But I am no professional.
Inheritance is the fourth and final book in the Inheritance Cycle originally kicked off by the teenaged Christopher Paolini and his "Star Wars plot meets the Lord of the Rings universe" Eragon. The series is about a young man named Eragon who discovers a dragon egg in the forest and suddenly finds himself becoming one of the last Dragon Riders, a once-noble group of elves and men who worked together with dragons to keep the peace in the land. That is, until Galbatorix and thirteen of his favorite buddies all but wiped out the Riders and set Galbatorix up as ruler of the new Empire. After over a century of iron-fisted dictatorship, Eragon appears on the scene and joins the Varden, who have rebelled against the Empire in the hopes of restoring Alagaesia to its former glory.
Eragon, Eldest, and Brisingr (which I previously reviewed here) are conveniently summed up in Inheritance's first seven pages, which I found both very helpful and rather entertaining in an "I can't believe this is actually here" kind of way. The plot is unnecessarily twisted and confused; I have to give Paolini credit for keeping everything straight because I cannot imagine any reader being able to do so, even with the 2000-word recap. From there, you launch straight into battle, which is by far Paoloni's strongpoint. The battles in this book, with the exception of Roran's scenes (more on him later), are excellently-written and meticulously crafted, if a bit gory.
Unfortunately, his attention to detail is also his great undoing. I am not kidding when I say that you could cut out the first three-hundred pages of the book, slap them in as quick summary along with the other seven pages, and begin in earnest from there. I cannot begin to count how many superfluous scenes litter this book: easily the majority of it. I was being unfair earlier when I called Inheritance a worthless steaming pile of cow dung. But in fantasy novels there is world-building, and there is fluff, and Inheritance is so fluffy that you'll suffocate before you find the animal underneath. Paolini had originally intended for this quartet to be a trilogy, and I do believe that, with some simple editing, that could have been easily achieved.
Don't believe that the book is overly-long? I challenge you to read the chapter in which Nasuada spends multiple pages obsessing over the fingernails of a character whose name you never even learn and see if you still feel the same.
The Plot (**WARNING! MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD**)
One of the two places where Inheritance really falls flat is here, in the plot line. You get the sense that Paolini is simply going through the motions by book four. He is completely incapable of letting more than a few minutes pass by without telling you about them, so while he continues switching POVs between Eragon, Nasuada, and Roran as he has for the past few books, nothing of particular interest happens for a very long time. For those first three-hundred pages or so there are no twists or interesting turns of events. The course stays steadily forward at a leisurely pace. Capture this town in the name of the Varden. Assess damage. Move on to next town. Capture in the name of the Varden. Keep heading north towards Uru'baen. Fight, win, take stock, continue onward. This is the kind of pacing suited for a video game, not a book. Perhaps he wanted you to be as tired of this war as the characters are by the time they reach Galbatorix. Whether that was his intention or no, I guarantee that you will feel this way. If I had to choose one word to describe this book, it would be "slog". The book should have started with the Varden's army outside of Dras-Leona, but instead you get to spend hundreds of pages reading about how three other cities fall to the rebels and how Galbatorix makes no attempt to slow their progression.
Some of the sub-plots work well enough - like watching Elva come to terms with her "gift" of feeling others' pain - but many are not explored sufficiently, and there are countless minor characters and "who the hell was that?" moments that the author simply left open. In a way, this keeps the plot more organic - do you know what has become of every person you've ever met? - but at the same time they just continue to add to the page count that needs no expansion as it is.
The biggest problem with the plot is a lack of opposition. Sure, you only see the POVs of the heroes (though one from Galbatorix would have been awesome), but that shouldn't mean the bad guys aren't hatching any plots of their own. Galbatorix and the Empire do not react. They are like poor A.I. in a video game. They simply wait for the Varden to show up. How would The Lord of the Rings have progressed without the Nazgul seeking out Frodo? How would Star Wars have changed if Darth Vader only used Star Destroyers to defend Empire-controlled planets? Part of the appeal of the Harry Potter series was that Voldemort was always up to something and it was up to Harry to stop him. There was a sense of urgency; if Harry didn't win by the end of the school year, the wizarding world was doomed. In Inheritance the only urgency comes from the Varden's limited supplies. If they don't do something now, then the army will disband - not die, mind you, but disband and go home to find some dinner. That's not urgency, no matter how much the narrator tries to talk about how urgent things are. It's no coincidence that the point at which I felt the plot actually began was the point in which one of the bad guys - Murtagh, one of the only interesting characters - appeared and hatched a freaking plot. That was more than 300 pages in, more than one page for every oiled Spartan who followed King Leonidas to certain doom. Paolini could learn from the Spartans and their efficiency.
