January 3, 2012

Reviewing Inheritance: The Fourth and Final Installment of The Inheritance Cycle

After much consideration on where to lay down my thoughts on the fourth and final installment of The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini, I have decided to put them on my own website where I can make this as long as I want to, because my thoughts are quite numerous. I searched online forums dedicated to this, and didn’t feel like digging through page upon page of forum topics to find where to put this… So I put it here.

I have followed this story from the beginning. I received Eragon, the first book in the story, back in 2004, and I have been waiting for this book ever since. The end… the finale… the closure… I must say… I was disappointed with what I got from the very beginning. However, I was not just disappointed with this book. No… My disappointment goes back to Brisingr, the third book in the series. To understand my disappointment with Inheritance, one must understand in part some of my disappointment with Brisingr. To that end, here are just a few of the reasons why.

This was supposed to be the final book in the story; however it grew so long that Paolini had to divide it into two books and thus make us wait another three years for the remainder of the story. That was one of the biggest frustrations I have ever felt in my life. Learning that after waiting all that time for what was supposed to be the final book, there would be yet another one.

Then there was another frustration. Several. But, one above all others. The character of Nasuada, leader of the Varden Rebellion against The Empire. This one character pissed me off above all others. Everything she did she did with the belief that she was acting for “the greater good”; however she was nothing more than a tyrant in her own right. The very same thing she was seeking to overthrow. In addition to that, she was ruthless about it. In the very first book, Eragon sought to bless a baby so that she would be free of harm in her life. However, his blessing backfired and it became her curse. She was cursed to feel the pain of others and forced to try and prevent it or otherwise suffer if she didn’t. The character of Nasuada used that pettily and selfishly, forcing that child to inflict upon herself pain greater than she should have had to by always keeping her within reach and ensure that the child was bound and forced to warn her of any danger. When Eragon finally attempted to lift his curse on the child she did as any young person would have done… she flung spite at the leader of the Varden and it was only through great cowering on Eragon’s part that the child finally agreed to help the Varden again. This is just one problem I had with Brisingr.

The second problem I had with Brisingr actually stems back to the end of the first book. Nasuada constantly feeling like she had authority over and dominion over the only free Dragon Rider in the entirety of their world. In the very first book Paolini set forth the history of the Dragon Riders and said that they were governed of themselves and they were the peace keepers and healers, scholars and story tellers of Alagaësia, the world of the Inheritance Cycle. However, at the very end of the first book, young and inexperienced Eragon swore fealty to Nasuada as leader of the Varden in the ancient language of magic, thus binding him to her in the most unbreakable of ways. If Dragon Riders were supposed to remain apart and autonomous then why is it even a young and inexperienced Rider such as Eragon would ever dare to make the mistake of binding himself to one master and one ruler for the whole of their existence, as Dragon Riders are supposed to be damn near immortal? It doesn’t make sense. Plot hole number one. Throughout the entirety of Brisingr, Nasuada orders Eragon about and is loath to let him leave her camp for even a few days. She orders him to the Dwarves, but orders that his dragon is to stay at the camp, knowing what kind of pain it would cause both dragon and Rider to be apart. That was pure selfishness on her part. Then she was even more loath to let them travel to the Elves and to his teachers to get the information he needed to do any good in the upcoming fighting, as if Eragon and his dragon, Saphira, were nothing more than her servants to order around and bandy about like common cattle.

Onto the final book in the story. This book was disappointing from the beginning and didn’t improve as the damn near 850 page book drew to a close. The exact page count is 849. At the very beginning of the book the Varden under command of Nasuada has marched north to the city of Belatona and laid siege to it. The book opens with that battle. Indeed, Brisingr ended with the battle of a city farther south called Feinster. After the battle of Belatona has been won, Nasuada sends Eragon’s cousin and only true living family at that point to the farthest southern point in the Empire to lay siege to a city called Aroughs, claiming that the risk is too great to be attacked from the rear as well as from the front. If that were so, then why did she not start her war against the Empire at Aroughs rather than traveling to Feinster first? And she didn’t even expect Eragon’s cousin to succeed; she said later in the book that she had to try something before she sent Eragon and Saphira there and risked them being gone for more than a few hours. Again, demonstrating how selfish she truly is. Not one person in the Varden meant anything to her other than bodies to die for her cause without thought or care as to who would be hurt in the process.

