If you are reading this I hope it is safe to assume that you have read the previous three parts to this essay, and that by now you are aware that this document will contain spoilers. As I mentioned at the end of part three of this essay, anticipation for Book Four was very high on the forums and in the shurtugal.com community. I and thousands of other fans were eager to discuss and theorize how the various promises and expectations left to be fulfilled would be met in the concluding book of the series, and in addition to reviewing Inheritance itself in this essay I will also discuss what some of my expectations were leading up to the release of book four, how and when they were met, exceeded, or in some cases, where the story perhaps fell short. After that I will share my final conclusions and reactions to The Inheritance Cycle, and what the series has meant to me.
During this waiting period there was plenty of material to sift through and discuss. Forum topics in the years awaiting the release of Inheritance included: who the Green Rider would be, whether or not Eragon and Arya would get together, what was in the Vault of Souls, what Brom’s seven words were, whether or not Glaedr would get over his grief for Oromis’ death, what was the fee taken from Eragon by the Menoa tree, who would become the King or Queen of the Empire after Galbatorix’s death, whether or not Murtagh would be able to change his true name, whether or not we would ever learn more about Angela the Herbalist, whether or not Galbatorix would fly out and lay waste to the Varden (as had been suggested so many times as to be expected to only be a matter of time), what would cause Eragon and Saphira to leave Alagesia, and of course there were tons of questions about the final resolutions for all the characters and great speculation as to how Eragon might actually defeat Galbatorix.
I felt some of these questions had been so obviously foreshadowed that there could only be one answer. In my mind Arya was the only real candidate to be the new Rider. I wasn’t sure if Eragon and Arya would get together but I hoped they would. I had no idea what was in the Vault of Souls, but because of the promises laid out at the end of Brisingr I expected that it wasn’t Eldunari and that it would of course help Eragon and Saphira defeat Galbatorix. I thought Murtagh would change his name and that he would do it because of love for Nasuada (which was foreshadowed twice from both Murtagh and Nasuada earlier in the series). I thought Nasuada would become Queen. I was sure Glaedr would get over his grief (otherwise why give Eragon his Eldunari?). I was also pretty sure Galbatorix would finally fly out on Shruikan and largely destroy the Varden and/or the Elven army. I was pretty sure Christopher Paolini would keep leading us on with tidbits about Angela but that we would never get any satisfactory answers about her (he has said in interviews that he enjoyed teasing his readers with information with no intention of giving answers to some of the questions raised. This is an aspect of his writing that I despise; I don’t like my emotions being played with for someone else’s amusement).
It was with high hopes and these expectations on my mind that at 1:23pm on November 8, 2011 I spent most of my weekly grocery budget to pick up Inheritance off a display at Wal Mart (Don’t judge me. There was no bookstore in the tiny college town I lived in at the time). By 8pm the next day (I went to class) I had finished. My initial reaction was… complicated. There were several unexpected and pleasant twists, several awesome and powerful scenes, several moments of dissatisfaction, and one crippling problem that I felt cast a black spot on the satisfying resolution of the series. After waiting so long to see the series through to its conclusion, after having my hopes so high, despite what I knew were the plentiful flaws and occasional disappointments of the earlier books in the series, I really, really, wanted Inheritance to be as good as I hoped it would be. But, after finishing it for the first time the feeling that predominated was a sense of disappointment.
I gave the book to my roommate and asked him to read it and tell me what he thought (he had read the previous three books in the series, but not as recently as I had). I got online and started reading the forum posts from people who were finishing it and posting their initial reactions. I was not surprised to find that I was not alone. This is it? Really? were the comments that seemed to touch upon my own feelings. Everyone seemed to agree that their were some things they really liked, but only one or two fans I interacted with said that it had lived up to all their hopes and expectations. My roommate finished it over the weekend and told me that it was “pretty good, I guess.” We later discussed it in more detail and found disappointment in a lot of the same moments.
