Eragon by Christopher Paolini

eragon by christopher paolini

Publication year: 2002
Genre: Fantasy
Time and place: a fictional world, unspecified time
Narrated in: third-person limited
First sentence:Wind howled through the night, carrying a scent that would change the world.
Verdict: A promising start to a series.

Eragon is fifteen and out hunting to help feed his family, when all of a sudden a big blue round stone fell from the sky. He took it home hoping he’ll be able to sell it for a big sum, but no one knew how much it was worth, so the stone remained in Eragon’s possession. Not for long though: one night a small baby dragon hatched from it :)

Determined to keep the animal a secret, at least for the time being, Eragon hides the dragon, Saphira, away from the village. As time goes by the two become fast friends, especially since they can read one another’s minds. Not much time later, two mysterious strangers come to the village, chasing whoever had the blue stone. Luckily for him, Eragon was away with Saphira, but his uncle was killed and their house destroyed. Together with the village storyteller, an old man who clearly knows a lot more than he tells, Eragon and Saphira start tracking the two culprits, looking for revenge and having no idea that they will never see the small village again.

General impression
Most people say this book is heavily inspired from the Lord of the Rings, starting with the very name of the protagonist, but the similarities I noticed were with Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World1. An orphan boy who doesn’t know his parents and lives in a very remote village goes on a voyage where his party is periodically attacked by horned beings, led by a more powerful magical creature (a Fade in EotW, a Shade in Eragon). There’s also a special sword, a hand marked, the hero discovering magic within himself, a storyteller with a hidden past, and the list probably goes on. Would I go as far as to call the book plagiarism? Of course not. The hero-chosen-to-save the world story has been told countless times; the secret is in the details.

Some criticize this book because the author has started writing it at fifteen, and it was published by the author’s parents’ publishing house. This in itself doesn’t make it a bad book, however. Sure, I wouldn’t go as far as to call it brilliant, but I have enjoyed reading it, and I am planning to read at least one of the sequels. Sure, some times it’s obvious that shortcuts were taken — when it comes to Eragon’s love interest, for example: instead of building a believable characters, with flaws and all, the author has created this perfect, supernatural being that Eragon was instantly attracted to. I would have, of course, preferred it wasn’t so, but on the whole the sum of parts is a positive, and I won’t complain.

The book takes place in the fictional land of Alagaësia — a world where once upon a time ago men and dwarves and elves lived together in peace. Everyone was protected from the forces of evil by the Dragon Riders, powerful people who could wield magic. One of them however has gone mad and turned to the dark side, so he killed his brethren and proclaimed himself king. The dragons were almost extinct (only three eggs remain), the dwarves and elves each hid in their own worlds and wanted nothing more to do with humans.

As the book opens, King Galbatorix has been ruling the land for decades. One of the three dragon eggs has been stolen, and the king has called on the forces of evil to help him get it back. But when the Shade and his Urgals attacked the elf who was transporting it she used her magic to send it in a remote place — which is how it found Eragon, or how Eragon found it.

I liked the world building, and thought most of it is original (although, I know, elves and dwarves were also in Tolkien’s books, and others’). It is not perfect — for example the lore says that the dragon egg hatches in the presence of the one that is supposed to be its Rider; this is why people and elves came to see the egg, just in case one of them will be the chosen one, which implies that the hatching will happen instantly, or very close to that, when the Rider was there; but Eragon had the egg for a few days before it hatched –, but some bits of it were fun, and I really liked it. I liked the werecat, Solembum, that alternated between being a larger-than-normal cat and a shaggy-haired boy. I liked the way magic works, physically tiring one, and even killing one out of sheer exhaustion if one tries doing too much. I liked the way the dragons were connected to their Riders, and how one Rider could technically live a very long time because of its dragon’s influence on him. I am looking forward to exploring more :)

The dialogues are not, perhaps, the author’s forte, and yet I did like most of the characters — even Arya, who’s probably the sum of all cliches2. Everyone has their well established role: Eragon is the hero, Saphira the loyal sidekick (who just happens to be a dragon), Brom is the hero’s teacher, and Arya the hero’s love interest. There’s also Murtagh (the hero’s human companion, so he won’t feel lonely) and Angela (the mysterious witch). The former is my favorite character — a brave, loyal young man, having to bear the burden of his father’s sins. He keeps mostly to himself because of that, which is why I think his friendship with Eragon is so precious: because it’s earned. Brom would probably be a second favorite: a former hero, he’s been through much and knows a lot, and it is for Eragon the father figure he needed at this challenging time of his life.

The writing is what attracted me to the book in the first place. The descriptions in particular are the author’s strongest point. One of my favorite bits is the first description of Saphira:

“The dragon was no longer than his forearm, yet it was dignified and noble. Its scales were deep sapphire blue, the same color as the stone. [...] The wings were several times longer than its body and ribbed with thin fingers of bone that extended from the wing’s front edge, forming a line of widely spaced talons. The dragon’s head was roughly triangular. Two diminutive white fangs curved down out of its upper jaw. They looked very sharp. Its claws were also white, like polished ivory, and slightly serrated on the inside curve. A line of small spikes ran down the creature’s spine from the base of its head to the tip of its tail. A hollow where its neck and shoulders joined created a larger-than-normal gap between the spikes.”

