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?”


“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?

Eragon: Chapter 47

Eragon, Chapter 47: A Clash of Wills

So yet again our heroes are forced to ride through the night, sleeping in their saddles and exhausting the horses “to the point of stopping.” (What is that supposed to mean, anyway? Are the horses just randomly stopping because they’re too tired to go on? Are they about to fall over?) They’ve gained a lead on the Urgals that are following them, but there’s no guarantee that they can keep up the distance between them. At this point, the horses are becoming a burden. I know Murtagh is attached to his horse, but there comes a time when survival has to override sentiment. They really need to set the horses loose and have Saphira fly them the rest of the way to the Varden.

Saphira flies off to go hunting, and Eragon and Murtagh keep going, stopping at a pond to water the horses. While they’re doing this, slavers come across them. There’s a bit of a standoff, where the two sides stare at each other before the slavers surround them.

Murtagh’s only movement was to shift his sword. “Who are you and what do you want? We are free men traveling through this land. You have no right to stop us.” “Oh, I have every right,” said the man contemptuously. “And as for my name, slaves do not address their masters in that manner, unless they want to be beaten.”

A one-off character that doesn’t give their name? Awesome! Maybe now we won’t have to deal with so many useless named characters with ridiculous-sounding fantasy names anymore!

One of the slavers had pulled the blanket off Arya, revealing her face. He gaped in astonishment, then shouted, “Torkenbrand, this one’s an elf!”

Aww, nuts. (And yes, he’s constantly referred to with this clunky mess of a name. For the three pages that he actually shows up on.)

As the slavers start to get excited at the idea of all the money they’ll get for selling an elf to the Empire, Eragon signals to Saphira to attack. He notes that she should let them escape if they run, and when Saphira shows herself he tells them to run if they want to live. Has he forgotten what happened the last time he let people escape after they found out he was a Rider? Those men are going to run right into the Urgals that are following him, and whether they say it willingly or they have the information tortured out of them, they’ll tell the Urgals exactly where they found you. So any possibility of losing the Urgals or setting them on a different path has now been lost.

When the slavers flee, their leader (I refuse to call him by that ridiculous name unless I’m directly quoting the text, dammit) is knocked down and left laying in the dirt.* Murtagh takes this opportunity to kill him, chopping his head off as Eragon shouts at him not to. Murtagh doesn’t understand why Eragon’s angry about this turn of events.

“Upset!” exploded Eragon. “I’m well past that! Did it even occur to you that we could just leave him here and continue on our way? No! Instead you turn into an executioner and chop off his head. He was defenseless!”

Murtagh seemed perplexed by Eragon’s wrath. “Well, we couldn’t keep him around – he was dangerous. The others ran off . . . without a horse he wouldn’t have made it far. I didn’t want the Urgals to find him and learn about Arya. So I thought it would -”

“But to kill him?” interrupted Eragon.

I’d like to point out that Eragon didn’t seem to have a problem with the idea of Murtagh killing someone last chapter (“Did you kill someone important […] it’s not as if I’m going to pass judgement”). This would be an interesting facet of his character, if he had no intellectual qualms about killing but struggled with the actual reality of the act… if he didn’t seem to flip-flop between demanding that no lives are taken and wanting to take violent, bloody revenge when he thinks someone deserves it.

I really want to know what Eragon would have done with this guy. Murtagh’s got a point. If they take him prisoner, he’ll not only slow them down and be yet another mouth to feed (unless Eragon’s totally okay with starving a guy, just not killing him), he’ll present a danger to the rest of the group simply by existing. Forget him getting free and attacking the others – what’s to stop him from actively trying to slow them down or reveal their presence to anyone they might want to avoid? This guy has no reason to cooperate with his captors. Leaving him behind is also out; if they leave him tied up, the Urgals will find him, and that would likely be just as bad as killing him outright. If they leave him unbound, he’ll continue to kidnap people and sell them as slaves.

“I’m only trying to stay alive,” stated Murtagh. “No stranger’s life is more important than my own.”

“But you can’t indulge in wanton violence. Where is your empathy?” growled Eragon, pointing at the head.

I seem to recall a certain young man who was so angry at seeing a slave auction that he wished someone would try to rob him so he could beat the tar out of them. Or does taking your frustrations out on random people not count as wanton violence?

