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?

Poll time! What should I read next?

Well folks, we’ve got just ten chapters left in Eragon. And while it’s taken me way too long to get this far, I should finish the book in the next month or so… which means it’s time to get ready for the next one. I’m going for a palate cleanser – not necessarily getting out of the fantasy genre, but getting away from Paolini’s bumbling for a bit before we come back to Eldest. I’ve got a couple options ready:

  1. The Red Necklace, by Sally Gardner. It’s the story of the French Revolution, if you threw in devil worship and G*psy magic and a bland, uninspired love story and told it through the viewpoint of a couple teenagers who only witness events tangentially until the very end. Also kinda racist, what with the emphasis on the Romani having magical powers and all.
  2. Daughter of the Blood, by Anne Bishop. Fantasy matriarchy, complete with overly complicated magic/ranking systems, gruesome depictions of genital mutilation, and looooooots of rape. Touted as being feminist, but really, really isn’t.
  3. Wizard’s First Rule, by Terry Goodkind. I actually haven’t read this one before, but boy have I heard a lot about it (not to mention the author’s ego).
  4. Your choice!

So, there you have it. If nobody votes/there’s a tie, I’ll probably go with The Red Necklace like I originally planned, but I thought I’d give you guys a choice first.

Eragon: Chapter 49

Eragon, Chapter 49: The Horns of a Dilemma

Last time, on Dragon Ball Z Buffy: the Vampire Slayer Eragon, our heroes engaged in more pointless bickering while fleeing for their lives. They got to the valley where the Varden are located only to find a dead end, and now Murtagh’s revealed that his dad was the fantasy equivalent of Joseph Goebbels.*

Eragon was speechless.

Can he please stay that way?

Disbelief roared through his mind as he tried to reject Murtagh’s words. The Forsworn never had any children, least of all Morzan. Morzan! The man who betrayed the Riders to Galbatorix and remained the king’s favorite servant for the rest of his life. Could it be true?

Woah, hold your horses there, Exposition Sally. First off, where did anyone say none of the Forsworn had kids? Was it buried somewhere in Brom’s riveting tale about Galbatorix kicking a dude in the crotch? Second, we already know all this – if we didn’t remember it from the beginning of the story, Murtagh’s just reminded us who Morzan was – so I don’t know why you’re giving us all this pointless backstory.

Saphira’s own shock reached him a second later. She crashed through trees and brush as she barreled from the river to his side, fangs bared, tail raised threateningly. Be ready for anything, she warned. He may be able to use magic.

You’ve been traveling with this guy for weeks without incident! If he wanted to hurt you, he had ample opportunity to do so.

Murtagh is so frantic to show Eragon he’s trustworthy that he takes off his shirt (whoo baby!) to reveal a huge scar across his back. Turns out Daddy dearest gave him that scar with the very sword that Eragon is carrying. Dun dun DUUUUUN! So you see, he has no reason to be working for the Empire or Galbatorix because his dad was a dick who liked to throw swords at toddlers when he had too much to drink. Because all fantasy villains are soulless sadistic Nazis, and we as a culture have not quite managed to realize that Hitler wasn’t the only evil dictator in history.

They finally remember that they’re being chased and start running:

Saphira stayed by Eragon’s side, easily keeping pace with her long legs. You could walk unhindered in the riverbed, he said as she was forced to smash through a dense web of branches.

I’ll not leave you with him.

Yeah, he might decide to murder you, just like all those times he didn’t try to kill you when you two were alone together. Or while you were sleeping. Or while you were drugged-up in prison.

Saphira and Eragon halfheartedly interrogate Murtagh while they’re running, and he points out that he could have just left Eragon in prison if he wanted to capture him, had plenty of opportunity to kill him, and has no reason to stick with them if he just wanted to lead the Urgals to the Varden. Then Eragon says maybe he’s an assassin, and my opinion of his intelligence falls even further. Who’s he going to assassinate? It’s not Eragon, clearly, and if everyone in the Varden knows who he and his dad are, no one’s going to trust him enough to give him a chance to kill anyone. If Eragon would just apply the tiniest bit of critical thinking, he would realize that Murtagh would make a shitty assassin based on his reputation alone.