I could not understand how a person who had given such great care, thought, and planning to their ambitious war campaign against another entity would have the oversight not to start at the city that was the closest to them in the southern most tip of the area and march ever northward thereafter. Indeed between the three southernmost cities of the Empire, she started her campaign in the middle city. Paolini spent 96 pages of this massive 849 page tome on this one farthest southern city battle. For those who doubt my math I have included every page where Nasuada first talked with Eragon’s cousin and ordered him there, his journey there, what happened there, the battle, and his return to the main body of soldiers who had come to sit outside the gates to the city of Dras-Leona. This battle gave the book of sense of lethargy. It was one more battle described in depth and with numerous detail; which gave this book a dragged out feeling. In my opinion it was senseless, useless, and really did nothing to add to the story line of this book other than to kill off a character that Eragon’s cousin trusted with his life and earned the man more acclaim among the Varden. Both things were needless, and this book could have done without this battle.

The intermittent times between battles in this book seemed to be laced with pages and pages full of colorful descriptions that really lent nothing to the overall product of the book, as the descriptions themselves really did nothing to enhance the book and only seemed to add imagery, thoughts, feelings, and useless long winded banter between characters. Perfect examples of this were scenes with King Orrin of Surda. The man is long winded, pompous, arrogant, and over all a general irritation that should have been smacked and put in his place somewhere back in the middle of book three, rather than continuing in that general direction throughout the remainder of the entire story. I thought it refreshing that the only character in the books who didn’t see the need to appease, praise, and offer useless flattering compliments to every person around was Eragon’s cousin, Roran. Indeed, I found it quite refreshing when Roran blatantly stated that King Orrin was stupid and opposed him when he was being more arrogant and foolish than needed.

Most of this book was dedicated to battles, and those battle were described in quite lengthy detail from two different points of view… Eragon’s and Roran’s. When Paolini had gone through part of each battle from one perspective, he would switch to the other and describe it all over again. This gave each battle in the book of sense of “will it ever end”. While the battles were significant throughout the book, they should not have been quite so lengthy and time consuming. Each battle seemed to drag on and on. The only relation I can draw to it is watching the series North and South… Each part of that movie was an hour and a half, and there were 12 parts. So it’s like… Does it ever end?

I must say that the whole Vault of Souls was a predictable thing. When he first started mentioning it, and setting Eragon out on that quest I knew that there would be Eldunarí hidden within. The fact there were also over 200 dragon eggs hidden there was a surprise to me, but it was a pleasant one. It seemed right that somehow the dragons would not die out after all. I thought it was fitting that the only way to open the Vault of Souls was with your true name, which finally made Eragon admit to himself that he was not the boy who started out on the journey that lead him to where he was, and that revalation to himself made him finally acknowledge who he truly was. That kind of insight into yourself is always useful, but in the overall scheme of the story it didn’t help him accomplish his goal.

I thought that the location of the Rock of Kuthian was very fitting, as it was on the island the Dragon Riders had built their city and called home for over a thousand years; however I felt that the need to make everything on the island poisonous was needless and only seemed to ensure that the Dragon Riders would never again have a home of their own. I also found it disappointing that only a small number of the Eldunarí were found in the Vault of Souls and not at least a number equal to what Galbatorix himself had at his disposal. It was predictable that once again Paolini set before the readers a hope that there would be some sort of help available to Eragon that was able to finally bring a tyrant to his knees, but once again that was not to be as Eragon was still and always would be weaker. Indeed, he hadn’t had almost two centuries to master his mind and his emotions the way the tyrant king did. He was never meant to succeed in bring the tyrant to bear.