Now, let’s be reasonable. Its perfectly possible (and highly likely) that I and the rest of the fan community had raised our hopes and dreams for the book to an unreasonable level. After all, Christopher Paolini is only a mortal man writing a book. As readers we knew that Inheritance could never please or satisfy everybody, but one common bond of the Inheritance Cycle fan community that I have rarely found elsewhere was such a deep love for the books. Everyone wanted Inheritance to be the best book ever written. They wanted their favorite characters in this wonderful world to have a spectacular finale. To me it seemed that as Christopher wrote the book we weren’t in a hurry for it because we were the hungry-hungry-hippos of epic fantasy fans (I’m looking at you Rothfuss fans. I love them too just keep your pants on, quit whining, and let him do the job right), but because his love for the series was so palpable when he talked about it, and because we shared that love with him and couldn’t wait to enjoy it too. We were more like fellow fans hanging out with the ultimate fan, and we all loved the series and wanted it to succeed. That’s why the disappointment with book four was so poignant. That’s why my feelings were mixed and why I’ve had such a hard time defining my ultimate reaction to the Inheritance Cycle as a whole, and why I’ve written an 18,000 word essay trying to put my thoughts into words and find out.
I pondered this a lot and at length I think I found the reason behind this phenomena. I think this unusual relationship and reaction of fans to the author is because of the way Eragon was marketed. They made such a huge deal of the fact that Christopher had written the book when he was fifteen, and that this was a book written by a young person for young people. This made Christopher feel like one of us and helped us feel like we were like him, instead of having a more typical separation of audience to creator. This excited readers. This inspired people. It inspired me. When I first had the idea to write my own story (which I related back in Part 1) I still thought that there was something “special” about authors that made them different from normal people. One of the things that gave me courage to start writing my own stories was enjoying this series and thinking: “Well, Christopher Paolini was the same age I am now when he wrote Eragon. If he can do it, why can’t I?” This made it all the more painful when the conclusion of the series left me with such disappointment.
Now lets dive into the review and discussion of Inheritance itself. I’ve said that there were things I loved, hated, and were surprised by when reading the book for the first time. Lets get specific. The book begins in media res with Eragon and the Varden fighting to secure Belatona, one of the few remaining imperial cities under Galbatorix’s control. Right off the bat I was happy we didn’t need to read about the setup for this battle because it basically would have been identical to the set up for Feinster and the Burning Plains in the previous two books. Christopher Paolini rightly recognized the needlessness of that, and gets us right into the book where we need to be: moving forward against Galbatorix. One comment I have about this battle and the war in general is that in a real medieval or similar type military campaign most cities would fall as the result of a siege, assaults being far bloodier and riskier for the attacker. Every city that falls during this war does so as the result of an assault, which may be somewhat unrealistic due to the logistical, tactical, and strategic difficulties of capturing fortified cities. Christopher Paolini does correctly draw attention to the difficulties of supply and resources for an army in the field, but having five fortifed cities fall to assaults in a period of a few months seems doubtfully realistic to me. At the very least I can’t think of any historical precedent where this has actually happened.
Within a few short pages of battle two significant things happen. One, Eragon’s companion elves which have for the entirety of the last book were Blodgharm’s nameless companions suddenly start having names, which to me was a clear indicator that one or more of them are going to die soon. Unfortunately subtlety of foreshadowing has only occasionally been demonstrated in Christopher Paolini’s writing. Second, the reader is first introduced to the
spear of deus ex machina, or, in the ancient language, the dauthdaert. This happens when the imperial soldiers and magicians attempt to use it to kill Saphira. A dauthdaert is a magical spear made by the elves in ages past during their war against the dragons. It is enchanted with properties that help it break through wards and otherwise wreak gruesome death on dragons. This is horrible foreshadowing because we have never heard of these fancy spear things before (when there were good opportunities in Eldest to slip it in), and conveniently, we are expecting Eragon to have to kill a dragon later on in this book. At this point in the battle Roran is nearly killed, and other then him turning out to be alive nothing of great significance occurs before the battle of Belatona is finished.
After this an alliance is formed between the werecats and the Varden, a development that I knew was coming after it was teased in the deluxe edition of Brisingr. I didn’t particularly care for it. A few pages later (P.36 hardback) Eragon and Saphira pause after the battle to eat roast-pork belly, and strangely, after all the fuss made in the last two books, absolutely nothing is said about Eragon’s aversion to eating meat. Also, on the same page Saphira quotes Gollum from the Lord of the Rings:Two Towers movie.