Saphira? Eragon asked simply.

Her tail swished over his head. If he wanted to harm you, he could have done it long ago.

You just said you wouldn’t leave Eragon alone with him less than a page ago! Make up your damn mind – is he trustworthy or not?

A branch whipped Eragon’s neck, causing a line of blood to appear on his skin. The waterfall was growing louder. I want you to watch Murtagh closely when we get to the Varden. He may do something foolish, and I don’t want him killed by accident.

Oh, yeah, Murtagh’s the one who’s gonna do something stupid. This coming from the kid who can’t think about how his actions are going to influence events five seconds into the future. And considering how much he doesn’t want to be around the Varden, and he’s all but admitted they hate him on sight, I’m gonna bank on his death being anything but an accident.

I’m just gonna nitpick the POV here and point out that Eragon can’t be describing blood appearing on his neck. This is a third-person limited POV, not third-person omniscient. While the story is described by an outside narrator, we’re still seeing through Eragon’s eyes. And unless his eyes are on stalks, he can’t see his own neck unless he looks in a mirror. And if a tree branch hit him hard enough to draw blood, shouldn’t he be describing the pain first?

They finally get out of the woods and come across the waterfall, which has a lake in front of it that they have to edge around. (The lake is, of course, needlessly named, because a body of water that features in one scene clearly needs a clunky name with unnecessary punctuation. As does everything in a fantasy novel.) Halfway around the lake, the Urgals catch up with them and start flanking them. Saphira attacks one group of Urgals, giving Eragon and Murtagh time to make it to the waterfall.

“What do we do now?” Murtagh demanded coldly.

“I don’t know. Let me think!” cried Eragon, searching Arya’s memories for her final instructions.

All this time you were being chased and you didn’t think to memorize these instructions so you wouldn’t be stuck going “I don’t know what to do!”? Way to drop the ball, dipshit.

Of course Eragon remembers the password phrase in the next sentence, because we can’t have a moment of actual tension in a scene that’s supposed to be action-packed. This is a more boring version of the scene from Fellowship of the Ring where they’re trying to enter the Mines of Moria, and half of that was Gandalf sitting around trying to remember the password. Anyway, nothing happens when Eragon says his line, and he and Murtagh are trapped.

Up close a Kull was as tall as a small giant, with legs and arms as thick as tree trunks.

Oh hey, I found a description that actually rivals “they looked human only different” in terms of uselessness! Did you know that unless you give some context, comparing one fantasy species to another isn’t going to actually give your readers a good basis for comparison? I have no idea how big giants are in this world. They could be twice the size of a human, or as tall as a redwood, or big enough to be mistaken for a small mountain. Not to mention that “small giant” is an oxymoron, and doesn’t really tell us much beyond the fact that Paolini doesn’t think twice about mashing contradictory words together.

Eragon raised his palm, shouting, “Jierda theirra kalfis!” Sharp cracks resounded off the cliff. Twenty of the charging Urgals fell into Kóstha-mérna, howling and clutching their legs where shards of bone protruded.

Yeah, he just snaps their legs like it’s nothing. I like how he struggles to figure out the precise phrasing needed to get water from the ground, and almost kills himself trying to wrench water from a stone, but a week later he can effortlessly fling out a phrase that, according to the glossary in the back of the book, literally means “break their calves” and not fall over dead because the spell targeted all the Urgals instead of just the first twenty or so. I also like that he’s able to accurately count how many opponents were brought down by that spell in the midst of all that chaos. And by “like”, of course, I mean “find completely unbelievable”.

Murtagh starts shouting at Eragon that he needs to wake Arya up and double-check that they’re where they need to be, and then Saphira realizes they’re on the wrong side of the lake and they have to go through the waterfall to get to the Varden. Saphira jumps over to the other side, and there’s an entire page of Eragon trying to get the horses through the waterfall. Why are these horses so fucking important? Do they cure dwarf-cancer or something?

