Eldest is the second book in the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini. I’d read the first book almost 5 years back and had resisted reading the second one because I thought it would be boring, considering it was a good 700 pages or so and 5 years is too long a break to watch out for series.
When I discovered the book to be lying on my bookshelf, brand new and yet gathering dust, I decided to give it a try. Eldest begins few days after the events in Eragon’s last chapter. The Battle of Farthen Dur over, the Varden, the rebel group opposing evil king Galbatorix’s reign over Alagaësia (the fictional continent where the Inheritance Cycle takes place) are busy mourning their losses and preparing to move to Surda, the only place out of the empire’s reach. Eragon, with the help of Saphira and Arya kills the shade Durza in the ensuing battle and earns the title of Shadeslayer.
When Eldest begins we see Eragon swearing loyalty to all the races- humans, dwarves and later to the elves. Shortly thereafter, Eragon, Saphira, Arya and Orik leave for Ellesmera where Eragon and Saphira will be trained as proper Dragon and Rider. As the Varden needs his and Saphira’s help, they have to leave their training and fly back to join the Varden in their Battle on the Burning Plains. There he comes face to face with someone he thought was a friend who had died and learns the bitter secret of his true identity.
In a parallel plot line we see Roran considering how to ask for the hand of Katrina, his beloved in marriage from her father Sloan and trying to fight the Ra’zac who are chasing him because of his relation to Eragon. Despite his many attempts to keep the villagers safe, Katrina gets abducted by the Ra’zac and Roran must chase after them to save her. He convinces his fellow villagers to fight the Ra’zac and rise against the Empire for the atrocities it has committed upon their village. He manages to stir up a following and they embark on a tumultuous journey to find a safe haven from the Empire. Following a chance meeting with Jeod, who along with Brom had stolen Saphira’s egg from Galbatorix and had helped Eragon and Brom earlier, the villagers of Carvahall, Roran and Jeod set out to go to Surda where Roran meets his cousin, Eragon Shadeslayer.
This time Paolini infuses some maturity into his young characters and depicts their coming of age, their struggles to cope with adulthood and burden of responsibility very well. You can see his characters questioning and learning a great deal of things because of their roles in this war. That Paolini works on this process is very good indeed, but one does wish the process was more elegantly portrayed.
Throughout the book, it’s hard to detect any anticipation. The characters, the plot all seem to wander and roam at their own paces, rushing in places and meandering on unnecessary detours at many places. In attempt to show the cousins Roran and Eragon’s different yet similar struggles, Paolini harps again and again on similar stories and adventures with unexplained miracles and divine intervention sprinkled across here and there. His imagination goes through sudden spurts but nothing extraordinary comes to the surface. In a tale involving humans, elves, dwarves, Urgals- a race which survives on their love for war and bloodshed and most importantly sentient intelligent dragons, Paolini could have cooked up a much more riveting and gripping work. Instead what we get is a mild mannered account of a war from various narrow perspectives and the occasional interesting insight.
It’s not a bad book, but it’s not a great book either. With Eragon, Paolini was sitting on a goldmine of potential brilliance. He has pulled off a good second offering, but it falls short on many counts, the first and foremost being any lack of writing style that would stand out and add to the subject matter of the tale. With a good many interesting and eccentric characters, Paolini could have produced much witty dialogue, but all we see are few feeble jabs and exchanges.
In any case, I’m sure anyone who has read the first book will read this one (It’s the curse of reading series- one has to know what happens next) and whether they like Eldest or not, they will look forward to read Brisingr.
You can also read other reviews here.