According to the author, he had spent a lot of time trying to pick the perfect names for his characters. He considers himself lucky to have thought of Eragon, as it’s “dragon” with a letter changed. Also, Angela the Herbalist is inspired from the author’s own sister, also named Angela :)

What I liked most
The first time we meet Angela the herbalist she is described as “holding a frog in one hand and writing with the other“. When asked about it, she said that the frog was in fact a toad, and that she was trying to prove that toads do not in fact exist. I loved the unexpectedness of the answer, and the reasoning that follows is funny too:

“If I prove toads don’t exist, then this is a frog and never was a toad. Therefore, the toad you see now doesn’t exist. And,” she raised a small finger, “if I can prove there are only frogs, then toads won’t be able to do anything bad—like make teeth fall out, cause warts, and poison or kill people. Also, witches won’t be able to use any of their evil spells because, of course, there won’t be any toads around.”

Which pinpoints Angela once and for all as a bit eccentric, if you will. But still I liked that :)

Also, although not directly related to the things in the book, here is a quote from an essay written by the author:

I hope that Eragon will leave you with the same sense of wonder that I had while writing it. I do believe in magic—the magic of stories to give you wonder, awe, and revelations. Such feelings can come from small things; in a fey vision of fairy dust swirling in marble moonbeams, or at the end of an epic where a wave of emotion washes over you, sweeping away the mundane world for a moment. Either way, I hope that you find something special in Eragon, something from the other side of the looking glass.

Enjoy the journey!

What I liked least
The author seems to have a problem estimating periods of time. This is most jarring when it comes to Eragon’s training — the guy goes from zero magic powers and zero sword training to unbeatable hero in just four weeks or so. Now, I can get there’s such a thing as a natural talent, and that helped, but still that was too much. Particularly as afterwards Eragon is the equal of Brom, who albeit older has spent most of his life in battle (and has killed at least one enemy hero, so by all means he was a good fighter), and a bit later Murtagh’s, who also has studied swordplay for most of his life.

Also, show spoiler

Thoughts on the title
Well, it is the story of Eragon :) So it’s a fitting, albeit unimaginative name. I am looking forward to see how come the 3rd(?) volume ended up being called Brisingr :)

Thoughts on the ending
Darn, knowing that the book was written in early 2000s I was hoping it had escaped the wave of ‘everything should be trilogy’ that plagues us nowadays3. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Not only there are still untied threads left at the end of the book (I for one am very curious about who Eragon’s father may be — probably a Dragon Rider hero, but which one), but a new challenge is set for Eragon in the very few pages. Why yes, I still hate this scheme.

Other than that I actually liked the ending more than I thought I would though. Of course there is a big battle, and of course the forces of good win. I really did like, however, the way this was accomplished: show spoiler

Recommend it to?
People who love dragon stories :)

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  1. and yes, I know that EotW itself draws heavily from LotR []
  2. well, at least she’s generally not the damsel-in-distress cliche, but the I-need-no-help-I-can-slay-anything-myself one, which I happen to love :) but she also needs rescuing at one time, so… []
  3. yes, I did know there were many books in a series, but I was hoping that the first one was written as a standalone []

(The Extraordinary Adventures of) Foundling Mick by Jules Verne

foundling mick by jules verne Publication year: 1893
Genre: Fiction
Time and place: 19th century Ireland
Narrated in: third-person omniscient
First sentence:Ireland, which has an area of 31,759 square miles, or 20,326,209 acres, formerly formed a part of the insular tract of land now called the United Kingdom.
Verdict:I’ll always have a soft spot for it.

Continue reading

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin

Genre: Juvenile Fiction
Main characters: Rebecca Rowena Randall :)
Time and place: early 1900s; a small town in the US called Riverboro
First sentence:The old stage coach was rumbling along the dusty road that runs from Maplewood to Riverboro.
Verdict: Uncomplicated.

Rebecca Rowena Randall is the second of seven brothers, living with their mother in a small house that Rebecca likes to call Sunnybrook Farm. As the book opens, she is sent to live with her two spinster aunts, in hopes that this will be “the making of [her]“. Rebecca’s sunny disposition does not fit very well with the somber house of the aunts, but, by and by, she manages to soften any heart she encounters in her path.

General impression
I took up reading this on a whim, having found out about its existence from a list of books presumably read on the Titanic. I love this type of heroine (Rebecca belongs to the same league that Anne of Green Gables and Pollyanna do), and as I was able to find it instantly both on Amazon (the Kindle version) and on Gutenberg Project I wasted no time and jumped straight into it. In the end, while I was right, and Rebecca did share the optimism an resourcefulness of both Anne and Pollyanna, her life struck me as a mere succession of events. Contemporary books have probably perverted my tastes and expectations, as I could not help finding only a very few of Rebecca’s adventures (while important for her, of course) important/interesting enough to be worth being mentioned in a book.

