Writing

Lessons From the Terrible Writing of Eragon’s Sequel

A red dragon from the cover art of Eldest
It’s been five years since I tore apart the prologue of Eragon. The critique clearly holds a special place in everyone’s hearts, whether it’s the Eragon fanragers who are still frothing at the mouth or the Mythcreants regulars who are still laughing. While I can’t cover the entirety of Eragon, and you are cruel for wanting me to, a commenter had the brilliant suggestion of covering the first chapter of a sequel. So here I am with Eldest by Christopher Paolini.

Of course, a sequel calls for some knowledge of the previous story. I didn’t read the whole of Eragon – I’m sorry, I don’t love you that much – but in an evening I will never get back, I read all of these chapter summaries. Naturally, none of this will satisfy irate Eragon fans. If that’s you, you have a convenient excuse to dismiss every criticism I make. You’re welcome.

What You Need to Know From Eragon

You can refresh your memory of my first Eragon critique if you’d like to be familiar with my references back to it, but that’s not necessary. For the story itself, let’s start with the central characters who appear in this chapter.

  • Eragon: This blank character functions as the audience self-insert. He found a dragon egg (the jewel from the first book’s prologue) and became a legendary dragon rider: smarter, stronger, and more magical than ordinary humans!
  • Saphira: Eragon’s dragon, who is at least big enough to carry three people on her back as she flies. She talks telepathically with Eragon. Most of the previous book was spent finding reasons she wouldn’t be around so Eragon could actually get in trouble.
  • Arya: Do you remember fake Arwen from the last critique? She has a name, one that’s not quite “Arwen”! Insert generic female love interest traits here, and you’ll know her as well as anyone.

Are you wondering what happened to the Shade from last time? His name was Durza, and he was the final boss of the first book. Eragon killed him during the final big battle between the Urgals (orcs) and the Varden (edgy rebels). This victory was only possible because Arya and Saphira showed up at the last minute to distract Durza, so Eragon could get in his hit. Kudos to Paolini for not making the protagonist too badass too soon.

I’ll fill in the rest as we go. If you’d like more of a refresher, Eldest also provides a shorter summary you can read through Amazon’s Look Inside feature, along with chapter one.

Let’s get started.

Use Words to Say Things

Chapter one is titled “A Twin Disaster.”

The songs of the dead are the lamentations of the living.

Umm… I don’t know what that is supposed to mean.

This world doesn’t have any undead, at least not yet. So “songs of the dead” must be songs about the dead. But usually those are also lamentations, so all this is saying is “lamentations are lamentations.” I did some searches on the line in case it was some reference to something with more context in the last book, but it’s attributed only to book two. This is some random nonsense that sounded pretty to Paolini, I guess.

So thought Eragon as he stepped over a twisted and hacked Urgal, listening to the keening of women who removed loved ones from the blood-muddied ground of Farthen Dûr. Behind him Saphira delicately skirted the corpse, her glittering blue scales the only color in the gloom that filled the hollow mountain.

Uh huh, I definitely believe that “the songs of the dead are the lamentations of the living” is what Eragon happens to think to himself as he’s walking around. I think stuff like that all the time, don’t you?

But apparently there are undead in this setting, because that twisted and hacked Urgal corpse is listening to women lamenting. Okay, so this was supposed say Eragon was listening, but Paolini forgot that “listening” refers to the person that was mentioned last, not whoever is the subject of the sentence. Gotta be honest: I am frequently guilty of that myself.

However, even without that mistake, the passage would be clearer as:

The songs of the dead are the lamentations of the living, thought Eragon as he listened to the keening of women who removed loved ones from the blood-muddied ground of Farthen Dûr. He stepped over…

That way we could more easily make the connection between his weird thought and the women keening over their loved ones. I doubt the “songs of the dead” and “lamentations of the living” are supposed to be about that poor, dehumanized Urgal.

And of course, it is specifically women who are keening – god forbid men participate in that. I’m also having trouble imaging something as big Saphira delicately skirting a human-sized corpse, but I won’t say it’s impossible.

It was three days since the Varden and dwarves had fought the Urgals for possession of Tronjheim, the mile-high, conical city nestled in the center of Farthen Dûr, but the battlefield was still strewn with carnage. The sheer number of bodies had stymied their attempts to bury the dead. In the distance, a moutainous fire glowed sullenly by Farthen Dûr’s wall where the Urgals were being burned. No burial or honored resting place for them.

