Saturday, March 17, 2012

Book Review: Inheritance Cycle

Now before I am murdered by a flock of angry pigeons insisting on precision of language, I will start with the admission that the Inheritance Cycle is a series of books, not a single book. My advice to the pigeons of technicality is this: go away. Well, that isn't so much advice as it is an imperative statement, but without the outraged birds to emphasize exactitude of enunciation, I can get away with that sort of thing.


The Inheritance Cycle is a series of four books (originally intended as a trilogy). I read the first two books back in 2006 when I was too stupid to tell the difference between fine art and an oddly-shaped pile of horse dung. The books came to my attention after I saw the movie, which I liked because the dragon looked cool and it had been a long time since I had seen a somewhat realistically depicted dragon in film. The premise of the film intrigued me, so my grandmother purchased Eragon and Eldest for me. Yes, she does that sometimes. And no, it is not because I am a completely broke, lazy student who spends his spare time ranting on a blog that no one reads.

In any case, I genuinely liked the books at first. They promised and fit into the confines of one word: archetypal. A cynical person would say that this just means "cliched", but as we all know I am a very cheery, optimistic sort of fellow who is dearly fond of his philanthropic mindset and lollypops. So let's just call it "archetypal".

I like fantasy books. There, I said it. I enjoy tales of adventure and worlds much more epic than my own realm of small screaming spawnlings (also known as siblings), odd odors, and luminous laptop light. I am easily endeared by stories telling of the exploits of individuals who have earned or been granted powers significantly beyond those which humans can attain unless they fall into the category of being Chuck Norris.

The Inheritance Cycle gave me another world, and a reasonably interesting one. Dragons, swords, Urgals (who are definitely NOT orcs), and all that. And so I came to like the Inheritance Cycle, which made me hold the opinion that it was good.

Of course, the fact that it pandered to the pathetic needs of my anemic soul did not excuse or change the fact that my opinion was wrong.

People marvel and say that Paolini started writing the series when he was fifteen. I marvel not at the young age, but rather that people know this and don't immediately drop the series like it's coated in male pubescent bodily fluids.

It's not very hard to see that the writer of these books was inexperienced. To cite a few broad examples: Poalini is quite fond of flowery, overly descriptive narrative passages. His dialogue feels structured in places. This may be a more personal criticism, but he often portrays people and circumstances in an unreal, romanticized light. The pacing in his stories is not the best--think somewhere between Tolkien and Herman Melville and you've got an idea of it. Some of the situations (even allowing for the fanciful setting) felt unrealistic (his character Roran is particularly guilty of failing to follow the rules of probability).

While this may all seem very bad, I will note that Paolini has talent (something a critical large number of writers such as myself don't seem to realize that they will need if they ever want to make a living as a writer). And obviously, people still like to read his stuff, which is what matters in the end if you want to bring in the cash. However, this review will mention little of the positive aspects of the series, because it's so much more fun pointing out where someone else has screwed up than praising all the things done right.


I have never liked the character of Eragon. Not even from the beginning. Of course, not all characters are meant to be "liked", but I'm pretty sure that was Paolini's intention with his main character.

Somewhere, Paolini admits that the base template for Eragon is himself. I am afraid this shows too much. Far too often, Eragon comes across as a weak, witless waste of a dragon rider--more like a modern teenager than the "savior of the world" character he becomes.

Supposedly, he has some deep internal quality that makes him "the only one" who was acceptable as Saphira's rider. I have read this series multiple times. I have no idea what sets Eragon apart from any other farmer boy in the world.

I truly want to like Saphira, but the fact that she chose Eragon over dozens of freakishly powerful and ancient elves who already have competence in the fields of magic and combat seriously dampens my respect for her.

I know that some of the stupidity we see with Eragon is because he has to ask all the dumb questions so that we (as ignorant readers) can understand the world better. But he never seems to have any redeeming moments of genius to show us that he's not as dumb as he looks.

Equally important to the story is his dragon, Saphira. Although she has her moments of derp (as previously mentioned), I find her to be one of the best characters in the story. Especially early on, when she was a sparkle of color on Eragon's pale, uninteresting butt. I wish we could have seen more of the story from her perspective in the last books. 

