Fiery dragons or smoke and mirrors?

Phillip Peacock

The second successor to Eragon, the popular young adult fantasy novel, came out Saturday, September 20. Brisingr, the third book written by Christopher Paolini since 2002, continues the story of the last of the legendary Riders and his dragon Saphira, as they aid the fight to liberate Alagaesia from the tyrant Galbatorix.

The book picks up immediately from the second installment, Eldest, with a dark and horrific show-down with the Ra’zac, Galbatorix’s ghostly minions who have been terrorizing the people of Carvahall. While this will draw the reader in, the pace quickly slows for about twelve chapters. It becomes apparent the story shows little change in scope and structure from the valid criticisms laid against previous books in the cycle. When the reader is not led off on trails of details that are not essential to the plot, they sit through parades of monologues, round-tables, and debates that last for nearly hundreds of pages. Yes, the writer pitches scores of colorful metaphors, but so many that almost half are complete fumbles. The enjoyable scenes drown in over-extended motive analysis and empty moralizing. It’s not that Paolini isn’t a writer – he’s just not equal to the category he is placed in by the marketing industry.

Fantasy suffers these days as the most clichéd and abused genre of fiction, mainly from the standards of what publishers will print. Back before Christopher Paolini’s debut, the movie Dragonheart spawned a trend of dragon fantasy that launched franchises such as Dinotopia and Dragon-riders of Pern, both immensely popular, and both with obvious features publishers pretend contribute to Paolini’s originality. Yet, in less than a decade since these series began, publishers have broadened the borders of youth and children’s fiction to equally broaden their profit margins. Debate still rages over the impact this has had on the quality of reading in our culture. In the case of Paolini, evaluations of the work for artistic merit contradict the advertising myths.

Brisingr continues the Inheritance cycle’s claim to fame as an epic tale, but fails to deliver.  We are subjected to completely random, pointless scenes involving spirits shaped like blow bubbles and a hermit Eragon just…leaves. The overriding plot is essentially a rip-off of Return of the Jedi, except that Oromis, the Yoda equivalent, is killed in a dragon-rider duel. This is one of the parts that could have saved the book, if it weren’t muddied into insignificance by Eragon fighting another shade, just like in the duel near the end of Eldest. The races – men, elves and dwarves – are clearly lifted from The Lord of the Rings, but are conveyed with utter insincerity, especially when Eragon disparages their religions like a true narcissist.

Characterization has not improved, particularly of the heroines. Nasuada, the new queen of the Varden, acts and talks like the flattest character ever to be the ruler of a realm. Katrina, now pregnant by Eragon’s half-brother, is an effusive, gushing damsel in distress. And Arya is still the worshipful elf-maiden who, when he has bested the bad-guys, “graces” the teenage hero with shy smiles. In the three years since his last book, Paolini has proved unable to rise above these sexually immature clichés, confusing heroic fiction with a shallow representation of the genre.

Of course, there are reasons why many have found Inheritance enjoyable, such as the weighty word craft that make you think the author knows what he’s doing. Nevertheless, if you are looking for a break from the stereotype in fantasy, Brisingr will leave you unsatisfied.