The pages spent devoted to the capture and torture of Nasuada was also equally boring and enlightening as to the character of Galbatorix himself. You got to see the true depth of his insanity as well as his arrogance and insecurity all at the same time. Here was a person that had untold amounts of power at his disposal and yet he spent the better part of 80 years pouring over mountains of scrolls, parchments, books, and tablets that the Riders had had in their library searching for the truth name of the ancient language which would render all magic ineffective. To that end it raises several points of interest. As Galbatorix said in the book, he found the name of names hidden within an old tablet. However, the vast expanse of his library where he sat studying for the better part of 80 years came from the Riders. So, how is it that the Riders themselves had not known the name of the ancient language and thus never was able to render his threat to the whole of Alagaësia useless? If the Riders had had that knowledge then why did they allow Galbatorix to come to power in the first place? How could they have been overpowered by a usurper and killed? That makes no sense whatsoever.

Furthermore, during Nasuada’s imprisonment Galbatorix made mention of the spies he had within the Varden that seemed as well informed of the Varden’s activities and supplies as Nasuada herself. This raises the question of who were his highest spies within the Varden. However, his spies were never named. One could look at that mystery logically and draw two conclusions. The only people who were so well versed in the Varden’s activities throughout the book were the people that Nasuada herself held council with. These people include Eragon, Saphira, Arya, her general, King Orrin, the healer and herbalist Angela (only on occasion), the king of the dwarves, and the queen of the elves. By a process of elimination we can rule out quite a few of Nasuada’s war council as spies. We know that Eragon, Saphira, and Arya were completely devoted to the cause of removing a tyrant. Indeed, these characters were so dedicated that they often gave little thought to much else. The king of the dwarves and the queen of the elves were only with the vast majority of the Varden army through the last book or just for the last battle, so it is unlikely that they would have had much information to pass Galbatorix for an extended length of time. The healer and herbalist, Angela is also unlikely considering that she had spent much of Galbatorix’s reign in hiding so as to keep herself out from under his far reaching grasp. This leaves only two choices as Galbatorix’s spy that could have fed him information of every aspect of the Varden: her general or King Orrin himself. Who is the more likely of these two characters? I really couldn’t say. However, it can be deduced through logic and the own guidelines set forth by Paolini how a person who had sworn loyalty and allegiance to the leader of the Varden in the ancient language could still feed information to the enemy. A person who has sworn fealty in the ancient language would by their own oath have to fight in the battles of their enemies and do their utmost to protect the leader of the Varden with their very lives; in other words the oath is one to swear off harm and give service. However, that oath would not think to include the idea of information. So as long as it was without the intent of harm and the person still gave their service to the leader of the Varden, the information could be passed to enemy hands.

The whole of the battle for the capital left me feeling empty. The battle was written in 129 pages, but they seemed forever long and drawn out as they described the battle within the city itself as well as within the throne room of Galbatorix. On one side of the battle you had the whole of the army assembled against Galbatorix attempting to take the city. However, none of the magic the elves cast worked and the army itself seemed incredibly powerful. Here I have to make several points. The warriors who felt no pain and refused to die long after their body was dead… The spell casters who were only human yet more powerful than even the weakest spell caster elf… The general who was stronger than any human should have been, and stronger than any elf could ever hope to be… When all else failed and ingenuity failed Paolini he just threw out that Galbatorix had given his men enchantments that made them far stronger than anything else, enhanced magical ability with magic. It was a cheap way out, and left me cold to it. The idea also that Galbatorix regarded the secret of his great strength and power, the Eldunarí with such a flippant attitude as to give one of them to his general is preposterous. Why would a person such as Galbatorix give one of his very sources of power to a mere human general? Why would he even tell this general the source of his power? Why would he tell anyone? I mean, in a way I can almost see why he gave some of them to Murtagh, but I cannot understand for the life of me why he would let any mere human know of their existence.