“Empathy? Empathy? What empathy can I afford my enemies? Shall I dither about whether to defend myself because it will cause someone pain? If that had been the case, I would have died years ago! You must be willing to protect yourself and what you cherish, no matter what the cost.”

Eragon slammed Zar’roc back into its sheath, shaking his head savagely. “You can justify any atrocity with that reasoning.”

“Do you think I enjoy this?” Murtagh shouted. “My life has been threatened from the day I was born! […] You don’t understand – if you lived with this fear, you would have learned the same lesson I did: Do not take chances.” He gestured at Torkenbrand’s body. “He was a risk that I removed. I refuse to repent, and I won’t plague myself over what is done and past.”

Eragon shoved his face into Murtagh’s. “It was still the wrong thing to do.”

The problem here is that Eragon seems to be confusing the Right Thing To Do with the Thing That Must Be Done. Murtagh isn’t arguing that killing the slaver leader was a noble action; he’s arguing that it’s what he had to do to ensure their survival. And again, this could be an interesting character conflict, both between Eragon and Murtagh and between Eragon and his conscience, if it were handled well. (Spoiler: it’s not.)

Curiously, Saphira doesn’t have anything to say about the incident other than asking Eragon if he wants to talk about it when they stop for camp later. The most logical explanation for this is that Paolini either forgot she was there or didn’t think she was important to the scene (aside from showing up to scare off the slavers), but considering the way she sniffs at the slaver leader’s head like she wants to eat it, I’m going to assume that she privately agrees with Murtagh and just doesn’t want to say anything that will upset Eragon.

* The text specifically says he was “struck in the temple with a javelin,” which sounds like a detail that Eragon would have specifically had to pay attention to in order to know. Remember, this is from his POV – everything we see and hear in this book is what he sees and hears. So either Eragon is remarkably observant during chaotic scenes like this one, or Paolini threw in that detail without thinking about how Eragon could know this.

Eragon: Chapter 46

Eragon, Chapter 46: A Path Revealed

Seems I mis-read the end of the last chapter – they were a league away from the foothills of the mountains, not a league away from the edge of the desert. So they’re out of the desert, at least. They’re also sitting around patting each other on the back, which I think is celebrating way too early considering they don’t know if they’re still being followed.

The first page of the chapter is this weird little summary of what’s happened to Eragon over the course of the book – the book that the reader has presumably been paying attention to, so they already know all this:

He had been born in the Empire, lived his entire life under Galbatorix’s rule, lost his closest friends and family to the king’s servants, and had nearly died several times within his domain.

Did Eragon even have any friends outside of Brom and Saphira? From what we’re told of his life before Saphira’s egg showed up, he doesn’t seem to have been particularly close to anyone in the village, outside of his family. We don’t even know if there were any other children his age. (Also, is Paolini implying that he was closer to Garrow than “like a brother to me” Roran? Because Eragon knows Roran is still alive.)

Now Eragon was free. No more would he and Saphira have to dodge soldiers, avoid towns, or hide who they were. It was a bittersweet realization, for the cost had been the loss of his entire world.

If he seriously thinks that Galbatorix’s men will stop hunting him just because he crossed the desert into lands that aren’t directly controlled by the Empire, Eragon is sorely mistaken.

He looked at the stars in the gloaming sky. And though the thought of building a home in the safety of isolation appealed to him, he had witnessed too many wrongs committed in Galbatorix’s name, from murder to slavery, to turn his back on the Empire. No longer was it just vengeance – for Brom’s death as well as Garrow’s – that drove him. As a Rider, it was his duty to assist those without strength to resist Galbatorix’s oppression.

We do not need to be reminded why he’s seeking vengeance. We’ve read the death scenes. We know why he’s fighting the Empire. And I thought he came to this realization already. How many times is Eragon going to think “Oh man, I know I just wanted revenge for the death of my uncle and mentor, but I guess I should fight the Empire for all these noble reasons too”? (Probably as many times as he’s going to cry about how cruel and unfair life is because people die.)

