Children's Fantasy Literature

“Eragon” (The Inheritance Cycle, #1) by Christopher Paolini Book Review | The Sunday Review

After some downtime, the Sunday Review is back with a vengeance! Yes, we'll be looking at that classic in the realm of hatedom: Christopher Paolini's Eragon.

After some downtime, the Sunday Review is back with a vengeance! A … fairly gentle vengeance, but a vengeance. Today, we’ll be taking a look at something which is fairly nostalgic for me, and which holds a lot of weight as something to endlessly rant about. Yes, we’ll be looking at that classic in the realm of hatedom: Christopher Paolini’s Eragon.

It’s got swords. It’s got sorcery. It’s got elves and orc—um, I mean Urgals. This book, while widely loved by teenage boys and me before I became unbearably sarcastic, has become one of the internet’s biggest pet peeves. So what better book to welcome back the Sunday Review? Let’s take a look at this much-hated classic, and see if it deserves its reputation!

Oh! As he has before, the Nostalgia Critic (this is a nostalgic series for many, after all) will be helping me review this book in the form of reactions when I just have no words.


*rubs hands together* Let’s go, guys.


Title: Eragon
Series: The Inheritance Cycle
Author: Christopher Paolini
Published: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Genre: Fantasy (Sword and Sorcery)
My Rating: Dragon, but with an E

Amazon UK | Amazon US

Goodreads Synopsis

Eragon and the fledgling dragon must navigate the dangerous terrain and dark enemies of an empire ruled by a king whose evil knows no bounds. Can Eragon take up the mantle of the legendary Dragon Riders?

When Eragon finds a polished blue stone in the forest, he thinks it is the lucky discovery of a poor farm boy; perhaps it will buy his family meat for the winter. But when the stone brings a dragon hatchling, Eragon realizes he has stumbled upon a legacy nearly as old as the Empire itself. Overnight his simple life is shattered, and he is thrust into a perilous new world of destiny, magic, and power. With only an ancient sword and the advice of an old storyteller for guidance, Eragon and the fledgling dragon must navigate the dangerous terrain and dark enemies of an Empire ruled by a king whose evil knows no bounds. Can Eragon take up the mantle of the legendary Dragon Riders? The fate of the Empire may rest in his hands. . .


Reuse the GIF, reuse the joke. (Forever.)

You know what’s a good movie? Demolition Man. This nineties dick flick, containing just about every action cliché you could name, is without a doubt one of my favourite movies. In this film, John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone) and Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes) are both frozen as punishment after a hostage incident—Spartan because of unauthorised action, and Phoenix because of, you know, the hostages. Years later, Phoenix wakes up and starts to terrorise a time in which they’ve eradicated crime, but as a result become pretty crappy at stopping it. So, with the rebel Scraps causing havoc too, the cops bring in Spartan to help!

What’s so great—and fascinating—about Demolition Man is that it’s actually become more relevant with time, as it managed, quite by accident, to provide a commentary on internet culture. The police have ousted crime, but everything that’s bad for you such as unhealthy food, the exchange of bodily fluids via kissing/sex, and even swearing? That’s all outlawed. Meanwhile, the Scraps, rebelling and living in dirty underground anarchy, have gone too far in their resistance. And in a world where SJWs and 4Chan stereotypes are constantly at war, I can’t help but find that really interesting.

And the best part? Neither side is full stop the “bad” guy here. They both have their good and bad points, and the solution is in the compromise. And honestly, guys, I live for shit like this.

“But, Lizzie!” I hear you cry. “What the fuck does this have to do with Eragon?”

Well. Um. Nothing, really. I just really wish that I was talking about that movie today. Instead of this shit.

Eragon has made a bit of a name for itself, hasn’t it? Not only did it become hugely, ridiculously popular (which is how and why it made the move from self to traditionally published), but it also garnered quite the hatedom. Even Das Mervin and Company [archived blog] have taken a shot at it. And as I’m writing this, I realize that it makes it sound like Eragon has been done to death—so why am I covering it?

Because it’s interesting, that’s why. And I already did The Twilight Saga and Life and Death, right? Mate, I will beat the shit out of a dead horse.