In the final battle at the capital, the elves were sold entirely short. Here is supposed to be a race of people that are so fast, strong, lithe, and fierce, that they have no mortal equal. However, how did Paolini portray them in this battle? He portrayed them as weak, slow, and generally unable to defend themselves without the use of magic to aid them. It was an entire misrepresentation of everything he had written in the three books previously. Furthermore, I felt that the death of the elf queen was entirely needless. It served no purpose other than to issue in a new age in the race of the elves and kill one of the oldest elves that lived from the age of the dragon wars. In addition to that, Paolini went to great lengths to name the queen of the elves a fierce warrior who brought down many in her path; however the general of Galbatorix’s army, a mere human was able to kill her. Furthermore, giving the accomplishment of the death of the general to a mere human, Roran, when the queen of the elves was unable to accomplish it seemed like a belittlement to the race of the elves as a whole.

The battle with Galbatorix itself was very unsatisfying after waiting through four books to get to it. First he renders them incapacitated by stripping their ability to use magic and then using magic to keep them glued in place. Then he turns around and forces Eragon and his half brother Murtagh to fight each other, causing each other numerous injuries. Then and only then did he finally get off his throne and rip open Eragon’s mind to finish his resistance and force him to swear allegiance. I thought the idea of what Eragon did to be quite satisfying in that he cast a spell with his emotion and through the Eldunarí who expanded the spell and used Galbatorix’s own actions over the course of the better part of two centuries to finally defeat him. It is not a new idea, though. The idea of forcing another person to feel the pain and suffering they have inflicted to bring them to their knees in a cowering mass is not new. However, it was ingenious here. Eragon was never strong enough to defeat that tyrant king, and in the end only the scope of what he had done could finally best him by forcing him to face his own fears and cowardice. However, the moment lasted only too briefly and it left me with a sense of “it wasn’t long enough”… I understand that the character had to die, but by forcing him to feel the torment, anguish, and fear he had caused for so long they were in a perfect position to force him to live inside of that pain for a lot longer than he did. He only felt it for a few brief moments. The justice wrought with that spell was far from enough.

I always knew that Galbatorix’s dragon would have to die, but after hearing that the dragon had been driven utterly insane by Galbatorix’s twisted control, it made me feel sad that there was no hope left for him and it was kinder to put him out of his insane misery than it was to allow him to live. That was just one more injustice to the end of the book that left me cold. And, having Arya, Eragon elven companion throughout the whole of the series, kill the dragon was another blow that left me cold. It was the ultimate irony to have an elf kill the dragon when the elves valued the dragons more than any other race.

Finally, the resolution to the entire series after the death of the tyrant king and his dragon left me cold for several reasons. First, there was the fact that the throne went to Nasuada, an arrogant and immature half woman who I felt would be nothing more than another tyrant in the end due to the fact that she attempts to control and micromanage everyone and everything around her. King Orrin of Surda would never have been a worthy candidate due to his arrogance and vanity and his “it’s my right” attitude. No, the throne should have gone to Roran, a person who is straight forward, honest, and doesn’t mince words just to placate vanity and pompousness. He would have been much better suited to rule the entirety of the Empire because his personality was better suited to accomplishing what needed to be done than Nasuada who just wanted the prestige of the entire title. However, in seeing how the heir to the throne was chosen it was interesting to see that Nasuada had planned from the beginning to take the crown. It shouldn’t have surprised me, but at the same time, I felt that she was wrong for the title, because she would ultimately become the tyrant she sought to overthrow.