Eragon ends this pointless drivel to think about the elf, and he happens upon an idea: probe her mind like he does with animals to see if her memories will turn up any clues to what happened to her. Which isn’t a totally bad idea; he even acknowledges the fact that Brom told him not to do it unless it was an emergency, and this does qualify as an emergency considering she still hasn’t woken up after a week and they have no idea what’s wrong with her. But that’s about as much credit as Eragon gets, because he doesn’t tell Murtagh or Saphira what he’s up to. It’s hard to tell if this is intentional or not (the line starts “Without speaking of his intentions to Murtagh and Saphira,” which could go either way as to whether or not he meant to hide what he was doing), but either way it’s damn stupid of him.

Eragon closed his eyes and extended a tendril of thought, like a probing finger, toward the elf’s mind. He found it without difficulty. […] Suddenly an icy dagger drove into his mind. Pain exploded behind his eyes with splashes of color. He recoiled from the attack but found himself held in an iron grip, unable to retreat.

See? Stupid. You don’t go traipsing around in the brain of an unfamiliar being without some backup.

He flails around for a bit before saying he’s a friend in the ancient language. This is about the point where I started wishing that the ancient language had a name, because you can only read “he said in the ancient language” so many times before you start dreading it. Paolini also does this thing I really hate with foreign languages, where he writes a sentence in the language, then re-translates it into English. All while saying that Eragon spoke in the ancient language. It’s redundant, it’s stupid filler, it drives me up the wall.

Anyway. Blah blah blah, the elf’s mind is dark and alien and it freaks Eragon out, but “through all the sensations shimmered a melody of wild, haunting beauty that embodied her identity.” Because there can’t be something about the hot elf chick that isn’t beautiful. Eragon finds out her name is Arya and tells her they were both imprisoned in Gil’ead and he helped her escape. Arya tells him she’s been poisoned and she put herself in what is essentially a self-induced coma to slow it down, but she needs to get to the Varden to get the antidote and she’s got four days to get there, max. Eragon asks where the Varden are, and naturally Arya’s a bit reluctant to just give out the location of the only resistance group on the continent*:

I will tell you – if you give your word that you will never reveal their location to Galbatorix or to anyone who serves him. In addition you must swear that you have not deceived me in some manner and that you intend no harm to the elves, dwarves, Varden, or the race of dragons.

What Arya asked for would have been simple enough – if they had not been conversing in the ancient language. Eragon knew she wanted oaths more binding than life itself. Once made, they could never be broken. That weighed heavily on him as he gravely pledged his word in agreement.

Okay, I can understand some trepidation in swearing a magical oath, but there’s nothing for him to even worry about here. The only part that should give him some pause is the bit about revealing the Varden’s location to Galbatorix or his servants, and that really depends on the nature of the oath. Does it count as breaking his oath if it’s unintentional (he tells someone who turns out to be a spy, or Galbatorix manages to overhear him or rip the information from his head)? What happens if he breaks the oath? Can the oath be broken? Is he rendered physically incapable of speaking if he tries to tell one of the emperor’s minions? Does his blood boil in his veins if he succeeds? None of these questions will be answered, so let’s just move on, shall we?

So Arya gives Eragon a mental slideshow on how to get to the Varden, then has to go back to sleep. Eragon wakes up to find Murtagh and Saphira leaning over him, worried because he’s been kneeling on the ground for fifteen minutes making pained faces. (And that’s the other reason he should have told them what he was doing, so they wouldn’t freak out.) He tells them about his conversation with Arya, which leads into probably my favorite scene in the book. Take it away, Murtagh:

“How far away are the Varden?” asked Murtagh.

“I’m not exactly sure,” confessed Eragon. “From what she showed me, I think it’s even farther than from here to Gil’ead.”

“And we’re supposed to cover that in three or four days?” demanded Murtagh angrily. “It took us five long days to get here! What do you want to do, kill the horses? They’re exhausted as it is.”

“But if we do nothing, she’ll die! If it’s too much for the horses, Saphira can fly ahead with Arya and me; at least we would get to the Varden in time. You could catch up with us in a few days.”

Oh yes, I’m sure Murtagh would just love to follow you straight into the Varden’s secret base after he’s stated multiple times that he won’t go anywhere near them. Especially since you’ll be sitting pretty up in the sky, while he’d have to force his way through the wilderness and deal with any bandits or wild animals that might attack him. That doesn’t sound like a bum deal at all.