These bodies have been out here for three days?

Last time, when I looked at the first sentence of Eragon, “Wind howled through the night, carrying a scent that would change the world.” I hoped the novel would be about everyone gagging on horrid fumes. In the start of Eldest, everyone should be gagging on horrid fumes. This isn’t even really outdoors; it’s a large but mostly enclosed space. If that many bodies had really been left out for three days, the citizens of Farthen Dûr would be smelling them for a very long time.

You gotta love how Paolini takes a dig at the Urgals even as their bodies are being disposed of. They don’t get a nice burial, and even the fire they’re thrown into is sullen!

Since waking to find his wound healed by Angela, Eragon had tried three times to assist in the recovery effort. On each occasion he had been racked by terrible pains that seemed to explode from his spine. The healers gave him various potions to drink. Arya and Angela said he was perfectly sound. Nevertheless, he hurt. Nor could Saphira help, only share his pain as it rebounded across their mental link.

If you are ever racked by terrible pains that seem to explode from your spine, and your doctor says you’re “perfectly sound,” get a new doctor… or die.* You are not perfectly sound, because you are being racked by terrible pains that seem to explode from your spine! That doesn’t mean your doctor can find the problem and do something about it, but there’s a huge difference between “I’m having trouble finding the source of your pain” and “You’re fine, never mind that horrible pain you’re going through.”

In case my repetition of Paolini’s wording didn’t make it obvious, that pain description is clunky and bordering on melodramatic. Paolini probably added “seemed to” because otherwise he’d have to acknowledge that “explode” is not the right word for this. Calm down, Paolini, and just say “He felt sharp pains shooting down his spine.” Let’s treat pain as a serious issue that doesn’t need exaggeration to be important.

That said, I do like that Eragon needs time to recover and that he might even have a chronic pain condition. Specifying how the pain “rebounded across their mental link” is also a nice touch.

Eragon ran a hand over his face and looked up at the stars showing through Farthen Dûr’s distant top, which were smudged with sooty smoke from the pyre.

The stars are smudged with sooty smoke? If you’re viewing the smoke over the stars, that means no stars. And Eragon is viewing the sky through what’s basically a big chimney. Not to mention that saying smoke is sooty is like saying dirt is dirty.

Three days. Three days since he had killed Durza; three days since people began calling him Shadeslayer; three days since the remnants of the sorcerer’s consciousness had ravaged his mind and he had been saved by the mysterious Togura Ikonoka, the Cripple Who Is Whole.

That is quite a sentence. As you can see, we’re now in exposition dump territory – gotta catch everyone up on what happened. I won’t begrudge Eragon the “Shadeslayer” title; he spent a book earning that candy.

But fantasy writers: could we skip the ableist titles from now on? For context, Togura Ikonoka is an elf who appeared to Eragon in a vision at the end of the last book. Specifically, Togura asked Eragon to come learn from him in elfland. The guy obviously has a lot of interesting things going on; reducing him to his disability with a title like that is gross. “Cripple” is a slur, and pretending that being both a “cripple” and “whole” is somehow profound is calling disabled people incomplete.

Plan Those Character Arcs

Fighting Durza and the dark spirits that controlled him had transformed Eragon; although for better or for worse he was still unsure. He felt fragile, as if a sudden shock would shatter his body and reconstructed consciousness.

So they transformed Eragon… into what? Is he an apple now? It can’t be just that he feels fragile, because that’s obviously worse, not better. Maybe the end of the last book described what this transformation was, but since the transformation is mentioned here, the end result needs to be stated again.

And now he had come to the site of the combat, driven by a morbid desire to see its aftermath. Upon arriving, he found nothing but the uncomfortable presence of death and decay, not the glory that heroic songs had led him to expect.

Wait – why is Eragon out here staring at bodies again? We now have three options:

  1. He came to help with the recovery effort, as I initially assumed. We know he’s previously tried three times. However, he doesn’t seem to be helping anyone right now. Maybe he gave up because of his pain.
  2. He came out of a morbid desire to see the aftermath of the battle. This would be weird for a character who lived through that battle and saw all the morbid death actively unfolding, but you never know?
  3. He came because he expected to see some heroic glory! This is pretty incompatible with morbid sightseeing, though I suppose three-day-old bodies – bloated, rotting, and reeking – could mean heroic glory to him. The statement that he’s tried to help three times also suggests he’s already been out here, so he should know what to expect. If he couldn’t make it this far, it would be worded more like “He tried three times to get out of bed.”

