Eragon: Chapter 59

Eragon, Chapter 59: The Mourning Sage

Last chapter! Let’s do this!

For the first two and a half pages, Eragon is unconscious. Unfortunately that doesn’t grant us a reprieve from his POV, because now he’s stuck inside his own head, fighting off Durza’s memories. He sees all the terrible things the Shade has done and starts to question who he is, then remembers “all the events since he had found Saphira’s egg” and starts to defend himself.

He fought against the Shade’s sinister thoughts, weakly at first, then more strongly. He whispered words of the ancient language and found they gave him enough strength to withstand the shadow blurring his mind. Though his defenses faltered dangerously, he slowly began to draw his shattered consciousness into a small bright shell around his core. Outside his mind he was aware of a pain so great it threatened to blot out his very life, but something – or someone – seemed to keep it at bay.

It’s been fifty-four chapters since the whole concept of consciousness and mind-touching and all that has been introduced, and I still have no idea how it works. What does it feel like?  How do you put up a shield around your mind? Paolini writes about Eragon’s “consciousness” like it’s a separate entity, not an integral part of him.

He was still too weak to clear his mind completely, but he was lucid enough to examine his experiences since Carvahall. Where would he go now . . . and who would show him the way? Without Brom, there was no one to guide or teach him.

Except the elves everyone keeps telling you about. Most of them probably still remember the Riders from first-hand experience. And is this really the time to be wondering this? Shouldn’t you wait until you’re, y’know, conscious? Or at least sure you’re not going to die?

But wait! While Eragon’s pondering what his next move is, someone manages to contact him:

Come to me.

He recoiled at the touch of another consciousness – one so vast and powerful it was like a mountain looming over him. This was who was blocking the pain, he realized. Like Arya’s mind, music ran through this one: deep amber-gold chords that throbbed with magisterial melancholy.

Finally, he dared ask, Who . . . who are you?

One who would help. With a flicker of an unspoken thought, the Shade’s influence was brushed aside like an unwanted cobweb.

Well, that was anticlimactic.

The person helping Eragon explains that they’ve done all they can, but they’re too far away to do anything more. Eragon asks again who they are.

There was a low rumble. I am Osthato Chetowä, the Mourning Sage. And Togira Ikonoka, the Cripple Who Is Whole. Come to me, Eragon, for I have answers to all you ask. You will not be safe until you find me.

Then he tells Eragon to go with Arya to Ellesmera, and says that he’s “rid the land of a great evil.” Great, pump up his ego some more, why don’t you?

The stranger was right; what he had accomplished was worthy of honor, of recognition. No matter what his trials might be in the future, he was no longer just a pawn in the game of power. He had transcended that and was something else, something more. He had become what Ajihad wanted: an authority independent of any king or leader.

He has? Really? Who granted him this authority? What constitutes independence? Because I’m pretty sure he was taking orders from Ajihad for the last few chapters – that’s not very independent. I mean, yes, technically he could just tell Ajihad to piss off and go do his own thing, but he’s still too untrained to be much of an authority in any respect. He would just wind up getting himself killed. Killing the Shade doesn’t give him authority – or at least, it shouldn’t.

The Mourning Sage tells Eragon to rest, and to not tell anyone about him when he wakes up. Then, with a reminder to seek out the elves, he puts Eragon to sleep (even though he’s not actually awake?).

His last thought was that Brom would have been proud of him.

That really doesn’t say good things about Eragon.

Eragon wakes up with Angela “staring at his face intently”. Creepy. She asks how he feels, then gives him a drink of mead (wouldn’t water be the better choice?). He struggles to remember what happened, and Angela tells him his friends are alive and lets them in to see him. There’s a cute little exchange between him and Saphira where he says he’s proud of her for breathing fire for the first time. Then he asks Arya and Murtagh what happened. Murtagh says that when the Shade died and the spirits inside him flew out across the inside of the mountain, the Urgals “ceased fighting to watch them go,” and then started fighting and killing each other. The Varden got most of them, but quite a few managed to escape into the tunnels. Murtagh calls Eragon a hero, saying that if it wasn’t for him killing Durza they would have lost.

Eragon was troubled by his words but pushed them away for later consideration. “Where were the Twins? They weren’t where they were supposed to be – I couldn’t contact them. I needed their help.”

Murtagh shrugged. “I was told they bravely fought off a group of Urgals that broke into Tronjheim somewhere else. They were probably too busy to talk with you.”

That seemed wrong for some reason, but Eragon could not decide why.

IT’S BECAUSE THEY’RE OBVIOUSLY BAD GUYS. YOU HAVE THESE BAD FEELINGS ABOUT THEM BECAUSE THEY HAVE NO CHARACTERIZATION BEYOND “SLIMY BALD TRAITOROUS JERKS.”

Turning to Arya, Eragon asks why she and Saphira didn’t crash. Arya explains that by the time she got Saphira’s armor off, Eragon was already at the bottom of the slide, and she thought Durza would kill him before she could rescue him. So she created the biggest distraction she could think of and broke the star sapphire. Then, when they were just about to hit the floor, she used her magic to freeze all the pieces in the air and gently lower them to the floor so there wouldn’t be a million glittering pieces of deadly shrapnel flying about.

Eragon finally gets around to asking about his injuries. Angela waffles about, saying he’s been out for a day and a half and that if she wasn’t around it would have taken him weeks to heal, if he’d even lived at all.

Alarmed, Eragon pushed the blankets off his torso and twisted around to feel his back. Angela caught his wrist with her small hand, worry reflected in her eyes. “Eragon . . . you have to understand, my power is not like yours or Arya’s. It depends on the use of herbs and potions. There are limits to what I can do, especially with such a large–“

He yanked his hand out of her grip and reached back, fingers groping. The skin on his back was smooth and warm, flawless. Hard muscles flexed under his fingertips as he moved. He slid his hand toward the base of his neck and unexpectedly felt a hard bump about a half-inch wide. He followed it down his back with growing horror. Durza’s blow had left him with a huge, ropy scar, stretching from his right shoulder to the opposite hip.

Pity showed on Arya’s face as she murmured, “You have paid a terrible price for your deed, Eragon Shadeslayer.”

Murtagh laughed harshly. “Yes. Now you’re just like me.”

Why is Murtagh being such an asshole? He’s supposed to be Eragon’s friend, and you’d think he’d have some empathy considering he has the same kind of injury, but no, apparently he’s got to be a jerk about the whole thing.

Dismay filled Eragon, and he closed his eyes. He was disfigured. Then he remembered something from when he was unconscious . . . a figure in white who had helped him. A cripple who was whole – Togira Ikonoka.

We just found this out two pages ago! Do you honestly think your readers are so stupid they’ll forget what they read earlier in the chapter?

He had said, Think of what you have done and rejoice, for you have rid the land of a great evil. You have wrought a deed no one else could. Many are in your debt. . . .

Come to me, Eragon, for I have answers to all you ask.

A measure of peace and satisfaction consoled Eragon.

I will come.

And that’s the book. It actually comes across as a downer ending, since Eragon has been grievously injured, but at least they killed the Big Bad… who was kind of a let down, considering what little characterization he had came at the very end, and did little to make him an actual character worth caring about (as opposed to a boogeyman who pops up from time to time just to be scary and threatening).

But, hey, we’re done! I mean, there’s three more books in the series and they just get weirder from here, but we’re done with the first one! Rejoice!

Eragon: Chapter 58

Eragon, Chapter 58: Battle Under Farthen Dûr

Arya and Murtagh tell Eragon the Urgals are coming. Why couldn’t this have been added to the end of the last chapter? It would have made for an actual cliffhanger and Paolini wouldn’t have had to rewrite anything.

The first wave of Urgals comes out of the tunnels, and immediately they get boiling pitch dumped on them, which then gets set on fire. The rest of the Urgals pour out onto the field, and there’s a pitched battle. Eragon and Saphira jump in, and at one point Eragon gets knocked off Saphira and has to fight on foot. It’s at this point that Paolini’s tendency to constantly refer to Eragon’s sword by name gets really annoying. Zar’roc is mentioned four times in as many paragraphs. And Paolini keeps making creepy references about the sword…

Zar’roc’s crimson blade seemed to gleam with delight as blood spurted along its length.

Four more Urgals succumbed to Zar’roc’s thirsty bite […]

I get it – the sword used to belong to Morzan and it supposed to be creepy and evil. That’s great. You don’t have to give the sword an actual personality, though.

Murtagh pulls Eragon out of the fray and they make their way over to Saphira, who’s surrounded by Urgals.

The sight of Saphira’s blood enraged Eragon.

Did he forget this was a battle? Or did he not think Saphira would get injured?

Anyway, Eragon helps her kill the Urgals, and they fly over the battle and start buzzing Urgals from behind. You’d think the Urgals would have had some sort of contingency plan – they had to have known the Varden had a dragon on their side – but no, they have no way to counter Saphira and Eragon.

Eragon uses his vantage point over the battle to tell the Twins what’s going on. The battle is split into three separate fights thanks to the Urgals coming out of three different tunnels, and while the Urgals are clustered into their own clans there’s no obvious leader for the whole army. The Twins order Eragon to go help Hrothgar. That goes well for a while, with Eragon fighting on Saphira’s back, until he almost falls out of the saddle and gets attacked by a Kull. The Kull is about to kill him (hooray!) until he’s saved by Angela (BOO!).

The witch wore a long red cape over outlandish flanged armor enameled black and green. She bore a strange two-handed weapon – a long wooden shaft with a sword blade attached to each end. Angela winked at Eragon mischievously, then dashed away, spinning her staff-sword like a dervish. Close behind her was Solembum in the form of a young shaggy-haired boy. He held a small black dagger, sharp teeth bared in a feral snarl.

Well, that’s just peachy. Even in the middle of the climactic battle, Angela has to be quirky. Really adds to the atmosphere.

After a few hours of fighting*, the Twins tell Eragon that they think the Urgals are trying to dig into the city, and he and Arya need to go collapse any tunnels they’ve dug. Eragon plucks Arya out of the battle, and Saphira starts to take off, but an Urgal smashes an axe into her chest. It’s not a mortal would, but her armor’s been crushed and is pressing into her chest, making it hard for her to move.

Saphira manages to get up to the dragonhold and lands on top of the giant sapphire, “where the Twins were supposed to be watching the battle, but it was empty.” Two things: wasn’t there only supposed to be one Twin up there? I thought the other one was supposed to be on the battlefield to relay information to Ajihad. And why doesn’t anyone find it suspicious that no one is up there now? The Twins have left their positions and completely disappeared, and Shades is going to show up in a couple minutes, but no one ever puts two and two together.

Arya stays with Saphira to help get her armor off, and Eragon decides he’s going to take the slide instead of the stairs. It still takes him ten minutes (!!!) to get to the bottom, but I guess it’s faster than running. When he gets to the bottom, a section of the floor explodes and Urgals come pouring out of the hole, accompanied by Shades.

Madness burned in his maroon eyes, the madness of one who enjoys power and finds himself in the position to use it.

This is a 3rd-person limited POV and that is WAY too much information being conveyed through the eyes. For shame, Paolini, for shame.

Durza slowly approached Eragon with a triumphant expression. “So, my young Rider, we meet again. You were foolish to escape from me in Gil’ead. It will only make things worse for you in the end.”

“You’ll never capture me alive,” growled Eragon.

“Is that so?” asked the Shade, raising an eyebrow. […] “I don’t see your ‘friend’ Murtagh around to help you. You can’t stop me now. No one can!”

Fear touched Eragon. How does he know about Murtagh?

Well, he works for Galbatorix, and Galby kind of raised Murtagh, so… yeah. If you’re wondering how he knows Murtagh is here, well, there was that one guy Murtagh ran into who probably ran his mouth, so that could be it.

Eragon taunts Shades and refuses to tell him where Saphira is, which causes Shades to attack. At the same time Eragon is fending him off physically, Shades attacks him mentally as well, managing to break past Eragon’s defenses. Eragon gains the upper hand and knocks Shades down with his shield, Captain America-style. And then this happens:

Eragon thrust at the Shade with his mind and drove through Durza’s weakened defenses. A flood of images suddenly engulfed him, rushing through his consciousness–

Durza as a young boy living as a nomad with his parents on the empty plains. The tribe abandoned them and called his father “oathbreaker.” Only it was not Durza then, but Carsaib – the name his mother crooned while combing his hair. . . .

The Shade reeled wildly, face twisted in pain. Eragon tried to control the torrent of memories, but the force of them was overwhelming.

Standing on a hill over the graves of his parents, weeping that the men had not killed him as well. Then turning and stumbling blindly away, into the desert. . . .

Durza faced Eragon. Terrible hatred flowed from his maroon eyes. Eragon was on one knee – almost standing – struggling to seal his mind.

How the old man looked when he first saw Carsaib lying near death on a sand dune. The days it took Carsaib to recover and the fear he felt upon discovering that his rescuer was a sorcerer. How he had pleaded to be taught the control of spirits. How Haeg had finally agreed. Called him “Desert Rat.” . . .