The story continues as the army begins making its way north toward Dras Leona. Elain, a kindly pregnant woman from Carvahall, finally has her baby and there is some very interesting interracial conflict stuff going on here where humans are expressing their distrust of elves. I wasn’t expecting this when I first read the book and found it fairly confusing. Despite the comments about Urgal culture and conflict in Brisingr and Eldest (which I thought were just interesting tidbits added to get Eragon to become more mature and quit being racist) I did not at all expect one of the big surprises that Christopher Paolini had in store near the end of the novel. On re reading these moments of interracial conflict are pretty clearly foreshadowing the need for this event to take place. I liked them better reading Inheritance the second time around than on my first impression.
On P. 91 as the Varden are slowly trundling towards Dras Leona Eragon begins a series of sword fighting sparring sessions with the elves. After Brom, Arya, and Oromis establish and mention Eragon’s exceptional skill with the blade, this felt really repetitive and regressive for Eragon to be dealing with something as trite as his sword fighting skill when the obvious challenge ahead, based on the promises at the end of Brisingr, was in using his brains to figure out a way to get past Galbatorix’s wards and overcome his Eldunari. Were I in Eragon’s situation I would be wracking my brains constantly and learning everything I could about Galbatorix to try to understand him and try to think of a way to defeat him, much the way Harry Potter and his friends spend a lot of time in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows agonizing over the possible locations of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’s Horcruxes, and how to find and destroy them and then defeat the Dark Lord. When comparing the two books the problems facing the heroes against their respective nemeses are surprisingly similar at this juncture. What Eragon is doing here is like Harry Potter suddenly deciding the only way he can beat Voldemort is to spend day and night practicing his dueling skills, even when he already knows the horcruxes are his weakness. Even though these scenes later leads to Glaedr teaching Eragon a lesson that does indeed prove valuable against Galbatorix and Murtagh, when you read it here it doesn’t make sense.
Also during this segment with the Varden on P.109 Angela the Herbalist tells a silly story and makes a Monty Python reference. Nothing like cheap humor to maintain the mood when your hero is about to face off against the most evil villain on the planet. There is also a minor canon issue when on P. 118 a man is describing his dislike of elves and says: “there’s not a one of them that can’t use magic.” In Eldest Oromis directly contradicts this by saying that not all elves can use magic, but as I mentioned in an earlier part of this essay we never actually meet a magic-less elf. Its also possible that Christopher Paolini could explain this away by saying that the man is ignorant. Whether or not that’s the case I just think its worth bringing attention to.
At this point the viewpoint characters split up. Roran takes a few men and races to Aroughs because the Varden allegedly have it under siege (with fewer than 1,000 men) and Nasuada wants him to end the siege in like three or four days. Besides being a strategic nightmare and a sick joke for any commander to assign to someone, its the perfect set up for yet another Ridiculous Roran moment. Yay? After arriving Roran comes up with another harebrained scheme to use the canal system and a barge loaded with flour and slate as an improvised battering ram to breach the city’s fortifications and capture it. This is just as hard to believe as any of the Ridiculous Roran moments earlier in the series, only this time a few more obvious and believable solution presents itself without terrible difficulty. A few ideas that came to my mind 1) break the siege. The force inside Aroughs really wasn’t large enough to be a major threat to a fortified Surdan city, a couple hundred cavalry could easily keep an eye on them and check any incursions into Surdan territory for as long as necessary, and, if all else failed, Eragon and Saphira could fly south and lay waste to their city in a day or two. 2) Pull some sort of sneaky ninja night time incursion. If Roran took a small, handpicked force they could probably scale the wall with grappling hooks or something and sneak into the main fort at night with no greater difficulty than they did in the early morning raid as it is narrated in the novel. If they could have captured and held Aroughs’ lord hostage it would have been a small matter to get the city to capitulate. Or if not they could have just killed him and they would have been deprived of leadership. 3) It is never satisfactorily explained why Carn can’t just use the words of death to slowly pick off soldiers or citizens in the city. It would be impossible for the lone enemy magician to ward everybody, and after killing a few soldiers and possibly innocents perhaps that could have turned the populace against their own soldiers just to get the Varden to leave them alone. Who knows? Any of these idea just seemed more reasonable than this Ridiculous Roran moment, which on top of being being an unbelievable feat is made even less believable by Nasuada’s ridiculous time limit.
