembum, the werecat. He’s mysterious, hilarious, and dangerous all in one. What’s not to like? I was hoping to see more of him and his purpose in the story, but he was as elusive as ever.

I think Paolini’s youth is still shining through, and I think he still hasn’t found his Voice. Still, I give him credit for attaining this much success at such a young age. I hope he keeps writing, and I wish him luck on his journey.

On a separate note, I’m very curious what’s going to happen with the release of BRISINGR next month. Will there be another bi-polar reaction? Or will it be more temperate? Only time will tell, I suppose.


Marcia said...

I love the phrase "bi-polar response to a book"!

I think you've identified exactly the kind of book that gets such a response. It's often a series, because that gives readers a history with the characters and main conflict. Readers have had longer to build their own stakes in it. (Although there are exceptions to this, such as Edward Tulane.) The book also has to be popular, because you need a sizable audience for the debate.

I so agree that if I can't get into or believe in the characters, the rest of the book flops for me no matter the pyrotechnics.

As always, fine post.

PJ Hoover said...

My guess is that Brisingr won't have the Breaking Dawn response as I can't imagine CP doing anything so controversial. It seems so much more cut and clear fantasy with expected elements and such.
And I totally agree with Marcia on why books like this get this response.

Tabitha said...

Marcia - Bi-polar seems fitting, doesn't it? :) I wonder if there have been any other series out there with responses like this. I haven't heard of them, but that doesn't mean they don't exist. If so, they probably had the same popular series criteria as Twilight and Eragon.

I love the word "pyrotechnics!" :) That's so fitting - some books use it and some don't. But, like you, they don't distract me. :) I need to BE the main character as I'm reading, and if I can't connect, I can't be.

PJ - I think you're right that Brisingr isn't going to generate the same response that Breaking Dawn has. Paolini is definitely more conservative (and predictable). Plus, there's another book after this one, so some unsettled fans could hold judgement until the end.

Unknown said...

I never really got into Ergaon. Actually, it was that book that made me realize I don't like the regular epic sword-and-sorcery kind of fantasy. Before that book, I always just lumped all fantasy together--sure, I had a tendency to like the YA stuff better than the big tomes, and I hate Tolkein, but I didn't really make a distinction. After Eragon, I realized that I just don't really like the typical style of fantasy as much. I'd MUCH rather have something that treats magic in an entirely new way (more typically YA) than something that at least to some degree re-hashes the same magical structure as every other book in the genre.

Tabitha said...

Yeah, I can see that. I like Tolkien, but it seems that all other epic sword fighting fantasy is just derivative of Tolkien. And I just don't love it anymore. I prefer the more subtle kind of magic and fantasy now. No more swords, at least. :)

I'll finish the Eragon series, just because I'm curious to watch this young person's writing style grow. But it'll probably be it for me.

Mary Witzl said...

I think that's a great description too -- 'bi-polar.'

I haven't read Eragon, though both my daughters have, and both of them loved it. They didn't like Eldest as much, and now I want to ask them why!

The Stephanie Meyers books leave me feeling like a real killjoy. It's not that I don't get vampires, but the relationship between Bella and Edward strikes me as the kind that appeals to the romantic precisely because it can never have a happy ending that will end in anything as mundane as a married relationship. I still haven't managed to finish one book in the series...

Tabitha said...

Ooo, I'd love to hear why they didn't like Eldest.

I totally agree about Edward and Bella's relationship. It's too unhealthy to honestly end well, and yet... :) There are many problems I have with the Twilight series, but the first and foremost is the same problem I have with the Eragon series: I just can't connect with the main characters.

Liana Brooks said...

Hmmm, interesting, but I don't have much to say since I've read neither series. But I do think they probably suffer from the same problems of every long running series. Everyone expects something fantastic and the longer you give readers between books the more they imagine what that "perfect" ending will be. And when the author writes something different people get upset.

Tabitha said...

Yeah, I'm sure something like this happens with all series books, even the not-so-popular ones.

I think that since these are so popular, it really feeds the vehement discussions. Interesting how popularity can do this... :)

Mary Witzl said...

I've just asked my youngest daughter why she didn't like Eldest as much, and she said that she found it more depressing than Eragon. She did feel it was as well written, though, and she is a pretty shrewd critic.My eldest felt that the plot was a little too complicated, but she also felt that it was good. And both girls claim that they can't wait for Brisingr to come out. Now I'm going to have to read this series! I can't get over how young the writer is.

Angela Ackerman said...

I actually couldn't finish Eldest. That rarely happens for me, but I just got too bogged down by all the description and slogging pace.

I think one day he will do great things, and has wonderful emerging talent, but like you I don't think he's quite there yet. There's too many echos of other writers in his work (Tolkien, Terry Brooks, etc).

I haven't yet read Breaking Dawn.

Tabitha said...

Mary - thanks for sharing!! It's so cool to hear feedback from those we are trying to write for. :)

Angela - I was *really* close to setting Eldest down. That rarely happens to me, too, but I agree that the description had me sighing and rolling my eyes many, many times. My interest in the author's age is the only thing keeping me going, really.