Which one of these is the real reason? You’ll see in a moment.

Before his uncle, Garrow, was slain by the Ra’zac months earlier, the brutality that Eragon had witnessed between the humans, dwarves, and Urgals would have destroyed him. Now it numbed him. He had realized, with Saphira’s help, that the only way to stay rational amid such pain was to do things. Beyond that, he no longer believed that life possessed inherent meaning—not after seeing men torn apart by the Kull, a race of giant Urgals, and the ground a bed of thrashing limbs and the dirt so wet with blood it soaked through the soles of his boots. If any honor existed in war, he concluded, it was in fighting to protect others from harm.

He bent and plucked a tooth, a molar, from the dirt. Bouncing it on his palm, he and Saphira slowly made a circuit through the trampled plain.

Eragon, I know you’re having a tough time right now, but… why did you just pick up some dead person’s tooth and start playing with it as though it’s a toy?

Morbid sightseeing tour confirmed. On that note, the previous novel had some laughably grimdark scenes. At one point, Eragon walks into an entire town slaughtered by Urgals and sees some dead babies. Of course, this is just grimdark frosting; these stories don’t appear to be dark in any meaningful way. The only characters that died in book one are exactly who you’d expect: the uncle and mentor.

So why do we have all this “the ground a bed of thrashing limbs and the dirt so wet with blood it soaked through the soles of his boots”? Either Paolini is as morbid as Eragon, or he thinks that dead babies are how you create tension. But I have to admit, while his choice of what to describe is questionable, Paolini’s description has gotten better.

In any case, Paolini is trying to give Eragon some character development in the above passage. It might be nice if it wasn’t coming out like a pile of spaghetti: strands of various character arcs spewing all over the place. We have an unknown transformation after a psychic battle, an Eragon who is battle weary yet somehow morbidly curious, expectations of heroism that should have already been quashed, a new adherence to existentialism and/or nihilism, and also numbness. It could be that Paolini wants emotional depth but doesn’t want to commit to a specific character arc. Or it could be he’s just making up random stuff as he goes. Regardless, to develop a character, you need to pick an issue and explore it in depth… or die.

Your Character Can Get in More Fights If They Aren’t Overpowered

Next, the Varden rebel second-in-command, Jörmundur, comes to summon Eragon to meet Ajihad, the rebel leader.

“I’m glad I found you in time, Eragon.” He clutched a parchment note in one hand. “Ajihad is returning, and he wants you to be there when he arrives. The others are already waiting for him by Tronjheim’s west gate. We’ll have to hurry to get there in time.”

Eragon nodded and headed toward the gate, keeping a hand on Saphira.

If you were hurrying to fetch someone, would you waste time with “I’m glad I found you in time, Bob”?

Paolini never mentions Eragon getting rid of that tooth, so I imagine he pockets it here. That way he can add it to his trophy collection later.

Eragon nodded and headed toward the gate, keeping a hand on Saphira. Ajihad had been gone most of the three days, hunting down Urgals who had managed to escape into the dwarf tunnels that honeycombed the stone beneath the Beor Mountains. The one time Eragon had seen him between expeditions, Ajihad was in a rage over discovering that his daughter, Nasuada, had disobeyed his orders to leave with the other women and children before the battle. Instead, she had secretly fought among the Varden’s archers.

This story has a fake Eowyn too! When it comes to representation, I’ve definitely seen worse than this. Even so, it’s past time to put the Eowyns away and show women fighting and leading without objection.

With this context about Ajihad filled in, it’s weird that a bunch of people have been called to line up and greet him the moment he returns. He’s not a king, and this isn’t some formal visit with a lot of fanfare. He’s a rebel leader who’s been hunting through a bunch of tunnels. It’s surprising he even managed to send a rider ahead to say he was returning.

Next, there’s a paragraph expositing about three of the characters who are with Ajihad: a pair of asshole mages called the Twins, and Eragon’s edgy best friend, Murtagh. Then Eragon meets up with some fellows.

As Eragon and Saphira rounded Tronjheim [the dwarven capital], a small group became visible in the pool of lantern light before the timber gate. Among them were Orik – the dwarf shifting impatiently on his stout legs – and Arya. The white bandage around her upper arm gleamed in the darkness, reflecting a faint highlight onto the bottom of her hair. Eragon felt a strange thrill, as he always did when he saw the elf. She looked at him and Saphira, green eyes flashing, then continued watching for Ajihad.

