Yet another variation on this overwhelmingly well beaten track.
Probably great if you are young and haven’t read many other fantasies – not because it’s particularly worse or better than a lot in this market – but just because you won’t have lost any novelty value.
Egocentrism is again key for the teenage hero, projected at that particular demographic. It’s a world where everything is constructed to revolve around him (cf. just about every other teen fantasy). Oh look, I have a dragon. Gosh, I’m good at sword-fighting. Look, I can do magic. Everybody wants to talk to me. Anytime now someone beautiful and noble who needs rescuing will fall in love with me.
I might have enjoyed the usual fare – dragons, sword-fights, evil magicians, bloodlines, babe-heroines, nobility…, but while it was a variation, the similarities/derivation for me far overwhelmed the distinctives.
Clearly not a review to win me any ‘helpful’ votes on amazon, but a handy reminder for me if I come across any sequels (then again, I only just found out Paolini was only 15 when he wrote it – surely room for some more depth and maturity in consequent books). I’d recommend it for people who’d read a lot less in this genre than I already have.
Oh, and the dragon was really disappointing. Surprisingly not any more disappointing than Ursula LeGuin’s in ‘Dragonfly’ (because in nearly every other respect LeGuin is a vastly superior writer). Paolini just assumes rather than even attempt to create or evoke this deep, profound, intimate bond between rider and dragon. He doesn’t even offer a paragraph of vague justification, “… over the next two years Eragon was never out of Saphira’s company – it was like they were joined at the hip. She was preternaturally intelligent, but Eragon had to teach her to speak – to put into human language her often alien thoughts. Relative to human children she matured physically and psychologically at an at times alarming rate (he bore many a bruise at testament to them both underestimating her growing strength), but even when she grew to a point that she could have casually crushed him, at a vestigal level she still felt the profound trust and intimacy she had when she was an egg, protected, warmed and cradled in his arms.” This would be better with description of key incidents in the formation of their bond – something to bring home this central relationship. But we’re not even told that they have an opportunity to develop closeness – Saphira seems to move from egg to experienced adult in something like weeks – there is no process of character or relationship formation. This can be done, even within the confines of an action oriented genre – you can have minor incidents that are still dramatic and violent before moving onto your eon shaping ones.
I suppose that’s what makes a fantasy worth it for me, not just saying, “Here’s a noble hero, here’s an ancient dragon, here’s a fearsome giant, here’s an intriguing wizard,” but actually evoking something noble, ancient, fearsome or intriguing. Gemmell, Le Guin, Stewart, Martin, Gaiman and Wolfe, for example, have all managed it (if not every time). Kay, Goodkind, Eddings, Croggon, Jordan, Feist, Brooks (did I say this was an overcrowded genre?) not so much.