Eragon: Chapter 40

Eragon, Chapter 40: Du Sundavar Freohr

Our intrepid hero has been captured by the enemy! How will he escape his cell?

He tried to use magic, but could not concentrate well enough to remember any of the ancient words. They must have drugged me, he finally decided.

The last chapter ended with Eragon being knocked unconscious with a blow to the head. He is just as likely to have a concussion as he is to be drugged. His guess is correct, of course, but that should not be the first conclusion he comes to.

Eragon looks out the window and notices that he’s in a town, but it’s not until later that he wonders how he ended up in a town full of humans when he was captured by Urgals. In his drugged stupor, he quickly forgets about it. Luckily there’s a nice guard constantly bringing him food. Gee, I wonder if the drugs are in the food?

Later, a bunch of soldiers come marching through the prison:

Through the window he saw a wide hallway nearly ten yards across. The opposing wall was lined with cells similar to his own. A column of soldiers marched through the hall, their swords drawn and ready. Every man was dressed in matching armor; their faces bore the same hard expression, and their feet came down on the floor with mechanical precision, never missing a beat. The sound was hypnotic. It was an impressive display of force.

Who is this display of force for, exactly? If they’re keeping the prisoners drugged, then why would they need to intimidate them? And for heaven’s sake, why is the hallway so damn wide? If a prisoner does attempt to escape, a wider hallway just gives them more room to dodge out of the way. I should think you’d want a narrow hallway so they’re forced into close-quarters combat.

Eragon notices that the guards are carrying a woman:

Her long midnight-black hair obscured her face, despite a leather strip bound around her head to hold the tresses back. She was dressed in dark leather pants and shirt. Wrapped around her slim waist was a shiny belt, from which hung an empty sheath on her right hip. Knee-high boots covered her calves and small feet.

Why would they take the sword, but not the sheath? For that matter, why would they let her keep her own clothes? It would be a lot more demoralizing if she was forced to wear a prison uniform, not to mention a lot harder for her to escape if she doesn’t have shoes or access to anything she may have hidden on her person. I also don’t understand why they need that many guards to transport one unconscious woman to her cell. I know elves are faster and stronger (and just all around better) than humans, but an entire platoon of soldiers for a prisoner who has probably been drugged just like Eragon? Sounds like overkill to me.

Her head lolled to the side. Eragon gasped, feeling like he had been struck in the stomach. She was the woman from his dreams.

Eragon is imprisoned in the same place as the dream woman he was looking for? Gee, how convenient! It’s almost like the author couldn’t think of a less contrived way for them to meet.

Her sculpted face was as perfect as a painting. Her round chin, high cheekbones, and long eyelashes gave her an exotic look. The only mar in her beauty was a scrape along her jaw; nevertheless, she was the fairest woman he had ever seen.

Here we have a glimpse at one of my main problems with Arya, the elf woman: she’s almost always described in terms of her appearance. Every time she’s appeared so far, we’ve been told how beautiful she is, and it’s only going to get worse from here. And while I’m fairly sure Paolini intended this to be a testament to how awesome Arya is supposed to be – stronger and more beautiful than any human woman – it really only serves to objectify her.

Also, if I may nitpick the prose here for a second, “perfect as a painting” is one of those bland, vague phrases that really doesn’t add to the description at all – if anything, it makes it all the easier to deliberately misinterpret the meaning. Are we talking da Vinci or Picasso here? (Plus, again, where the hell has Eragon seen paintings?)

Eragon’s blood burned as he looked at her. Something awoke in him – something he had never felt before. It was like an obsession, except stronger, almost a fevered madness.

Oh WOW is this passage gross.

So not only does this read like Eragon has finally hit puberty and discovered girls, but the first hint of lust (because that’s all this can be, because all he knows about this woman is what she looks like) makes him feel “obsession” and “fevered madness?” EW. Run away, Arya. Run far, far, faaaar away.

Then the woman’s hair shifted, revealing pointed ears. A chill crept over him. She was an elf.

Okay, so this could definitely have been combined into one sentence (something like “A chill crept over him as her hair fell away, revealing the pointed ears of an elf”). Also, why is this chilling? It’s explained that the elves haven’t really come out of their territory since the fall of the Riders, but from the way Eragon reacts you’d think they were the bogeyman.