Things continue apace at Dras Leona. Which is to say that Galbatorix used too many rare candies on Thorn so now he just loafs around instead of using his flamethrower attack. At long last the stalemate is broken when Eragon, one his newly-named elf buddies, and Angela and Solembum enter a secret tunnel into Dras Leona that was discovered by Jeod. This leads to a very long side altercation where the elf is killed, Eragon and Arya get captured and we find out that priests of Helgrind actually worship the Ra’zac. Angela pulls some ridiculous stunts to save Eragon and Arya, including a spell that either gives her super speed or manipulates time, (which she naturally doesn’t share with anyone who’s planning to fight Galbatorix anytime soon). After they get free of the catacombs Saphira attacks the city and wrecks the Cathedral (very cool scene), which gives Eragon time enough to run to the gates and drain Aren’s energy reserves to blow them open so the Varden can attack. When that happens a lot of theories go out the window as to how Eragon will have energy to resist Galbatorix long enough to beat him when they finally face off in battle (question never answered: did Islanzadi’s elves recover Naegling? The crystal in the sword was also a vast reserve of energy that after being lost I and many other fans assumed Eragon would be able to tap into for the battle with Galbatorix). This victory is soured when the night after the battle Murtagh attacks and kidnaps Nasuada, sending everything to crap.
Up until this point the action scenes in the book had been pretty good, but a lot of the plot things going on were odd, unexpected, or lame. Many fans on the forums considered all of the sword fighting scenes, Roran’s trip and battle at Aroughs, and the birth scene of Elain’s baby utterly plot less and a waste of pages. My criticism doesn’t go that far, but I was really confused why we were 300 or so pages into the novel and Eragon hadn’t even spared a thought for how to defeat Galbatorix, and the only developments we had seen on that front were Glaedr starting to wake up and the discovery of the spear of deus ex machina(which happened on page 11). Meanwhile we were reading silly and stupid things like Ridiculous Roran goes to Aroughs, Angela nonsense, Gollum, Doctor Who (p. 389), and Monty Python references, and the “story seeds” for possible future novels in Alagaesia that are so far off on the horizon that it was maddening for words to be wasted on them when this story was in dire need of a rescue.
The army of the Varden begins their trek to Uru Baen and Eragon decides to ignore his new responsibilities as leader of the Varden when with Glaedr, Arya, and Solembum’s help he finally learns that the Rock of Kuthian was on
t̶h̶e̶ ̶o̶n̶l̶y̶ ̶p̶l̶a̶c̶e̶ ̶l̶e̶f̶t̶ ̶o̶n̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶m̶a̶p̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶v̶i̶s̶i̶t̶ Vroengard. He leaves the army behind and begins the long flight north to the ancient habitation of the Dragon Riders.
These travel scenes with Eragon are staggered with Nasuada viewpoints where she is being interrogated and later tortured by Galbatorix. Murtagh also befriends her and confides in her his wretched state and helps Nasuada endure some of Galbatorix’s torment. They recognize their feelings of mutual attraction and Murtagh promises to try and devise a way to help Nasuada escape. During these interrogations Galbatorix brings up the overpowered nature of magicians in Alagaesia, and tells Nasuada about his plans to control them using the name of the ancient language. Interestingly, Nasuada and Galbatorix connect on this issue and agree that magicians can’t be allowed to exist outside of the rule of law. Galbatorix just doesn’t include himself in that assessment.
After the frequency of the action and political scenes since the start of Inheritance I found it refreshing to read about Eragon and Saphira returning to the old Inheritance Cycle standby of introspective travel scenes. A couple pages later, as Eragon and Saphira are flying Glaedr tells them the very cool story of how Oromis and Glaedr were captured and battled with two members of the Forsworn simultaneously. They eventually escape, but not without Glaedr and Oromis both being inflicted with the debilitating injuries we met them with. After Glaedr tells the tale their journey continues into a scene that was regularly lambasted (with mint sauce) on the forums but which I contrariwise consider it the most beautiful and best written scene in the entire Inheritance Cycle. It begins on P. 478 of Inheritance. Read it slowly, visualize it in your minds eye, and enjoy one of Christopher Paolini’s finest passages. Immediately following they arrive on Vroengard. Eragon and Saphira take awhile in introspective reflection before discovering their true names in the ancient language, which they need to know so they can enter the Vault of Souls. I thought this sequence was fairly well done, but it didn’t hit me nearly as poignantly as the flying scene. Once they enter the Vault of Souls this great writing is left behind and overshadowed by the greatest storytelling error of the entire series: the hidden trove of Eldunari in the Vault of Souls.