Murtagh grunted and crossed his arms. “Of course. Murtagh the pack animal. Murtagh the horse leader. I should have remembered that’s all I’m good for nowadays. Oh, and let’s not forget, every soldier in the Empire is searching for me now because you couldn’t defend yourself, and I had to go and save you. Yes, I suppose I’ll just follow your instructions and bring up the horses in the rear like a good servant.”

Eragon was bewildered by the sudden venom in Murtagh’s voice. “What’s wrong with you? I’m grateful for what you did.”

He’s so grateful he suggested abandoning his friend in the wilderness! What a guy. Murtagh’s just being so unreasonable.

“There’s no reason to be angry with me! I didn’t ask you to accompany me or to rescue me from Gil’ead. You chose that. I haven’t forced you to do anything.”

“Oh, not openly, no. What else could I do but help you with the Ra’zac? And then later, at Gil’ead, how could I have left with a clear conscience?”

Dude’s got a point. He’s pretty much single-handedly saved Eragon’s ass since the moment they met.

Also I’d like to point out that if Murtagh had left him in Gil’ead, Eragon would never have let it slide. He would have taken it as a betrayal. And that’s assuming that Saphira wouldn’t have threatened Murtagh into rescuing him** anyway.

“The problem with you,” said Murtagh, poking Eragon in the chest, “is that you’re so totally helpless you force everyone to take care of you!”

Murtagh’s usually touted as the character all the fangirls love, presumably because he’s an attractive angsty loner, but I like to think it’s because he actually calls Eragon out on his shit.

Eragon doesn’t like this one bit (truth hurts, doesn’t it?), and they get into a fistfight that ends when Saphira pins them to the ground and orders them to talk it out. Surprise surprise, Murtagh’s angry because he doesn’t want to go to the Varden. That’s the third time he’s told Eragon this, by the way, and it’s still not sinking in because Eragon can’t understand why anyone would want to avoid the Varden. He keeps needling Murtagh to tell him why (“Did you steal something from them? […] Did you kill someone important or bed the wrong woman?”), and even after Murtagh makes it clear that he doesn’t want to talk about it, he won’t take no for an answer.

After a minute he sighed. “It doesn’t matter why I’m in this predicament, but I can tell you that the Varden wouldn’t welcome me even if I came bearing the king’s head. Oh, they might greet me nicely enough and let me into their councils, but trust me? Never. And if I were to arrive under less fortuitous circumstances, like the present ones, they’d likely clap me in irons.”

“Won’t you tell me what this is about?” asked Eragon. “I’ve done things I’m not proud of, too, so it’s not as if I’m going to pass judgment.”

REMEMBER THIS, folks. It will be important later. (Especially in light of Eragon asking if he’s killed someone.)

Murtagh finally decides to tell Eragon why he won’t go to the Varden, but before he can get any further than mentioning his dad Saphira spots an army marching toward them. An army of Urgals, whose chieftain Murtagh has fought before. I told you they were celebrating too early! Now they have to take off again, and Murtagh’s stuck accompanying Eragon to the Varden’s doorstep.

Cats almighty, I’m so sick of reading about traveling. Can this part be over with already?

* Why is there only one resistance group anyway? Wouldn’t it make more sense for there to be small enclaves of resistance fighters, who may or may not be working in tandem? Instead of one big organization with a remote base, there should be a vast network of small cells, preferably made up of locals who can blend in. And now I want to read fantasy espionage.

** And let’s not forget that he rescued Eragon at great personal risk. There was already one guy in the city who had seen him and told the authorities about his presence there.

Memorable Quotes:

Her consciousness lured him closer, inviting him to submerge himself in the lyric strains of her blood. (pg. 339) I just… what? What is that even supposed to mean?

I’m sorry I’m always late with posts, folks. I’m working on one right now, but between working 10-13 hours a day and trying to get stuff done around the apartment, it’s not always easy to hammer out a post more than every two or three weeks.

In the meantime, you may be interested in some guest posts I did over at 50 Shades of Why, run by the ever-awesome Andrew. I was originally just going to snark the snippet he sent me for review and be done with it, but then for some unfathomable reason I decided I should read the entire book. Let’s just say that if I hadn’t been reading it on my Kindle, I would have set the damn thing on fire.