Brom was alright. Although he seemed inconsistent at times, Paolini did a good job of depicting him as a gruff old man with a strange affection for Eragon because Eragon was actually his son (SPOILER ALERT). Although it was not difficult to predict his demise, it is good that he was killed off early for the sake of the plot (SPOILER ALERT). I've had trouble in my reviews with this spoiler thing before. But you can't even read the book, can you my non-existent readers? You can't complain. Literally. 

The only bit about Brom I truly hated was when Saphira did a flashback featuring him in which his entire character was ruined for me. I can only ask why.

Eragon's half-brother Murtagh (SPOILER ALERT) was my favorite character. He is by far the most complex person in the books, in my opinion. His story is a tragic one, and even though he fights for Galbatorix (SPOILER ALERT), he managed to draw my sympathy far more than the other, "good" characters. Sadly, he is left largely out of the picture for pretty much the entire series. So, we cannot look to him to save the story. Also, he did not die in the end, unfortunately (SPOILER ALERT). There was no reason to keep him alive.  

Let's talk about Arya.

This is one strange character. She goes from being cold and heartless one scene to carefree and drugged up another. Her relationship with Eragon can only be described as weird. While I have personally been in abnormal, difficult-to-describe relationships before, this is different. Arya is about a century older than Eragon.

This is what she looks like on the inside, Eragon. Think of that next time you ogle her scarred butt.

She is Eragon's primary love interest. Eragon obsesses over her through the entire series. In Eldest, Arya tells Eragon that any love relationship between them would be an abomination. In Inheritance, she shares "True Names" with him (SPOILER ALERT).

This is perhaps the most intimate form of personal exchange that any beings can share in this fantasy world--you reveal your very soul to the other person. I have no idea how she went from "abomination" to "well, maybe we can hook up--but only with our souls". How is revealing who you are utterly and surrendering complete control of your being to someone else less personal than any form of physical contact?

To top it off, she says something along the lines of "we can never be together" or something equally sappy at the end of the series, because Eragon has to sail away and she has to be queen and stuff. I ask you this, Paolini: why? If I told my parents that I could never be with them again because I was moving out, it would just be melodramatic. So, they can't even visit each other? No vacations? No letters? Why is it impossible for them to carry on with their relationship? 

Understand, I am not a Eragon/Arya shipper (that is, a relationshipper). I just like pointing out inconsistencies.

To summarize: Arya is weird in a bad way. And an elf scumbag. I hates elves. But that may be something for another post.

Now for Eragon's cousin, Roran. Judging by the amount of time Poalini devotes specifically to Roran, I'd say this is possibly his favorite character. I have mixed feelings about him. At times, I could not read through the boring bits of Eragon's training with the elves fast enough to get to the next development with Roran as the risen leader of the outcast survivors of Carvahall. At other times, I groaned at Roran's over-the-top feats of awesome.

He's better than Eragon at least. My biggest complaint about Roran, however, is not on the freakish improbability surrounding everything he does. But rather, with his love interest.


I cannot justify her existence. She does nothing to further the story--she serves only as a pretty face for Roran to return to at the end of a battle. I would have loved to see the bitter, black-hearted being that would have risen from Roran's shattered husk upon failing to save his only love and purpose in life.

That would have made him a real threat to the Empire. But Paolini had to take the pansy path. I was so certain that she would die, and so disappointed when she didn't. I need to stop assuming other authors will think like me...

Moving on to Nasuada. A good, strong character. Although some of the scenes with her were slow, she was still represented well within them. As the leader of the Varden, she goes through perhaps the most conflict of any character in the series, and thus is relatively well developed compared to the other people in the story. 'Twas a pity she lived in the end, though. I would have at least liked to have seen her crippled from some torture at the hands of Galbatorix. 

I think I see a recurring theme here. Poalini does not like to kill his characters. Even where a little culling of the cast would aid the overall flow and pattern of his books, he does not. The only major characters he seems willing to knock off are the old mentor characters: Hrothgar, Brom, Oromis, Ajihad, Izlanzadi.

When will you learn that you should not read these reviews before the book, O stupid reader?

This keeps the story in line with the name of the series (that is, the younger generation inherits the new wars and burdens of the older). But really, in a big story like this, you have to kill more than the absolute essentials to keep things fresh.

I have by no means covered every character in the Cycle, or even all of the major ones. But this is getting long, so we're moving on.