I’m delighted to see that Paolini hasn’t lost his tendency to fixate on one random item in his description, neglecting other details in comparison. In this case, fake Arwen (Arya) is wearing one hell of a bandage. Is it a magical, glowing bandage? Otherwise I don’t know how it would gleam so strong as to reflect off her hair. Since we’re in Eragon’s viewpoint, this also suggests he considers the bandage the most important thing about his love interest’s appearance. Well, he does spend his leisure time looking at dead bodies, so that fits, I guess.

[Eragon] and Saphira stopped by Orik and looked out at the empty land that surrounded Tronjheim, extending to Farthen Dûr’s base five miles away in each direction. “Where will Ajihad come from?” asked Eragon.

Orik pointed at a cluster of lanterns staked around a large tunnel opening a couple of miles away. “He should be here soon.”

Eragon waited patiently with the others […].

Half an hour passed before motion flickered in the distant tunnel. A group of ten men climbed out onto the ground, then turned and helped up as many dwarves.

They just stand there looking at an empty tunnel for a half hour? What happened to “We’ll have to hurry to get there in time”? Now this ceremony of waiting to greet this guy is even stranger. They should’ve just headed to that tunnel and met him part way; they even have lanterns lighting their destination.

Before [the men and dwarves] went more than five yards, the tunnel behind them swarmed with a flurry of activity as more figures jumped out. Eragon squinted, unable to see clearly from so far away.

Those are Urgals! exclaimed Saphira, her body tensing like a drawn bowstring.

Eragon did not question her. “Urgals!” he cried, and leaped onto Saphira, berating himself for leaving his sword, Zar’roc, in his room. No one had expected an attack now that the Urgal army had been driven away.

I also didn’t expect an attack. Ajihad just spent three days clearing Urgals out of those same tunnels, and this is within sight of the city. I guess he did a bad job and there are no patrols out here?

His wound twinged as Saphira lifted her azure wings, then drove them down and jumped forward, gaining speed and altitude each second. Below them, Arya ran toward the tunnel, nearly keeping apace with Saphira. Orik trailed her with several men, while Jörmundur sprinted back toward the barracks.

Gotta hand it to you, Paolini: last time when you said Arya ran at “tremendous speed,” I didn’t believe you. But apparently she really does run that fast, since she’s almost keeping up with a flying dragon. But then why did she need a horse at all last time? Humans have better endurance than horses, and Tolkien elves should have better endurance yet.

Eragon was forced to watch helplessly as the Urgals fell on the rear of Ajihad’s warriors; he could not work magic over such a distance. The
monsters had the advantage of surprise and quickly cut down four men, forcing the rest of the warriors, men and dwarves alike, to cluster around Ajihad in an attempt to protect him. […]

For a minute, it seemed the defenders would be able to resist the Urgals, but then a swirl of motion disturbed the air, like a faint band of mist wrapping itself around the combatants. When it cleared, only four warriors were standing: Ajihad, the Twins, and Murtagh. The Urgals converged on them, blocking Eragon’s view as he stared with rising horror and fear.

Only the named characters are left standing! I am shocked.

This action sequence is unfolding like a cut scene from a video game. Eragon is allowed to watch but not allowed to do anything. If he participated, he and his dragon would naturally squash these mere orcs – I mean, Urgals – so he has to be kept out of the fight. This must be what that waiting scene was about. Paolini had to establish that Eragon could see the party while still being too far away to intervene. He even described lanterns at the tunnel entrance for this purpose. But considering how fast a dragon could fly, it’s still incredibly unlikely that Eragon could make out individual figures but not reach them until the fight is over.

It would be so much more believable if this fight happened farther out into the tunnels, and some injured soldiers came stumbling home with the important characters. A fight that Eragon only watches might be slightly more exciting than that, but it’s also unsatisfying.

If Your Battle-Hardened Characters Don’t Expect a Battle, Rethink Things

Before Saphira could reach the fight, the knot of Urgals streamed back to the tunnel and scrambled underground, leaving only prone forms behind.

The moment Saphira touched down, Eragon vaulted off, then faltered, overcome by grief and anger. I can’t do this. It reminded him too much of when he had returned to the farm to find his uncle Garrow dying. Fighting back his dread with every step, he began to search for survivors.