Eragon is … It’s just your classic bad novel. That’s what makes it interesting to me. As a thing. It’s also your classic bad fantasy novel. Your classic bad children’s novel. And that’s all fascinating. So let’s you and me have a little chat about this one, eh?

And, yes. I know that Paolini was young when he wrote this. If you want my opinion, that doesn’t really matter. I’ll bring up Paolini when he’s relevant, but we’re looking at Eragon as a book. And a young author doesn’t make a bad book any better, it just contextualises some of that poor quality. And the first books I wrote were shit, but I’m never letting anybody read them. So maybe, if anything, it proves that he’s got bigger balls than I do.


Once Upon a Time…

Ah, yes. The plot.

Eragon is the (beginning of the) story of the eponymous orphan farm boy. While hunting where he shouldn’t be, Eragon (whose name is “dragon” with an “e,” which I’m sure took a great deal of creative cunning) discovers a dragon’s egg was basically put there by an elf named Arya to hide it from the evil King Galbatorix, who was portrayed so horribly in the movie that I sometimes still hear his voice in my head to this day.

When the egg hatches, out pops a dragon, Saphira, who Eragon raises until—oh no, disaster!—a bunch of Galbarotix’s cronies attack Eragon’s village and burn down his home, killing the uncle who raised him.

And so, Luke Eragon travels across space Alagaësia (umlauts are meant to do something other than look fantasy, Paolini) with doomed mentor Obi-Wan Brom and mysterious rogue Han Solo Murtagh in search of justice. But, as the first Jedi Dragon Rider in a long time, Luke Eragon must rescue Leia Arya—who’s spunky and can take care of herself, thank you very much—and defeat the Emperor King Galbatorix and his army of orcs Urgals.

Wait, that last one didn’t add up…

*claps hands together* But anyway!

Maybe I’m wrong, but the real selling point of this series would be Dragon Rider Eragon fighting King Galbatorix, correct? Well, we only really get into that when Eragon meets with the rebel Varden at Tronjheim, a dwarven realm. This happens about … seventy-five percent of the way through the book? (And none of these chapters are fucking numbered, like Paolini’s trying to make reviewers’ lives difficult.) If I’m honest, this was the first point at which I was actually interested in anything that was going on. The first three quarters? Kind of bored the shit out of me.

Before Tronjheim, Eragon is an adventure in walking. And talking. And, oh my god, TALKING. For the most part, it’s actually Paolini who won’t shut up, but more on that later.

Eragon is a collection of fantasy tropes and clichés, and it uses this fact to make itself … a collection of fantasy tropes and clichés. Okay, so, you’re not doing what you’re doing well if you bring nothing new to the table, and one of the ways to spice up a plot crammed with every trope you could possibly hope to squeeze out of your arse is to a spritz a fresh twist on them. (That wasn’t a Poopuri endorsement, but seriously have you seen that shit? There’s weird stuff on Amazon, my dudes, and I’ll leave you a clickable image if you wanna check it out.)

After Eragon decides to go on his revenge quest, a lot of what happens is Eragon, Brom, and Saphira just travelling. That’s it. Sure, yes, there’s the occasional bit of action and adventure, but 1) the writing style is so detached that these events don’t really grip me, and 2) it really is just a lot of walking to a location, describing it, setting up camp, and Brom expositing. Rinse and repeat.

After Eragon decides to go on his revenge quest, a lot of what happens is Eragon, Brom, and Saphira just travelling. That’s it. Sure, yes, there’s the occasional bit of action and adventure, but 1) the writing style is so detached that these events don’t really grip me, and 2) it really is just a lot of walking to a location, describing it, setting up camp, and Brom expositing. Rinse and repeat.

The interesting parts of this book are the beginning when Eragon finds and raises Saphira and the initial attacks happen, and the end, when he’s really training and a fucking epic battle takes place. This book is the definition of sagging middle syndrome. Sure, there’s a bunch of stuff in this book that is interesting—and a bunch of stuff that could be, if tweaked a little—but sadly in a lot of cases it’s weighed down and buried by … god, just everything else.

I did say that originality isn’t necessary if you’re unoriginal well, so let’s take a look at Eragon’s plot in this context.

