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.