Eragon almost drowns trying to get through the waterfall. Unfortunately, somebody pulls him out at the last second (BOO! HISS!) and he surfaces just in time to see a hail of arrows keeping the Urgals at bay. And it’s not Murtagh who pulled him out, like he assumed, but a dwarf!

A dwarf! Eragon drew Zar’roc and looked for Saphira and Murtagh. Two twelve-foot-thick stone doors had opened in the cliff, revealing a broad tunnel nearly thirty feet tall that burrowed its way into the mysterious depths of the mountain. A line of flame-less lamps filled the passageway with a pale sapphire light that spilled out onto the lake.

Good to know Eragon’s observation skills are unharmed by his impromptu trip to the bottom of the lake. I can barely eyeball how wide my desk is, and this guy can tell the exact dimensions of a tunnel he’s never seen before at a glance. Man, he must have some sort of cybernetic implants that measure all this shit for him.

Saphira and Murtagh stood before the tunnel, surrounded by a grim mixture of men and dwarves. At Murtagh’s elbow was a bald, beardless man dressed in purple and gold robes. He was taller than all the other humans – and he was holding a dagger to Murtagh’s throat.

So, should I assume that every man in this book has a beard unless otherwise specified? Because that’s what Paolini is implying with this description.

Eragon reached for his power

Must resist temptation to make a penis joke. Must resist temptation to make a penis joke…

Eragon reached for his power, but the robed man said in a sharp, dangerous voice, “Stop! If you use magic, I’ll kill your lovely friend here, who was so kind as to mention you’re a Rider.

Uh… wouldn’t the dragon be kind of a dead giveaway on that one? Also, clearly someone in the Varden likes Murtagh – why else would this guy call him lovely?

Don’t think I won’t know if you’re drawing upon it. You can’t hide anything from me.” Eragon tried to speak, but the man snarled and pressed the dagger harder against Murtagh’s throat. “None of that! If you say or do anything I don’t tell you to, he will die. Now, everyone inside.” He backed into the tunnel, pulling Murtagh with him and keeping his eyes on Eragon.

I love it when authors don’t separate the dialogue of one character from the actions of another. It ranks right up there with sudden tense changes as one of my top pet peeves.

And so our heroes are led into the mountain, never to be heard from again. Hah, I wish. Oh man, do I wish.

*Look, I was going to Godwin myself at some point. I’m just doing it a chapter earlier than I originally meant to.

Eragon, Chapter 48

Eragon, Chapter 48: Flight Through the Valley

The next morning Eragon and Murtagh split up – Eragon flies with Saphira, while Murtagh takes the horses. Eragon finally talks to Saphira about what happened with the slavers, and she clearly agrees with what Murtagh did. Eragon seems to think that if Murtagh had given the slaver a chance to fight back or surrender, it would have been better, but Saphira points out that either way he was outmatched and would have died anyway. (Also, what were you going to do with him if he surrendered? Tie him to a horse and turn him over to the Varden?) Saphira actually has some good advice, telling Eragon:

Learn what you can about Murtagh from this. Then forgive him. And if you can’t forgive, at least forget, for he meant you no harm, however rash the act was.

The character development is, unsurprisingly, put to a stop as Eragon notices that the Urgals are catching up to them. He discusses the situation with Murtagh, but the situation doesn’t look good. They’re a good three days from where they need to be, but they have to reach the Varden in a day or they’ll be caught. Murtagh points out that this is probably going to get them all killed, considering the horses will probably drop dead from exhaustion before they make it, then offers to take off on his own, which would not only allow Eragon to fly on with Saphira at a much faster pace but also draw some of the troops off their trail. Eragon won’t hear it, though, even though he admits to himself that “I like him [...] but I’m no longer certain if that’s a good thing.” Again, this is all over Murtagh killing a man who was a danger to their entire party without giving him a chance to fight back. Way to completely ignore everything he’s done for you, Eragon.

