Thursday, June 5, 2014

My Eragon Review

For the lazy (mostly meaning myself, since I've been too lazy/busy with other stuff to post things), here's my review of Eragon from Goodreads. And boy, it's a bit of a dozy...


Recommended for: no one

I'll preface this review by saying my choice to give this 2 stars is based upon the fact that I reserve single star ratings for books that are so horrendously offensive to the literary craft that they incite an inhuman rage within me and make me want to gouge my eyes out. Yes, Eragon is a bad book, and it makes me angry, but I have read worse. This book angers me much in the way the Star Wars Prequels do, which is significantly less than how The Last Airbender movie angers me.

So while Paolini is not quite as bad a writer as others I have had the misfortune of reading, he still is a very poor writer. And at this point his age can no longer be used as an excuse since his skill has not improved over time with his subsequent sequels, and in some ways has gotten worse. But, this review is about Eragon specifically, so I'll stick with that for now. Honestly, he really had no excuse for the low quality of his writing when he had this published at 19, either. His writing can at best be compared to the average-to-slightly-higher quality stuff you find on Wattpad and Fictionpress written by 15-year-olds, and even though you can find the random oddly impressive story there, no one thinks that stuff is of publishing quality.

In fact, the novel reads so much like something straight off of Wattpad that I can't help but wonder if an editor even read it at all. I know that Paolini self-published it first, but you'd think once it went to an actual publishing house they'd put in the effort to edit the damn thing. The book suffers from an overindulgence in purple prose--likely Paolini's failed attempt to emulate Tolkein or other classic fantasy writers--which puffs up an otherwise lackluster fantasy world. Virtually all of the overwrought descriptions and melodramatic dialogue could've been cut or streamlined; not only would this have shortened this brick of a novel by half, but made the narrative much more palatable as well.

Another example of Paolini's literary ineptitude is his habit of telling rather than showing, something that most bad writers have a problem with. As explained above, the guy is in love with waxing poetic about minor details, but has major issues with describing majorly important ones, like what makes the bad guys so bad and the good guys so good. Ya know, the kind of thing that tends to be vital to this kind of "good vs. evil" story? Very few times throughout the novel do we actually get to see how eeeevil the empire is through its actions; for the most part, the citizens seem to be living in peace. We're constantly reminded by the narrative of how evil the empire is, though, because how else would we know to root for the Varden, the supposed good guys?

Seriously, how else would we know, because if we hadn't been informed that they were good, then their actions and reputation would suggest that they're nothing more than a vicious terrorist group out to destroy a prosperous nation. Since he has written himself into this conundrum, Paolini then takes the easy route to trick his readers into sympathizing with the terrorists: give the bad guys a stereotypical bad guy army (Nazgul and orc rip-offs and a creepy demon-possessed sorcerer) and give the good guys an army of sympathetic cliche fantasy races (humans, dwarves, and elves). This also has the unfortunate side effect of being mildly racist by including an exclusively eeeevil species in the Urgals (the orc rip-offs).

Paolini also has no problem with pulling a deus ex machina out of his ass when he has written himself into a corner. Eragon caught in an no-win scenario? No biggie, just have him randomly produce magic when he has no prior knowledge or skill! Seriously, that's literally what happens; he's fighting off mooks when he suddenly feels compelled to scream a random gibberish word, which JUST SO HAPPENS to be the magic word to produce fire. Even back when I first read this crap at age 12 and loved it I hated that scene! Eragon just somehow instinctively knew the word for an oh-so convenient spell in an obscure language he'd never heard spoken before in his life. This scene would've made a lot more sense if, say, Brom had started to teach him magic and Eragon was really struggling, then his huge momentous moment would be when he pulled through in the midst of battle and finally managed to produce fire. You'd think that Brom would've already been teaching him magic anyway, since using magic is such an important part of being a dragon rider and all and they don't have much time to be wasting, but I digress.

The most obvious problem with the story itself is its complete lack of originality. I know that there is literally nothing out there that is 100% purely original at this point, but that's no excuse for not even trying, Paolini! Countless angry reviewers have already said that Eragon is a Star Wars rip-off dressed up as Lord of the Rings, and I'm not going to say that they're wrong. However, I'm going to give Paolini some benefit of the doubt and speculate that the Star Wars parallels might have come about subconsciously. The book is kind of in that weird zone where it rides the line between rip-off and generic unoriginality. I have no real desire to look up personal information about the guy, but I’m willing to bet that as a kid he was a big Star Wars fan, or was at least pretty familiar with the basic story. And as he was trying to create his own original tale, these familiar plot elements influenced him in a significant way. At least, that’s my theory. Maybe some or all of the similarities were completely intentional, I don’t know.

The point is, deliberate or not, it’s still a clear sign of lack of originality and creativity. You can argue until you’re blue in the face that Eragon is a blatant rip-off of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Dragonriders of Pern, and so on, but at the end of the day it’s just a terribly generic fantasy story. And the reason for this is because every single aspect of the book is dependent on tropes and stereotypes that were created or codified by those earlier (and better) fantasy works.

It's cliche. The book is nothing but an endless parade of fantasy cliches, and its sequels aren't much better in that regard. And yes, while highly cliched fantasy can still be very entertaining and the Hero's Journey is a popular archetype for a reason, Paolini went about it all wrong. Instead of trying to use the fantasy tropes in new and creative ways or enhance them with something truly unique, what he did was pick and choose the most recognizable and reliable elements from popular fantasy and try to fit all these pieces together in a way that didn't quite work. The puzzle he tried to build falls apart because it has nothing original or remarkable to back it up.

This is where strong skills in worldbuilding would've come in handy, but Paolini's attempts at creating a rich fantasy world are inept at best. He has the basics of a generic medieval setting, but it falls flat by not having all the elements come together to create an engaging and interesting culture. The world doesn't feel whole and complete, and I couldn't immerse myself in it. A good fantasy world should draw you in and feel somewhat like a real place that the characters could live in. Hell, it shouldn't even need to be extremely original to do that much. But Paolini's world simply feels like a bunch of random set pieces for the characters to move between. We have a medieval fantasy kingdom which inexplicably has a huge desert in the middle, with a big elf forest to the north and some mountains where dwarves live. Ok... you going to build on that in any interesting way, or is it just variety or the sake of variety? Nothing about any of the cultural elements seem authentic, just kind of tacked onto his bland stock fantasy races in a half-hearted attempt worldbuilding.

I could go on for much longer, but I've already wasted enough of your time rambling on about the poor writing and lack of originality. I haven't even mentioned how dull, stupid, and unlikable most of the characters are, or the mind-boggling number of logical inconsistencies and plot holes. The book is riddled with so many of them that there's no way the plot should still be held together. So many things that happen in this book make no goddamn sense at all, and frankly I don't want to spend my time listing them because I'm getting cranky and some other reviewer has probably already done that for me.

I recommend this book to no one. Please, save your sanity. Go look up "Eragon Sporkings" and read that instead.

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