Brisingr : Book Review

(This review might contain some spoilers, but hey, where have you been if you’ve not read this one already?)

Brisingr- Christopher Paolini
Brisingr- Christopher Paolini

I’ve always had mixed feelings about the Inheritance series books. On one hand, I greatly admire the fact that Paolini was a young teenager when he started out and created a commendable piece of work in fantasy fiction, but at one hand he shows a complete lack of effort to improve his writing style and storytelling techniques.
In the third, and not the final book of the Inheritance Cycle, Paolini continues where the second book Eldest left off. The battle of Burning Plains has come to an end and Eragon and his cousin Roran are out to rescue Roran’s beloved Katrina from the clutches of the Ra’zac- a deadly treacherous beast under Galbatorix’s command who were also responsible for killing their father Garrow and ruining their lives in Carvahall.

During their rescue mission, Eragon comes across Sloan, Katrina’s father and the butcher who had betrayed them to the Ra’zac for his daughter. Here Eragon faces a moral dilemma as to when he feels he should kill Sloan for the murders he had caused but at the same time doesn’t want to become a law unto himself. Paolini meanders for a good 100 pages for this quandary and brings in an unnecessary detour in the story.

The story progresses to show Roran fighting with the Varden, having to proving his worth again and again before he can lead an army under his command.  Meanwhile Eragon has another face-off with  Murtagh his half brother and Thorn; returns to the Beor Mountains for the election and coronation of the new Dwarf King following which he and Saphira fly out to Ellesmera to meet their mentors, the old Rider Oromis and his dragon Glaedr.

Here Eragon learns that Murtagh and he have the same mother, but Brom was Eargon’s father while Murtagh is the son of Morzan, the evil Rider who had betrayed the Riders to Galbatorix.  They also discover the secret for Galbatorix’s ever increasing power and the source of energy behind it.
Armed with that knowledge they  fly back to join the Varden in their siege of Feinster and from thereon we hope and wait for the fourth book to release and see if Galbatorix will ever be slain by our last free Dragon Rider.

At places Paolini shows a maturity to his characters and depth to his story that is often hard to find in many better fantasy series. But at the same time, he still seems to not have learned the art of lucid and tight prose. He goes on to waste pages on plotlines that hardly seem relevant to the plot and more like fillers in a badly orchestrated stage act.

While he has an interesting host of characters, sometimes they fall flat.  For instance, Roran has got to be one of the most monotonous and lackluster character in the history of fantasy fiction. Despite being  the only human without any strain of magic in him to be a prominent warrior  his struggles, his interactions with Eragon, his undying love for Katrina  and his unwavering loyalty to the Varden, show only a drab doggedness rather than valor or any heroic trait. There are many pages depicting battles in which Roran was involved, and if the only excuse for those many chapters are to show what a brave and courageous leader Roran can be, then it again confirms the fact that Paolini needs to sharpen his writing.

It is for such unwarranted and unwanted rambling and extension that Paolini chose to write another book in what was supposed to be a trilogy and disappointed a large part of his audience.  He has mentioned that he wanted to explore the moral quandaries that Eragon faced, but writing a whole new book for the series hardly seems like a wise recourse.  As the character of Eragon develops and comes closer to fulfilling his ambition to slay Galbatorix, there will be many places where he will have to put his judgment, his character, his mind, his body, heart and soul to test.  The question here is not of exploring the character through pages and pages, but how to portray it with effective lucid writing. What a better writer could have achieved in 300 pages, Paolini takes 738 pages.

Though I didn’t outright dislike this book, I was disappointed with it. I was disappointed at how it began, such that anyone who’s not read Eldest will hardly be in a position to understand all the nuances in the book.  I was dissatisfied with how he managed the plot, the characters and the flow of the story.  There were many parts which I thought were too contrived or shoddily thought out, but let’s not reveal all here. Last but not least, I was upset with the note on which it ended.  It was like flat beer, to say the least. It doesn’t leave you with eager anticipation for the fourth book because you can’t wait to see what happens, but because as any fantasy fiction series nerd would attest, you can’t not read what happens in the series, no matter how bad it is.

Let’s just hope Paolini makes up for this with some brilliance in the fourth book.

You can also read other reviews here.