In an odd paradox, though, I would almost argue that Inheritance is both too long and too short. I know how retarded this sounds, but hear me out before you get the room with the nice padded walls ready. That stupid fluff metaphor I used earlier? The fluff made the book seem too long, but once you got down to the real plot - that is, once Paolini got away from spending pages describing fingernails and balls of mud (I kid you not) and suddenly remembered that a story was going on - it felt curiously rushed, like the author couldn't wait to move on to the next scene filled with completely useless knowledge.
Ultimately, though, there is little in this book that is really necessary for the reader to know going in to the final battle, and that's not the mark of a good writer, no matter how technically skilled Paolini's keyboardsmanship may have become since his almost laughable Eragon.
By this point in the series, you should be pretty familiar with Alagaesia. Eragon is from Carvahall. The Haradric - excuse me, Hadarac - Desert is huge. Galbatorix lives in Uru'baen. To Paolini's credit, I found myself rarely looking at the map in the front of the book to try to figure out where in the hell the characters were. You could watch the Varden's march from Surda to Uru'baen, and that was pretty cool. By the end of Inheritance you will have seen nearly every place marked on that map, with the exception of the southwestern islands, one of which (Illium), appears to be named after a section of the human small intestine. If only the islands around it were something like "Je'junum" and "Seecum". But I digress.
A small beef I have with Alagaesia is that I do not believe that a land of that size has so few settlements. Only about a dozen human towns on the entire continent? I don't think so. Paolini gives no indication that there are farmsteads, or villages, or anything one would expect besides the handful of places listed on the map. You get almost no sense about how anyone other than the Varden feel about the state of affairs, either, except for the multiple people who actually boo and hiss the Varden once they "liberate" a city. The citizens of the Empire do not welcome the rebel army. You start to wonder if anyone under Galbatorix's rule actually wants their king gone, but unfortunately Paolini never tells you. You have to take the narrator's word for it that the Varden are right and Galbatorix is wrong, so just for fun I started to read the book as if the opposite were the case. You know what? It still held, and in many instances it actually worked better. Uh oh.
The Characters (**MORE MINOR SPOILERS HERE**)
This is the other area in which Inheritance fails severely. I did something I don't usually do while writing these blog entries: I read some other reviews to see what other, less-harsh people had to say, and I found someone on Amazon who summed up Paolini's problem perfectly: "he does not build a world with a story and have characters drive the story forward; he drives the story forward and has characters along for the ride". This is most particularly apparent in the ending (which I will discuss at the end of this entry), but the problem can easily be seen throughout all of the four books.
Eragon has grown since the first book, and one could argue that this series is first and foremost a coming-of-age tale. Yet, by the end of everything, I still felt like Eragon was little more than a hollow shell into which the reader was supposed to insert him/herself, much like Bella in the Twilight series. Eragon often displays emotions like anger, jealousy, and downright brattiness, but they're all so shallow and spur-of-the-moment that all they do is make him seem even more like a baby than he was way back in Eragon. He is far too quick to despair when he cannot think of a solution, and his continued duels with Arya show just how childish he still is. There finally comes a turning point in his maturity, but it is so late in coming that I had stopped caring long ago.
Saphira is one of the few interesting characters. She is like a gigantic cat; her vanity offers one or two small moments of humor, and oftentimes she brings a certain directness to the table that the extremely loquacious humans, elves, and dwarves singularly lack (the two-leggers will discuss every possible angle of an argument any time two or more of them get together, which is both unrealistic and boring). Unfortunately Saphira has hardly grown since the first book, and her one POV chapter felt more like an accidental photobomb that, like all of the other non-Eragon chapters, did little to progress the story.
Arya, the ever-unobtainable love interest, doesn't change. This mostly makes sense, as she is an elf and has had quite a lot of time to develop her personality, but you find little in her to really enjoy as a character. She's just there, constantly rejecting Eragon's advances (a scenario to which I can relate and in which I took a devious delight). As Eragon begins to match her in magical abilities, you do start to see a friendship grow, but Arya has been nagged by this puppy for so long that I had a hard time believing she would ever come to regard him as an equal.
