Eldest : Book Review

Eldest - Christopher Paolini
Eldest - Christopher Paolini

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.

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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.

Book Review: Diary A Novel by Chuck Palahniuk

Diary - Chuck Palahniuk
Diary - Chuck Palahniuk

Diary is Chuck Palahniuk’s sixth fictional novel, following the success of books like Fight Club, Invisible Monsters and Choke.

Diary is written in the form of, well, a diary, by the leading character Misty Wilmot, a one time promising artist, now working as waitress in a resort hotel on Waytansea Island, where she landed after marrying her art school boyfriend Peter Wilmot.

While looking to sort her life and come out of it alive, she has completely given up art, any hope of becoming a renowned artist, any promise of returning to her old talent. Misty seems to think the whole town is urging her to start painting again so that she can restore the family to their old grandeur and wealth and also save Waytansea island from being turned into a tourist dump. She seems to be able to paint only when she’s under extreme duress.

The diary shows her journey through her days, from when she reluctantly picks up the brush, how she copes with her miseries and how she comes to face the reality which turns her world upside down.

The novel is short, precise and cuts across like a sharp knife. Palahniuk always claims to write in verbs i.e. his story is told in action, his characters are talking and acting, he doesn’t waste much time describing background, settings, and other elements of the bigger picture. This style works very well for his writing and his plots- he keeps the reader focused on the main story and uses his characters to channelize the emotions from a first person voice, which obviously is more engrossing for the reader.

Some parts of the novel will elicit very strong reactions; one almost cringes at the cruelty she has to suffer to produce great art. That’s one of the distinctive features of Palahniuk’s works, they have scenes of physical, mental and psychological violence which can remain frozen in your memory for a long long time. Though he has been criticized for employing violence and disturbing imagery with excessive force and frequency, one can’t deny that it lends a distinctive and vivid touch to his writing.

Diary will keep you engrossed, cringing and breathless throughout its 270 odd pages. A must read for Chuck Palahniuk fans and for those who’d like to experiment with horror and satire concocted in a heady blend.

 

You can read the complete review here.

Review: The Golden Gate

The Golden Gate- Vikram Seth
The Golden Gate- Vikram Seth

Vikram Seth’s first novel , The Golden Gate is a novel in verse about the lives of few young people in San Francisco. Its unique nature of narration and the fact that he took such a risk in his very first novel is laudable.

Written in the format of Onegin stanzas, which are sonnets written with the rhyme scheme of ababccddeffeg, in iambic tetrameter, the book is said to be inspired by Charles Johnston’s translation of Pushkin’s 1833 Russian classic, Eugene Onegin. The act of writing a novel in itself a difficult feat, to manage to do so in verse cannot have been easy at all and this is what makes one revere the book. The publishers might not have been expecting much from this book given its unique storytelling format, but it received wide acclaim from peers and critics and also managed healthy sales.

When I picked up the book, it was keeping the above mentioned factors in mind. I thought it would be interesting to read such a novel, since I like poetry and prose with an almost equal affection, I was very happy with this acquisition. The start was great, the verse flowed, the story went along smoothly, not at all obstructed by its narration and it was a great feeling to realize the balance between adherence to rhyme scheme and keeping the integrity of the story.

Alas, the constant tap tap tap and beats of the verse began to tire me out. It became slightly irritating to have to read it in verse when one felt that it could have gone on much better in simple prose. But here I think the distinction lies between the heart matter of the story- its plot and its vehicle – it’s format and narration. It began to seem that story in itself was not much remarkable, and it was all about the format. And that’s when you lose interest. The story doesn’t seem to take you anywhere, at the pace with which you want it to. The rhyme began to seem more contrived, as if a simple table had been covered with a jarring tablecloth in order to make it look better than what it actually is. And that is where a book begins to fail for me, where it stops being true to itself and works around the peripherals to do its work.

Read the complete review here.

Review: The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters

The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters
The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters- Elisabeth Robinson

This is one of the best epistolary novels I’ve read in quite some time. Composed entirely of letters from our protagonist to others, it is an engaging, emotional and heart warming read.

Olivia Hunt, a struggling film producer covers a year of highs and lows and her letters, full of tiny details show us how her life and of those around her is going. While struggling to produce a film version of Don Quixote, she has to cope with her sister’s leukemia and not to mention relationship troubles.

The novel touches a cord somewhere. It’s not a very complex read, rather straightforward and peppered with a sprinkling of humor. But it brings out the dynamics of relationships very well. Not all of us are very attached to our families, but we are still there for them as they are for us. And that is what the novel is all about. You might not like doing things for them, but you still do, with all that you have and when you do, you know you did the right thing.