Anyway. There’s no fresh twist in the Eragon plot. Nothing about the plot of this book surprised me. Nothing seemed like a new spin on an old trope. This is even true of the relationship between Eragon and Saphira. A telepathic connection between a human and a fantasy creature is nothing new. His Dark Materials did it better, to name just one series.

Oh, and there’s a romance subplot between Eragon and Arya that starts in this book. And that’s … really weird, because Arya spends a great deal of this book unconscious and tied to Saphira. That doesn’t stop Eragon from having creepy horny teenage boy thoughts about her, though, right? Of course it doesn’t!


A Heart of Solid Cardboard

Eragon has quite the … beige cast of characters. I described the main players while summarising the lack of plot. And I’m torn between saying that I could write essay upon essay about why these characters don’t work, and between making the joke that there’s so little to them that there’s nothing that I can really say.

But, I mean, it’s not like people don’t write about them in essays.

If one were, for example, to compile a concise list of archetypes and then apply that list to a book like Christopher Paolini’s Eragon, s(he) would be able to locate every listed archetype in that one particular text: Eragon is the Hero, Galbatorix is the Tragic Anti-hero, Murtagh is the Traitor, Nasuada is the Virgin, and Arya is the Temptress.  One could easily continue with this list and appropriately categorize every single character in Paolini’s text.  The fascinating thing about this scenario is that the archetypes existed prior to Paolini’s text yet, in categorizing his characters, one would apply the archetypes to the text rather than the text to the archetypes.  Since the archetypes existed prior to the text, it is only sensible to deduce that Paolini began with a set of predetermined archetypes and developed his text accordingly.

Here, inExploring the Intent and Ramifications of Spiritual Archetypes in Children’s Fantasy Literature, Stacey Freeman aptly points out that Eragon is full of character archetypes—you know, like everything else is. But I think that it’s a mistake to act like Paolini did this deliberately, in some act of creative brilliance.

It does come off like Paolini really loves a lot of popular culture, because of just how much of it he replicated in Eragon. And using something that you love to create something new of your own is one thing, but the characters in this book have the same problem that the plot does. They do nothing, nothing, nothing new.

Not one aspect of these characters or their development—which I would argue is, for the most part, pretty non-existent in this first book alone—surprised me. Even the bit that’s meant to be a twist regarding one of them isn’t, because that twist has to happen. And we know it does. Because he’s that character. Not his own character. That character. And because of this, because it’s not deliberate and subversive (seriously, you wanna tell me that fucking Eragon is subverting gender norms?) then everyone in this book comes off feeling kind of empty. They’re all cardboard cut-outs. They’re props.

Oh, and Brom dies. And that’s not a spoiler. Because he’s the mentor. And not killing the mentor would mean having to do something vaguely original, wouldn’t it? It would mean you hadn’t just used him as a tool that you could off into some quick motivation for your hero?

Yes, fiction that I like has killed off the mentor and it hasn’t bothered me. Fiction that I like killed off the mentor and they did it well. It actually meant something.

Since this review doesn’t have a section where I pick apart the writing in detail (it’s really long and the chapters aren’t numbers, okay? How many times do you want me to read this thing?), I’ll point out in this section that the characters’ dialogue is about as flat as it gets. There’s not a clear difference in the vocabulary, tone, or anything of the dialogue. All the characters sound pretty much the same, and they sound pretty much the same as the narration on top of that. In a description and narration heavy book such as this, it’s even more important that the dialogue pops. Like how music is just noise if you don’t change the note, a book is just noise if everything and everyone sounds the same.

Hey. Maybe that explains the strange ringing in my ears.

I could dip into more detail, but most of the characters can be covered by the same points. You can pretty much cover them by saying, “He’s Sauron,” or, “She’s Leia.” Or, in the case of Angela, “She makes me regret the existence of the medial temporal lobe.” In fact, the only character that I found interesting was Murtagh, but that might not be a good thing, as I liked him because I guessed immediately what character he was, and such characters are often my favourites.

Nevertheless, I can see myself trying to get a doctorate off the back of picking apart Eragon characters, so I’ll limit this review’s more detailed section to two of them: the protagonist, and the main antagonist.


Mary the … Oh, Look! It’s Gary the Stu!