Eragon was standing now. Durza charged . . . sword raised . . . shield ignored in his fury.

The days spent training under the scorching sun, always alert for the lizards they caught for food. How his power slowly grew, giving him pride and confidence. The weeks spent nursing his sick master after a failed spell. His joy when Haeg recovered . . .

There was not enough time to react . . . not enough time . . .

The bandits who attacked during the night, killing Haeg. The rage Carsaib had felt and the spirits he had summoned for vengeance. But the spirits were stronger than he expected. They turned on him, possessing mind and body. He had screamed. He was – I AM DURZA!

Why is this necessary?

Paolini has already established that Durza is evil because he’s possessed. He dies on the next page. What, exactly, is the point of shoving in all this backstory for a one-dimensional villain supposed to do? Is it supposed to make me feel sorry for him? Is it supposed to make me care? Because the time for that has long passed. If this had been presented even as late as when Eragon met Ajihad – if Ajihad had perhaps known Durza when he was still human, which would not only make Durza an enemy with an actual connection to the plot but a warning against working with spirits – then it might have worked. This just comes across as a cheap attempt to play to my sympathies.

i don't really care

You can make a villain sympathetic, but this is not the way to do it.

The sword smote heavily across Eragon’s back, cutting through both mail and skin. He screamed as pain blasted through him, forcing him to his knees. Agony bowed his body in half and obliterated all thought. He swayed, barely conscious, hot blood running down the small of his back. Durza said something he could not hear.

Durza attacked from the front. How did he manage to hit Eragon in the back?!

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This is like that stupid explosion from Chapter One all over again. Oh well, who needs physics in a fantasy novel? Not Christopher Paolini!

In anguish, Eragon raised his eyes to the heavens, tears streaming down his cheeks. Everything had failed. The Varden and dwarves were destroyed. He was defeated. Saphira would give herself up for his sake – she had done it before – and Arya would be recaptured or killed. Why had it ended like this? What justice could this be? All was for nothing.

Of course the female characters would be unable to defeat Durza. Of course one would sacrifice herself for the male hero, and the other would just be incapable of fighting (even though it’s been clearly established she’s the best fighter AND magic-user in the Varden). Of course everything hinges on Eragon. It wouldn’t be a self-indulgent male power fantasy otherwise.

As Eragon’s weeping that everything he did was for nothing, the star sapphire hanging above the main chamber explodes, sending giant chunks plummeting to the floor. The reason it broke is because Saphira and Arya dove head-first through it (and it’s implied that Arya used magic to weaken/break it), and they’re divebombing Durza while Saphira breathes fire. Which is a really cool image and all, but if Saphira is breathing fire straight down while she falls, wouldn’t that just cause the fire to hit and damage her?

Everything goes slow-mo. Durza looks up points at Saphira and starts to say something, obviously attempting to cast magic. While he’s distracted, Eragon shouts “Brisingr!”, which sets his sword on fire, and stabs Durza in the heart. All before Durza can finish speaking. Durza explodes into … three balls of darkness? I don’t know, this is really hard to summarize without sounding ridiculous. Basically his body dissolves and the spirits inside him fly out of Tronjheim, never to be seen again.

Bereft of strength, Eragon fell back with arms outstretched. Above him, Saphira and Arya had nearly reached the floor – it looked as if they were going to smash into it with the deadly remains of Isidar Mithrim. As his sight faded, Saphira, Arya, the myriad fragments – all seemed to stop falling and hang motionless in the air.

How tall is that chamber? Like, is it realistic for Saphira to not have hit the ground at this point? How tall would it have to be? I guess it doesn’t matter since everything is scaled up to be ridiculously gigantic, so it’s possible there’s enough space that Saphira is still falling, but it bugs me.

Is anyone else not surprised that the ladies did all the hard work of destroying a giant sapphire and creating a vital distraction, but they didn’t get to even attempt to fight the bad guy? Arya justifiably has more reason to want to kill Durza, but it’s Eragon who gets the killing blow. Arya never even touches him. It’s pretty telling that the female characters are utilized in this scene purely for imagery, while all the action is attributed to the male hero.

It would actually be effective to end this scene with Eragon passing out if he didn’t pass out every other chapter. I’m so tired of this. Why must you torture me, Paolini?!

Last chapter is coming up! (I, uh, may have gotten my words mixed up when I said there were five chapters left. I meant to say there were five posts left. Whoops.) Don’t miss the thrilling conclusion to this tale of idiocy.

*Would the battle even last that long if they were spending the entire time fighting? Even accounting for adrenaline and training, wouldn’t the soldiers eventually be too tired to fight?

Eragon: Chapter 57

Eragon, Chapter 57: The Shadows Lengthen

In the middle of the night, a dwarf wakes Eragon up to tell him he’s been summoned by Ajihad. When he gets to Ajihad’s office, where Orik, Arya, and some guy named Jörmundur (who’s Ajihad’s second-in-command) are also waiting, Ajihad explains why they’re all here:

“I roused the five of you because we are all in grave danger. About half an hour ago a dwarf ran out of an abandoned tunnel under Tronjheim. He was bleeding and nearly incoherent, but he had enough sense left to tell the dwarves what was pursuing him: an army of Urgals, maybe a day’s march from here.”

Ajihad then feels the need to spell it out and says that the Urgals “aren’t approaching over land, but under it. They’re in the tunnels . . . we’re going to be attacked from below.” I thought this was obvious, considering the dwarf ran out of the underground tunnels and claimed to be chased by Urgals, but the Varden haven’t shown themselves to have a very good grasp on logic so I guess it must be necessary.

Eragon whines that they should have known about this earlier, and Orik tells him they’re lucky to know about it at all; the only dwarves that go into the uninhabited tunnels are hermits. I guess Eragon must have missed that part about the tunnel being abandoned? That, or he thought the dwarf was going for a morning jog in there.

With Orik’s help, they figure out that one of the abandoned dwarf cities has been taken over by the Urgals, and that they got in through collapsed tunnels. No one knows how many Urgals there are or if Galbatorix’s men are with them, but Ajihad says if the Urgals are accompanied by the Emperor’s soldiers, they don’t stand a chance. They decide the best course of action is to block off all but three main tunnels, to channel the Urgals into the plain outside Tronjheim. They can’t collapse all the tunnels, because that would weaken the ground beneath Tronjheim and the city could sink into the ground.

The women and children are being evacuated, Nasuada included. Y’know, if you trained some of your women to fight you would have more hands to fend off the Urgals… but then that would ruin the whole pseudo-chivalry wetdream Paolini’s got going on here, so the women and children have to go.

According to Ajihad, if Tronjheim falls, then everyone is doomed – the dwarves will fall, the Varden will be put to death, and Surda and the elves will eventually fall as well. This is why you shouldn’t keep your entire resistance movement in one place, people. Spread out! Have multiple cells around the country working to weaken the system! Don’t put all your leaders AND your army AND your most vulnerable members all in one place, because when you’re attacked you’ve got that much more to lose!

Eragon spends the next few hours collapsing the tunnels with magic. I question the wisdom in having him use precious energy that he’s going to need for the battle, but I guess he’s got the power of the plot backing him up. At the very least he should be working in tandem with the dwarves; they all just sit around waiting for him to collapse the tunnel, then fill it in with rubble, when it seems like it would go faster if they worked on another tunnel at the same time.

Once he’s done with that, Orik tells him that Ajihad wants him to join the army, and brings him a set of dragon armor. That’s actually pretty cool. I mean, if you can have armored war-horses, I don’t see why an armored dragon would be much of a stretch. The added weight would make flying more difficult, but Saphira acknowledges that the armor will slow her down, and frankly I don’t see a point in arguing about how a dragon can fly with plate armor. Whether or not it would be physically impossible for a standard fantasy dragon to fly while armored is kind of a moot point anyway.

Eragon gets his own set of armor as well. This is all well and good, but you’d think they might have brought it out earlier so Eragon could get used to wearing it. But I guess we don’t have to worry about him getting tired earlier from carrying extra weight or anything like that, huh?

They join up with the rest of the army on the battlefield and help dig trenches for a while. Then Murtagh shows up, much to Orik’s displeasure. Murtagh says Ajihad released him so he could “prove [his] good intentions.” Ajihad appears to back him up when Orik assumes Murtagh is lying. He then informs Eragon that one of the Twins is staying in Tronjheim “to watched the battle from the dragonhold and relay information from his brother to me.” Because Eragon can communicate mentally with them, he has to tell the Twins about anything unusual he sees during the battle, and they’ll be relaying his orders to Eragon. He talks to Eragon a bit more and then leaves.

That’s when Eragon notices Arya on the field.

Though he knew it was unreasonable, he had hoped she might accompany the other women out of Farthen Dûr. Concerned, he hastened to her. “You will fight?”

No, she’s gonna bake cookies for snack time. She’s just trying to decide whether she’s going to make chocolate chip or snickerdoodles.

At least he admits it’s unreasonable for him to wish she’d evacuated. Arya is clearly more than qualified to beat the ass of everyone around her. If I had to take bets on the last person standing, I’d put all my money on her.

“I do what I must,” Arya said calmly.

“But it’s too dangerous!”

Her face darkened. “Do not pamper me, human. Elves train both their men and women to fight. I am not one of your helpless females to run away whenever there is danger. […] You forget that I am stronger with magic than many here, including you. If the Shade comes, who can defeat him but me? And who else has the right?”

I really wish Arya could tell Eragon off without disparaging other women in the first place. She even acknowledges that the elves have a different take on gender roles than humans, but then she immediately calls human women “helpless” and implies that they’re cowards for running away – when it’s what they’ve been socialized to do. You’d think that, being the envoy between the elves and humans, she would be more likely to understand that. I mean, the humans would have treated her differently than the male elves she was accompanied by. You’d think she would have some sympathy for human women given how the men treat them. But, no, we’re just going to have her declare that she’s not like those other girls. That’s what makes for a Strong Female Character.

Eragon stared at her helplessly, knowing she was right and hating the fact. “Then stay safe.” Out of desperation, he added in the ancient language, “Wiol pömnuria ilian.” For my happiness.

Arya turned her gaze away uneasily, the fringe of her hair obscuring her face. She ran a hand along her polished bow, then murmured, “It is my wyrd to be here. The debt must be paid.”

Eragon has had exactly one previous conversation with Arya, and already he’s pressuring her to bow to his feelings. After insulting her and implying that she can’t hold her own in battle. Fuck off Eragon, you gross little child. You barely know this woman (creeping on her while she’s unconscious doesn’t count) and it’s completely unreasonable for you to make demands of her. Especially the kind of demands usually made by a lover or family member.

Everyone spends the night waiting around on the battlefield. I’m not a tactician, so I don’t know if this is a good idea. It seems to me like it would be better to have at least half your men resting, so they’re not exhausted and keyed-up from anticipation, and have scouts keeping an eye out for signs that the army is approaching… but again, I have no idea if that would work or not.

Eragon eventually goes to sleep at Orik’s suggestion. He has vague nightmares and wakes up just in time for the chapter to end.

Eragon: Chapter 56

I guess it’s been a while, hasn’t it? Sorry about the lack of updates; I’ve been having a rough summer (partially because my computer died and I lost a lot of stuff that I stupidly didn’t back up) and haven’t been feeling a lot of motivation to write anything, let alone work on a new blog post. This means, of course, that my self-imposed goal of finishing Eragon by the end of the summer is unlikely to happen – since, y’know, it’s fall and everything. I’m going to shoot for finishing by Christmas. That’s five chapters left (including today’s review), a followup post, and a special surprise post at the very end. After that, I’ll be reviewing Wizard’s First Rule.

And now, on to the part you actually want to read.

 

Eragon, Chapter 56: Arya’s Test

CONTENT WARNING: This post discusses rape/sexual assualt.

Eragon meets up with Orik the next day, and the first thing he does is ask about Nasuada. We learn that she’s “totally devoted to her father and spends all her time helping him” and has apparently manipulated his enemies behind the scenes several times without anyone knowing. Which begs the question, why the hell does Orik know this? It makes her sound cool and all, but if no one ever found out she was in control of these situations, how can Orik be telling Eragon about it? Would it really be so hard to reveal this in a later action scene? Or would that be taking too much attention away from our boy hero?

Orik also tells Eragon that no one knows who Nasuada’s mother is; Ajihad brought her to Farthen Dûr alone when she was a newborn and raised her by himself. Eragon muses that Nasuada also grew up without a mother. This goes absolutely nowhere, and has no emotional impact on either the characters or the reader, because it’s being conveyed in a detached manner by a character that has no stake in the situation whatsoever. Why should I care that Nasuada has no mother when even Eragon doesn’t seem to care? He has no emotional reaction to it, just a random thought that she shares a similar background with him, and that’s it. He moves on to ask about the testing he’s supposed to do, and doesn’t return to the topic for the rest of the book.