Anyway, the plan is basically for them to ride as hard as they can to the Varden and have Murtagh ditch them at the gates. They spend the night forging ahead, while Eragon tries to make sense of the images he got from Arya’s mind and still manages to get them lost. When morning comes, Eragon says he’ll fly ahead with Arya if they’re not “reasonably close by noon.” Why not have Saphira fly ahead with her and meet you there? She’s got a direct link to your mind, you could just show her the exact images you’re using to get there and that way Arya would get medical attention that much faster. Eragon also makes Murtagh promise to take the stupid horse with him, because we were all dying to know what happens to Snowfire, right?

They finally come across the valley where the Varden are located and try to hide from the Urgals, who have been steadily gaining on them this entire time. There are old “but not friendly” trees (because we had to slip another reference to Lord of the Rings in here somehow), and Totally-Not-Fangorn-Forest is filled to the brim with birds and animals none of them have ever seen before. This valley is apparently a self-contained ecosystem.

As Saphira jumped toward the sky, Eragon said, Do you think you could fly up to one of those peaks? We might be able to spot our destination, as well as a passage for Murtagh. I don’t want to listen to him griping through the entire valley.

Oh fuck you, you sanctimonious little weasel! If the man wants to complain because you led him into a deathtrap with an army of poor-man’s orcs on his heels, he very well has the right. You can shut your cakehole while you find him a way out.

In their attempt to reach the peak, Saphira and Eragon find out the hard way that it’s balls-ass cold up there and the atmosphere’s too thin for them to breathe. Saphira gets them down safely, but Eragon blacks out from a lack of oxygen and then laments the fact that they can’t cross the mountains and would have to leave the same way they came in.

Why did we run out of air? How can we have it down here, but not up above?

I don’t know, but I’ll never dare to fly so close to the sun again. We should remember this experience. The knowledge may be useful if we ever have to fight another Rider.

Hooray for clunky foreshadowing! Now, however Paolini handles it, he’s screwed himself. Either he uses it later and it becomes very obvious what he was doing, or he never uses it and this aside is completely pointless. Good job, dude. Also, that sounds like something Brom should have warned him against. I mean, the man can beat him half to death with a stick but he can’t say “Yo, don’t fly too high or you’ll die, kid”? Did he think the lesson wouldn’t stick unless Eragon almost died?

Speaking of Brom, Eragon has apparently been gifted with a memory like a sieve, because he attempts to slow down the Urgals by creating a giant wall of mist, drains so much of his strength that he can’t even sit upright, and only remembers after the fact that Brom told him distance affects magic and how much energy you use. Saphira scolds him for it, and I can’t help liking her a little bit in this scene. Then again, all you need to do in this book for me to like you is tell Eragon off for being an idiot. (I guess it wouldn’t have done any good for Brom to tell him not to fly too high, anyway – Eragon could get his hand chopped off pulling a stupid stunt like this and still not learn his lesson.)

We also learn that these are Kull, “elite of the Urgals.” Eight-foot-tall monsters that can run for days without tiring and still fight afterward, who “never leave their caves except for war” – gee, that doesn’t sound like the Uruk-hai or anything, does it? This is a totally original Always Chaotic Evil race* that is not influenced by Tolkien in any way, shape, or form! Also there are giant wolves in the forest, apparently.

“I know you can’t enter the forest, but could you circle above me and the horses? That should keep these beasts away. Otherwise there may only be enough left of me to roast in a thimble.”

“Humor, Murtagh?” asked Eragon, a quick smile coming to his face.

Uh, Eragon? That’s not humor. ‘Humor’ implies he said something funny. It’s not a synonym for hyperbole.

Arya’s not doing so well, and Murtagh says they should really fly ahead to the Varden if they want to save her, but Eragon insists that he won’t leave Murtagh behind. So glad her life is so important to him. Also, why the fuck won’t they leave the damn horses behind already?! If they’d set the horses loose earlier and just had Saphira fly them to the Varden, they wouldn’t have to deal with this stupid situation! It’s not like the horses are vital to the plot (just the word count).