Roran is a horrible character. He's the story's Rambo with no personality and a wife who also has no personality. Roran's chapters are so thoroughly pointless as to almost be comical, and one scene of his in particular gets my award for "most stupidest scene evarr" for Inheritance. It's the chapter entitled "A Toss of the Bones", involving a surprise attack on the Varden's camp during the siege of Aroughs. If you've read the book, you know of what I speak. I cannot think of anything Roran adds to the story other than a point of view of a soldier weak against magic. This is indeed a theme in Inheritance, but it's nothing that a simple conversation with Roran during an Eragon chapter couldn't have fixed. I was so tired of reading about Roran fighting for Katrina and his unborn child that I almost wanted the character to die just so that he'd shut up. When you've come to the point of actually cheering against the protagonists, you know the book is in trouble. Roran has a certain bloodlust that bordered on disturbing, and let's not forget the fact that at the start of this story this man was a farmer with absolutely no combat experience. How he was able to constantly beat hundreds of trained soldiers is totally beyond me.
Katrina only seems to be there to give Roran something to fight for. She and Arya are strange foils for each other in the romance department: where Arya is the independent woman who wants nothing to do with Eragon's advances, Katrina's only two functions appear to be housework and baby-making. Both Katrina and Arya are extremes, and both are unlikable.
Angela is another prime example of pointlessness. I'll discuss her in a special rant at the end of this review. It won't be pretty. I hate this character with a passion burning brighter than the light of a thousand stars.
King Orrin of Surda takes a bizarre turn in this book. Specifically, this once-cheery and artistic king apparently decides to shirk his responsibilities and become an angry alcoholic. He blames stress, but his condition never improves even when circumstances do, so I blame Paolini's issue with having the plot drive the character. He needed King Orrin to become an antagonist to Nasuada, and so he wrote a glass of wine into the King's hand and a foul temper into his head so that things could continue on as the author required.
Nasuada's POVs throughout Inheritance are actually interesting and tend to show a different perspective on the goings on of Alagaesia. Her chapters in the latter half of the book in particular offered some fresh scenes of not-action and not-endless-fluff (with the exception of the aforementioned obsession with a man's fingernails), but the whole thing falls apart when in the end you realize that her chapters, like Roran's, offered nothing but a distraction to the plot. With everything she goes through, to see her as nothing more than a damsel in distress in the climax was extremely disappointing. There were countless opportunities for Paolini to have done something interesting with her there, but alas.
Murtagh, like Nasuada, was one of the very few characters I cared for in Inheritance. He is the series' Darth Vader, the character who is most torn between good and evil, but Paolini does not explore this near as much as he should have. Though it would have broken from his previous books, it would have benefited the plot greatly if Paolini had done a chapter from Murtagh's point of view. Just like Nasuada, though, Murtagh is thoroughly underutilized by the story's end, and that was a major letdown.
Galbatorix, as you might guess, finally makes his grand appearance, and I have to admit that it was mostly worth it. I remember nothing of his physical description, but it's his voice that is his most distinctive feature, and Paolini did indeed do well here. Galbatorix is, for the most part, a smooth talker, and you can almost feel the power in his words. It was rather silly, though, how long it takes to actually see Galbatorix after you first encounter him; he remains in the shadows for so long that you just know Paolini was grinning as he wrote the scenes and muttering to himself, "Yeah this'll keep the suspense going!" It was a cheesy effect that somewhat dampened the impact of the character's reveal. And when the heroes don't do as he commands, his transition from smooth-talking politician to angry whiny baby was so sudden that it almost made Eragon look grown up by comparison.
Everyone else I had trouble remembering from past books. Orik the dwarven king was alright in a jolly sort of way. Elva the creepy girl Eragon blessed towards the end of the first book remained creepy and more or less unhelpful, but of course she offered to help out when Eragon needed it the most (even though her "help" amounted to absolutely nothing). But the characters who had no business in continually popping up were the villagers from Carvahall. Half the time I couldn't remember who these characters were supposed to be, and the other half of the time I simply accepted that their names looked vaguely familiar and moved on. There was no reason to spend two solid chapters on the birth of a baby by one of the Carvahall women, especially since you practically never saw the baby's family members again for the rest of the book.
As I said before, Inheritance is four or five times longer than it needs to be, meaning that about 80% of the book is pure, useless fluff. Paolini's writing isn't exactly bad; in fact, it's grown immensely since Eragon. But his editing and - more importantly, - the job done by his editor are offensively poor. There was no reason for Brisingr and Inheritance to be two separate books. That was a failing of epic proportions on his editor's part. She should be fired. I mean, come on, look at the tree that Paolini plops onto her desk:
That's downright insulting. I'm pretty sure she just checked for spelling errors (ignoring the incorrect pluralization of Eldunari) and sent it off to be published.