They head to a training field outside of Tronjheim, where some guy named Fredric is waiting to evaluate Eragon. He asks how strong Eragon is (which I think is a weird question: wouldn’t it be better to ask what he can do, then test his strength?). Eragon replies that he’s “strong enough” because he uses magic, and Fredric says he’s more concerned with Eragon’s physical prowess in battle.

“Do you know how to use any weapons besides that sword and bow?”

Eragon thought about it. “Only my fists.”

Please point out where you’ve used your fists, Eragon. The only time you threw a punch is when you got into that little fistfight with Murtagh, and as I recall that ended with the both of you getting pinned to the ground by an angry dragon. At any rate, Fredric seems to like this answer, but his good mood vanishes when he sees the Twins coming toward them. They’re here to test Eragon’s magical abilities.

Shrugging, Eragon followed with Saphira. Behind him he heard Fredric say to Orik, “We have to stop them from going too far.”

“I know,” answered Orik in a low voice, “but I can’t interfere again. Hrothgar made it clear he won’t be able to protect me the next time it happens.”

Everyone expects the Twins to push Eragon past reasonable limits, and Ajihad’s okay with that? Small wonder they’re such arrogant sadists, if the boss lets them get away with anything short of murder.

The Twins ask Eragon if he’s decided to join Du Vrangr Gata, and they’re obviously angry when he says no. Then they tell him that his test is to complete the tasks they give him… which is pretty much the standard definition of an ability test, isn’t it? Did we really need that spelled out for us? Anyway, Eragon’s first task is to lift a rock to eye level.

That’s easy enough, commented Eragon to Saphira. “Stenr reisa!” The rock wobbled, then smoothly rose from the ground. Before it went more than a foot, an unexpected resistance halted it in midair. A smile touched the Twins’ lips. Eragon stared at them, enraged – they were trying to make him fail! If he became exhausted now, it would be impossible to complete the harder tasks. Obviously they were confident that their combined strength could easily wear him down.

But I’m not alone either, snarled Eragon to himself. Saphira, now! Her mind melded with his, and the rock jerked through the air to stop, quivering, at eye level. The Twins’ eyes narrowed cruelly.

“Very . . . good,” they hissed.

If it weren’t for the fact that the Twins are obviously enjoying this, I would say that they’re probably pushing down on the rock to see how Eragon holds up against opposing magical forces. It’s one thing to see that he can perform a simple spell. It’s another to see how he does when he meets resistance. But that would be giving this book too much credit.

It’s also becoming really annoying how lazily the Twins are written. It’s like a double whammy of bad writing: not only are they obviously evil villains, but they’re entirely interchangeable. They don’t have individual personalities, or even individual names, and they could easily be merged into one character and the story would lose nothing. The only reason they’re even twins in the first place is so Paolini can have creepy evil twins who do everything in unison. That’s how twins work, right?

 In a break between two of the tasks, he asked her, Why do they continue this testing? Our abilities were clear enough from what they saw in my mind.

Eragon sounds like a whiny high schooler who doesn’t want to take his final exam. “But why do I have to take this test? I already did all the homework, the teacher should know how smart I am!”

He catches on to the fact that the Twins want to learn more words from the ancient language, and Saphira tells him to speak softly and simply. The testing continues for over an hour (which makes him sound even MORE like a high schooler when he complains that he’s hot and thirsty), until the Twins come up with their final test.

Finally the Twins raised their hands and said, “There is only one thing left to do. It is simple enough – any competent user of magic should find this easy.” One of them removed a silver ring from his finger and smugly handed it to Eragon. “Summon the essence of silver.”

Eragon and Saphira have no clue what the essence of silver even is, let alone how to summon it. Eragon doesn’t even know the word for silver, though he is smart enough to figure it’s part of the word argetlam. Eventually he decides to combine arget with the word for invoke, but just as he’s opening his mouth to speak, he’s interrupted.

“Stop!”

The word rushed over Eragon like cool water – the voice was strangely familiar, like a half-remembered melody. The back of his neck tingled. He slowly turned toward its source.

A lone figure stood behind them: Arya. A leather strip incircled her brow, restraining her voluminous black hair, which tumbled behind her shoulders in a lustrous cascade. Her slender sword was at her hip, her bow on her back. Plain black leather clothed her shapely frame, poor raiment for one so fair. She was taller than most men, and her stance was perfectly balanced and relaxed. An unmarked face reflected none of the horrific abuse she had endured.

Did we really need another description of her? Was Paolini afraid we’d forget she’s super beautiful if he didn’t repeat it every time she appears? Because I remember from the last five times you described her. I really didn’t need a reminder.

Remember that bolded phrase. It’s going to be important in just a little bit.

Arya scolds the Twins for lying to Ajihad about Eragon’s abilities and asking him to do “what only a master can do.” She tells them to leave, then summons the essence of silver herself – which is a glowing ghost-image of the ring? The Twins turn tail when they see it, and then Arya stalks over to the training field, where everyone stops to stare at her. Lovely.

Eragon was inexorably dragged forward by his own fascination.

Yes, I got that you were infatuated with her from every other interaction you’ve had with her. You really didn’t need to hammer that in.

A large circle formed around Arya. Looking only at Eragon, she proclaimed, “I claim the right of trial by arms. Draw your sword.”

She means to duel me!

NO SHIT. And here I thought she meant to bake you a cherry pie.

Eragon reluctantly stepped forward. He did not want to do this when he was exhausted from magic use and when there were so many people watching.

“Waaaaaaah, I don’t wanna fight the elf! I’m hot! I’m tired! There’s too many people! WAAAAAAAAAAAAH!”

Besides, Arya could be in no shape for sparring. It had only been two days since she had received Tunivor’s Nectar. I will soften my blows so I don’t hurt her, he decided.

She was clearly well enough to perform master-level magic. This is just another excuse for Paolini’s dumb pseudo-chivalry to rear its outdated head.

They stare at each other for a bit, weapons drawn, then Arya attacks and it’s immediately clear that she’s stronger than he is.

Belatedly, Eragon remembered Brom’s warning that even the weakest elf could easily overpower a human.

HA ha ha it’s so funny how Paolini sets up Arya as this badass beauty, then immediately undermines that by reminding us that she could be 98-pound weakling and still kick Eragon’s ass. So she’s super tough, but not so intimidating that Eragon doesn’t still want to bone her.

Also, does Eragon ever remember Brom’s teachings before he gets himself in hot water? I’ve lost count of how many times he’s remembered what Brom said after he does something he shouldn’t have.

He had about as much chance of defeating Arya as he did Durza. She attacked again, swinging at his head. He ducked under the razor-sharp edge. But then why was she . . . toying with him? For a few long seconds he was too busy warding her off to think about it, then he realized, She wants to know how proficient I am.

giphy

THAT IS THE POINT OF A TRIAL, YOU MUD-BRAINED CLOD! SHE’S SUPPOSED TO TEST YOUR ABILITIES SO THEY KNOW HOW GOOD YOU ARE AND WHAT AREAS YOU NEED HELP IN! HOW DID IT TAKE YOU THIS LONG TO FIGURE THAT OUT?

This prompts Eragon to “[begin] the most complicated series of attacks he knew.” Which basically means he throws everything he’s got and the kitchen sink at her. Predicably, Arya beats him, but this is apparently enough for him to pass her test.

Dazed, he slowly straightened. Fredric was beside him now, thumping his back enthusiastically. “That was incredible swordsmanship! I even learned some new moves from watching the two of you. And the elf – stunning!”

But I lost, he protested silently.

You just realized you wouldn’t be able to beat her four paragraphs ago! How are you stunned that you lost when you know she’s more powerful than you are and you know full well she was testing you? You clearly did well if everyone is congratulating you.

Arya walks off to a spot about a mile off, motioning for Eragon to follow her. For some reason he flies over instead of walking, which gives us a chance to witness this lovely exchange between him and Saphira:

As they soared toward the knoll, Eragon saw Arya running below them with clean, easy strides. Saphira commented, You find her form pleasing, do you not?

Yes, he admitted, blushing.

Her face does have more character than that of most humans, she sniffed. But it’s long, like a horse’s, and overall she’s rather shapeless.

Eragon looked at Saphira with amazement. You’re jealous, aren’t you!

Impossible. I never get jealous, she said, offended.

You are now, admit it! he laughed.

She snapped her jaws together loudly. I am not! He smiled and shook his head, but let her denial stand.

It should come as a surprise to absolutely no one that women in fiction tend to get pitted against each other, usually as romantic rivals. It’s kind of concerning that Saphira is jealous of Eragon’s obvious romantic interest in Arya, however.

Now, you could argue that Saphira is upset because Eragon is paying attention to someone other than her, and he’s the main person she interacts with … except she was never jealous of Brom, or Murtagh, or Orik. Even if you narrowed it down to women, she has no problems with him talking to Angela or Nasuada. She never makes negative comments about their appearances. It’s only when Eragon shows an interest in romance that she gets jealous. Why? What’s the point of having Saphira feel envious of Arya? It just makes her come across as really creepy – especially when you combine that with the overprotective mom vibe she’s got going on.

Arya greets Saphira in the ancient language, then tells Eragon that she owes him for saving her life. Eragon asks how she wound up in Gilead, and Arya asks him to walk with her. She tells him that she was ambushed by Durza, captured, drugged, and taken back to Gilead. Galbatorix ordered Durza to find out where the egg went and everything she knew about Arya.

She stared ahead icily, jaw clenched. “He tried for months without success. His methods were . . . harsh. When torture failed, he ordered his soldiers to use me as they would. Fortunately, I still had the strength to nudge their minds and make them incapable. At last Galbatorix ordered that I was to be brought to Urû’baen. Dread filled me when I learned this, as I was weary in both mind and body and had no strength to resist him. If it were not for you, I would have stood before Galbatorix in a weeks’ time.”

Eragon shuddered inwardly. It was amazing what she had survived. The memory of her injuries was still vivid in his mind. Softly, he asked, “Why do you tell me all this?”

“So that you know what I was saved from. Do not presume I can ignore your deed.”

Also not a surprise: the fact that Arya was almost raped.

This incident is boiled down to two lines, recounted in the past tense, and only said to make Eragon feel sorry for her. It never gets brought up again. We have no idea how this affected Arya, because she never shows any outward signs of being affected and we never see the story from her point of view.* Arya tells Eragon that she was almost gang-raped in prison, and his response is to ask why she’s telling him this.

I’d also like to point out that it’s remarkably convenient that Eragon’s love interest is threatened with rape, but that threat is neutralized so she’s still untouched, and Eragon still got to save her and be a hero. Paolini gets to have his cake and eat it too – Arya has a traumatic backstory, but she’s still “untouched” and therefore okay for Eragon to lust after. It makes me wonder how Eragon would have reacted if she had been raped… but honestly, I don’t really want to find out.

I’m just going to leave this quote from Linkara of That Guy With The Glasses here (source). While Linkara is talking about an unrelated comic book, I think it highlights the problem with using rape as a plot device and/or cheap instant backstory quite nicely – and the problem with Paolini throwing it in as an afterthought.

Rape is not a subject to be treated lightly, and certainly not something to be used in the way it’s used here. Rape is often employed by writers, not because they have a story they want to tell about rape, but because rape is something that “happens to women.” Not in the real world sense, of course, rape is something that can and does happen to people from all genders, ages, and walks of life. But in the hands of a lesser-skilled writer, rape is generally employed as a “thing that happens to women.” And it is no less evident than in this book.
This story is not about Sue Dibny’s rape. Sue is essentially a prop, and we only see the rape in how it affects everybody else. The rape is used only as a catalyst for other characters. We don’t know how she recovers from the incident. Where is HER story? For that matter, WHY did this have to be a rape? It could have been anything else. A kidnapping. An attempted murder. Instead, it goes for rape for two reasons: One, the assumption that rape is something that “happens to women,” and two, to give the veneer that this is a “mature” story, edgy and more adult. But the story is not handled in an adult way. A mature story would’ve focused on the rape itself and show how it affected Sue as a character. Instead, it’s nothing more than a red herring, added for shock value. You can’t just throw adult elements into the story and ignore them. You have to deal with the consequences of it.

Moving on…

Eragon asks if Arya will go back to Ellesméra. She says she can’t leave yet, because Ajihad needs her help. However, she thinks Brom has taught him well enough for him to proceed in his training.

“You mean for me to go to Ellesméra?”

“Yes.”

Eragon felt a flash of irritation. Did he and Saphira have no say in the matter?

If you want proper training as a Rider? No, you don’t have a say.

Arya says that he won’t have to go for a few weeks at least. Eragon asks her what the Twins were trying to make him do, and she gets huffy and says they wanted him to summon the “true form” of silver. What would this accomplish? Who knows! It’s just another place where the characters all confirm that they hate the Twins, but nothing is ever done about them.