Speaking of the bogeyman…

Next strode a tall, proud man, a sable cape billowing behind him. His face was deathly white; his hair was red. Red like blood.

As he walked by Eragon’s cell, the man turned his head and looked squarely at him with maroon eyes. His upper lip pulled back in a feral smile, revealing teeth filed to points. Eragon shrank back. He knew what the man was. A Shade. So help me . . . a Shade.

Yay, Shades is back! And just like with the Urgals back in Yazuac, this description is miles better than the one in the prologue. We went from “He looked human except for his crimson hair and maroon eyes” to having clearly inhuman coloring (corpse-pale skin, blood-red hair) and pointed teeth. While still a bit vague, it’s a much better picture to have of the book’s main villain. This should have been his introduction.

Eragon is freaked out that there’s a Shade walking around – understandably so, since “the presence of a Shade meant that evil was loose in the land.” (Except he should already know this since Galbatorix is just so eeeeeevil! Damn Galby and his taxes!) He doesn’t understand why the soldiers haven’t killed him, ignoring the fact that they’re clearly working with (or for) Shades.

Then his thoughts returned to the elf-woman, and he was grasped by strange emotions again.

“Strange emotions?” Is that what we’re calling it now?

Eragon falls asleep, and when he wakes up he notices that the drug is wearing off. He still can’t contact Saphira or use magic, though. When the guard brings him food, he smells something off with the water and instantly realizes that everything is drugged. He spends the rest of the day shoving his food out the window, trying to wait out the effects of the drug. Eventually, Shades barges into his cell to interrogate him, and Eragon realizes he has to act like he’s still drugged.

His breath caught as he looked into the Shade’s face. It was like gazing at a death mask or a polished skull with skin pulled over it to give the appearance of life.

Paolini writes like this a lot, where he lists several possible descriptors and never actually commits to one. It’s like he couldn’t decide which description he liked better, so he just shoved both of them in and let the reader decide. It’s only one of the many reasons his writing is so cluttered. He does it again here, after the Shade asks him his name:

The question was posed innocently enough, but Eragon knew there had to be a catch or trap in it, though it eluded him. He pretended to struggle over the question for a while, then slowly said, frowning, “I’m not sure. . . . M’name’s Eragon, but that’s not all I am, is it?”

Shades asks what Eragon’s name is again, insisting, “Don’t you have another one, one that you use only rarely?”

He wants my true name so he can control me! realized Eragon. But I can’t tell him. I don’t even know it myself. He thought quickly, trying to invent a deception that would conceal his ignorance. What if I made up a name? He hesitated – it could easily give him away – then raced to create a name that would withstand scrutiny.

How on earth is Eragon going to make up a “true name” that won’t sound completely fake? He doesn’t know enough about them to make one up; he’s probably never heard what one actually sounds like! And why is Shades so intent on finding out what it is when later we’re told that Galbatorix has made it his hobby to ferret out people’s true names so he can control them personally? Is he trying to get one over on Galbatorix? Who knows! We’ll never find out!

As he was about to utter it, he decided to take a chance and try to scare the Shade. He deftly switched a few letters, then nodded foolishly and said, “Brom told it to me once. It was . . .” The pause stretched for a few seconds, then his face brightened as he appeared to remember. “It was Du Sundavar Freohr.” Which meant almost literally “death of the shadows.”

So his “name that would withstand scrutiny” is a barefaced lie that could easily backfire if Shades decides to strike him where he stands… And Shades only reacts by sitting there thinking about what he said.

Eragon wondered if he had dared too much. He waited until the Shade stirred before asking ingenuously, “Why are you here?”

The Shade looked at him with contempt in his red eyes and smiled. “To gloat, of course. What use is a victory if one cannot enjoy it?”

Really? We’ve got an obviously evil villain who full-out admits to gloating? BORING.

Anyway, Shades notices that Eragon’s not drinking his water and tells the captain of the guard, right in front of Eragon, that he needs to make sure that Eragon drinks his water and to put an extra dose of drugs in it. Of course he couldn’t leave the cell, find the captain, and tell him away from the cell; he had to yell for the captain, then make it incredibly obvious what he was talking about in front of the guy he was drugging in the first place. I guess it was too much to hope for an intelligent or somewhat original villain.

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