The Plot 

This has been stated to death, but the plot is not very original. It is notably similar to Star Wars, with the Varden as the Rebel Alliance and Galbatorix as the Emperor. Both evil empires are called simply the "Empire", which has probably contributed to the general belief in our culture that empires are innately bad things (just forget about the whole deal America went through with "Manifest Destiny").

Of course, in the Inheritance Cycle we have dragon riders instead of Jedi, which makes it totally different.

My problem is not that Paolini uses the cliched (*cough* I mean archetypal) idea of an Evil Empire overthrown by a Chosen One. My problem is that he doesn't twist it enough to fit with his world and characters.

For example, why are the elves with the Varden? If they are truly so different from humans with such a low opinion of the other races, why do they sacrifice so much to make things easier for the Varden? They are totally safe in their generic magical forest--they have no real motivation to get so deeply involved in the little conflict going on with the humans and their Brodding Kingdom. Why would they even want anything to do with humans after all of that with Galbatorix? What's to stop them from just sailing away, or waiting for the Varden to soften Galbatorix to the perfect point of squishiness before striking?

And the Varden. Why do they have to be so pure in their motivations for dispelling Galbatorix? There was a bit of political turmoil at the beginning of Eldest that I liked, but everything went nice and smooth after that.

Now, I understand that the "good" part of the good guys is questionable at times--the Varden do plenty of morally unscrupulous things because they "have to". But even with that, everything is very straightforward. The first impression we get of the Varden is the one that stays true throughout the series. Same with the Empire, and the elves, and the dwarves. The only exception may be the Urgals, but that felt almost as though it was tossed in instead of planned and woven into the plot.

I suppose this is all in line with what makes a cliched (er, archetypal) high fantasy heroic story. You gotta have your clear-cut good and evil sides. But I think a little more complexity here would have made this story much better.

Another thing that bothered me. The main characters, who are supposedly the "movers" of the story, don't actually move the story. The story moves them.

While this may be the norm in Soviet Russia, it becomes annoying when every new, driving development within the Inheritance Cycle occurs from things not of the making of the characters. The sudden random appearance of a dragon egg shoves Eragon into the spotlight of the story. Everything he does after that point is just a fulfillment of the expectations of others. Roran is forced into the story as well because of Eragon's foolishness. The situation impels him to be awesome--otherwise, Roran would just be a filthy farmer for the rest of his life.

The characters sit in the sea of events and let themselves be swept away in search of this new artifact of power, in response to this new threat, or to make sure this/that happens. While these events may be interesting, it detracts from the characters themselves when they are subject to the random crap happening to them versus when they are the causers of said random crap. There is a lot of talk about Eragon changing the dynamics of the war, but in the story he only changes what any would expect a dragon rider to change.

When everyone is a victim of fate, it may indicate that the story is too author driven and less character driven. While this is not necessarily "bad", it is unimaginative and less interesting.

Moving on.   

While I give him credit for staying true to the world and system of magic he created, I don't think Paolini thought it out as much as he should have early on. He gives way too much power to the dragon riders and magicians of the world. Galbatorix became a near god by exploiting a not very complex key-to-ultimate-power-thing.

If these books were made into an online game, the game players would be clawing at Paolini's bathroom door screaming "The mage class is too freaking over-powered, you idiot! Nobody wants to play as anything else!"

Indeed, Paolini almost seems to apologize for this at the end of the series by introducing in this way to restrict magic abusage over all of Alagaesia. Ironically, Glabatorix (the biggest magic abuser in all of history) works for this as his ultimate goal. The good guys, after watching him die horribly while screaming for mercy, then decide that lil' Galby was right all along and take measures to put (pretty much) his exact same idea into place.

"Let's think about this for a sec, guys. Do you really need to kill me?"

Let's ignore Eragon's weird moral system (in which it is horrible to kill lizards for food but slaying an enemy who begs for compassion is totally fine) for a moment, and look at this.

The way we were supposed to sympathize primarily with the villain (who is otherwise insanely evil and un-pitiable) is through his attempt to fix the broken system of magic Paolini created.

I see what you did there.

A noble effort, to be sure, but you can only fix so many messed up story elements, Paolini. Next time just make it good to begin with.

The plot of the Inheritance Cycle, to summarize in one word, was disappointing for me. It could have been much, much better. It wouldn't have even required a huge effort on Paolini's part. The whole thing just left me feeling sort of sad. I wish I could go through and change all the things I don't like and make it different--no, you twit, of course Jeod is evil with his own selfish motivations for helping Brom and Eragon. Yes, the dwarves do have a secret plan for enacting vengeance at the end of the war. No, that is not the way Eragon recovers from his back injury--dragon magic is too easy.