If you've bothered to read the first three books already, then you might as well finish, but do yourself a favor and start with the siege of Dras-Leona. Everything before that (and most things after) is completely unnecessary. Many people have stated that they were disappointed by the number of loose ends left by the book's end, and while I agree that many subplots fell by the wayside and there were probably more characters that I didn't know than those that I did, there were at least as many reviewers who join me in saying that the book should have ended about sixty pages before it actually did, and that's not including the pronunciation guide, the glossary, or the acknowledgments (where Paolini gleefully hints that this is not the last book he'll write concerning Alagaesia, oh joy!). But if you want to see whether or not Eragon finally defeats Galbatorix, then give this a shot.
But get your best swamp gear ready, because it is a slog.
The Ending (**OBVIOUSLY, MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD**)
Many reviews I read were disappointed with the book's "imperfect" ending. Ignoring the fact that the post-climax felt more like a history book than a novel and that its listing of events went on for far too long, I was thrilled by the fact that Eragon and Arya don't end up together. The reader is never given any good reason as to why they should. Their friendship was pretty well-established, sure, but romance? No. Hell no. It shouldn't happen, and it didn't, and that was alright by me. Paolini did himself a service by avoiding cliche, and for that I will applaud him with the lightest and slowest of golf claps.
Where I do not applaud him, however, is in his deus ex machina solution to taking down big bad Galbatorix. Deus ex machina, in case you don't know, is a term generally used to refer to moments in stories where a solution just comes completely out of nowhere to fix the problem. Toy Story 3's ending had this, and so did the ending for Inheritance. Paolini messed up big time by making a villain who was simply too powerful, and the lengths he had to go to in order for the heroes to win felt more like a cheat code to beat the final boss of a video game than pure, honest ingenuity.
The sudden production of the Dauthdaert, a spear capable of penetrating all magic, was as mystifying as it was completely against the rules Paolini had already set up for his world. Add that to Galbatorix's use of the Word of Words, and you have a climactic scene that was less about the clashing of characters as it was a cheap manipulation of Paolini's magic rules. The scene's entire set up was a rude imitation of the climax of Return of the Jedi, with Galbatorix watching as Eragon and Murtagh duel with their colored swords. But where in RotJ you see Luke Skywalker realize what he could become and defy it, here you just have pointless swordplay and Eragon defeating Galbatorix through the power of understanding. But, unlike a similar finale for a certain Orson Scott Card classic, this felt like an unbelievable letdown. After almost three-thousand pages, Eragon pulls some unspoken magic almost literally out of his arse to force the mad king to feel the misery he has brought on his people until he blows himself up? Come on. There were too many violations of the magical world which Paolini had established for this victory to feel properly won. 1) The Dauthdaert used to take down Galbatorix's admittedly awesome dragon was too out-of-nowhere, 2) the Name of Names suffered from the same problem, and its effects were never clearly explained (did it completely dispel all magic, or did it just alter magic to the speaker's liking?), 3) To my knowledge Eragon had never even performed an unspoken spell before, and they supposedly take such a degree of concentration that Eragon, near death and in the most stressful situation of his life, could hardly be believed to have pulled off a spell so great that he forced the most powerful magician in the universe to live every moment of a thousand lives. The most fitting end would more likely have been something to do with Eragon's and Galbatorix's true names, but those things, which had seemed so important to know before the fight, were never brought up.
The whole scene, from the random children as hostages to Nasuada's uselessness to the pointless fight against Murtagh, paled in comparison to the same scene from Star Wars, which was written by George Lucas, the same man responsible for Jar Jar Binks and Kinect Star Wars. I can hardly think of a greater insult, but Paolini earned it.
Speaking of Nasuada, I cannot over-stress my disappointment in her story arc. It held such promise. She and Murtagh had a thing going on during her imprisonment that was - finally! - the first decent bit of romantic tension we've seen in the entire series. He promises to help her escape, and I was expecting some great moment when he'd do just that and get her out of there just as the Varden begin their final attack, but what happens? The Varden attack "a day before Murtagh can get his plans in order", and it all amounts to nothing. And since you see no one's POV but Eragon's after the victory over Galbatorix, you are left wondering how Nasuada feels about all of this, and that was, for me, the greatest letdown of them all.