We can put aside that Eragon’s le Chosen One, because who isn’t these days? Eragon is a Gary Stu. It’s a little harder to pin down in this book, though, because this is before he becomes a morally superior atheist vegetarian elf hybrid with his own YouTube single and—that joke would hold a lot more weight if I wasn’t an atheist and a vegetarian, wouldn’t it?

Eragon is just MAGICAL. Not only is he literally ~magic~ with conveniently strong access to magic real quick, but he also learns to fight with a sword faster than Wonder Woman saved my faith in the DCEU and Justice League destroyed it. He even surpasses Brom, who’s been doing this shit his whole life.

But, speaking of Wonder Woman, do you remember how long Diana had to train, even despite her power? How long Harry worked on producing his Patronus? But Eragon just waves a sword back and forth for a bit and he’s a master swordsman—better than a lifelong fighter.

And shit like this is a real shame, too. Readers care about the protagonist. We do. We want to see them succeed, and it means something to us when they put in a lot of effort and they do. If that success is just handed to them, you end up stealing part of the emotional connection that we might have with those characters.

Back on the subject of that magic, the way in which Eragon discovers that he’s able to use it is actually pretty ludicrous. The spell that he uses conjures fire with the use of the word “Brisingr.” He does hear Brom use it earlier in the book, but he assumes that it’s some swear word that he’s not familiar with. Then, while fighting, he shouts it and whoosh! Fire.

Okay. Yes. People do pick up the language and such of those around them, but, seriously? I had a boyfriend who liked to joke, “I’ll have you swearing in Urdu in no time,” but does that mean that after hearing him swear in Urdu on one fucking occasion I would start dropping that word into my speech? That’s not quite how that works. Eragon is fifteen years old. He’s old enough to know a few of his own swear words, right? If he was going to drop one, he’d drop one of them. But then how would it be appropriate? The poor kiddies.

And if you’re not convinced that Eragon is a Gary Stu just because he’s stronger, smarter, and better than all the lowly people around him, then let me say this:

At one point, after the group struggling to find a solution to their problem, Eragon does so by coming up with a plan that involves looking through shipping records. Eragon CAN’T FUCKING READ. And he’s a farmer. Not from a shipping town. Even if he lets the others read the records, how does he know what they are? This shit. This shit is why Eragon ends up such an arrogant asshole.

Saying that, there is one instance when Saphira becomes cocky about her ability and strength with flying, and as a result, she and Eragon end up in a lot of trouble. I liked this moment. I mean … a character flaw? Sweet. Feels a little desperate when I’m clinging to one instant of cockiness, but with Eragon being flatter than my comedy, I will take what I can fucking get. Thank you, Saphira.

And I can touch upon the fact that Eragon is a total sociopath, but again it’s harder with just this first book. He does cry, etc, so here the sense that he’s a little bit emotionally constipated comes from how detached the narrative is. It’s kind of the same problem that The Hunger Games has, where the way in which the narrative is delivered unintentionally makes it seem like Katniss doesn’t care about the kids dying around her in the child murder games, despite what we’re told. But this book itself isn’t so bad. We haven’t gotten to the infamous tooth scene yet so we can survive it.

I … more or less did.


It Is I … Whoever I Am!

This book made me realise a very likely potential problem when characterising a villain. I think we all know why horror writers often opt to leave the antagonist unseen and unknown. Fear of the unknown can be a really powerful thing. So, do you leave your villain in the shadows? Do you ruin the mystery by having him rock up midway through the story?

There’s a reason that Saruman is more memorable than Sauron, at least to me. And I think that Darth Vader lives in our memories, still having badass scenes in movies, while the Emperor … is a character. And—hey, look at me calling back to the film I discussed in the opening—in Vader’s case, the solution is in fact in the compromise. Vader is right in our face from minute one. But he’s got that mask on. He’s making those characteristic breathing noises. So, yeah. You can have it both ways. It might not be so much of a dilemma after all.

Galbatorix doesn’t exactly show up in this book. His evil acts are in part shown through the acts of his minions. Or, more likely, everyone’s just going to tell you how evil Galbatorix is. Because we all know how effective that is, right?

Actually, the thing that they seem to bitch about the most is the high taxes. I get why people would be mad about that, but high taxes aren’t inherently evil. Why is tax such a buzzword for evil overlords?

