I could whine for whole paragraphs about how much filler clogs this story, but I have whole paragraphs of other stuff I want to whine about, so I’ll just say this book could easily be cut down to around 400 pages without losing anything of value. Now, on to the other stuff I want to whine about:
When I was 175 pages into this book, I joked about it not mirroring the plot of Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. And it doesn’t, exactly. And yet it does. A not insignificant portion of the book is spent following characters other than “I swear his name is a play on ‘dragon’ and totally not ripped off LotR” Eragon. The adventures of these other characters don’t mirror Leia, Han, and Chewie’s adventures beyond both groups being hunted by their respective evil Empires. Eragon’s chapters, on the other hand . . .
While injured, Luke Aragorn Eragon is instructed by a voice in his head to go to Dagobah Ellesméra for Jedi Rider training with an ancient sage. The sage turns out to be a Jedi Master Dragon Rider who has lived in hiding since Emperor Palpatine King Galbatorix orchestrated the destruction of the Jedi Order other Dragon Riders. Luke Aragorn Eragon struggles with some aspects of Jedi elven philosophy and ultimately leaves before his training is complete after receiving a vision of his friends being attacked by the Galactic Empire Empire. He rocks up to the big battle, gets his ass thoroughly spanked by a stronger Force magic user, learns the unsettling alleged truth of his parentage, and barely gets out alive. In the final scene, Luke Aragorn Eragon vows to rescue Han his cousin’s girlfriend who was carried off to Jabba’s palace the Ra’zac’s stronghold.
As happened in the first book, where Paolini goes off-script is where the story really drags. The trouble starts at the very beginning when the cartoonishly evil Twins carry out the super obvious abduction and non-murder of Murtagh, book one’s Han Solo stand-in. There’s an inexplicable ambush, someone the Twins are supposed to be protecting dies, and the Twins and Murtagh are carried off and presumed dead. And despite the Twins’ stupidly obvious betrayal coming to light later, nobody puts two and two together until the painfully unshocking reveal near the end of the book.
Horrible contrivances aside, that beginning could have been a decent jumping-off point for an engaging side story. But noooOOOooo. Instead of the non-Eragon chapters following Murtagh during his abduction and subsequent imprisonment and torture/brainwashing/enslavement at the hands of Galbatorix (SUPER INTERESTING STUFF), they follow Eragon’s cousin, Roran, who was barely a character in the first book (and also THE OPPOSITE OF SUPER INTERESTING). A few chapters are devoted to the new leader of the Varden, but I don’t have a problem with those. Well, the pseudo-Alia Atreides character is cringe-inducing, but I’m willing to just add Dune to the list of works Paolini probably lifted from was inspired by and move on.
Roran’s chapters were hard to get through. Every time I put the book down for extended periods, it was at a Roran chapter. He strikes me as a Perrin “Goldeneyes” Aybara tribute character (add Wheel of Time to the “inspiration” list), only with none of the character traits that made Perrin a natural leader, and he couldn’t hold my interest if you handed it to him in an airtight container.
Roran blames Eragon for his dad’s death and is bummed that his girlfriend’s dad hates him and he can’t afford to get married. Then the Ra’zac show up to arrest him and he drags his whole village into the conflict. He takes up a hammer as his brand-new signature weapon (he’s not a blacksmith, apprentice or otherwise), and when things go sideways he drags the whole village all over Alagaësia to another country and straight into another, bigger, conflict. His transformation from cardboard cutout to cardboard cutout people instinctively take orders from is so badly illustrated that it seems almost farcical. Grief and rage are good motivations, but they’re not a substitute for personality, and without them Roran is as flat and flavorless as tissue paper. I found it hard to believe anyone would follow him anywhere.
Murtagh, on the other hand, was an interesting character in the first book. He’s cynical and world-weary. He’s got literal and figurative scars from a traumatic past. He’s running from his demons, living and dead. He’s a complex guy with a complex take on morality, and that makes him a really good foil to Eragon’s teenage country bumpkin naïveté. You know who isn’t an interesting character, like, at all?
Stronghammer. Roran Stronghammer.
Reading Progress Updates:
1. Page 175
2. Page 225
3. Page 367
4. Page 380
5. Page 413
6. Page 487