One more quick note on a controversial point about the ending: Eragon's self-imposed banishment from Alagaesia. This is a prime example of Paolini moving the plot forward and bringing the characters along for the ride rather than building a character-driven story. Eragon appears to come to this decision because of the prophesy Angela made in Eragon (Your fate will be to leave this land forever. Where you will end up I know not but you will never again stand in Alagaesia. This is inescapable. It will come to pass even if you try to avoid it). So, to appease his own fate (read: Paolini's wishes), Eragon decides to pack up his things and all the dragon eggs and sail to the Undying Lands - I mean, whatever lies east a\of Alagaesia. While I actually understand Eragon's thought process that goes into choosing to train the new Dragon Riders outside of Alagaesia, there is absolutely no reason as to why Eragon "will never return". Perhaps secretly he does not like Roran, or Orik, or Arya, so he uses this as an excuse to get away from them. That's how I read it, but perhaps that was just because I didn't much like those characters, either.
Either way, I understand Eragon's decision, but the only reason I know of as to why he will never return to Alagaesia, despite having a flying dragon, is because fate said so.
The Rant of Angela
I like wise, goofy characters. Yoda and his bizarre speech, Master Splinter and his insistence upon ending each of the old TMNT movies by "making a funny", even Pai Mei and his "contempt for women" in the Kill Bill films; these are great characters. Despite (or perhaps because of) their humor, you learn just how bad-ass they are over the course of the story. Their humor shows a certain childishness about each of them that endears them to you. They show their skills to prove to you and the heroes that they are to be respected, and then they guide the heroes on their journey with wisdom so pure and simple you would be a fool to ignore it.
Angela is a spoof of these characters.
I see no greater failing in Paolini's writing than in Angela. As Lost fans may tell you, a good mystery does not mean that you answer no questions but raise a hundred more. But that is precisely what Angela does. Throughout the Inheritance Cycle you are barraged with references to Angela's past and how awesome she is, yet you learn nothing about her. There are passing references about her former master and that she visited the elves at some point, but that's about all you get. She's quirky in a way that teaches Eragon nothing (like how she knits a sweater to ward off rabbits, or how she tells him to beware of earwigs and wild hamsters). Perhaps strangest of all, she knows of atoms and other scientific things that feel wholly out of place in this fantasy world; though, as ever, you are not even given a hint as to how she has come across such knowledge. And after saying, "What am I? Chopped liver?", she had the following to say:
"What a strange expression," said the herbalist. "Who would compare themselves to chopped liver in the first place? If you have to choose an organ, why not pick a gallbladder or a thymus gland instead? Much more interesting than a liver. Or what about chopped t--" She smiled. "Well, I suppose that's not important."
-Inheritance, page 265 (hardback American edition)
As a nursing student, and thus someone who actually knows a little something about the organs mentioned above, I take offense to this sad attempt at wittiness. A gallbladder is not interesting, I assure you. It is a storage sac. And, again, Angela's scientific knowledge receives absolutely no clarification. I would have accepted just about any explanation, even something like "she's a time-traveler from another dimension", but you are given nothing but idiotic jokes about a small sack of bile.
A character cannot be wise and revered simply because the narrator says she is so. Angela does show her combat prowess both with magic and her profoundly stupid lightsaber, Twinkledeath (which is of course the most powerful sword in existence, though apparently not as powerful as the Dauthdaert, but that's okay because the Dauthdaert is a spear). But combat skills do not make one wise. In the cases of Yoda, Master Splinter, and Pai Mei, each one is an undeniably great fighter, yet the reason why each is revered is because they teach their heroes something about themselves that becomes key to defeating the villain. They help their students succeed. They show the viewers some way to look at life that they might not have considered yet. Angela's only usefulness is to give a prophecy that imposes the author's will upon Eragon and then refuse to die for the rest of the series, despite my most sincere wishes.
It is my understanding that Angela is based on Paolini's sister - also named Angela. I am not sure how strong that base is, but Angela sticks out so badly in the world of Alagaesia that I have no choice but to believe that she is a fair representation of Paolini's sister. It almost makes me feel bad, to so strongly detest a character who is in fact based on a real person. Perhaps that is why I would believe it if Angela were to say that she has time-traveled from another dimension: she basically has. Paolini has transplanted his modern-day sister into a medieval-style fantasy. But in the end, all the character has done is cheapen the world Paolini has spent nearly three-thousand pages to painstakingly create.
I hate Angela the herbalist as I have never hated a character before. I am not exaggerating when I say that I would rather read an entire novel about Jar Jar Binks' indigestion than read another scene involving this witch. She is an affront to the very concept of "wise" - a concept that must be entirely foreign to our dear Mr. Paolini.