I was further disappointed when the final dragon egg that Galbatorix had in his possession for over a century chose to hatch for Arya and that she was also made the queen of the elves. I could understand choosing one or the other, but to make her both left the end of the book out of balance for two reasons which made no sense. First, how can the queen of an entire race also be a Dragon Rider and fulfill the duties and responsibilities of both titles? Second, it throws the entire line of power out of whack for all of the other races, because there is a dragon that is solely within one race’s boundaries to defend it and fight for it above any other. Furthermore, the idea that Eragon had to leave Alagaësia because he was a Dragon Rider, yet leave another Dragon Rider within the boundaries of Alagaësia was completely stupid. How can one have to leave and yet the other doesn’t have to? That made no sense to me. All of Eragon’s reasons behind leaving were valid. However, the only other Dragon and Rider that existed that were not twisted and warped by Galbatorix’s control were left where they were just because the Rider was made queen of the elves after the dragon hatched for her. Shouldn’t the elves have known better than to make a Dragon Rider their next queen? Is their great and vast wisdom we’ve heard so much about nothing but a lie? I just didn’t get it. As a Rider, she should have left with Eragon to help train the new Riders. She shouldn’t have been left to have one of the only two dragons in existence so far away from the only female dragon that could in time reproduce.

Another displeasing point in the aftermath was that Nasuada proved herself to be every bit as much of a tyrant as I took her for from the beginning. She adopted Galbatorix’s philosophy on magic and magicians and wanted to control all of the magicians in the human race and beyond by governing them with their own laws and so forth that only she would create. And then she wanted Eragon to be the leader of this group of magicians that were sworn to her and bound by her laws and rules, without giving thought to anything else that Eragon might have to do for the Riders. In that, the chapter where Eragon had to first explain why he had to leave and then convince his tyrant “liege lord” was absolutely ridiculous. As I said earlier, her arrogance at attempting to control and bind the only free Dragon Rider to her and use him to do her bidding was nothing more than ridiculous when the author himself had spent all four books going on about how the Riders were supposed to remain separate and autonomous from all others. Yet all she saw was her absolute control through this one Dragon Rider and all of the power at his disposal for her use. Just as Galbatorix had sought to control the power of the Eldunarí, so did she, whether it was actually said or not.

Furthermore, I thought that giving the title of Earl to Roran and the whole of the valley he grew up in as his province for all that he had fought and gained in the entirety of the war was an ill fitted end. Roran would have been better suited to be king. His arrogance wouldn’t have gotten in the way, and he wouldn’t have sought to control and micromanage every last little detail around him and all of the most powerful people within reach. He would have been upset at the loss of Eragon, but he wouldn’t have sat there and thrown such an arrogant and childish thing at him like “I could order you to stay”. No. Roran would have parted ways with Eragon and Saphira and allowed them to do what they had to do.

Speaking of which, Nasuada never counted on the fact that her orders to Eragon were no longer binding. Take into account two things… first when he pledged fealty to her he was but an inexperienced boy, second in the time from then to the end of the fourth book he had so completely changed that he was no longer bound by his oaths of fealty and obedience, just as Murtagh so found his freedom from those oaths to Galbatorix so did Eragon find those freedoms from Nasuada, again though it was not stated. She didn’t hold any power over him anymore. His oath was no longer there, for he had so completely changed his true name and identity from what it had been. And she was just as loath to allow Eragon to leave without telling someone the true name of the ancient language to continue to do as she wished with it, without any thought or regard to how much damage it could inflict if it was just banded about lightly by any ambitious but ability lacking magician.