Now Eragon can’t do this? What happened to that numbness? Or even the morbid curiousity? It’s not impossible for a character to have some contradictory feelings, but the reader needs to understand how they work together and why the character is feeling one thing or the other. For instance, Paolini might specify that after his strange psychic fight at the end of the last book, everything feels unreal to Eragon. Then the effect evaporates once he sees people he knows in mortal peril. As is, Paolini doesn’t seem to be attempting anything like that. It feels like Eragon’s personality is being reinvented every paragraph.

The site was eerily similar to the battlefield he had inspected earlier, except that here the blood was fresh.

In the center of the massacre lay Ajihad, his breastplate rent with numerous gashes, surrounded by five Urgals he had slain. His breath still came in ragged gasps. Eragon knelt by him and lowered his face so his tears would not land on the leader’s ruined chest. No one could heal such wounds.

It’s eerily similar? That suggests there’s something surprising and mysterious about the similarities between the battlefield and the aftermath of this fight. Were you not expecting bodies at both places, Eragon? Did the last battlefield tour have a still-dying rebel leader in it that you forgot to mention? Or is there an unexplained mountain of bodies and a sullen fire around here somewhere?

Whenever Paolini says that magic can’t do something, I don’t believe him. After the quarter-mile rings of burning forest last time, it became clear that he’s making up what magic can and can’t do as he goes. That means at some point in the series, he’ll probably forget he had this moment and make a healer bring back someone from almost dying – if he hasn’t already done it. What magic can’t do is just as arbitrary as what it can.

“Eragon.” The name slipped from Ajihad’s lips – no more than a whisper.

“Yes, I am here.”

“Listen to me, Eragon…. I have one last command for you.” Eragon leaned closer to catch the dying man’s words. “You must promise me
something: promise that you… won’t let the Varden fall into chaos. They are the only hope for resisting the Empire…. They must be kept strong. You must promise me.”

“I promise.”

“Then peace be with you, Eragon Shadeslayer….” With his last breath, Ajihad closed his eyes, setting his noble face in repose, and died.

Well, that’s convenient. Just after living through a huge battle, Ajihad is randomly attacked. The attack happens as soon as he comes within sight of Eragon, but he’s somehow still too far for Eragon to assist. Ajihad holds onto life just long enough for Eragon to arrive and promise to either replace him or find someone who will. Then he dies without ado.

I’m not assuming that Paolini will put Eragon in charge. This looks like a setup for a conflict about whether he should go to train with his elf mentor or stay, and he might resolve that by choosing someone else to lead. I’m all for that conflict, but this sequence is really contrived.

After Arya says a few nice words over the dead leader, Paolini tries to cover for this by commenting on the suddenness of it all.

Unwilling to speak, Eragon gazed at the rest of the bodies. He would have given anything to be elsewhere. Saphira nosed one of the Urgals and said, This should not have happened. It is an evil doing, and all the worse for coming when we should be safe and victorious.

The problem is that none of the characters were feeling particularly safe and victorious. If the book had opened with a celebration scene, we could believe they’d let their guard down. Paolini has established just the opposite. Because he opened with a morbid battlefield and descriptions of hunting through the tunnels only to proceed to a sudden attack, that attack doesn’t feel particularly shocking within the setting. Instead it feels like it should have been expected, and therefore prevented.

She examined another body, then swung her head around. Where are the Twins and Murtagh? They’re not among the dead.

Eragon scanned the corpses. You’re right! Elation surged within him as
he hurried to the tunnel’s mouth. There pools of thickening blood filled
the hollows in the worn marble steps like a series of black mirrors, glossy and oval, as if several torn bodies had been dragged down them. The Urgals must have taken them! But why? They don’t keep prisoners or hostages. Despair instantly returned.

How is Eragon only noticing his best friend is gone now? I think what Paolini intended was that Eragon scanned all the bodies and only Ajihad was showing signs of life, so he assumed his friend was among the fallen without verifying. But that’s not actually stated, nor does Eragon think about how Murtagh is dead as he’s mourning Ajihad.

That description of blood is quite evocative; if only Paolini put that much effort into describing things that aren’t morbid. In this case, it’s also a little disorienting. I looked up pictures of worn marble steps; the oval blood pools are plausible if there’s a lot of blood. However, it’s not the blood pattern associated with dragging: that would be streaks. So Eragon’s logic is hard to follow. Plus, if you refer to something as a mirror, you don’t need to say it’s glossy. That’s a given.