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Eragon: Book Review

 

Eragon- Christopher Paolini
Eragon- Christopher Paolini

The first in the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini, Eragon is the story of a fifteen year old farm boy who discovers a dragon-egg and goes on to become a Dragon Rider. Dragon Riders used to be powerful elves and humans who helped maintain peace in Alagaesia (the fictional land where the series is set).

Eragon, our eponymous hero, is a poor farm boy who stumbles across a blue stone in the mountains and collects it, assuming it to be a precious stone that can buy his family some meat. That stone turns out to be a dragon egg and when it hatches, Eragon names the dragon Saphira. As anyone with a hidden pet would attest, hiding a dragon from your family is even more daunting a task. To add to his troubles, it so happens that this dragon egg was stolen from the Empire and the evil emperor Galbatorix has sent his evil creatures, the Ra’zac to find it. When his house is destroyed by the Ra’zac, Eragon flees the village with Saphira and the old storyteller Brom in order to save his village from further harm.

Thus begins Eragon’s journey into the world of magic, elves, dwarves, Varden (the rebel army against the empire) and a destiny that he’s fated to fulfill. Armed with an old sword bequeathed to him by Brom and a few magic spells, Eragon has to fight many evils of the powerful empire before learning that he’s the only free Dragon Rider in the entire empire and that in his hands rest the fate of whole Alagaesia.

It is clear that there are many derivations and influences in Paolini’s first work, but that doesn’t come in the way of this book being an entertaining read. Paolini might not be the most accomplished writer, or a very original one at that, but he does a good job balancing the various plot lines with his fantastic characters. Dragons are one of the most grand and exciting creatures in the pantheon of mythical beasts, and Paolini has created a great formula with the Dragon Rider concept. Plus with his assortment of elves, dwarves, Urgals and humans, he’s put up an ensemble that can rank with some of the most loved fantasy series.

For a first book, Eragon is really good. Now one can only wait and see if Eldest, the next in the series can match up with the first installment.

 

You can also read other reviews here.

The Simoqin Prophecies – Book Review

The Simoqin Prophecies - Samit Basu
The Simoqin Prophecies - Samit Basu

Imagine all of your favorite myths and legends, fantasy series, science fiction pulp and the mish mash of all that and more is The Simoquin Prophecies. And a ruddy brilliant mash-up it is, brimming with puns and references and an underlying subtle current of humor that restrains it from becoming an outrageous parody of all its constituents.

First in the GameWorld trilogy, the book begins in the year of rebirth of the greatest rakshas Danh-Gem and the revival of another hero who will bring his downfall. That is a quite standard premise for most tales of fantasy fiction, we agree, but Basu makes this a much more interesting plot with his unexpected twists and a host of magical creatures and eccentric characters. The book has all the magical creatures ever explored in Greek, Egyptian, Hindu mythology (some characters and sub-plots straight off from our beloved Ramayan), and some are his own inventions. There’s the ravian Kirin, the good-looking prince Asvin and Maya, our feisty and sharp heroine who’s the daughter of one of the most powerful spell-binders Mantric. While the Chief Civilian of Kol, the most powerful city in the world, worries about the rising amount of magic in the world and increasing number of rakshas sightings, Mantric is busy in Bolvudis (oh, don’t you love such wordplay?) setting up the world’s first magical movie studio.

Thus, Asvin, Maya, Kirin and Spikes (a pashan), the Dagger(under the name of Amloki), a centauress Red Pearl, and a vaman Gaam set off for Bolvudis to meet Mantric. Much adventure and drama happens on this eventful journey and they come to a parting of ways with Kirin.

Where does Kirin’s path lead him and what further adventures do Asvin and Maya tackle? What happens to the love triangle of Asvin, Maya and Kirin? Well, to know all of this and get some more entertainment, you must go read this book.

Basu pulls off an amazing and delightful debut, bringing a first off fantasy genre novel in India that would appeal to those brought up on Star Wars and Harry Potter and those who grew up listening to Indian folk tales and legends. Basu wrote The Simoquin Prophecies when he was 22 and got it published when he was 23, making him India’s youngest author at the time. A much laudable feat, especially when you compare it with the ambiguous rise of Indian writers in English. His work might not be the most original, but at least it doesn’t show any signs of colonial burdens and hang-ups or any of the quick chick-lit types coming out in the market. Instead he gives you a story made up with elements from your favorites, adds his own charm and creativity and dishes out a book that will have you wanting to read the second one very very eagerly.