And then, of course, Eragon has to shove this in Murtagh’s face:

“Help me save her. We can still do it. Consider it a life for a life – atonement for Torkenbrand’s death.”

It is not your place to make Murtagh atone for anything, you self-righteous little shit. You do not get to decide what he atones for or how he does it. Jesus tap-dancing Christ on a cracker, this kid is taking the law-enforcement role of the Riders a little too seriously for someone who joined up less than six months ago. How about you figure out your own morality first before you go trying to push it on others? And while you’re at it, maybe stop freaking out and acting like Arya’s life is worth exactly as much as the life of a guy who wanted to sell all of you into slavery?

Murtagh storms off, clearly as irritated with Eragon’s moralizing as I am, and Eragon asks Saphira if they could drop Arya off with the Varden and rescue Murtagh afterward. She shoots that down, pointing out that they’re going to be none too pleased to find an army of Urgals on their doorstep. They decide that instead they’ll drop boulders on the Urgals to slow them down. Not a bad idea. It doesn’t stop them completely, but it does let Murtagh stay ahead of them. As night falls, they reach the waterfall where the Varden are supposed to be located, and Murtagh catches up with them. Unsurprisingly, he’s not pleased that there’s no way out of the valley, and his only options are the Varden or the Urgals. And while he’s freaking out, our wise and noble hero decides that now, while the enemy is bearing down on them, is the best time to grill him about his issues:

“What’s your quarrel with the Varden? It can’t be so terrible that you must keep it hidden even now. Would you rather fight the Kull than reveal it? How many times will we go through this before you trust me?”

I don’t know, how many times are you going to berate him for choosing to kill instead of being killed? How often are you going to press him to reveal what he clearly doesn’t want to and you have no right to demand? How long before you learn to respect other people’s boundaries – oh wait, that’s never.

Finally Murtagh turned to Eragon. His breathing was hard and fast, like that of a cornered wolf. He paused, then said with a tortured voice, “You have a right to know. I . . . I am the son of Morzan, first and last of the Forsworn.”

*GASP* What a tweest!

Yeah, even if you didn’t predict this specific plot point, Murtagh’s pretty obviously got “Tortured Past” tattooed on his forehead. And we’ll find out more about it next chapter.

* Yes, I know that later they join up with the Varden. For the purposes of this book, from the POV of our main character, they’re Always Chaotic Evil. Considering the way he handles the plot later on, I highly doubt that Paolini planned for the Urgals to join the “good” side.

DNF Files: The First Days

Content note: This post discusses rape, domestic violence, child death, and contains misogynistic and able-ist slurs. Also there are gifs.

At what point do you give up on finishing a book? What’s the ultimate factor in deciding whether you’ll make it to the last page? Does a badly-written book turn you off of an otherwise great story, or will you plow through a bland, cliched plot for the beautiful prose? Do you stick it out through a terrible novel just to say you finished it, or do you refuse to waste your time on bad books? What, dear readers, is your Did Not Finish threshold?

As a reader, once I get past the first chapter of a book, I feel almost obligated to read through to the end. Sometimes it’s the hope that the book will get better that drives me; other times, it’s pure Trainwreck SyndromeI muddled my way through Poison Study because, under the painfully amateurish writing, I could see a great story that made me want to find out what happened next.  I picked up Twilight to see what all the fuss was about, and wound up reading the rest of the series because I needed to see how bad it got. Hell, I read Fifty Shades of Grey just to see if I could.

On the other hand, I’ve dropped more than a few books in the middle. In most cases it was because they were boring. (Boring as in bland, not because nothing happened. Eragon is boring in places because nothing really happens, but I can make myself keep reading on the sheer force of my hatred.*) I actually stopped reading The Eye of the World less than twenty pages from the end because I lost my place, forgot about the book for a couple weeks due to exams, and couldn’t be bothered to start over from the beginning just to say I finished it. And I only got about two pages into Cerulean Sins before throwing up my hands and declaring myself done (but then, I’d just spent a month reading through the entire series and watching it deteriorate before my eyes, so there may have been some bias there).