Eragon mentions he dreamed about Arya and that he scryed her from his dreams. Instead of running away screaming, Arya says she sometimes felt someone watching her, and that she’s never heard of anyone being able to “scry in their sleep.” Oh look, yet another person pointing out how special Eragon is. How novel. Eragon asks what the tattoo on Arya’s shoulder means, adding that it looks like the one on Brom’s ring. Arya inspects the ring and says the symbol is a yawë, and the ring is “a token given only to the most valued elf-friends”. She says to hang on to the ring in case he needs to gain favor with the queen, but not to tell anyone about her tattoo.

Eventually Eragon heads back to Farthen Dûr, where he finally remembers that he can visit Murtagh – but not before a bit of lunch! I know Murtagh’s not going anywhere, but you’d think he’d be a higher priority than snacktime.

It’s okay, though, because it turns out Murtagh has a pretty cushy setup going on. He’s not allowed to leave his room, but as long as he’s on his best behavior he gets all his meals delivered to him, anything he wants to read from the library, a writing desk, a bed, a rug, and more. I guess we can’t have Eragon living it up while his friend suffers in the dungeon.

Eragon laughed, and with a wondering smile seated himself next to Murtagh. “But aren’t you angry? You’re still a prisoner.”

“Oh, I was a first,” said Murtagh with a shrug. “But the more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that this is really the best place for me. Even if Ajihad gave me my freedom, I would stay in my room most of the time anyway.”

“But why?”

“You know well enough. No one would be at ease around me, knowing my true identity, and there would always be people who wouldn’t limit themselves to harsh looks or words.”

I’m still not sure how most people would know who you are in the first place. As it’s been said before, Morzan kept his son a secret, and Galbatorix didn’t exactly parade you around the kingdom declaring who you were. If you submitted to a mind probe and came out clean, Ajihad could tell people who you are – but then that would cause more trouble than it’s worth, especially since you’re worried about people trying to attack you. Speaking of which, most of the Varden should be smart enough to realize that if Ajihad let you in, he’s okay with you being there, and attacking you would be just as bad as attacking another resistance member.

The boys talk for a while. Eragon asks about Nasuada visiting, and Murtagh seems to have developed a bit of a crush on her:

Murtagh’s gaze shifted into the distance, and he shook his head. “No, she only wanted to meet me. Doesn’t she look like a princess? And the way she carries herself! When she first entered through that doorway, I thought she was one of the great ladies of Galbatorix’s court. I’ve seen earls and counts who had wives that, compared to her, were more fitted for life as a hog than of nobility.”

Eragon listened to his praise with growing apprehension. It may be nothing, he reminded himself. You’re leaping to conclusions. Yet the foreboding would not leave him.

Paolini never goes into detail about what this “foreboding” is, so I’m forced to come to the conclusion that Eragon has a crush on Murtagh, and doesn’t like hearing that Murtagh might like someone else. That would be a lot more interesting than his attempts to pursue Arya.

Also, does anyone else just love that little dig at noblewomen there? I love it when women are compared to animals to show how much a guy loves a girl.

The chapter ends when Eragon asks how long Murtagh is going to hide away in his room, and Murtagh says he’s content for now.

*At least, not as far as I’ve read. I haven’t managed to get through Inheritance yet, so I don’t know if he ever does write a chapter from her POV. But isn’t it funny how we get to see the story from the perspective of Eragon, Roran, Saphira, Nasuada, and probably someone else I’ve forgotten about, but we never see it from Arya’s side? It’s almost like Paolini finds it easier to relate to a fictional creature than a woman designated as the love interest in a relationship she doesn’t want.

Eragon: Chapter 55

Eragon, Chapter 55: Hall of the Mountain King

There’s a dwarf waiting for Eragon when he gets back to the dragonhold, who tells him that Orik’s waiting for him and then runs away. Saphira urges Eragon to wear Zar’roc, saying that while it may have a bloody history he should wield a Rider’s sword and he can use it for good. Which makes sense, especially considering most people’s reactions to the sword are to go on about how terrible Morzan was. Eragon’s not being shunned for using this sword, or being pelted with rotten vegetables, or anything like that. He’s just being subjected to endless yammering about a dead villain.

So Saphira and Eragon fly down to the main gates where Orik lets them in. Hrothgar, the dwarf king, wants a private audience with Eragon and Saphira. They’re led to a throne room underneath Tronjheim, where Hrothgar is waiting for them. He apologizes for not meeting with them the day before. Apparently some of the dwarf clans wanted him to expel Eragon from Farthen Dûr and he had to argue with them all day. Then he segues into his next question by giving us some random history (which really means that Paolini dumped a bunch of meaningless exposition on us for no reason):

The king accepted his thanks, then lifted a gnarled hand and pointed. “See there, Rider Eragon, where my predecessors sit upon their graven thrones. One and forty there are, with I the forty-second. When I pass from this world into the care of the gods, my hírna will be added to their ranks. The first statue is the likeness of my ancestor Korgan, who forged this mace, Volund. For eight millennia – since the dawn of our race – dwarves have ruled under Farthen Dûr. We are the bones of the land, older than both the fair elves and the savage dragons.” Saphira shifted slightly.

Wait, Hrothgar was described as holding a hammer when Eragon walked in. Is he talking about a mace that the statue was holding, or does Paolini not know the difference between a mace and a hammer? Also, does no one in this damn book have any situational awareness? Because I swear Hrothgar is the third person to say something offhand that makes it sound like he’s not aware there’s a dragon standing right in front of him.

Hrothgar asks what Eragon intends to do in Tronjheim. Eragon says that right now he wants to “find sanctuary,” and that he’s not planning to leave unless Ajihad sends him to the elves. This is apparently not a satisfactory answer:

“Then it was only the desire for safety that drove you?” asked Hrothgar. “Do you just seek to live here and forget your troubles with the Empire?”

Eragon shook his head, his pride rejecting that statement. “If Ajihad told you of my past, you should know that I have grievances enough to fight the Empire until it is nothing but scattered ashes.

The problem with this statement is that Eragon’s grievances are the only ones we see. Let’s take a look at what the Empire has done to Eragon, shall we?

  1. Killed his uncle
  2. Imprisoned him
  3. Drugged and interrogated him
  4. Chased him across the continent
  5. Killed his mentor

I can guarantee that any one of those things has been done to people in the Varden as well. Not all of them – I’m sure a good chunk of the refugees living in Tronjheim are family members who left with the victims – but let’s say at least a quarter of these people have been directly victimized by the Empire. And when I say directly victimized, I mean they’ve probably been: threatened (whether with imprisonment, torture, death, or the death of a loved one); imprisoned, whether it’s under false charges, or for saying the wrong thing or not paying their taxes or whatever; beaten, tortured, or driven out of their homes; had personal property destroyed by agents of the Empire; or lost someone close to them, whether that person was killed outright or quietly disappeared. Eragon acts like he has more reason than most to fight the Empire, but any one of these is reason enough – and he’s certainly not the only one to suffer multiple injustices at the Empire’s hands.

What this book needs is a scene where Eragon learns what other refugees have gone through. We need to hear from the family that lost everything because the taxes were so high they couldn’t afford to eat; from the young widow whose husband went out to meet with like-minded revolutionaries and never came home; from the old man who can barely walk because he was so badly beaten for badmouthing the Emperor. If nothing else, this would provide some much-needed believability. For all his worldbuilding, Paolini really got hung up on the physical details and forgot about atmosphere. And Eragon has all these revelations about death and slavery, but what he really needs is a kick in the head and a reminder that he’s not the only one who has suffered.

Hrothgar asks Saphira the same question, and her answer is appropriately bloodthirsty – she wants to kill Galbatorix and free the two dragon eggs he still holds. Then there’s some prattle about obligations, Hrothgar joins the horde of people pointing out that Eragon is carrying an evil sword, we find out Orik is Hrothgar’s nephew, and finally Eragon is dismissed. He meets up with Orik outside, who says that Eragon is now super popular thanks to that blessing he performed the other day – every mom is out to get Eragon to bless their kids. Saphira goes back to the dragonhold to meet somebody, while Eragon says he wants to keep looking around (while simultaneously wanting to stay out of sight – good luck with that one).

Orik takes Eragon to the library, and Eragon amuses himself by skimming the book titles.

He was somewhat disheartened by how hard reading was after months of neglect.

Oh for the love of – didn’t he only learn to read, what, three months ago? Over the course of a week? And then had no opportunity to practice between fleeing for his life and being imprisoned? Of course reading is going to be hard!

Eventually he became immersed in a translation of poems by Dóndar, the tenth dwarf king.

Either those are some really easy poems to read, or reading is a skill you can pick up in about ten minutes.

Anyway, Eragon hears people moving around in the library, and he gets paranoid, starts trying to find Orik, and runs into the Twins… and this is where the weirdest scene in the book starts.

 The Twins stood together, their shoulders meeting, a blank expression on their smooth faces. Their black snake eyes bored into him. Their hands, hidden within the folds of their purple robes, twitched slightly. They both bowed, but the movement was insolent and derisive.

Someone please tell me how bowing can be “insolent and derisive”. Are they maintaining eye contact when they should be looking at the floor? Bowing too low, or too shallow, for someone of Eragon’s station? And how can Eragon tell what’s going on with the Twins’ hands if they’re hidden?

“We have been searching for you,” one said. His voice was uncomfortably like the Ra’zac’s.

Eragon suppressed a shiver. “What for?” He reached out with his mind and contacted Saphira. She immediately joined thoughts with him.

“Ever since you met with Ajihad, we have wanted to . . . apologize for our actions.” The words were mocking, but not in a way Eragon could challenge. “We have come to pay homage to you.” Eragon flushed angrily as they bowed again.

Careful! warned Saphira.

He pushed back his rising temper. He could not afford to be riled by this confrontation. An idea came to him, and he said with a small smile, “Nay, it is I who pay homage to you. Without your approval I never could have gained entrance to Farthen Dûr.” He bowed to them in turn, making the movement as insulting as he could.

Yeah, okay, there is not nearly enough detail here for this scene to make any sense. What is Eragon doing to make that would make bowing insulting? What is the cultural context for bowing? It appears to be a formal gesture, much like it is in the real world, but does social standing affect how you’re supposed to bow? Is there some misunderstanding here – is Eragon making himself out to be a lot more important than other people see him? Do the Twins assume he’s just a trumped-up yokel who should be kneeling at their feet in awe? It makes sense for Eragon to be angry that they’re mocking him, but there needs to be some sort of context so we can tell how he’s being mocked. This just makes it look like bowing is this huge insult in their culture, while also being a sign of respect.

There was a flicker of irritation in the Twins’ eyes, but they smiled and said, “We are honored that one so . . . important . . . as yourself thinks so highly of us. We are in your debt for your kind words.”

Now it was Eragon’s turn to be irritated. “I will remember that when I’m in need.”

Paolini was clearly going for a falsely polite, passive-aggressive tone, but it really just reads like people in this world view politeness with suspicion at best, and as a grave insult at worst. Or like it’s the height of rudeness to be polite to someone you despise.

The Twins invite Eragon to join their little magic club, Du Vrangr Gata. They claim they want to show Eragon what they’ve learned, and if he wants to share his own knowledge with them that would be totally awesome. Eragon sees through them and yells at them that he won’t share what Brom taught him (what happened to not getting riled up?). The Twins threaten to make his magic test particularly unpleasant, then stalk off. Eragon decides it’s time to go back to the dragonhold. He tries to find Angela’s room again, so he can ask her about the Twins, but he can’t remember the way and he eventually heads back.

On his way back into the dragonhold, he hears a woman’s voice. Saphira says she’ll distract her while he comes in, and Eragon enters the dragonhold to discover a young woman with “skin the same deep shade as Ajihad’s” asking Saphira where she can find him. Eragon comes up from behind and surprises her. She introduces herself as Nasuada, and Eragon asks what she wants.

Nasuada smiled charmingly. “My father, Ajihad, sent me here with a message. Would you like to hear it?”

That’s… a really odd way to tell someone you have a message for them. Why wouldn’t he want to hear it?

The Varden’s leader had not struck Eragon as one inclined to marriage and fatherhood. He wondered who Nasuada’s mother was – she must have been an uncommon woman to have attracted Ajihad’s eye.

Am I the only one who finds this passage kind of racist? Because it sounds like Eragon’s making this assumption off the stereotype that black men sleep around and aren’t active in their kids’ lives. Ajihad’s been in one scene, and mostly he’s come across as stern and commanding – which doesn’t really preclude marriage or children. There are plenty of stern, commanding fathers out there. (Of course, it should be no surprise that the only two black people in the book are related to each other.)

Anyway, Ajihad’s message is that Eragon probably shouldn’t do any more blessings, and that he needs to be tested on his abilities as soon as possible. She also mentions that he’s now allowed to visit Murtagh, and gives him directions. Eragon, wonderful friend to Murtagh that he is, immediately asks if he can see Arya. Thankfully, no one’s allowed to see her except a handful of people, what with her being imprisoned, tortured, poisoned, and put into a magical coma.