If You Use a Lot of Buildup, Readers Will Expect a Lot of Payoff

[Eragon speaking.] We can’t pursue them without reinforcements; you wouldn’t even fit through the opening.

[Saphira speaking.] They may still be alive. Would you abandon them?

What do you expect me to do? The dwarf tunnels are an endless maze! I would only get lost. And I couldn’t catch Urgals on foot, though Arya might be able to.

Then ask her to.

Arya! Eragon hesitated, torn between his desire for action and his loathing to put her in danger. Still, if any one person in the Varden could handle the Urgals, it was she. With a groan, he explained what they had found.

Arya’s slanted eyebrows met in a frown. “It makes no sense.”

“Will you pursue them?”

She stared at him for a heavy moment. “Wiol ono.” For you. Then she bounded forward, sword flashing in her hand as she dove into the earth’s belly.

Paolini gives some explanation for why Arya needs to rescue the missing people on her own. If not for how contrived this whole setup is, it might actually feel natural. The explanation is okay, but it could be better. Remember that when it comes to character motivation, multiple explanations will only confuse the reader and make it feel like the narrative is grasping for excuses. Choose one compelling motivation… or die. In this case, I would remove the lines saying Eragon could get lost and stick to the fact that Saphira is too big and Eragon is too slow.

The summary of Eragon explaining the situation to Arya is bewildering. Arya! feels random and melodramatic. Perhaps it was meant to be in double quotes instead of italics; it could be him calling out to get her attention. But then why does he hesitate after that instead of before? And where is Arya, exactly? She hasn’t been mentioned in almost a page. Is she next to him or is she looking through bodies? It’s hard to imagine Eragon talking to her without any description of where she is or what she’s doing first.

While many of Paolini’s fake words are overdone and silly looking, I have to admit he’s been mixing them in pretty well – just a bit here and there. I wouldn’t want lots of text in fake words like this, but one short phrase with emotional emphasis isn’t bad.

Next, Eragon turns some sad facts into borg drones.

Burning with frustration, Eragon settled cross-legged by Ajihad, keeping watch over the body. He could barely assimilate the fact that Ajihad was dead and Murtagh missing.

Okay, that’s not technically what Paolini meant, but some words shouldn’t be used in a medieval-style fantasy setting. At least people aren’t vibrating this time.

After Eragon assimilates some exposition, Orik the dwarf and Jörmundur the rebel second-in-command show up. Eragon doesn’t tell either of them that Ajihad just gave Jörmundur a spiritual knee-to-the-groin by asking Eragon to make sure the rebels stay together.

Then they discuss how Arya went after the Urgals.

Eragon softly told [Jörmundur] about Arya and the disappearance of the Twins and Murtagh.

“She should not have gone,” said Jörmundur, straightening, “but we can do naught about it now. Guards will be posted here, but it will be at least an hour before dwarf guides can be found for another expedition into the tunnels.”

“I’d be willing to lead it,” offered Orik.

Jörmundur looked back at Tronjheim, his gaze distant. “No, Hrothgar will need you now; someone else will have to go. I’m sorry, Eragon, but everyone important must stay here until Ajihad’s successor is chosen. Arya will have to fend for herself…. We could not overtake her anyway.”

Eragon nodded, accepting the inevitable.

Wow, this is a lot of long and careful explanation about how Arya has to go alone and fend for herself. It evens includes a battle-hardened rebel group that’s never heard of interim leadership. With all that justification, Arya must end up on a long and dangerous quest to save these people, only to reappear later at a suitably dramatic time.

Except no. Her nonchalant return that evening is briefly summarized at the beginning of the following chapter. She finds the missing characters’ torn-up apparel next to a big pit, so they must have died, right? Uh huh. Well, Paolini, I think you could have found a shorter route to the unbelievable fake deaths of these characters, but you do you.

Before they carry away the body of Ajihad, Eragon pulls a molar out of the dead guy’s mouth and starts tossing it for fun. Okay, that’s a lie; I just can’t get over that tooth thing. As far as I know, Ajihad has all his teeth when they carry him away in a tear-soaked procession.

Even with all the exposition I cut out, this is a stronger start than the prologue was for book one. It’s ridiculously contrived, but it introduces an important political conflict, and the main character is technically present. However, between Eragon’s emotional spin-the-wheel and how often he nods and goes along with things, his depiction looks like a big weak spot. Make your protagonist blank and mild-mannered if you’d like, but at least give them consistency and agency… or die.