Having Galbatorix hide away in his lair while people exposit about how ~evil~ he is just isn’t that effective. He’s not a real character, a tangible obstacle to Eragon’s goal. He’s a funny name attached to weak exposition. And that would be fine, if one of the minor villains was set up as the major villains of this book, but honestly it just doesn’t read that way.

Please, Galby. I suffer without my multi-dimensional antagonist. Do not prolong my suffering.


Actually, Where Are We?

So far, I haven’t mentioned one of the obvious things about this book—the fact that it’s of the sword and sorcery genre—because I think that people might try to use it as a cop-out defence. “There are limitations to sword and sorcery! This stuff has to be in here!” And sure it does, but think of all the great things you can do.

Sword and sorcery is one of the genres that lends itself to awesome, memorable locations. Places that stick in people’s mind and they’ll always be able to describe. Think of the Shire. Rivendell. Mordor. We know what these places look like.

I couldn’t describe to you a single location in Alagaësia. They’re all generic non-locations. I think I could name two of them right now, if pressed. The only descriptions that I remember were of pretty cookie cutter medieval towns. And, no. I don’t think the difference is the Lord of the Rings movies, because there’s an Eragon movie too.

What makes this lack of visual identity more confusing is the fact that this book is over-described to shit. At one point, there’s an entire paragraph dedicated to describing the all the crap in Eragon’s room. And not one item ever becomes even a little bit relevant, even without his house being destroyed.

When writing an epic fantasy novel, part of the inherent aspect of the medium is that the novel is, you know, epic. If all your landscapes and towns are generic, are so very accurately medieval (which, Paolini has clearly done his research, especially in the area of weaponry) that there’s nothing to distinguish them from the real world, then what precisely about your setting is epic? Putting a dragon in my time would not, in fact, make my hometown itself any less generic.

(Burn on you, Bright.)

It’s epic fantasy, Paolini. Break the research mould. Live a little. You’ve shown us that you can be accurate. Now show us that you can use research to make something new.


In Conclusion, Or Something

Eragon might be generic, but it does its job. It does contain a story and characters that have resonated with a lot of younger readers. It got kids reading. And can I really begrudge people nostalgia?

Well, no, but that doesn’t mean that Eragon was good. The BS rule of “it’s for kids so it doesn’t matter is no more applicable to books than it is to movies, and that’s why this book has never gotten a pass from me.

I will say, though, that the Paolinis really knew how to promote a product. And man but promoting your own work is a tiring, tiring, nightmare. They did a great job of promoting this thing, and props to them for that. I don’t think that this book was a success by accident. It was a success by hard work.

Eragon isn’t bad, either. Except maybe for the creepy romance shit, but Eragon is a teenager, and so was Paolini when he wrote this, so of course it’s completely creepy. There’s a penis where their prefrontal cortex should be.

But, overall, it’s just generic. And people enjoy it, so cool. I’m glad. I just happen to think that it’s not that great. However, the first book in the series is far from the worst offender. In fact, I’d say that it’s probably the strongest of the four. I think that the series is bad, but this first book is … fine. Generic, but fine. And I have gone back and forth on it, but since I have to give it a rating now, it has managed to scrape the 2/5 “it was okay” rating, because I think it’s pretty inoffensive, and I’m not going to list it as on par with some of the other stuff that I’ve covered on this blog.

If you fancy a trip down memory lane, or an examination of the sword and sorcery genre, then why not revisit Eragon? I know I’m really sarcastic about it, but I do think that it taught me a lot.

As always, I’ll provide you with the links. Thank you for joining me!


UK: You can buy Eragon on Amazon UK or listen with Audible

US: And you can buy Eragon on Amazon US or get the audiobook (Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks)

Thanks for reading! Remember to follow me on Facebook and Twitter, and let me know if you’d like me to cover the rest of the Inheritance Cycle in the comments below!


6 comments on ““Eragon” (The Inheritance Cycle, #1) by Christopher Paolini Book Review | The Sunday Review

  1. I never made the connection between Star Wars and Eragon before this post. Star Wars is so much better. The only location I remember in Eragon is the trainstation which I think is at the beginning of the book. And I agree that the protagonists need to have short-falls as well as successes. The mastersword fighter is dumb. I liked the book but didn’t motivate me to read the rest.

    Liked by 1 person

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