Nasuada leaves, and Eragon realizes that Solembum is sitting on Saphira’s back. I think this would have been a much better way to reveal that Angela and Solembum were in Tronjheim, but whatever. Eragon resolves to go visit Murtagh the next day, and the chapter ends.

Eragon: Chapter 54

Eragon, Chapter 54: Mandrake Root and Newt’s Tongue

So I neglected to mention in the last post that there’s a staircase called “Vol Turin, The Endless Staircase.” It is constantly referred to like this. I didn’t think the stairs needed a special name, but I guess that shows how much I know.

You will all be shocked and amazed at this: the chapter begins with Eragon waking up. I know, right? This never happens. He lays in bed for a bit, thinking about Murtagh, Arya, and how he doesn’t need to be afraid anymore, before noticing Solembum sitting at the cave entrance. Hooray, the snarky kitty is back! But then that means… oh no…

Solembum leads Eragon on a merry chase around Tronjheim, which ends on one of the unused floors.

He entered an earthy two-room suite, lavishly decorated with carved wood and clinging plants. The air was warm, fresh, and humid. Bright lanterns hung on the walls and from the low ceiling. Piles of intriguing items cluttered the floor, obscuring the corners. A large four-poster bed, curtained by even more plants, was in the far room.

In the center of the main room, on a plush leather chair, sat the fortuneteller and witch, Angela. She smiled brightly.

“What are you doing here?” blurted Eragon.

How are you surprised by this when you just spent the last page chasing Solembum around? I mean, you know he hangs around Angela (she mentioned there were other people he’s talked to, so they’ve been together for a while), so wouldn’t it be a given that if he shows up, she’s somewhere nearby? Did this not occur to you while you were following the one werecat you know?

Also, way to vague up the description there, Paolini. “Piles of intriguing items,” really? Not gonna give us an example or anything? Thanks.

“So!” exclaimed Angela, leaning forward. “You are a Rider. I suspected as much, but I didn’t know for certain until yesterday. I’m sure Solembum knew, but he never told me. I should have figured it out the moment you mentioned Brom. Saphira . . . I like the name – fitting for a dragon.”

“Brom’s dead,” said Eragon abruptly. “The Ra’zac killed him.”

Segue? What’s a segue? I’m just gonna drop in shocking comments whenever anything remotely related comes up.

Angela was taken aback. She twirled a lock of her dense curls. “I’m sorry. I truly am,” she said softly.

Eragon smiled bitterly. “But not surprised, are you? You foretold his death, after all.”

“I didn’t know whose death it would be,” she said, shaking her head. “But no . . . I’m not surprised. I met Brom once or twice. He didn’t care for my ‘frivolous’ attitude toward magic. It irritated him.”

If Angela and Brom have met before, then why didn’t they recognize each other back in Teirm? They had an entire conversation about frogs and toads (which showcased some of Angela’s “frivolous” attitude) before she gave them directions, and neither of them thought the other was familiar at all? Ajihad can recognize Murtagh, who he’s never met, because his voice sounds like that of a man who died twenty years ago, but Angela and Brom can speak to each other and not realize they’ve met before? Fuck it, why am I expecting consistency from this book? It just gets worse as the series progresses anyway.

Hey, at least someone else is irritated by this character, even if he is a dead jerk.

Eragon frowned. “In Teirm you laughed at his fate and said that it was something of a joke. Why?”

Angela’s face tightened momentarily. “In retrospect, it was in rather bad taste” –

2680765-nicolas_cage_you_dont_say

Mocking a man behind his back for being fated to fail at everything is tactless? Who knew!

– “but I didn’t know what would befall him. How do I put this? . . . Brom was cursed in a way. It was his wyrd to fail at all of his tasks except one, although through no fault of his own. He was chosen as a Rider, but his dragon was killed. He loved a woman, but it was his affection that was her undoing. And he was chosen, I assumed, to guard and train you, but in the end he failed at that as well. The only thing he succeeded at was killing Morzan, and a better deed he couldn’t have done.”

I’m pretty sure this bit about Brom being cursed is supposed to make us more sympathetic to him. But it doesn’t work, because it’s just thrown in there as an afterthought and tries to say that nothing is Brom’s fault because fate. His dragon dies? Fate. A woman dies because he loved her? Fate. He dies trying to train a new Rider in increasingly abusive ways? Fate, motherfucker. Nothing is his fault; it’s just fate screwing him over. Doesn’t matter that he refused to give Eragon important information unless absolutely necessary – and sometimes not even then – or that brought about a woman’s downfall because he loved her: it’s all fate. Nothing he could do to change it.

Actually, I’m not sure how his dragon dying is a sign of him failing. Did he fail at being a Rider because he couldn’t protect his dragon? Did he get her killed, in which case it would definitely be his fault? Was he supposed to sacrifice himself to keep her alive? What constitutes as failure when it comes to being a Rider? If a Rider was killed, would you say the dragon failed at being a dragon?

“Brom never mentioned a woman to me,” retorted Eragon.

Why on earth would he? Not only did he make it very clear that he didn’t want to talk about his past unless absolutely necessary, but it was none of your business in the first place.

Well, actually, no, that’s not entirely true. Because, as we’ll find out in Brisingr, that woman Brom was in love with? Was Eragon’s mom. And Brom is his father. Which means that it really is Eragon’s business, and Brom is not only a terrible person but a terrible father as well, but at this point the reader’s not supposed to know that. (Shoot, I’m not sure Paolini knew that when he wrote this. It’s hard to tell how much plotting went into this series, because there’s a lot of events that seem like they were pulled out of nowhere and make very little sense plot-wise.) All we know right now is that Brom only talked about his past when he couldn’t avoid it, and this woman was clearly tangential to the lessons he was trying to impart on Eragon. So it’s pretty arrogant of Eragon to assume that just because Brom didn’t mention once being in love, that Angela must be lying about it. Brom was never one to confide in Eragon.

Angela shrugs this off and changes the subject, revealing that she knew about the egg, and she joined up with the Varden shortly after Eragon was in Teirm. Eragon tells her all about what happened since the last time they met. When he mentions the Shade, she gets upset, and explains that Shades are sorcerers who have been possessed by evil spirits. They’re super hard to kill, and only two people have ever survived doing so. That would have been nice to know earlier, especially since Eragon apparently knows all this. Would have made Durza a lot scarier, that’s for sure.

Apparently she’s also hiding in a faraway corner of Tronjheim because all the magic users in the Varden are pestering her to join their little magic group. She also didn’t have to submit to the Twins’ mind-probing, because of reasons?

A cold gleam leapt into Angela’s eye. “The Twins wouldn’t dare probe me, for fear of what I might do to them. Oh, they’d love to, but they know the effort would leave them broken and gibbering nonsense. I’ve been coming here long before the Varden began examining people’s minds . . . and they’re not about to start on me now.”

Yyyyyeah, this just kind of emphasizes that the Twins are clearly abusing their roles as the mind-reading gatekeepers. They can get away with subjecting Eragon and who knows else to violent, painful probing under the guise of protecting the Varden, but Angela scares them so bad they just let her prance in and out at her leisure? They’re obviously using unnecessary force on people who, for whatever reason, can’t fight back or get the authorities on their side, and they let Angela come and go as she pleases, regardless of the risk inherent in doing so, because she’s not only able but willing to fight back and make them regret it.

And, of course, no one sees a problem with this. And everyone will be super shocked when these two turn out to be working for the Empire later.

“Well! This has been an enlightening talk, but I’m afraid you have to go now. My brew of mandrake root and newt’s tongue is about to boil, and it needs attending.”

This is why I hate the named chapters in this book. Because at this point Paolini was so lazy he didn’t even bother coming up with an appropriate title – he just grabbed a random line from the chapter that had nothing to do with anything.

The chapter ends with Solembum taking Eragon back to the dragonhold. I can’t remember, did Paolini learn how to write a decent chapter ending in the next couple books, or does he still leave out a decent hook so the reader will want to know what happens next? I mean, I’m not asking for an epic cliffhanger or anything like that, I just want something more interesting than, “and then Eragon went back to his room.”

Eragon: Chapter 53

Eragon, Chapter 53: Bless the Child, Argetlam

Hey kids, it’s time for more exposition! But it’s okay, because this is all dumped on us through sight-seeing and not through a long, boring conversation. Totally different, right?

Eragon runs into Orik outside Ajihad’s study. He apologizes for getting Orik in trouble and basically being the reason he’s now a glorified babysitter, but Orik says he actually wanted it this way. He can’t fight with the army, but as a subject of the dwarf king he’s still allowed to run around Tronjheim as he likes, and showing the new Dragon Rider around puts him in a pretty powerful position.

“Come on, lad, I’m sure you’re hungry. And we have to get your dragon settled in.”

Saphira hissed. Eragon said, “Her name is Saphira.”

Orik made a small bow to her. “My apologies, I’ll be sure to remember that.”

How dare Orik not instantly know Saphira’s name? It’s totally reasonable for her to hiss at him because he wasn’t introduced to her before now. I like to think that he’s being sarcastic here.

Eragon asks how many people in Tronjheim can use magic, and Orik says there’s a small handful who “can’t do much more than heal bruises”. They’re all attending to Arya at the moment, leaving the Twins to their own devices.

“She [Arya] wouldn’t want their help anyway; their arts are not for healing. Their talents lie in scheming and plotting for power – to everyone else’s detriment. Deynor, Ajihad’s predecessor, allowed them to join the Varden because he needed their support . . . you can’t oppose the Empire without spellcasters who can hold their own on the field of battle. They’re a nasty pair, but they do have their uses.”

So they’ve been with the Varden since before Ajihad took charge, but in over twenty years the Varden’s been unable to find any other mages willing to join up who weren’t useless on the battlefield? None of their allies in Surda can cause some magical damage? They’re just stuck having two incredibly powerful men they clearly don’t trust in their employ? Paolini, are you trying to make the Varden look incompetent or does it just come naturally?

You  know what a better reason to keep them around would be? If they had been the first magic-users recruited to the cause, and through their connections have them draw in all the other spellcasters. That would keep them as the most powerful of the bunch, with the added bonus of giving them some charisma so they’re not so annoying to read about. THEN, have a couple scenes where maybe the Twins are threatened with being kicked out, and have them imply that if they go, they’re taking all their magic-wielding friends with them. Tadah! I’ve just given you a good reason to keep these two creepy jerks around, plus some bonus tension and possible drama about being forced to ally with unscrupulous people to achieve a mutual goal.

Orik leads Eragon outside of Tronjheim so Saphira can fly up to the weyr – oh, sorry, I mean “dragonhold” – located above the giant ruby, which is called Isidar Mithrim or the Star Rose. (I’m just glad it doesn’t have stupidly unnecessary punctuation.) Then they go back inside to eat, where Orik talks about how Tronjheim is mostly unused, and they only keep it occupied because it can house every single dwarf in existence if there’s an emergency. How… practical. Then Eragon asks how many humans have fled the Empire, and Orik says there’s four thousand here in Tronjheim, and the rest are in Surda. There’s some more talk about the dwarf clans, and when Eragon and Orik go to turn their plates in some dwarf bows and called Eragon “Argetlam.” Orik says it’s an elven word for the Riders that means silver hand. Why are the dwarves using an elven word? Don’t they have their own word for Riders?

Then Eragon takes a bath. Then he and Orik talk about how the dwarves essentially use lights and Morse code to get messages across Tronjheim. Then they go back out into Farthen Dûr to meet up with Saphira, which immediately causes people to come out to see the new Rider and his dragon. Apparently Orik didn’t expect this, because he gets antsy and tells Eragon to leave. Before he can get away, though, an old woman grabs Eragon and begs him to bless the baby she’s carrying.

Eragon had never blessed anyone. It was not something done lightly in Alagaësia, as a blessing could easily go awry and prove to be more curse than boon – especially if it was spoken with ill intent or lack of conviction. Do I dare take that responsibility? he wondered.

“Bless her, Argetlam, bless her.”

Suddenly decided, he searched for a phrase or expression to use. Nothing came to mind until, inspired, he thought of the ancient language. This would be a true blessing, spoken with words of power, by one of power.

So, what, all those other blessings aren’t real because they weren’t said using the magic words?

Who gives blessings in this world, anyway? What does a blessing even do? Is it supposed to be magic – and if so, wouldn’t they all be said in the ancient language? Do respected elders give blessings? Nobles? Clergy? Were the Riders known to give blessings? How often are strange young men asked to give blessings to babies they don’t know a thing about?

He bent down and tugged the glove off his right hand. Laying his palm on the babe’s brow, he intoned, “Atra guliä un ilian tauthr ono un atra ono waíse skölir fra rauthr.” The words left him unexpectedly weak, as if he had used magic.

You used the ancient language to lay a blessing of protection and then suddenly feel weak. HMMM. I WONDER IF MAYBE YOU ACCIDENTALLY CAST MAGIC THERE. No no, don’t question it. This won’t come back to bite you in the ass at all.

