Thursday, January 12, 2012

Inheritance, a Review

Say one thing for Christopher Paolini, say he finally finished his Inheritance Cycle.  Beginning back in 2002 with Eragon, the series finally drew to a close nine years later with the release of Inheritance.  Paolini started writing the story at age fifteen, which was probably about the age I was when I started reading the series.  But as I matured, my tastes began to move away from clean, bland, cliched fantasy, and I lost interest in the tale of   Alagaësia.  By the time Brisingr came out--Book 3, 2008--I was a completely different Reader.  My review (here) reflects this well.  I was unsure whether or not I would even read the final volume.

As it goes, I did decide to read the concluding book to the Cycle, and I'm glad I did.

Inheritance begins after the Battle of Feinster, with the Varden deciding to march upon Urû'baen and finally confront Galbatorix.  Alagaësia is a big country, and this march takes about 800 pages.  Okay, I go too far.  While the march takes a long time, there's a lot of different things going on between the beginning and the end.  Eragon has some last minute things he needs to do and take care of.  The Varden have a few "loyal" cities to crush before they reach the capital.  And a lot of travel.  And a lot of page filler.  But still, much of the exposition and rising action are all pointing to Urû'baen, and the Reader can't help but trudge along.  

Going into the novel, I had no doubts that Paolini's vanilla series would end with Galbatorix dead, I just didn't know how.  Color me surprised when the affects of war and suffering started permeating throughout Paolini's writing.  People were grieving and dying left and right, and the general confusion of war reigned.  Add to that the growing promise of Galbatorix's power and the grittiness of a torture scene spread over several chapters.  I still suspected, but at least I wasn't as sure as I had been.  And oh, the torture scenes.  I've read a few books with torture and interrogation in them, but Paolini's methodology and writing were excellent here.*

At times it felt like Paolini was struggling, and his tale suffered for it.  In particular, the denouement was painful and incredibly long.  I'm reminded of the multiple endings of Peter Jackson's Return of the King, except in a bad way.  The climax was prolonged and simplistic, but overall pleasing.  Sadly, the story continued on for many more pages after.  I considered quitting, not knowing why there was so much closure, figuring it must have been hard for Paolini to write the end to this series that is by all rights his baby.  He needed closure, and perhaps so did some of the ardent fans of the series.  Unfortunately, resolution was a bit... lacking.

Also, like the previous novels, typical tropes and blatant knockoffs abound in this book.  One cannot help but be reminded of Tolkien.  However, Paolini is not alone here, and in fact there is a distinct subset of fantasy fiction that is very Tolkienesque.  Personally, I like innovation, which Paolini has, but he didn't rely on it near enough.  Having been a reader of SFF for most of my life, I'm familiar enough with these cliches to know that practically all SFF writers rely on them to some extent, and Paolini's use wasn't bad enough to be plagiarism, but it did have me groan a few times (especially at the very end of the novel).  Another problem is the bland-to-lifeless characterization, especially Galbatorix.  Truly, I laughed at Galbatorix's demeanor, presentation, and general being.  His actions just didn't fit his reputation at all.

In the acknowledgments after the book, the author reveals that he has more stories to tell in Alagaësia.  He admits to leaving some things unresolved and up-in-the-air (eg, Angela the Herbalist), and this was a slap in the face.  She was possibly my favorite character, just due to her strangeness.  (I have my ideas about her, but alas.)  I seriously doubt I will be revisiting this world again of my own volition.

As a whole, the Inheritance Cycle is a very clean and approachable series that has impacted millions of readers around the world.  It is a great introductory story that really captures what traditional, high epic fantasy is about, even if it staggers along its way.  It lacks the depth and despair of Lord of the Rings, of course, but it has a certain depth of its own.  (Yes, it is unfair to compare this to Tolkien, but on the same token, it's unfair to compare almost anything to Tolkien.)  In my opinion, I can recommend Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Cycle to those curious about traditional fantasy, especially younger readers.  There's dragons, elves, dwarfs, sword fights, magic, and a lot of fun to be found in these pages.  For veterans of SFF, the series won't knock your socks off and may not even raise your pulse much, but the story is still an impressive (if mostly predictable) feat.  Inheritance itself is better than Brisingr, but lacks the excitement of Eragon and Eldest.  I had wished for something else in the final book, but it is what it is, and puts a fitting end on the story.

Inheritance Cycle Covers, by John Jude Palencar
*As a rule, I generally dislike picking on an author's writing style.  They are published, after all, and famous and rich and living the high life.  Still, I'm compelled to point out that Paolini's writing seemed amateur throughout most of this book and Brisingr.  (I don't recall enough about the first two to add them here.)  His lack of pronoun usage bothered me, as I grow tired of paragraph upon paragraph following a similar structure.  Pronouns are okay in my book.  Another thing was his occasional bizarre word choices.  It almost seemed like he had a thesaurus handy and just picked whatever came to mind, whether it fit or not.  While this isn't necessarily a problem, it is worth mentioning, as I found it made the reading experience uneven and jagged. 