Need an editor? We’re at your service.

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Comments

  1. GeniusLemur

    “Upon arriving, he found nothing but the uncomfortable presence of death and decay, not the glory that heroic songs had led him to expect.”
    Someone want to quote me a song verse or stanza from a poem that talks about how grand and glorious post-battle cleanup is?

  2. Innes

    I mean in limited fairness to Paolini, “the songs of the dead are the lamentations of the living” is cool as heck when you are thirteen. I absolutely had it written down in a notebook I kept expressly for the purpose of collecting edgy quotes in middle school.
    There is a certain genre of mid-grade to YA books that have the most overwrought first sentences compared to the rest of the narration… it really puts a damper on rereading childhood favs.

  3. Sydney

    This critique was accurate and helpful, but despite the bad word craft and some character inconsistencies, I still can’t help but love this series. It improves in the third and fourth books, adding some much needed novelty that helps separate it from the generic fantasy plot it is based on. The characters too become much more complex and interesting, and the Urgals turn out be much more sympathetic as we learn more about them. I can’t say they’re the best books I’ve ever read, but they did introduce me to fantasy so I’ll probably always like these books no matter how many critiques I read.

  4. Bunny

    “Jörmundur looked back at Tronjheim, his gaze distant. ‘No, Hrothgar will need you now; someone else will have to go. I’m sorry, Eragon, but everyone important must stay here until Ajihad’s successor is chosen. Arya will have to fend for herself…. We could not overtake her anyway.’

    Eragon nodded, accepting the inevitable.”

    I legitimately thought this was a joke quote! I was expecting the next lines of the critique to be “Just kidding, that was my addition” and make a point about plot convenience. I can’t believe the book just flat-out says “Welp, guess everyone important’s gotta stay here for plot reasons,” and the hero just kinda nods along. I guess it gets the job done, but it’s just such an incredibly bulky way of doing it.

    And what was the deal with that tooth? Cripes!

    • SunlessNick

      My take on that bit was that maybe Arya should be the protagonist, or co-protagonist.

  5. Kody

    I loved these first two books as a kid, and read them over and over. It probably gave me a lot of bad habits. This is definitely worse than I remember, but so it goes.

    I can’t fault Paolini too hard — the kid wrote and published these at a remarkably young age. I wish I’d been so succesful! He had some cool, fun ideas that a lot of people enjoyed (and a lot of really unoriginal ones, too… how do we have Minas Tirith, Arwen, AND Eowyn all in one opening scene?).

    I am sad I grew up faster than his writing skills did, because I think I would have liked to finish the series. By the time the later books were coming out, they were inundated with too much weak writing to enjoy.

    • Cay Reet

      Just a remark: publishing includes editing. An adult editor should have at least removed some of that stuff. It’s not as if he did the editing in addition to the writing.

      • A_T

        Exactly what I was thinking throughout this whole thing.
        I am guessing an adult editor was the editor, but that editor seems to have failed the author.

  6. LeeEsq

    Good writers avoid grandiose pose. Tolkien and few others could do it right but most just sound pretentious when doing so. If you really want to write something epic, it might be a good idea to read some big World War I or World War II military novels and learn how they right epic in more modern English.

  7. Silverware

    The “…or die!” kept popping out in the most unexpected places, I snorted with laughter every time

  8. Alice

    The Eragon critique was my introduction to this site, so seeing a post about Eldest made my day.

    But reading this one, I noticed how difficult the characters’ names are. If you’re not writing about a real group of people I can’t see any reason to make readers trip over themselves trying to understand names. I ended up just mumbling something my head, thinking ‘that’ll do,’ and getting increasingly annoyed when another awkward name showed up. I know these books have pronunciation guides but I shouldn’t have to keep flipping back to it.
    I’m guessing the names here have a pronunciation akin to Old Norse, but I doubt many people speak it. My least favourite is ‘Zar’roc.’ What is that apostrophe even doing?

    • GeniusLemur

      Gratuitous apostrophes in fantasy names are a trope. Lazy writers throw them in as an easy way to make the names look more fantasyish.

      • Cay Reet

        Well, it makes the names look strange. I’m going to call myself C’ay Re’et in the future.

        The funny thing is that in “A Long Spoon”, the main character summons a devil and it’s mentioned that her real name is full of apostrophes, but she goes by the name Zarenyia.

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