Then Saphira touches her nose to the baby’s forehead, which leaves “a star-shaped patch of skin as white and silvery as Eragon’s gedwëy ignasia.” Then she flies away, saying that she gave the baby hope and Eragon gave her a future.

Eragon starts freaking out about being asked for blessings and pursued by powerful people at such a young age, giving us another convenient recap of what’s happened in case the reader developed spontaneous amnesia. Saphira basically tells him not to worry. There’s some more boring conversation about fate, and then Saphira lands on top of the giant sapphire and takes Eragon to the cave she picked out for herself, which conveniently has a bed set up for him. The chapter ends with Saphira giving yet another recap of the last two chapters and saying that they might not be able to stand independent of politics in the Varden. I don’t know why the characters have to constantly repeat what’s happened, but it’s been old since the first time it happened and it’s starting to smell.

Eragon: Chapter 52

Eragon, Chapter 52: Ajihad

This chapter is eighteen pages of people talking. It’s so riveting, you guys. All this sitting around and spouting off exposition is just so exciting and doesn’t make the book drag on at all.

We’re finally introduced to Ajihad, and of course he gets more of a physical description than Eragon did.

His skin gleamed the color of oiled ebony. The dome of his head was shaved bare, but a closely trimmed black beard covered his chin and upper lip. Strong features shadowed his face, and grave, intelligent eyes lurked under his brow. His shoulders were broad and powerful, emphasized by a tapered red vest embroidered with gold thread and clasped over a rich purple shirt. He bore himself with great dignity, exuding an intense, commanding air.

While it’s not masterful writing, this is leaps and bounds from “He looked human except for his crimson hair and maroon eyes.” Still a little vague (“strong features” could be expanded on some more), but now I’ve got a better image of him in my head than I’ve got for Eragon. I’m not wild about the “ebony” descriptor, but at least he didn’t make a food comparison. (Also, is anyone else picturing Benjamin Sisko as Ajihad?)

Bet you are now.

Anyway, Ajihad welcomes Eragon and Saphira to Tronjheim, and I can’t tell if he’s ignoring Murtagh on purpose or if Paolini just didn’t think about the implications of not including him.

Ajihad raised his hand and snapped his fingers. A man stepped out from behind the staircase. He was identical to the bald man beside him. Eragon stared at the two of them with surprise, and Murtagh stiffened. “Your confusion is understandable; they are twin brothers,” said Ajihad with a small smile. “I would tell you their names, but they have none.”

I do not understand Eragon and Murtagh’s reactions at all. Are twins really rare in this world? Are they considered unlucky – and if they are, are they normally killed or left in the woods to die when they’re born? How is Eragon unfamiliar with the concept of identical twins, yet doesn’t need an explanation of what twins are? (And yes, I would argue that he’s not familiar with twins, since his reaction to seeing them is stunned silence instead of momentary surprise.) This is where an info-dump might actually be a bit useful, because telling us that twins are bad luck or super-rare or cursed by the gods or whatever would actually go a long way toward explaining by everyone is freaking out so bad.

But hey, at least we finally get characters without pointless, terrible names.

Saphira hissed with distaste.

Distaste for what? The Twins? The fact that they don’t have names? The terrible decorating scheme in the room?

Ajihad stares at Eragon and Murtagh for a while before having a whispered conversation with one of the Twins. Then he addresses Murtagh, saying that he’s only been allowed into Farthen Dûr because of Eragon and Arya, and that they can’t trust him if he refuses to have his brain scanned. Murtagh tells him they wouldn’t trust him anyway, and apparently the sound of his voice is enough to clue Ajihad in to who he is:

Ajihad’s face darkened as Murtagh spoke, and his eyes flashed dangerously. “Though it’s been twenty and three years since it last broke upon my ear . . . I know that voice.” He stood ominously, chest swelling. The Twins looked alarmed and put their heads together, whispering frantically. “It came from another man, one more beast than human. Get up.”

I’m pretty sure voices are not passed on through genetics. Speech patterns and cadence would be picked up by being in close, prolonged proximity to another person, but the actual timbre of a person’s voice is not going to be identical to the parent’s. For example, I do not sound exactly like my mother – I’ve picked up a few different speech patterns from her, because I lived with her for almost twenty years, but I’ve also picked up a few phrases and patterns from roommates and my husband. My voice and hers are distinctly different. On that note, shouldn’t Murtagh sound more like his mother? Or, hell, like one of his nannies? He spent more time with them than with his father.

Murtagh warily complied, his eyes darting between the Twins and Ajihad. “Remove your shirt,” ordered Ajihad. With a shrug, Murtagh pulled off his tunic. “Now turn around.” As he pivoted to the side, light fell upon the scar on his back.

“Murtagh,” breathed Ajihad.

How does Ajihad know about Murtagh’s scar? Better yet, how does Ajihad know about Murtagh? Morzan kept that information secret while he was alive, and given that Eragon and even the Twins didn’t know that Morzan had a son, Galbatorix clearly didn’t advertise that Murtagh was living under his roof for over a decade. Ajihad has been leader of the Varden for twenty years, presumably spending all or most of his time in Tronjheim, and according to InheriWiki Murtagh is nineteen at this point, so he would have been born after Ajihad came to power. So did he have spies in Galbatorix’s court, or Morzan’s castle? And did they peek in on Murtagh while he was getting undressed, or did he just run around shirtless a lot?

Ajihad yells at the Twins a bit for not knowing who Murtagh was and not telling him his name even though they didn’t know it was important. Then he says that until Murtagh consents to being probed, he’ll have to be imprisoned, since they can’t let him run free in Tronjheim and they can’t let him go because he knows where the Varden is. Murtagh refuses once again, saying that his mind is “the one sanctuary that has not been stolen from me,” so he’s taken away. Eragon just kind of shrugs and doesn’t put up a fuss, even though he and Murtagh are supposedly friends at this point. Everyone else goes with him, leaving Eragon and Saphira alone with Ajihad… who stares at the ceiling until Eragon finally gets fed up with  being ignored and asks after Arya. Ajihad says she’s not in good shape, but she’ll recover, so we can look forward to Eragon’s bumbling attempts to woo her. Awesome.

Then Ajihad has Eragon tell his story. He’s particularly interested in Shades, and after Eragon describes him he says that Shades’ actual name is Durza and that they fought once. Apparently the only way to kill a Shade is to pierce the heart, so Murtagh’s arrows didn’t do anything in that last encounter.

Ajihad moves on to the subject of Saphira’s egg. Apparently, when Brom brought it to the Varden everyone wanted a piece of it. The dwarves wanted to make sure they’d have an ally in the new Rider, because there’s never been a dwarf Rider (and I guess no one ever thought to try just in case), and the elves and Varden both wanted their people to be the next Rider.

“Because of Galbatorix’s betrayals, the elves were reluctant to let any of the Varden handle the egg for fear that the dragon inside would hatch for a human with similar instabilities.

So there have been no elves in the history of Alagaësia with mental illness? None of them have been power hungry, or betrayed their people, or committed atrocities against other elves? Either the elves are all perfect and incapable of evil, or they’re being bigoted dicks.

The dwarves only aggravated the problem by arguing obstinately with both the elves and us whenever they had the chance. Tensions escalated, and before long, threats were made that were later regretted.

So what did the dwarves have to argue about? Wouldn’t it make more sense to cooperate with the elves and the Varden in order to ensure a strong alliance, rather than constantly butting heads with potential allies and proving themselves to be difficult? And what threats? Why are you skipping over the interesting parts?

Anyway, Brom finally stepped in and suggested the plan to transfer the egg between the elves and the Varden every year. This is precisely the reason that Arya was attacked, but I guess everyone is just ignoring that in favor of praising Brom. Again, why couldn’t the Varden be located closer to the elves? They’re separated by an entire continent! Or, better yet, have potential Rider candidates come to the egg, instead of the other way around. If the Empire catches on to your location, then you can move the egg, but otherwise it should be kept safely hidden instead of taken out where the enemy can get at it.

The elves agreed to Brom’s stupid plan, but only on the conditions that they can train the new Rider themselves if Brom dies before then. Then Ajihad goes on to talk about Arya’s disappearance, and says she must have been ambushed and used magic to move the egg someplace safe before she was taken captive.

“She can use magic?” asked Eragon. Arya had mentioned that she had been given a drug to suppress her power; he wanted to confirm that she meant magic.

What else could she possibly have been talking about? Has anyone used the word “power” to mean anything else in this book?

Ajihad explains that Arya’s ability to use magic is one of the reasons she was picked to guard Saphira’s egg, and that she was probably trying to send it to Brom since she was too far away from the Varden and the elves have a magical border around their territory. Eragon interrupts again to ask where the elves’ capital city, Ellesméra, is, and Ajihad busts out this line in the middle of telling him that he doesn’t know.

Not since the Rider’s time has anyone, dwarf or human, been elf-friend enough to walk in their leafy halls.

Yeah, you’re not Tolkien, Paolini. You will never be Tolkien. There are many pretenders to the throne, and your occasional poetic line about “elf-friends” and “leafy halls” doesn’t even begin to cut it.

AAAAAAH this is so BORING. Ajihad is just talking nonstop about random backstory and shit that we could be learning when it’s actually relevant to the plot!

Blah blah blah the dwarves don’t trust the dragons or Riders, but they let the Varden mooch off them in order to fight Galbatorix. Galbatorix has heard of the general location of both Farthen Dûr and Ellesméra, but never learned the exact locations because of reasons. The elves are capable of holding him off for now, but he keeps growing stronger.

Eragon was puzzled. “How can his power be increasing? The strength of his body limits his abilities – it can’t build itself up forever.”

“We don’t know,” said Ajihad, shrugging his shoulders, “and neither do the elves. We can only hope that someday he will be destroyed by one of his own spells.”

It’s been a hundred years. If he hasn’t blown himself up via magic after all this time, I doubt he ever will.

Actually, this bit shows how poorly thought out the magic system is. In Eragon the characters all state that magical power is limited by the strength of a person’s body, but then in later books Eragon is shown storing power in what are essentially magic batteries so he can cast more and/or bigger spells. So who’s to say that Galbatorix doesn’t have a bunch of these batteries laying around, giving him enough juice to cast all the spells he wants?

Ajihad pulls out a note that they found on the Urgals the night before, which reveals that the Urgals are working for Galbatorix. I’m pretty sure we already figured that out, thanks. Then Eragon asks what the Varden wants from him, and he gets a little demanding in the process:

“I mean, what is expected of me in Tronjheim? You and the elves have plans for me, but what it I don’t like them?” A hard note crept into his voice. “I’ll fight when needed, revel when there’s occasion, mourn when there is grief, and die if my time comes . . . but I won’t let anyone use me against my will.” He paused to let the words sink in.

I don’t think anybody’s plans for you include micromanaging your emotions to the point where they dictate whether you grieve or celebrate at the appropriate times.

“The Riders of old were arbiters of justice above and beyond the leaders of their time. I don’t claim that position – I doubt people would accept such oversight when they’ve been free of it all their lives, especially from one as young as me. But I do have power, and I will wield it as I see fit.

Remember this statement, folks. Remember that Eragon has said aloud that he doesn’t claim to be an “arbiter of justice”. Because I’m telling you now, he will claim that title and abuse the power that comes with it.

What I want to know is how you plan to use me. Then I will decide whether to agree to it.”

You’re sitting in the middle of the Varden’s stronghold, surrounded by thousands of people loyal to the organization. If Ajihad wants to force you into working for him, I think he’s got a pretty good chance of at least capturing you if you won’t cooperate.

Of course Ajihad just lets Eragon off with a mild scolding, like the precocious little scamp that he is, and says that Eragon can’t escape the politics of his position, but he needs to stay independent and make his own choices. Ajihad will, of course, have limited authority over him, but says “I believe it’s for the best.” Of course he does. Everyone thinks their authority is for the best.

Also apparently Eragon is now King Solomon or something?

“Also, despite your protests, the people here have certain expectations of you. They are going to bring you their problems, no matter how petty, and demand that you solve them.” Ajihad leaned forward, his voice deadly serious. “There will be cases where someone’s future will rest in your hands . . . with a word you can send them careening into happiness or misery. Young women will seek your opinion on whom they should marry – many will pursue you as a husband – and old men will ask which of their children should receive an inheritance. You must be kind and wise with them all, for they put their trust in you. Don’t speak flippantly or without thought, because your words will have impact far beyond what you intend.”

See, this is why you need middle men. How is Eragon supposed to get anything done if people are constantly pestering him to make decisions for them? Just appoint an advisor, or a committee or something! And didn’t Eragon just get done telling us he didn’t think people would want to submit to his authority because he’s barely an adult and they’ve been “free” for decades now? Most of these people were probably born after the fall of the Riders – why would they automatically decide to seek advice from one now?

And of course women are obsessed with marriage. That’s all they ever think about, marriage and babies and landing powerful, rich husbands. And no young man is going to ask for relationship advice; that’s a woman’s job. Men just grunt and let the women do all the talking.