Anonymous said...

I appreciate this review. very well done.

I think when someone chooses to write under the influence and in the vein of another great work, comparisons are fair game.

I think a read comes off worse when the potential is as evident as you say. Sounds like the author definitely needs an ending in order to pursue his craft; although, too bad he couldn't develop it along the way.

*just because they are published and living the high life doesn't mean the writing was good, which is insulting. man I hate the misuse of a thesaurus (which is why you will not doubt N's receipt of her first thesaurus at age 6)


Alex Hagerman said...

While I have not read this series you know that The Dresden Files is my favorite and is going to be 23 books total with the last 3 called the "Apocalyptica" closing the series. I'm always worried when I'm ending a series especially one this big that the same thing that has happened here and with many other large scope series will happen leaving me feeling unresolved, but let's hope not. Good review, and congrats on removing another book from the TBR list.

David Wagner said...

You're the only person I know who has read this series. Nice review. I doubt seriously that I will ever read them, but who knows, eh?

Congrats on 50 followers! Now *you're* famous and rich, yes?

Jonboy said...

Your review was spot on. Your qualms were nearly identical to mine throughout the book.

The resolution disappointed me more than anything. I mean, really? That's it?

I often felt Eragon was a relatively flat character throughout the entire series. Roran is far more interesting, but even I grew weary of scene after scene featuring Roran bash yet another soldier with his infamous war hammer.

Sadly (and I'd hate for Paolini to read this), I also agree the series grew progressively worse.

Truth be told, I'm making it sound worse than it is, but I was just overall disappointed after reading the series for going on a decade. Like you said though, it certainly won't win any awards for originality, but you could do a lot worse than Inheritance.

Have you read The Hunger Games by any chance?

Jonboy said...

Oh I forgot to mention Galbatorix. After all the buildup to his reveal, I couldn't believe there wasn't more to it. I won't spoil it for those who may read it in the future, but once his face was finally revealed I just felt a sense...that's it?

logankstewart said...

@L: Affirmative, I too execrate the malapropistic employment of a lexicon of equivalent words. Such a vile assuetude, that.

@Alex: Did you say 23 books long?! Goodness gracious. Here's to hoping Butcher successfully pulls it off.

@Dave: I find it amazing that you don't know anyone else that's read this. When they came out, they were almost as hot as Harry Potter. Fascinating.

@Jonathan: I agree. Eragon was a very flat character, and I found it terribly ironic what his True Name wound up being. Roran really never did anything for me, and Murtagh was just a whiny baby, but at least he was interesting. And yeah, Galbatorix just went down hill fast.

As for the The Hunger Games: YES! I tore through the first two books in two days, and the third as soon as it came out (review here. The first was my favorite, but the trilogy was still very good and addictive. The movie looks pretty good, that's for sure.

Kristopher A. Denby said...


I've never read these. My sister and son read the first one and gave up on the series. They both felt like the book was an obvious rip off of Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings. Even my son, at age 11 or 12, was complaining at how Paolini had borrowed the story from Star Wars, dressed the characters up in costumes from The Lord of the Rings, and gave them Tolkienesque names.

After hearing this from them, I got curious and started reading about the series on the web. Some of Paolini's pompous remarks comparing himself to great authors sealed the deal for me, and I knew that I'd never read one of his books.

I understand your not wanting to bash someone's writing style, but there's nothing wrong with informed criticism. After all, you write book reviews. As far as I'm concerned, if you stick it out there, whether it's me, you, or one of the famous, rich guys/gals, you gotta be prepared for the criticism that might follow. (Side note on that thought: I think critics went easy on Paolini with Eragon, and I think that's fair. For once, it seems members of the media acted like human beings. He was just a kid, and I wouldn't bash a 14-15 year old's work. He completed a novel! That's an accomplishment in and of itself. I think he's a product of some very supportive parents. The problem I have with that, is that they should have tempered that encouragement with a dash of humility. Furthermore, he's a kid no more, and, therefore, subject to the same criticism everyone else gets.)

The Sound and Fury of Kristopher Denby

logankstewart said...

@Kris: I'm intrigued about these "pompous remarks" of Paolini's. Could they be simply childish swagger? From the few things I've read about him, he seems genuinely humble and sincere in his gratitude. Of course, being creamed all around by the critics would make one humble, methinks. Either that, or more cocky. Either way it goes, the series stands on its own, though with shaky legs and a fluttering heart. Can't say that I think you would enjoy it.