The setting is what I’ve come to think of as a typical small town, the kind where everyone knows everyone and no secrets can ever be kept from the nosy neighbors. There are a bunch of children too, more or less Rebecca’s age, so “Rebecky” is always surrounded by friends. Much as everyone loves gossip, there are no truly mean people in the village, and our heroine is liked by all.

Rebecca Rowena Randall is a rather extraordinary child. She has an intense personality, filled with artistic fervor and bursting at the seams with imagination. She takes great pleasure in the mere act of communicating (as one of the characters says, she’d more likely talk to herself than say nothing). She always has something interesting to say though (no small feat), which is I think one of the things that attract other people to her like moths around a flame. She’s written poetry all her life (clumsy worded at times, but correctly rhymed), she plays the piano, she is talented when it comes to drawing too — in a word, she is a very gifted young girl. All her intensity is mirrored into her large, dark eyes, the first thing that anyone noticed about her:

Rebecca’s eyes were like faith,–”the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Under her delicately etched brows they glowed like two stars, their dancing lights half hidden in lustrous darkness. Their glance was eager and full of interest, yet never satisfied; their steadfast gaze was brilliant and mysterious, and had the effect of looking directly through the obvious to something beyond, in the object, in the landscape, in you.

And then there’s Mr. Adam Ladd, a well-to-do thirty year old, who finds Rebecca fascinating, and who plays the part of a hidden benefactor for her more than once. When they first met Rebecca, not knowing his name, called him Mr. Aladdin, and she has been addressing him thusly ever since. While reading, I kept feeling that he has the potential to be a great character, to do something interesting, but, alas, he never did.

As for the aunts, I liked the way the author has chosen to draw them. The eldest is Mirandy, a stern old woman who likes being in control of everything and thinking herself too level-headed for sentimentalities. The quote that best describes her is “Miranda Sawyer had a heart, of course, but she had never used it for any other purpose than the pumping and circulating of blood“. She always tends to think the worst about people, and she is not particularly fond of Rebecca, seeing in her a beastly, disobedient child. The other sister, Jane, has a more peaceful nature, and is letting herself dominated by her elder sister. She did have a wild streak in her, though, and in her youth she ran away from home in order to be with her betrothed, wounded in war. Now however that spark is almost extinguished, as Jane is old and frail, but the very memory if it makes her far more understanding of Rebecca’s character than her sister will ever be.

The book is more of a series of vignettes out of Rebecca’s life growing up. To me they felt like simple preparations, paving the way for the real story, but alas, that intense, powerful moment I had expected never actually happened. Again, I have probably gotten way too used with the books written these days, fast paced and one twist following quickly on another’s footsteps. In comparison, Rebecca’s adventures feel rather subdued and quaint :)

What I liked most
My favorite adventure of Rebecca’s was the one with the pink parasol :)
At the time the book opens her most prized possession is a pink parasol that someone has brought her from Paris. She treasures it so much that she only uses it on cloudy days, taking great pains to always keep it away from the sun, as “pink fades awfully“. In Rebecca’s own words, “it’s the dearest thing in life to me, but it’s an awful care“. A few months later, Rebecca, inspired by a book she was reading, decides that she needs to punish herself for making mistakes (she often got caught in her inner world and forgot the outer one, so she always got into a scrape or another) as she saw this as a way of building character. When it came time to decide on a punishment, she chose for herself the harshest thing she could think of, giving up her cherished pink parasol:

That would do; she would fling her dearest possession into the depths of the water. Action followed quickly upon decision, as usual. She slipped down in the darkness, stole out the front door, approached the place of sacrifice, lifted the cover of the well, gave one unresigned shudder, and flung the parasol downward with all her force. At the crucial instant of renunciation she was greatly helped by the reflection that she closely resembled the heathen mothers who cast their babes to the crocodiles in the Ganges.

Alas, but then the little umbrella gets stuck somewhere inside the well and everyone wonders how come they cannot draw water anymore :)

Another quote of Rebecca’s, giving up the idea of becoming a missionary:

“Why, whatever God is, and wherever He is, He must always be there, ready and waiting. He can’t move about and miss people. It may take the heathen a little longer to find Him, but God will make allowances, of course. He knows if they live in such hot climates it must make them lazy and slow; and the parrots and tigers and snakes and bread-fruit trees distract their minds; and having no books, they can’t think as well; but they’ll find God somehow, some time.”

“What if they die first?” asked Emma Jane.

“Oh, well, they can’t be blamed for that; they don’t die on purpose,” said Rebecca, with a comfortable theology.

Last but not least, I found quite amusing that Rebecca’s father’s name was Lorenzo de Medici Randall, while his twin brother had been named Marquis de Lafayette Randall. Someone in that family must have liked history books :)

What I liked least
Other than the simplicity of the stories I have absolutely nothing to reproach it (but let us keep in mind it was written over 100 years ago, in a time where people’s lives were so much less eventful than ours today).

Thoughts on the ending
Quite a disappointment. The book ended way too soon!
show spoiler

Recommend it to?
Anyone who likes the enthusiastic-child-melts-everyone’s-hearts trope :)

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