Ajihad leaned back, his eyes hooded. “The burden of leadership is being responsible for the well-being of the people in your charge. I have dealt with it from the day I was chosen to head the Varden, and now you must as well. Be careful. I don’t tolerate injustice under my command. Don’t worry about your youth and inexperience; they will pass soon enough.”

Yeah, don’t worry about your youth and inexperience. It’s not like it matters that you’re unqualified to give marriage advice when you’ve never even kissed anybody, or that you haven’t even been alive as long as some of these children whose inheritance you’re deciding on. You’ve just been put in charge of deciding everyone’s happiness – no pressure!

Oh, wait, I get it now. Ajihad’s been dealing with all the petty crap the Varden folks keep throwing at him, and now he’s foisting it off on Eragon. I can’t decide whether that’s a clever move designed to keep the new Rider busy while they figure out exactly what to do with him, or Ajihad’s just being a lazy jerk.

Ajihad gives Eragon his sword back, saying that he probably shouldn’t wear it in Tronjheim because I guess everyone can instantly recognize an individual Rider’s sword even when they never met him? Also he gives Eragon Brom’s ring, and then seems to remember that there was a dragon in the room the entire time and turns to address Saphira.

“Do not think that I have forgotten you, O mighty dragon. I have said these things as much for your benefit as for Eragon’s. It is even more important that you know them, for to you falls the task of guarding him in these dangerous times. Do not underestimate your might nor falter at his side, because without you he will surely fail.”

“I haven’t forgotten about you, but I’m going to say less than a hundred words to you and make them all about Eragon. So really I have forgotten you and this is just a footnote to catch my mistake. Don’t screw this up.”

Saphira’s taken in by his lame attempt at flattery and says if he’d tried to kill Eragon, she would have murdered everything in sight. Ajihad says the Twins would have put a stop to that, but Eragon disagrees, saying:

“Then they must be much stronger than they appear. I think they would be sorely dismayed if they ever faced a dragon’s wrath. The two of them might be able to defeat me, but never Saphira. You should know, a Rider’s dragon strengthens his magic beyond what a normal magician might have. Brom was always weaker than me because of that. I think that in the absence of Riders, the Twins have overestimated their power.”

Good grief, what a smug little brat. And hey, right there we have a partial explanation for why Galbatorix is so powerful – his dragon. Funny how the elves never thought of it, or that Eragon never brought it up while they were talking about it, or that neither he nor Ajihad think of it while they’re having this very conversation. It’s almost like the author just threw in whatever sounded cool and didn’t actually care about filling in the plot holes.

Now that they’re finally done talking, Ajihad calls Orik into the room to punish him for his insubordination. He mentions that the penalty for defying a direct order is death, but then instead he just demotes Orik to being Eragon’s babysitter/tour guide. Death? Really? Not, say, twenty lashes or a few days in a holding cell or even a fine, just outright death for what appears to be a first-time offense? That’s fucking brutal.

As they’re leaving, Eragon asks where Arya is, and Ajihad says no one is allowed to visit her. Good. We got enough of Eragon mooning creepily over an unconscious woman in the last hundred pages to last the rest of the series.

Eragon: Chapter 51

Eragon, Chapter 51: The Glory of Tronjheim

Eragon is woken up by Saphira growling in her sleep. Aww, how cute! You’ve turned a sentient, intelligent creature capable of advanced thought and powerful magic into a giant sleepy puppy! That’s not insulting at all. Eragon and Murtagh whisper to each other about how long they’ve been in there, and then, because there’s nothing to do, Eragon naps some more and then walks around the room for a bit. He stops to inspect a lantern, which is described to us in minute, useless detail. Finally Baldy and Orik come back and tell them that their leader, Ajihad, wants to meet them.

“Where are our horses? And can I have my sword and bow back?” asked Eragon.

The bald man looked at him with disdain. “Your weapons will be returned to you when Ajihad sees fit, not before. As for your horses, they await you in the tunnel. Now come!”

I’d look at him with disdain too if he asked me such a stupid question. Here, I’ll give you the top three reasons why you can’t have your weapons back:

  1. You’re a prisoner – just because they’ve determined you’re not with the Empire doesn’t mean you’re not a threat
  2. You’re traveling with a guy who refuses to cooperate
  3. You’re going to meet the leader of the only resistance on the entire planet

So, no, you can’t be armed. But hey, at least the horses are coming back. They’re what keeps this story together, after all.

They head back to the main tunnel where the horses are waiting. Eragon tries to ride Saphira, but Baldy yells at him to “Ride your horse until I tell you otherwise.” While they’re heading down the tunnel, Eragon starts getting nervous about meeting this Ajihad.

The leader of the Varden was a shadowy figure to the people within the Empire. He had risen to power nearly twenty years ago and since then had waged a fierce war against King Galbatorix. No one knew where he came from or even what he looked like. It was rumored that he was a master strategist, a brutal fighter. With such a reputation, Eragon worried about how they would be received. Still, knowing that Brom had trusted the Varden enough to serve them helped to allay his fears.

Funny how we’re only hearing about this guy now. Shouldn’t Brom have mentioned him at some point when they were discussing whether or not Eragon should join the Varden? Or during his rambling last words, maybe he could have said, “Ask for Ajihad when you get there”? It reads like Paolini only just thought up this character as he was writing this chapter, and never bothered to go back and add in a couple sentences to make his writing more cohesive. This is why books need proof-readers, kids.

Also, why would Eragon know anything about the leader of the Varden anyway? No one outside the organization should know who he is or what he looks like – it’s supposed to be a secret because otherwise it would be very easy to find and kill him! In fact, there should be a lot of contradictory rumors floating about. The more misinformation there is out there, the harder it’ll be to pinpoint exactly what the Varden are up to, who their leaders are, or even where they’re located. But, then again, we’ve already established that the Varden are pretty dense, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

It takes them an hour to get to a pair of doors, where Baldy stops them and says Eragon needs to ride Saphira now, and warns him that “there will be people watching, so remember who and what you are” so he should try to fly away. I guess they’re trying to make an impression on both Eragon and the Varden, but if there’s a possibility that Eragon would try to fly off, and they don’t trust him with weapons at this point, then why would let him ride Saphira if they don’t trust him not to bolt at the first opportunity?

Anyway, the doors open to reveal that the mountain is hollow, and there’s a smaller, marble mountain inside that is actually a city that houses the Varden. There’s an overwrought description of the entire thing, but the important thing to note here is that the larger mountain, Farthen Dûr, is roughly ten miles across and just as tall, and the smaller mountain, Tronjheim, is a mile high. I still don’t know how Eragon can possibly give an accurate estimate of these distances, but whatever. Everything is huge, and scale is meaningless.

Orik gives a little speech about how no Rider has ever seen this sight before (I wonder how many times he practiced this in the mirror), and Eragon realizes that there’s a crowd gathered around the tunnel entrance, silently staring at him.

A bead of sweat rolled down Eragon’s face, but he dared not move to wipe it away. What should I do? he asked frantically.

Smile, raise your hand, anything! replied Saphira sharply.

Eragon tried to force out a smile, but his lips only twitched. Gathering his courage, he pushed a hand into the air, jerking it in a little wave. When nothing happened, he flished with embarrassment, lowered his arm, and ducked his head.

This part’s actually pretty decent. Eragon’s a kid from a small farming community, and from what we’ve seen he’s never been very popular or had a lot of friends, so it makes sense he would freeze in the face of all that attention. I mean, it’s rather silly that they have a crowd of thousands waiting for them, but the way he handled it is believable. Saphira knows how to play to the crowd, tough, puffing out smoke as she passes them.

But, uh-oh, looks like some people aren’t too happy to see our hero!

He stared curiously at the jostling crowd as she proceeded along the path. Dwarves greatly outnumbered humans . . . and many of them glared at him resentfully. Some even turned their backs and walked away with stony faces.

How dare those icky dwarves not worship at our illustrious hero’s feet?! (Also, get used to the rock/stone comparisons. They come up every time a dwarf is on the page.)

The humans were hard, tough people. All the men had daggers or knives at their waists; many were armed for war. The women carried themselves proudly, but they seemed to conceal a deep-abiding weariness. The few children and babies stared at Eragon with large eyes. He felt certain that these people had experienced much hardship and that they would do whatever was necessary to defend themselves.

Uh, shouldn’t the women be armed too? I know Paolini was too lazy to come up with a culture that doesn’t adhere to rigid, traditional gender roles, but if they’ve “experienced much hardship” to the point where all of the men are carrying blades, you’d think at least a couple of the women would want to defend themselves as well. I’m also pretty sure that most of those babies aren’t going to be able to focus on Eragon long enough to follow his progress down this path, let alone know enough to care that he exists.

The Varden had found the perfect hiding place. Farthen Dûr’s walls were too high for a dragon to fly over, and no army could break through the entranceway, even if it managed to find the hidden doors.

Well that’s just begging to be proven wrong. Is Paolini trying to broadcast the fact that Farthen Dûr will be attacked? And Eragon’s been here all of twelve hours at the most – how the hell can he be sure that there aren’t any holes in the defenses? How does he know magic won’t take those doors apart, or if Galbatorix’s dragon can’t fly higher than Saphira? You can’t just have your main character give us an objective statement when he isn’t fully informed, dammit!

They reach Tronjheim, and there’s a page-long description that ends with them in a hall that has a giant red sapphire in the ceiling – which is a cool set-piece, I guess. Eragon stares slack-jawed at everything like a tourist, until finally Baldy tells him where to go next.

The bald man walked in front of Saphira and said, “You must go on foot from here.” There was a scattered booing from the crowd as he spoke.

What – why? Why is the crowd booing? Were they really that excited to see some jackass sitting on a dragon? Are they pissed off that he has to go talk to Ajihad now? Is walking taboo in this culture? What the hell is going on?

Anyway, Eragon, Murtagh, and Saphira are all led down a giant hallway, and the chapter ends with Baldy opening a door behind which, presumably, Ajihad is. I wish it was a man-eating tiger instead.

Eragon: Chapter 50

Eragon, Chapter 50: Hunting for Answers

Content Note: This post discusses rape.

With Murtagh still being held at knifepoint by Baldy McObviousAntagonist, Eragon and Saphira are led into a side tunnel (where I’m suprised Saphira can fit, especially with a passenger strapped to her back).

The horses were led into a different tunnel.

Nooo! How can I go on, knowing the horses may be in danger? What about Snowfire, Paolini? What about Snowfire?!

They’re taken to a room “large enough to Saphira to move around with ease” and locked in. Eragon tries to tell their captors that Arya needs medical attention, but Baldy cuts him off and says it has to wait until they’ve been tested, then orders them to disarm.

When they were a yard apart, the man said, “Stop there! Now remove the defenses from around your mind and prepare to let me inspect your thoughts and memories. If you try to hide anything from me, I will take what I want by force . . . which would drive you mad. If you don’t submit, your companion will be killed.”

“Why?” asked Eragon, aghast.

“To be sure you aren’t in Galbatorix’s service and to understand why hundreds of Urgals are banging on our front door,” growled the bald man.

The fact that Eragon even had to ask that question tells me he’s too stupid to be a good hero.

Also, do we constantly need to be reminded that Baldy McBaldbald of the Bald Clan is bald? Paolini doesn’t quite reach bad fanfiction-levels of epithets, but it’s still redundant at best. Other than the dwarf, this guy is the only one who’s spoken to Eragon; we don’t need to be told every time he speaks that he’s bald. Wait until someone else cuts into the conversation to break out the identifying adjectives.

His close-set eyes shifted from point to point with cunning speed. “No one may enter Farthen Dûr without being tested.”

This guy is literally shifty-eyed. Man, Paolini is a master of sleight of hand. Everyone will definitely be surprised if this guy winds up being evil later, right?

The dwarf who had saved Eragon from the lake jumped forward. “Are you blind, Egraz Carn? Can’t you see that’s an elf on the dragon? We cannot keep her here if she’s in danger. Ajihad and the king will have our heads if she’s allowed to die!”

The man’s eyes tightened with anger. After a moment he relaxed and said smoothly, “Of course, Orik, we wouldn’t want that to happen.” He snapped his fingers and pointed at Arya. “Remove her from the dragon.” Two human warriors sheathed their swords and hesitantly approached Saphira, who watched them steadily. “Quickly, quickly!”

The men unstrapped Arya from the saddle and lowered the elf to the floor. One of the men inspected her face, then said sharply, “It’s the dragon-egg courier, Arya!”

“What?” exclaimed the bald man. The dwarf Orik’s eyes widened with astonishment. The bald man fixed his steely gaze on Eragon and said flatly, “You have much explaining to do.”

So let me get this straight: the person ferrying the dragon egg that all of your hopes rest on is an elf, and has been missing for months, and you’re not immediately suspicious of the fact that this bozo wanders onto your front porch carrying an elf on the back of a dragon? You have to wait until he’s begging you to help, dismissively agree to help because your boss wouldn’t like it if you let an elf die, and then get pissy because she turns out to be your missing courier and you didn’t realize it until just now? Hot damn, these Varden guys are idiots.