Then, sometimes, there are the books that you just can’t stand anymore. Which brings me to our first installment of the DNF Files: The First Days by Rhiannon Frater. As always, spoilers abound. (Really, I should just stick that in the blog’s byline. I think I’ve had one non-spoilery post out of fifty at this point.)

I wanted to like this book. It was described to me as Thelma and Louise** with zombies – how could I not like it? Two ladies bonding through the hardship of the zombie apocalypse? It sounds perfect, especially in light of all the zombie stories where the world quickly devolves into a state where the men are in charge and have all the guns, and the women are valued for their ability to produce children and satisfy the men’s sexual appetites. Lemme tell you, that gets real boring and frustrating, real fast.

The story starts out strong: Jenni, a housewife, stands paralyzed on her front porch as the toddler she just watched her husband eat attempts to reach her under the front door:

So small.

So very, very small.

The fingers pressed under the front door of her home were so very small. She could not stop staring at those baby fingers straining frantically to reach her as she stood shivering on the porch. The cool morning air lightly puffed out her pink nightgown as her own pale fingers clutched the thing bathrobe closed at her throat. Texas weather could change so fast, and this early March morning was crisp. I knew we needed weather stripping, she thought vaguely. [...] The tiny fingers clawed under the edge of the door. The banging from inside the house had become a steady staccato. It had a rhythm now, as did the grunts and groans. The sounds terrified her. But what was truly horrible were those tiny, desperate fingers.

Now that’s a compelling opening. Just as Jenni’s husband and her older son break through the front window and advance on her, she’s saved when a pickup stops behind her and the driver yells at her to get in. The driver, Katie, is the second protagonist. She’s a lawyer who was saved from becoming zombie chow during her morning commute, just barely avoided being eaten by her wife when she went home to check on her, and only managed to be in the right place at the right time because she got lost in the suburbs. Together they manage to get out of the city (which is never named), and they’re forced to rely on each other to survive.

Aaand then it all goes downhill.

For one thing, the pacing is all over the place. Mostly it just goes too fast: in one day, the entire state seems to have been overrun with the undead; on day two, they find a town that has managed to wall off a couple blocks in less than two days. Then the narration begins skipping around and suddenly it’s day four. On top of that, the characters all form seemingly instant connections to each other. It’s one thing for Jenni and Katie to bond before the end of the first day; they’re experiencing the zombie apocalypse together. It’s another for Katie to have an instant connection to a man she’s never seen before:

Travis glanced over at them, and Katie had to look away. She felt unnerved by his gaze. Something had happened when she first looked at him. New knowledge had sprung strong and sure into her mind: This was now home. And Travis was going to play a very important role in her future. All her life, Katie had always trusted her instincts about people. She formed quick and firm attachments. It had taken her all of one minute to fall in love with Lydia. She already felt completely attacked to Jenni and Jason. They were her new family. Her gut told her that Travis was also important in this new world.

She looked back and saw him staring at her.

He knows, too, she thought.

The wheels of destiny had turned, and a new reality was being spun into existence.

She met this guy less than five minutes ago.

It doesn’t help that she later says that she’s bisexual, and not a lesbian as she claimed earlier. I really want to believe that the author was going for more bi visibility in fiction, but with the “instantaneous camaraderie” setup and the fact that her wife is dead and only alluded to in the third person makes it seem more like Katie being bi is a cop-out – a way to have a gay character without ever having to show her being gay.

The bit about Katie always trusting her instincts brings up another thing that bugs me about this book: everyone is ridiculously nice and helpful. There’s a few people who are combative, but they’re all people who refuse to believe that the dead are coming back to life and either call the women crazy or murderers. I’m not saying everyone they meet should be trying to rape, rob, or kill them (in fact, I’d prefer it if rape was kept out of the equation altogether), but they’re taken in with open arms everywhere they go. There’s a cursory check to see if they’ve been bitten, and then everyone is nice as pie to them.