In several episodes of the Writing Excuses podcast and in other books and articles on writing writers such as Brandon Sanderson (author of Mistborn and other awesome fantasy works) discuss the nature of what makes an emotionally compelling story. Brandon Sanderson says that the emotional satisfaction a reader finds in a story comes from the making and fulfilling of promises by an author to a reader as they read the book. Eragon comes to a satisfying conclusion because Christopher Paolini makes dozens of small promises that were later fulfilled. These promises are fulfilled either by having a foreshadowed future event take place, or by a future revelation of information by the end of the book and/or series. In hindsight and after multiple re reads these become much easier to spot. The following is a short list of promises I noticed during my series re read preparing to write this essay: (all page numbers come from hardback Eragon) P.48 Brom coming to Carvahall had something to do with Eragon’s birth. P.50 Eragon, like his namesake, is the first of a new age of Dragon Riders who will impact the world. P.52 Brom has a mysterious past, some people think he is dead. P. 52 Being a Dragon Rider will change Eragon and his life– perhaps in some ways unpleasantly. P.67 Galbatorix and his minions are scary and to be taken seriously etc. When you know what to look for these things become fairly easy to see.
As I mentioned in Part 3 of this essay Oromis states that it is “inconceivable that any great store of Eldunari might by lying hidden somewhere, ready to help us if we could but locate them.” on P. 431 of Inheritance Eragon asks Glaedr if the Vault of Souls could contain Eldunari and the elder dragon says: “No, it is impossible.” Now, Christopher Paolini does a perfectly adequate job of using internal magic of the story with the Eldunari’s power and the tampering with names and memories to explain away this “red herring” statement as I’m sure he sees it. Nevertheless, this is a horrible storytelling error because it breaks a promise that was made to the reader: that Eragon would need to defeat Galbatorix using his brains, without the use of eldunari to enhance his power to any great height. As any one who has ever broken a promise knows, you can’t just explain it away and expect everything to come out all right. Christopher Paolini promised his readers that whatever was in the Vault of Souls would help Eragon and Saphira defeat Galbatorix, and that it wouldn’t be Eldunari. He broke his promise and lost my trust. This above anything else marred the satisfactory conclusion to the book and the series.
On the other hand, the second revelation of dragon eggs in the Vault of Souls was both surprising, exciting, and satisfactory in its explanation as to how they got there. The eggs can’t specifically help Eragon defeat Galbatorix, but it does provide a major hope for the future of their race that was quite dim with only 4 dragons left in the world. That was good storytelling.
How very contradictory. Honestly, even if like 5 Eldunari were in the vault to guard the eggs, it would have been believable and if it hadn’t been the only helpful thing in the Vault it would not have broken the promise in such a huge way.
After this Eragon, Saphira, and his shiny new Eldunari fly back to Uru Baen where the Varden and the elves have linked up and are preparing to attack. Eragon has a brief but tender moment where he wants to share is true name with Arya. She tells him the story about how she learned her own true name, which would be really cool if it didn’t violate canon in Eragon (page 147 hardback) where Brom says that “elves know their true names instinctively.” Sigh.
As the Varden prepare to attack suddenly there is a pretty crazy moment where Shruikan flies out of the city and circles around a bit…. only to turn around and fly back inside. I’m not sure what this was supposed to do but it turns out to be Shruikan’s finest moment, which is pretty disappointing.
At long last, the final battle is about to begin. During the waiting period while Inheritance was being written I was one among only a few forum contributors who discussed real ideas about how Eragon and Saphira might actually defeat Galbatorix. The field was pretty wide open with possibilities here, all we really knew was that however the mad king was defeated it would have to be good, and explained fantastically well. When contributing my own ideas on how Galbatorix would be defeated I approached brainstorming by asking myself who most deserved to kill Galbatorix. My list came out something like this: 1. Shruikan, 2. Murtagh and Thorn, 3. His Eldunari slaves. 4. Various dead people 5. Eragon and Saphira.
