Into the sky, to win or die

Written by Sharad Raghavan | Updated: Nov 20 2011, 07:51am hrs
Christopher Paolini has made a great addition to the fantasy genre of writing, arguably popularised first by JRR Tolkien and his epic trilogy Lord of the Rings. Paolinis latest book, Inheritance, concludes his four-volume series, now taking its place among the greats in no uncertain manner.

To begin by placing the Inheritance Cycle in its generic context, the good vs evil theme is dominant here just as in say the Harry Potter series, where a darkest of wizards squares off against a child who

only gradually grows into a remarkable character. LOTR has a malevolent demi-god being taken on by a hobbit, who has no special powers other than his great determination. From David Eddings Belgariad and Mallorean series to Terry Goodkinds Sword of Truth series, this idea of a seemingly all-powerful villain vs an underdog good guy, upon whom the weight of the world has been thrust, prevails.

The Inheritance Cycle is no exception, with a young and orphaned farm boy Eragon having to take on the might of a centuries-old magician king Galbatorix.

Eragon is brave, willing to go further than any of the other hunters of his village in search of game. Its on one of these hunting trips that he finds a large blue stone just sitting there in the wilderness, in a ring of fire. Thinking it valuable, Eragon takes it home. Soon enough, the stone hatches and out comes a baby dragon, when all the dragons are thought to have been killed centuries ago. This small blue dragon bonds with Eragon immediately, making him the first Dragon Rider since Galbatorix betrayed and killed all the rest.

The dragons that Paolini has created are neither evil nor brainless beasts, as in LOTR or Harry Potter. Paolinis dragons are magnificent, highly intelligent, regal in bearing, and growing in size as well as power through their lives. Between dragon and rider, there is a mental link that allows a sharing of thoughts, emotions and the energy required to use magic. Paolini describes dragons vividlySaphira has glittering iridescent scales, gleaming teeth and massive wings. Even before the first book was made into a movie, readers were able to picture her clearly. But back to the story. When Galbatorix discovers that theres another rider in the land, he sends his minions to capture him (Yes, yes there are many shades of LOTR and Harry Potter here). Eragon flees with a fledgling Saphira to the only place they can go to be safe from Galbatorixs empire: the Varden, a small group of fighters resisting Galbatorix. As the fight against the empire gathers steam, Eragon and Saphira go from strength to strength, with Eragon mastering the sword and growing more powerful magically and Saphira growing in size and knowledge.

Paolinis writing style and his storys scope is such that there are several important characters. But instead of seeing them all from Eragons point of view, were treated to unique points of view for all the supporting characters, including Saphiras. Getting something like this right is extremely difficult, with the attempt usually ending up with all the characters sounding the same, with homogeneous thought processes. But Paolini passes this test with flying colours. Readers really get to understand the characters, how they think and what drives them. Eragon himself goes through various transitions, from a clumsy farm boy to becoming Eragon Shadeslayer, winning many battles, becoming more confident in his powers, simultaneously finding out how much more there is to learn, yet feeling he never will be ready to face Galbatorix, who has had centuries to augment his powers. But he must.

Inheritance is a fitting culmination to the series and, in my opinion, Paolinis best book yet. The war against Galbatorix has begun and the forces of the Varden are on his doorstep. Eragon, powerful as he has become, is still a child in front of Galbatorixs power, and has to find a way to even the odds or all is lost. As Ive mentioned before, Paolinis strength lies in his descriptions, but what really makes this book stand out is the sense of urgency it instills in the readers. You find your heart racing during the battle scenes, when Eragon and Saphira have to face off against Murtagh and Thorn, a rider and dragon enslaved by Galbatrix (theres a lot more to Murtagh, but Ill leave it to Paolini to explain what it is). And the actual dread you feel when Galbatorix makes his entry on stagefor the first time in the whole seriesis palpable. After hyping him up as the most powerful magician in the world, and the man who killed all the previous Dragon Riders, it would have been easy for the first time we come across him to be a letdown. But it isnt.

It is also all too easy for a series such as this to become one-sided, portraying only the point of view of the heroes. Not so in Inheritance. Galbatorix gets a chance to explain his side of things, why he feels he has actually been a good king and why the Dragon Riders had to be ousted. What is remarkable about Paolinis writing is that Galbatorixs arguments almost seem convincing, swaying your belief that hes absolutely evil. Its as if his magic is so powerful it jumps out of the words and compels you. By contrast, even Tolkien portrayed Sauron as absolutely evil, without any layers in his motivation to rule the world. JK Rowling, admittedly, did try to flesh out Voldemorts history, but with limited success.

Finally, the hallmark of a good story is that the reader is left satisfied yet still hungering for more, a need Rowling tried to address with her epilogue. The LOTR series had a sense of this, with readers clamouring for more information on what happens after Frodo leaves Middle Earth for good. Of course Tolkien believed that there are some things in a story that must

remain a mystery, even to the writer himself. In LOTRs case, this mystery was in the form of Tom Bombadil, the immensely powerful hermit Frodo meets on his way to a rendezvous with Gandalf. In the Inheritance Cycle, that character is the herbalist and magician Angela. Theres so much about her that hints at a colourful pastfrom the weapon she wields to how she seems to know everything that is going on and why the werecat Solembum is so loyal to her. But thats all they remain: hints. In the acknowledgements at the end of the book, Paolini apologises to the reader for not providing more information on Angela, but also says that he cant give away all his secrets. Paolini says that given what he has invested in the series, he will be coming back to it. And just like Rowling, he has left himself ample room to do this.


Christopher Paolini

Doubleday Children's

R 699

Pp 880