I mean, it’s pretty clear in the text that elves almost never come out of Du Weldenvarden. And since the only living dragon they know of is Galbatorix’s, someone showing up with a different dragon (especially a dragon the same color of the egg they’ve been passing around for decades) and an unconscious elf should immediately pique their interest. But no, we can’t have the NPCs overshadowing our hero’s greatness. Being able to put two and two together is beyond Eragon’s ken, and therefore it’s something the minor characters definitely can’t do.

On a side note, Egraz Carn isn’t the bald guy’s name. It’s dwarvish – for “Bald One”. Hey, did you know this guy doesn’t have any hair on his head? Because he doesn’t!

Eragon did not want this hairless threatening man inside his mind

Oh my god enough already! We get it. He’s bald. Hairless as a newborn babe. No grass grows on this mountaintop. Give the fucker an identity that goes past his physical appearance and move the fuck on. (Also, is anyone else getting the feeling that this guy’s lack of hair is supposed to be a moral failing or something? No? Just me? All right then.)

I’ve decided this is his theme song. You’re welcome.

Anyway, Baldy (who still doesn’t have a personality other than “mean and bald”, so I can’t really call him anything else) has the warriors take Arya to the healers, then says it’s time to probe Eragon’s mind, saying it won’t hurt unless he resists.

Eragon gasped with pain and shock as a mental probe clawed its way into his mind. His eyes rolled up into his head, and he automatically began throwing up barriers around his consciousness. The attack was incredibly powerful.

Don’t do that! cried Saphira. Her thoughts joined his, filling him with strength. You’re putting Murtagh at risk! Eragon faltered, gritted his teeth, then forced himself to remove his shielding, exposing himself to the ravening probe. Disappointment emanated from the bald man. His battering intensified. The force coming from his mind felt decayed and unwholesome; there was something profoundly wrong about it.

He wants me to fight him! cried Eragon as a fresh wave of pain racked him.

So I had this whole spiel about how lazy and ham-fisted this scene is, because it paints Baldy as obviously sadistic while still being stupidly vague (Unwholesome? Really? You had to go and use a word that you don’t normally hear from anyone but Focus on the Family types?), but I just can’t get past the fact that this reads like a rape scene.

I know, I know. Maybe I’m reading too much into this one. I want to be reading too much into this. But when the author uses phrases like “His battering intensified” and makes it profoundly clear that this guy wants Eragon to struggle so he can cause more pain? It’s kind of difficult to take it any other way. (The thing is, I don’t think this is intentional. For one thing, this is never brought up again, even though this is a clearly traumatizing experience… which would have made an interesting plot line if there was even a hint of promise that it would be handled well. And, frankly, I doubt Paolini would ever think of putting Eragon in a position where he wasn’t consenting to sex. These books are so predictably hetero-normative I wouldn’t be surprised if the author thought men couldn’t be raped.)

Anyway, while Baldy is evilly rooting through Eragon’s childhood, Eragon and Saphira work to hide what they deem important. This includes “sections of his discussions with Brom, including all the ancient words he had been taught […] everything he remembered of Angela’s fortunetelling and Solembum […] and lastly to Murtagh’s revelation of his true identity.” Saphira doesn’t like this last bit, pointing out that the Varden should probably know who they’ve got under their roof, but Eragon insists that he’s not going to be the one to give out that information, even if they’re going to find out anyway when they scan Murtagh. Okay, fair enough. It’s a noble little gesture, even if it is ultimately pointless.

Baldy takes his time finishing his inspection, then lets Eragon fall to the floor from exhaustion before begrudgingly saying that he’s not a threat. Murtagh refuses to be scanned next, but Baldy forces him into it and is pretty clearly shown to be torturing him before the dwarf, Orik, breaks it up and screams at him for being an asshole. They get into a pissing contest over it, and finally Orik forces Baldy to admit he learned that Murtagh can’t cast magic, so they can just keep him locked up without worrying that he’ll escape.

When his eyes opened, he ignored Orik and snapped at the warriors, “Leave, now!” As they filed through the doorway, he addressed Eragon coldly, “Because I was unable to complete my examination, you and . . . your friend will remain here for the night. He will be killed if he attempts to leave.”

So if Eragon tries to break out you’ll, what, reward him with cake?

Eragon asks Murtagh if he’s all right, and Murtagh replies that he was able to withstand Baldy’s mental assault because he’s been “well trained.” Then Eragon starts to ask about him being Morzan’s son, gets distracted because he needs to heal Saphira, and then finally gets around to asking again about Murtagh’s past.

“Why are you here?”

“What?”

“If you really are Morzan’s son, Galbatorix wouldn’t let you wander around Alagaësia freely. How is it you managed to find the Ra’zac by yourself? Why is it I’ve never heard of any of the Forsworn having children? And what are you doing here?” His voice rose to a near shout at the end.

Did you ever think that maybe Murtagh’s more competent than you, and doesn’t need to be led around by the hand from plot point to plot point? Or that the “official” story about Galbatorix and the Forsworn might have left some shit out, or not been completely truthful? Or that maybe, just fucking maybe, Murtagh doesn’t owe you an explanation for his existence?

Of course not. Because badgering a “friend” into telling you their life story is what being a hero is all about.

Murtagh’s first sentence was halting, but his voice gained strength and confidence as he spoke. “As far as I know . . . I am the only child of the Thirteen Servants, or the Forsworn as they’re called. There may be others, for the Thirteen had the skill to hide whatever they wanted, but I doubt it, for reasons I’ll explain later.

Because there’s no way any of the Forsworn could have fathered a child without knowing about it. They were all in loyal, committed relationships and never dallied with a stranger while they were tooling about the country.

“My parents met in a small village – I never learned where – while my father was traveling on the king’s business. Morzan showed my mother some small kindness, no doubt a ploy to gain her confidence, and when he left, she accompanied him.

Or maybe he actually liked her. Maybe he liked the way her nose crinkled when she laughed, or thought she had a good sense of humor, or maybe he just thought she had a cute butt. Not everything he does has to be because he’s evil, does it?

They traveled together for a time, and as is the nature of these things, she fell deeply in love with him. Morzan was delighted to discover this not only because it gave him numerous opportunities to torment her but also because he recognized the advantage of having a servant who wouldn’t betray him.

“Thus, when Morzan returned to Galbatorix’s court, my mother became the tool he relied upon most. He used her to carry his secret messages, and he taught her rudimentary magic, which helped her remain undiscovered and, on occasion, extract information from people. He did his best to protect her from the rest of the Thirteen – not out of any feelings for her, but because they would have used her against him, given the chance […]

Buffy eyes narrowing

Just because someone’s evil doesn’t mean they’re horrible in every conceivable way. It’s really fucking boring to constantly read about baby-raping, puppy-killing villains because the author can’t be bothered to give their antagonists any motivation beyond stamping “EVIL” on their foreheads. And, frankly, I find it scarier when the villain can and does feel love even while they commit atrocities, because then there’s clearly a mental disconnect between people they love and people they find it acceptable to kill.

There’s also this lovely little implication that women are weak-willed and silly, because of course Murtagh’s mom fell in love with an evil jackass over “some small kindness” like, I dunno, giving her a present or escorting her across the street or not murdering her for looking at him wrong. And of course she was easily manipulated, completely loyal, and willing to stay with a guy who tormented her for funsies. And of fucking course there’s no way Morzan could have returned that love, or even felt some sort of affection for her – no, the only reason he could possible be happy that she loved him is because he wanted to use her and torture her.

Again, I don’t think this is intentional, but it’s pretty gross nonetheless.

Anyway, Murtagh’s mom winds up pregnant, so Morzan has her taken away from Galbatorix’s court to his own private castle, then uses his magic to make it so no one but a handful of servants and Galbatorix know about his kid. Murtagh’s mom gives birth, then has to return to court and can only come to visit every few months, this continues for a few years, Morzan gives Murtagh that huge scar on his back, yadda yadda… Then Saphira’s egg is stolen, and Morzan’s sent to go search for it, and Murtagh’s mom immediately disappears. Around the same time Morzan is killed, Mommy comes back to the castle and dies a couple weeks later, so Murtagh winds up being raised in the king’s palace but ultimately ignored by Galbatorix until his eighteenth birthday, when he’s invited to a private dinner with ol’ Galby.

“When the meal was finished, he finally began to speak. You’ve never heard his voice, so it’s hard for me to make you understand what it was like. His words were entrancing, like a snake whispering gilded lies into my ears. A more convincing and frightening man I’ve never heard.

A more blatant example of telling instead of showing I’ve never read.

Galbatorix goes on about the utopia he wants to create, where everything’s perfect, the Urgals are all dead, the Empire covers the entire continent, and the Riders are back in power. Then he asks if Murtagh will help him create his paradise, and Murtagh agrees. When Galbatorix finally calls on him to do his bidding, the king is… different:

We met in private as before, but this time he was not pleasant or charming. The Varden had just destroyed three brigades in the south, and his wrath was out in full force.

Gee, you mean a person’s demeanor can change depending on the situation? What a shock!

He charged me in a terrible voice to take a detachment of troops and destroy Cantos, where rebels were known to hide occasionally. When I asked what we should do with the people there and how we would know if they were guilty, he shouted, “They’re all traitors! Burn them at the stake and bury their ashes with dung!” He continued to rant, cursing his enemies and describing how he would scourge the land of everyone who bore him ill will.

“His tone was so different from what I had encountered before; it made me realize he didn’t possess the mercy or foresight to gain the people’s loyalty, and he ruled only through brute force guided by is own passions. It was at that moment I determined to escape him and Urû’baen forever.

Okay, so I get that this is supposed to show that Galbatorix is unstable and paranoid, but Murtagh runs away based on two conversations he had with the man? We’re not going to get a moral dilemma about having to kill innocent civilians or anything? No internal conflict between fealty to the king and doing what’s right? Bo-ring.

Murtagh runs away the same night with his servant, who’s killed in the escape. Then he hides for a while, hears that the Ra’zac were sent to find and/or kill someone, and decides he needs to follow them in case they find a dragon. And that is the end of his tragic backstory. It kind of loses its impact hearing it second-hand, but whatcha gonna do?

We still don’t know if he’s telling the truth, warned Saphira.

I know, said Eragon, but why would he lie to us?

Uh, for any number of reasons? Murtagh just admitted to being recruited by Galbatorix. This whole sob story could be a ploy to gain your trust – he could be planning to draw you in because you feel sorry for him, hang around with you for a while so you think he’s loyal, then betray you when you least expect it. He did say earlier that he was well trained in keeping up his mental defenses – who better to train him than the emperor, who’s supposedly so damn good at magic that he can do whatever the fuck he wants?

Anyway, Eragon doesn’t think of this (which is just as well for him, because it never happens) and asks Murtagh why he doesn’t just join up with the Varden, since they have a common enemy.

“Must I spell everything out for you?” demanded Murtagh. “I don’t want Galbatorix to learn where I am, which is inevitable if people start saying that I’ve sided with his enemies, which I’ve never done. These,” he paused, then said with distaste, “rebels are trying not only to overthrow the king but to destroy the Empire . . . and I don’t want that to happen. It would sow mayhem and anarchy. The king is flawed, yes, but the system itself is sound. As for earning the Varden’s respect: Ha! Once I am exposed, they’ll treat me like a criminal or worse. Not only that, suspicion will fall upon you because we traveled together!”

Okay, Murtagh’s got some good points, but I’d like to focus on his assertion that it’s Galbatorix who’s the problem and not the “system.” The problem with a line like that is the reader doesn’t know the system. I couldn’t begin to deliberate on whether or not Murtagh’s right because I don’t have a damn clue what the ruling class is like in this place! Are there state-appointed governors for the major cities? Do the nobility rule their own lands or do they just own titles? Does Galbatorix micromanage everything just so he can say he controls the entire Empire? Are there provinces, or just the random cities and towns we’ve heard of? If the Forsworn are all dead, does Galbatorix have other trusted lackeys? If the Riders were in charge before, did their leader rule the country or did they have a council that decided matters? You can’t insist the system is sound if you don’t give us any clue as to what the system is like, dammit!

Eragon tries to wave away Murtagh’s concerns by saying “It isn’t that bad” like he knows anything about it, but thankfully he’s interrupted when the Varden bring them some food and Murtagh decides eating is a better use of his time than talking to Brick-brain. And then they go to sleep. Which is so awesome, because I really missed all those chapters that ended with Eragon going to bed and started with him waking up.

Memorable Quotes

She has to get the antidote! he thought frantically, knowing that even then the Skilna Bragh was fulfilling its deadly purpose within her flesh.” (pg 379)

“The walls, floor, and ceiling were made of polished white marble that reflected a ghost image of everyone, like a mirror of veined milk.” (pg 379) Is it just me or does “veined milk” sound positively disgusting?