I confess my initial reaction when I heard about this book was petty annoyance mixed with grudging admiration. How could a young whippersnapper like Paolini get a book published at age 15? It must be junk. I had no real interest in reading the book, but when I saw it at the top of the NYT Children’s Bestsellers list, I figured I’d better read it after all.
The book is the first in a trilogy which tells of the adventures of Eragon, a young man and a Dragon Rider, and his dragon Saphira. It’s a fairly well-done book. Although certainly not very original, it isn’t incredibly derivative for the most part, although certain aspects of it are highly Tolkienian (the Elves who came from across the western sea long ago, for example, as well as the dwarves; the different branches in the evil minions department resemble Tolkien’s various villains quite clearly as well). I was for the most part satisfied with the writing quality — Paolini can turn a phrase quite well, and one can imagine that with time he will grow to be quite an expert at describing places. He definitely employs a vocabulary beyond that of the average adult of his day. The world-building in the book is fairly well-done as well — descriptions of various settings are believable, and enough history of the world is given to make it seem real.
My main issue with the book is the lack of solid plot. Eragon spends the first few hundred pages of the book chasing after a couple of evil creatures who killed his uncle because he wants to ‘get revenge’. Now, aside from the fact that actions motivated solely by a desire for revenge are morally questionable at best, I find it entirely unbelievable that a 15-year-old kid would spend months chasing after some bad guys — running all over the country in the process — just because he wants to kill them for revenge. The plot needs something stronger to propel it forward. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really begin to move on its own until near the end of the book. I know quests and travel-tales are very popular and common in fantasy literature, but they should be driven by something more integral and believable than a 15-year-old’s passion for revenge.
The magic in the book is a little confused — Paolini wants to differentiate between types of magic, but the differences between the good and bad kinds are fuzzy. Still, Eragon does use good magic, in that it’s granted to him and word-driven rather than spiritual, depending on the essential power of words spoken in an ancient language. The book tends to uphold traditional fantasy morality, too: courage and loyalty are good, and so is mercy. The only thing that really bothered me was the revenge motif mentioned above, for both artistic and moral reasons. It wouldn’t have bothered me so much if it hadn’t been so featured and central to the plot for so long; as it was, it was annoying and a little disturbing.
A coming-of-age story written by a kid who’s just coming of age himself . . . it could be a recipe for disaster. But Christopher Paolini pulls it off without too much embarrassment. I look forward to seeing what this young man — now 19 — can do in his next novel.