For this reason my theory was a group effort that would go something like this: I assumed Murtagh would be plotting and coming up with ideas to hurt Galbatorix almost constantly, just in case he was able to change his true name he would need a way to hurt or occupy Galbatorix in order to escape. I guessed that Murtagh’s true name would change and then he would cast a spell to occupy Galbatorix and/or remove some of his wards, (I was pleasantly surprised when this part was fairly close to how the book turned out). This would then allow Eragon to attack. I guessed that he would cast a spell that would break the enchantments binding Shruikan to Galbatorix (because this is an indirect way to attack, and hard to really defend against). This would cause Galbatorix to go crazy reliving the worst moment of his life when his first dragon died and he went mad from the severance of the life-bond with his partner (with how consuming Glaedr’s grief and anger was at the start of this book I thought it encouraged the possibility of Eragon attacking this way). In Eldest when Oromis teaches Eragon the secret of drawing energy from living things he tells Eragon that he doesn’t think Galbatorix knows this secret of magic, in my mind therefore opening up a pathway to use it against him. I thought after Shruikan was free he would let Eragon into his mind and Eragon would use energy from Shruikan, Saphira, Naegling, Brisingr’s sapphire, the belt of Beloth the Wise, Glaedr, Aren, and maybe even from Galbatorix’s own Eldunari (if possible) to fuel an attack. With Galbatorix going crazy he would lose control of some of his Eldunari and Eragon would be able to overpower him or at least weaken him long enough for Shruikan to eat Galbatorix or something. I also thought it would be cool if Shruikan died doing something noble to save Saphira’s life and therefore the future of the dragons. Also, I assumed that there would of course be a crazy aerial dragon duel in the air above Uru Baen while the armies clashed below. The lack of that part at least, was a huge disappointment.
The reality of the encounter when the book was finally released had some similarities to my theory, and also a lot of differences. The first time I read Inheritance I was disappointed with how the encounter went, but after I let the books rest for a year and re read them I found the encounter more satisfying the second time around.
First though, Eragon and his strike team had to break into Galbatorix’s citadel under cover of the elves diversion. The threat of having to break through a hundred years of ingenious traps and magical defenses in the fortress was a pretty cool opportunity for Christopher Paolini to raise the stakes by showing some of Galbatorix’s creativity. I found the traps disappointing. In my opinion they were far less interesting than the traps in any of the Indiana Jones movies. Using Elva to overcome them was expected, and I was both surprised and pleased with how her character arc humbled her in the fourth book. It made her a lot more likeable and added some depth to her character.
While Eragon and his strike team are breaking into the citadel we see the battle outside through Roran’s viewpoint. The early parts of this battle were well-written and cool, and I enjoyed the action. It was especially awesome to see all the races of Alagaesia united and working together against the Empire. Later on when Barst comes out I found the sequence growing increasingly lame, especially when Islanzadi was killed (which violates canon in Eragon’s Guide to Alagaesia). Then we have the final Ridiculous Roran moment where he organizes the plan to overwhelm Barst’s wards and try to shatter the Eldunari. I thought the plan was a good one. It is ridiculous because when Roran gets to the physical fight he succeeds where Islanzadi and dozens of elves failed. On the bright side, at least he comes out horribly mangled.
Eragon, Arya, Saphira and Elva make it past the traps and magicians into Galbatorix’s throne room only to fall for the cheapest, most stupid trick in the universe. The evil genius mastermind of evil really couldn’t think of a better way to force Eragon’s hand than to threaten a couple little kids? Nasuada was right there, he could have threatened her just as easily and with Eragon’s sworn oath that would have added a fascinating conflicting element of motivation for him and Murtagh. Galbatorix could have even threatened to destroy the Green Dragon egg and kill Thorn (if his true name hadn’t changed, Murtagh wouldn’t have even been able to stop him from doing it!) Their memories of the eggs in the Vault were erased. How much stronger a motivation would that have been for Eragon and Saphira (while making the reader scream because they know something our heroes don’t)? The green egg could have been destroyed (wouldn’t THAT have been a surprise?) and Thorn killed and Saphira and Eragon could kill Galbatorix and Shruikan and still consider the encounter a total failure only to later have their memory restored and realize all wasn’t lost. What a powerful moment that could have been! Sorry little kids, this reviewer is a sadist and thinks the heroes of this fantasy epic had come way, way too far to stop their attack when all they gained was the possibility of saving two more lives when we can’t even begin to guess the body count that was already at this madman’s feet. No matter what happened the kid’s deaths would have been Galbatorix’s fault. Eragon and Arya shouldn’t have caved so easily.