 But then, I've also wished to be able to eat a whole ice cream cake without getting a headache or barfing. So my wishes may not always be the best.


All authors have a style of writing. Paolini seems to waver at times in his own style (that doesn't mean too much though), but he has his own quirks as well as any other author.

All his characters are simple and understandable at a glance (except for Murtagh and a few other minor characters). This fine for a short story or something, but every book in this series is a freaking doorstopper. He has plenty of time to develop his characters beyond the first impression; I'm not sure why he sticks to this habit.

Paolini often hangs tropes off his story like Christmas lights. In the end, they don't add much to the story except a "cool" factor. For example, the zombie imperial soldiers--was that really a natural development? Or did Paolini just think that it sounded really cool and decide to add it in? Most of these are appropriately small and intended to add ambiance to the story, so this is not so much a criticism as a note. 

Paolini also seems to fancy himself a philosopher. However, most of the things he addresses are rather simple, everyday philosophical questions rather than the enlightening considerations that he paints them to be at times. I understand that this is mostly a children's book, but it is funny to me to see elves and dragons who are centuries old ponder and discuss such topics as atheism and vegetarianism as though they are uncommonly deep concepts, and then summarize it all with a somewhat shallow statement as though that is the best expression of truth they can come up with.   

I have heard people complain about the violence in Paolini's books. I have not had an issue with that, mostly. Warfare is bloody, and he doesn't shy away from the emotional and physical conflict of it. Which is good. Mostly. There is one problem with it that applies to violence as well as every other aspect of the story.

DESCRIPTION! Excessive description is frequent in the Inheritance Cycle. Not everything is poorly described, and many of the right things are given emphasis, but there is so much detail given to everything that the pacing is slowed to a drag too often. It can feel like one is staring at a painting, or a frozen frame in a movie rather than a fluid, moving story sequence.

I might as well mention this here. Of all the things in Paolini's book that have suffered, I believe that pacing has been the one thing he is most willing to sacrifice for other things in his books. I keep wanting to split apart his three-line long descriptive sentences into shorter ones (Here's a hint, Paolini: jamming it all into one sentence doesn't mean it takes less time to read). I think Paolini considers this his Magnum Opus, and all of this extra stuff he provides to give us images and context is because he wants it all to "be there". He doesn't want to just give an impression; he wants to show us every dang thing he could think to add (such as Urgal-horn bows and shiny mud balls) to his beautiful make-believe world.

I hate him for this because he gets away with it. People read his stuff anyway, even though it takes us a day and a half to read through Eragon's boring wanderings through the unique topography of the homeland of X race while the real war is being fought by other people.


The Inheritance Cycle is ridiculously popular. I really don't know why. Paolini has been very, very lucky here. I don't know what separates his works from every dime-a-dozen fantasy story cluttering the shelves of libraries. He hit a chord with these books that so many have tried and failed to strike.

His books are not bad--at least not as bad as some have made them to be. They are just... average. And to write average books is death in these days (usually). The attention these books have been given is disproportionate to the quality.

I give the Inheritance Cycle a 6.5/10 total score. You can find better stuff in the sandbox of the fantasy genre if you dig for it. Of course, in digging you may uncover the cat feces that lies just under the surface from all the strays wandering about. So maybe the Inheritance Cycle would be okay for those afraid to dig too deep.


  1. OMG best book review EVER. Love your spoiler alerts by the way XD

    I had heard about the series, listened to the third book on a trip to California (TWO. WEEKS. THE ENTIRE TIME.) but was not entirely thrilled either. I haven't ever braved the rest of the series because of that one book I listened to. :P

    1. Ha. I'll bet that was fun.

      Do you have any books you would like to see me review in this style? >:)

  2. i just read this and im sorry for the language but shut the eff up.

    1. Satirical review. Supposed to be more humorous than serious. I actually rather liked the book when I first read it.

      Care to elaborate on your displeasure?

    2. if u liked it why would u trash it?

    3. More fun. My book reviews are supposed to be rant-y and highly critical of small things only a nerd would complain about. It fits the feel of the blog.

  3. that is very weird... im a nerd myself bu im too in love with chris and the books to put holes in the series