You can also read other reviews here.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover- Book Review

Lady Chatterley's Lover- D H Lawrence
Lady Chatterley's Lover- D H Lawrence

Lady Chatterley’s Lover is probably the most controversial and most misunderstood novel of the twentieth century. The time in which it first came out was one of the primary reasons for its notoriety, but for the same reason it is also a highly commendable and one of the finest works of the time, proving Lawrence was a bold and brave man possessing courage to speak his mind within the realms of art, with the genius and understanding of a visionary.

The story revolves around a young married woman, Constance (Lady Chatterley) and her relationship with Oliver Mellors, gamekeeper of her husband’s estate and born to a class that’s beneath her and her husband’s social standing.

Constance,the protagonist, called Connie throughout the novel, who hails from a Scottish bourgeois family marries Clifford Chatterley, a baronet who prides himself on his membership in the aristrocracy, however a small part that may be. Following the first World War, Clifford becomes paralyzed from the waist down, which renders him impotent.

During their stay at Wragby Hall, she meets Oliver Mellors who goes on to be her lover in the story. Mellors comes across as a reticent man, who has a strong disdain for his rich masters. As Connie comes to know him, she realises that beneath his rough exterior and broad Derbyshire accent, there lies an intelligent, deep man with a noble heart and a sense of humor brimming with sarcasm.

Meanwhile in the novel, a new relationship begins to develop between Clifford and Mrs. Bolton, their middle-aged nurse who looks after him. Mrs.Bolton displays motherly affection and care for him,worshipping him for his success and intellect. While Connie and Mellors are moving away from dissatisfied relationships to a nurturing one, Clifford and Mrs.Bolton are heading towards a malicious and twisted one.

Though these relationships form the heart of the novel, the author explores the class and social conflict in the background. He depicts that through Mellors disregard for authority and Mrs.Bolton’s grudging admiration of Clifford.

The novel requires one to look beyond the narration, and into the characters’ minds and their words. On the surface, what is an adulterous affair, is also the rendering of one of the most beautiful relationships a man and woman can have. One that doesn’t discard passion for the meeting of minds, nor does it become mindless in the pursuit of primal desires. Lawrence describes the love making without euphemisms, without pretense and without any false modesty. He uses vernacular terms and words that are still black-listed. His work can be compared to that of Goya’s The Naked Maya which invited much ire and controversy. When the reader refuses to go beyond what he sees, he reduces a work of art to commonness or worse, to being obscene.

The book still faces censorship in many countries, a fact which still rankles free speech supporters. Even more obscene is the fact that even when the mainstream media is profligate, authorities still gun for works of art containing explicit material that might be central to the work or act as an instrument of art.

For those who have only heard of controversies of the book, it would do good to pick this one up and find out for yourself. The book is as dirty a book as Galileo was a madman for his heresies.

You can find the complete review here.

Review: Girl with a Pearl Earring

Girl with a Pearl Earring- Tracy Chevalier
Girl with a Pearl Earring- Tracy Chevalier

It’s a pity that whenever people hear this title they think of Scarlett Johansson. Having not seen the movie version of this novel by Tracy Chevalier, I cannot speak much about Ms. Johansson’s performance of Griet. But having read the book, I can speak for Griet, the protagonist in this historical novel about Johannes Vermeer’s famous painting by the same name.

Tracy Chevalier takes one of the masterworks of Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer and weaves a tale of intrigue and passion around her characters. The novel tells the story of Griet, a young girl from a poor family who’s sent to work with the Vermeer family to support her family when her father loses his eyesight.

Chevalier has described young Griet’s struggles with her own feelings and incapability to face them, her own maturing body and mind with striking accuracy and poetic rhythm. She brings out the various feelings- of jealousy and anger from Catherine, of passion and restraint from Vermeer, of desire and stubbornness from Griet and of Maria Thins’ wisdom and exhaustion at old age, in a subtle form, letting the reader sink into the experiences she creates through their various interactions. There are many underlying currents of drama and anticipation which would have been overdone by any other writer, but Chevalier deftly steers the story from being an overcharged melodrama into something that is deep, strong and heaving with emotions, like the vast ocean that looks calm on the surface with only a few waves breaking at shore to let out the disturbances deep within.

The complete review can be found here.