I really wanted to like Jenni. It becomes clear almost immediately that even before her husband started eating their children, he was an abusive asshole who liked to beat his wife. In a way, Jenni is the character most prepared for the zombie apocalypse: she’s the first to call them zombies, the first to declare that it’s the end of the world. At the same time, the end of the world acts as a sort of therapy for her: she goes out of her way to kill zombies that look like her abusive husband or her father (who’s implied to have been just as abusive). Jenni’s reaction to the world crumbling around her was the only thing that kept me going half the time; I’d like to see this concept in the hands of a more competent author.

On a technical level, the writing is rather clumsy. The author seems to have an aversion to contractions, for one thing. And the dialogue is pretty clunky, in some spots sounding more like that “perfect” comeback that only works against a one-note strawman:

“Yes, I can barely get into the store because of some hick truck pulled up to the door. I get inside and this retard spills coffee on me, and now I have a blond bitch giving me lip.”

Katie motioned to his phone. “Does that work?”

He blinked, obviously not expecting that response. “No, because we are in Hicksville and there is no signal.”

Katie slightly nodded. “Or the world has gone to hell and the city is in ruins. Doesn’t anyone listen to their radio anymore?”

“Look, bitch, I make six figures. I don’t have time for radio or TV. I work constantly. My time is money. I am money. I have a meeting in one hour in the city, and I’m running late thanks to your stupid friend here and that damn truck.”

“Well, buddy, hate to tell you this, but the world is over. The city is in ruins and you aren’t going to make that meeting and you’re not going to get a signal. Your six figures means nothing now.”

I just… OW. That dialogue physically hurts me, guys. I have been run over by the semi truck of “Why does this exist and why didn’t someone catch this while proofreading, or at least read it aloud to see how it sounded?”

Then there’s of overuse of the Z-word. I realize that, being a zombie novel, that word’s going to come up quite often, but even as a fan of the genre “zombie” is just one of those words that’s really hard for me to take seriously. The undead, the infected, ghouls, geeks, Gs, Zack, whatever – just call them something other than zombies. Maybe I’m just weird, and this is just a pet peeve that makes no sense, but it did add to the annoyance level as I read. (Or maybe it was the over-reliance on a single word. If they’d used a few synonyms I might not have cared so much.)

I’m ashamed to say that none of this made me stop reading. No, the final straw came when Katie scraped her arm on a piece of metal that was covered in zombie gore, then got sick (as in delirious, unconscious, talking-in-her-sleep sick) to the point where everyone thought she was going to die and come back as the undead… and then woke up and waved it off as the flu.

“None of you could have known that when I get the flu, I go down like an elephant. I always have, and that’s why I usually get the flu shot. I skipped it this year because I had a big case and just never found the time. Who knows what diseases all those dead bodies have unleashed into the air?” She shivered at the thought.

[...] “The flu,” Travis said with relief. “Thank God, just the fucking everyday flu.”

tumblr_mligfvIIIl1riop3bo1_r1_500THAT’S the explanation the author went with? THAT’S how she avoided having one of her main characters turn into a zombie? The motherfucking FLU?! The ending to the World War Z movie was less painfully stupid. How do you justify such a blatant deus ex machina and still sleep at night? WHY DID ANYONE THINK THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA?!

So, yeah, that’s when I threw up my hands and quit. There’s only so much stupidity I can take before my reading experience goes from “having fun being angry” to “beating my head against a wall hoping it won’t hurt.”

* Yes, I realize how little sense that makes. All I can say is, blandness will make me give up faster than rage-inducing stupidity. At least when I’m angry, I’m not bored.

** Granted, I’ve never seen Thelma and Louise (it came out when I was four years old) so I don’t have a very good frame of reference for it, but who can say no to strong friendships between women?