After Galbatorix forces them to capitulate we have an almost identical scene to Return of the Jedi when the Emperor makes Vader and Luke fight. I half expected Galbatorix to say “I’m afraid this citadel is quite operational…” and order the death ray to fire. Instead he just says: “outside, the battle fares badly for your friends.” Just like Emperor Palpatine. Murtagh and Eragon then duel with their
l̶i̶g̶h̶t̶s̶a̶b̶e̶r̶s̶ colorful indestructible swords, and then they wound each other and Eragon sort of wins. After that everybody attacks Galbatorix and Shruikan together and the fighting goes back and forth for a bit. Shruikan is attacked by Thorn and Saphira. He basically just shakes his head and is mad until Arya stabs him in the face with the spear of deus ex machina. He dies ( in my mind what a wasted opportunity). Shruikan was a twisted and fascinating character with so much potential and he ends up as nothing more than exotic transportation for the bad guy who stays home. The battle continues and Eragon casts a spell that tries to communicate with Galbatorix and make him understand how much everything he has done has hurt people. Since this isn’t exactly the sort of attack you can ward against, the spell is effective and after a bit more fighting Galbatorix goes nuts and uses a spell to basically nuke himself and the end the voices in his head. So, at long last, ends the reign of Galbatorix. Like I said above, the first time I read Inheritance I wasn’t pleased with this encounter. The second time I found it more emotionally satisfying than before, mostly because I read it more slowly and noticed a few small things more closely (and was less distracted by cliches and Star Wars similarities and just tried to focus on the story).
The main reason I found this final showdown dissatisfying is because Eragon doesn’t follow Brom’s advice to use his brains and find Galbatorix’s weakness. When he casts the spell it comes across as instinctive and spontaneous, like when dragons use magic. He also never uses Brom’s Seven Words. For being called the Inheritance Cycle it is pretty lame that all Eragon does with his inheritance from his father is blow a gate open and ignore the rest. When asked in an interview after book four came out about Brom’s Seven words Christopher Paolini made some comment about how Eragon has a long life ahead of him and the time he may most need those words might not have happened yet. My response: if an epic battle with the Evil Lord of Evil who has ruled his empire with an iron fist for a century and toppled the mightiest force for good the world has ever known doesn’t qualify as a time of “great need” (P. 275 hardback Eragon) in your life then what does? I’ll also immediately counter a possible argument and note that in my mind its out of character and therefore inconceivable that Brom’s advice wouldn’t have had something to do with toppling Galbatorix. It seems to me that like a few other points of canon Christopher Paolini seems to have forgotten about it (which is easier to do than it sounds because the writer has been immersed in ALL the drafts of the manuscript, and may easily mix something up that was one way in an early draft, but got cut or changed in the final). Either that or he ignored it, which strikes me as unlikely.
After the immediate aftermath of the battle is concluded the story then makes a very awkward viewpoint shift. I don’t know of a better way to wrap things up, but after having the entire series in tight, real-time third person limited stepping back to a broader scope viewpoint is jarring. The final hundred or so pages have a couple cool surprises and a few lame things. The first surprise is Eragon instituting an Olympics-like thing between Urgals and Dwarves to try and end some of the conflict between the Urgals and everybody else. I didn’t see this coming and thought it was a pretty cool solution to a problem that I just assumed Alagaesia was stuck with. The coolest surprise is Eragon changing the Pact made between elves, humans, and dragons to include all the races of Alagesia. This change in the world creates a much friendlier symmetry to the balance of things as they have been in the series as we know it. I didn’t see this coming at all, and I thought it was an awesome thing to include in the book.