Another problem with this story was Eragon himself. Time and time again he was told great secrets of magic, and Dragon Riders, and dragons themselves, and the importance of secrecy was pressed on him again and again yet at the very first chance he got he would tell the dragons greatest secrets to everyone he could. The horde of Eldunarí that he found stashed on the Dragon Rider’s island was pressed into him to keep secret, but the first chance he got, he told every one of the “leaders” of the respective races as well as his cousin and several other different and lesser characters. It’s as if the secrets that had been guarded for thousands of years meant nothing to Eragon himself. Which lead to the one thing the dragons had never wanted to happen; the Eldunarí became common knowledge among all of the races in Alagaësia, which in turn only forced Eragon to have to leave that much faster in order to protect them from his own lose tongue and inability to keep the greatest secret of the dragons. Furthermore, Eragon knew that to find one’s true name was to have mastery over that person in a way that could never be removed. And it could be exploited. However, no sooner did he find his true name than he offered to share it with Arya for no other reason then they were going to be facing the most powerful and evil person in all of Alagaësia the following day and they might die. Which says one of two things about the character of Eragon: either he truly believed that he would die and he wanted Arya to truly know him before he died because he trusted her with the whole of his being, or he was reckless and didn’t grasp the importance of what he was truly offering her. Either way, it left the character looking rather stupid and reckless, like his entire being was nothing more to him than something to give someone else without thought or care. And then again, when he learned the name of the ancient language he also told that to Arya despite the fact that Murtagh warned him about being flippant with it. It’s as if he couldn’t bear to keep the name to himself and he just had to tell someone, so who better than the one person he had fought along side through all four books… If Paolini proved one thing again and again with this character, it was this, never tell Eragon a secret of importance because he’ll just tell everyone within reach anyway.

The end of the book where Eragon and Arya shared a somewhat romantic and intimate goodbye was in my opinion in poor taste. For reasons stated above, Arya should have gone with Eragon. However, that wasn’t written. Instead, they stood on the deck of a ship and exchanged the most intimate goodbye they could by saying each other’s true name, and then her dragon swooped down and carried her off toward the shore where they had left Roran standing on the bank of the river, and Eragon sailed ever eastward down a river of all things to a new land. It left me cold and with a feeling of, why would Eragon never return, and why would Arya have accepted the position of queen of the elves as a Rider in the first place? The entire end of this book was without resolution and only contradicted itself again and again. I never understood Paolini’s thoughts that Eragon would never be allowed to return to Alagaësia. If he was a Dragon Rider then it was his duty as a Rider to uphold the peace within the land. However, he stated that he would never return, which makes no sense. Yes, it was also his duty to train the next generation of Riders with the eggs that had been hidden, but what would he do when those Riders were fully trained and beyond capable? He would still live in his self imposed isolation. That made no sense to me.

What’s more, he turned around and altered the spell of the Riders to include not only the dwarves but also the urgals. That I didn’t understand. I could understand the dwarves who weren’t blood thirsty or power hungry, except among themselves where clan disputes broke out; however the urgals are a blood thirsty race and I failed to see how making them Riders would change that aspect of their race. Riders are peace keepers, not war mongers. So the logic set forth to make them Riders, if any logic behind it had been presented, made no sense to me. And I must say, Paolini offered little logical thought to that idea other than to include all of the races in Alagaësia in the Dragon Rider spell that forever bound dragons and Riders together. It was another ill thought out and even less well explained aspect of the end of the book.

Finally, there was a great lack of ingenuity and creativity on the part of Paolini himself at the end of this book. One thing was that he went on and on about “the Word”… which was nothing more than the name of the ancient language; however he never gave us the name of the ancient language. Was he so lost in his own story that he failed to actually name the ancient langue? For an author that spent much of the book bloating it with vast detail and description he failed to give a key detail, which only made the oversight that much more blaring. Then there was the fact that Eragon finally learned his true name; however the author himself never gave it to us, or the translation for it. It’s as if Paolini didn’t understand or know his character enough to actually name him once and for all. That showed a great lack of understanding of the character he had created, and a great oversight in detail that only left the book partially complete.

While this book was ok, and it finally ended the Inheritance Cycle, which is something I have been waiting for these past seven and a half years, it left a bitter taste in my mouth. I feel that the author could have done better and the fact that he didn’t only leaves me to believe that by the time he got to the end of the story he no longer had any idea what to do with it. The lack of creativity, ingenuity, and foresight to answer many questions, and the blatant predictability in many places, and the many useless pages of overly detailed battle descriptions and scenery left me bored and often lacking the desire to continue.

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