Other major points of character, plot, and world resolution were handled well in most cases. Nasuada as queen made the most sense. After giving us so much reason to dislike Orrin in this book the astute reader could see this coming from a mile away. After Islanzadi’s death I expected Lord Dathedr to become king (he was mentioned a lot, enough for you to not get a chance to forget him). I thought Arya becoming queen was pretty lame, even though it most fits the theme of inheritance. I thought Firnen and his relationship with Saphira was tacked on and unexciting. The first time I read the book I disliked that Eragon and Arya weren’t together, but the second time around I picked up on some subtle r things that suggest to me that they may very well end up being together in some future state. Near the end of the book particularly Arya is a lot more affectionate with Eragon than we have ever seen her before. Roran, Elva, Murtagh, Sloan, and Jeod’s resolutions were fine. Angela has no resolution, she just makes another Doctor Who reference (P. 814). Eragon’s reason for leaving Alagaesia was adequate (as long as we assume that even with The Word he couldn’t have just cleaned up Vroengard), but hardly had the drama I expected as the result of his triple-prophetic-cursed state. The only thing left largely unresolved and dissatisfying is with Nasuada and her concerns about policing the magic users. The problem here lies in the worldbuilding of Alagesia more than in anything Christopher Paolini wrote in Inheritance. A magic system that lets people take over other peoples minds and kill them with practically no effort is bound to mess up your world and your story a bit.
I think that’s everything I have to say about Inheritance itself. I hope after reading the review section you better understand what I meant at the beginning of Part 4 when I said my original reaction was predominantly disappointment. After letting the book cool for a year, the re read yielded more satisfaction than the first time through, but Inheritance still has plenty of ‘warts and all’ to its name. As does the series. Having read and liked the trilogy and then cycle for years before growing up and out of the ideal target audience age group, I have enjoyed a varied perspective and relationship with these books. I think my interest in writing has only broadened and enriched my ability to appreciate the diamonds as well as identify the rough. I hope that this essay has been able to convey some of my appreciation, and some of what I’ve learned from the series as both a warning and an inspiration.
I’ve often wondered what I might say if I ever had a chance to meet Christopher Paolini face to face and talk about his books with him. Unless he reads this someday (which I highly doubt) he wouldn’t have any idea how many tiny and nit picky things I found a reason to complain about, and I wouldn’t want to ruin the conversation by bringing them up. He wrote the outline at fifteen and after Eragon was published had no choice but to live with the consequences of the decisions he had made for the next decade of his career. He knows the flaws, he knows the weaknesses. I know because as each book came out a lot of the previous ones were done away with. The adverb problem that plagued Eragon was dead and buried by Brisingr. This is awesome because he gets better with each book, which is all a writer and his readers can ask for. If I were to ever meet Christopher Paolini I would ask him to sign my books, and then I would thank him for inspiring and helping me in my journey to become a writer. I would also want to thank him for the hours and hours of enjoyment I got reading, and afterward imagining and thinking about his characters and world. If I could think of it in the moment, I would like to ask how he came to make various storytelling decisions, to pick his brain and see how the process works for him, so I could learn from it and improve my own writing. I would ask a lot of questions about how to handle various challenges of writing as a craft and how to turn a hobby into a career. I would probably try to think of a question about his life and interests, maybe something that he might like to talk about instead of just answering fan’s questions all the time. I don’t know. Its an imaginary conversation, and I have no idea if I’ll ever get to have a real one, but I still think my primary feeling would be appreciation.
As far as quality of craft and art and contribution to the genre, lets face it: these books are just okay. They became a fad read like Twilight and The Da Vinci Code that sold disproportionally well in comparison to the quality of the writing. It happens. From some perspectives these books are good, and they certainly have great moments, but there are a lot of problems to make them less than amazing. In Stephen King’s On Writing he talks about the importance of reading both good and bad books, for the value of learning that can be gained if you know what to look for. I have learned a ton from the Inheritance Cycle, and that alone has made it worth their space on the shelf, at least for me. Will I read Christopher Paolini’s next book? Yes. I’m going to get it from the library. I’ll give him a chance and see what he can do with a 30 year-old’s outline and fifteen years of writing experience behind him. If its amazing, I might even buy it and read the one after that. If it has as many or some of the same problems as Inheritance? Well, in that case I’m going to turn the page to other writers and other stories. Life is too short to settle for mediocre books. Lets get reading.