Book Review – Eldest by Christopher Paolini

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“If any honour existed in war, he concluded, it was in fighting to protect others from harm.”

Eldest, the second book in the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini series starts off more or less from the point where Eragon (reviewed here) was concluded – after the terrible battle with the Urgals that was waged under Farthen Dûr, Eragon is left to grapple with the merciless wound that the Shade Durza inflicted on him before he finally slayed him. After having just saved the rebel state from destruction by the evil forces of King Galbatorix, Eragon and his dragon Saphira must now travel to Ellesméra – the elven capital, to receive training in the ancient language and swordsmanship and learn the arcane secrets of spell-weaving. It is the journey of a lifetime, each day a fresh adventure. But chaos and betrayal plague him at every turn and Eragon isn’t sure whom he can trust.

The Varden are in a fix – with their current leader Ajihad dead, they must choose a new leader to carry forward their effort to bring down the empire while also strengthening their own forces and securing enough provisions to sustain themselves. Meanwhile, it falls upon Eragon’s cousin Roran to protect their village of Carvahall from the Ra’zac who have come back to terrorize the locals in order to lure Eragon back. How will he ensure the safety of the villagers and his love – Katrina, amidst accusing voices and enemies far more powerful than he can imagine?

I am glad to say that Eldest has continued to live up to the precedent set forth by the previous book Eragon. Paolini has beautifully carried forward the tale by revealing many more interesting bits of information about the world of Alagaësia and it’s history, besides introducing a bunch of new characters who were only mentioned in Eragon; and  also given a captivating description of new places such as Ellesméra and Surda. I savoured each and every line of the book and took my own sweet time with it.

I was blown with the descriptions about Ellesméra- it’s such a beautiful place to live in, with verdant green forests and homes built in trees and what not. But as much as reading about the new stuff was a delight to my imaginative senses, the book doesn’t contribute much to the actual plot, a major chunk of the 660-page “tome” being devoted to giving detail-by-detail description about each and every aspect of the lives of the dwarves and the elves. Strangely, the structure of this book mirrors that of its predecessor – a long journey being undertaken by Eragon (thankfully not attacked by Urgals this time), being graciously received in a capital city of another race of beings, undergoing training to hone his skills and an inconclusive battle at the end. Just like the battle under Farthen Dûr in the previous book, a battle is waged between the Empire and the Warden and nothing really came out of it.

There were three separate threads in the whole plot – that of Eragon’s adventures in Ellesméra, Roran’s hardships in Carvahall and and the Varden’s planning in Surda, a kingdom to the south independent of Galbatorix. It was a welcome change from the previous book which followed a linear narrative solely centered on Eragon. Just before and during the battle, the three threads  converge, with Roran also joining in the battle and killing the treacherous Twins. The reunion scene between Eragon and Roran lacked substance – neither of them felt either awkward or glad at seeing each other after so many months.

I was half expecting to have at least one chapter, if not an entire thread, from the point of view of Galbatorix himself. So far in the two books, he’s just mentioned as a threat to the empire who must be eliminated at any cost and his machinations are told to the reader through other characters. I would look forward to reading about Urû’baen, Galbatorix and his court in the next book.

As for Saphira, she’s the epitome of a confidante and companion one can vouch for. She’s probably the only one who understands Eragon pretty well, always by his side (sometimes it irks Eragon as he’d rather be alone if he’s with Arya) and spurring him into action when all else fails. I love it when Saphira calls Eragon “little one” , making their bond a really intimate one.

If you are a fan of dragons and if you liked Eragon, then this book won’t disappoint you. Despite some of the aforementioned shortcomings, I liked the book overall and would like to go through some of the lore-related parts again. It conveys themes that are relevant even in the actual world such as believing in the cause one fights for, holding onto one’s beliefs even in the face of adversity and not hesitating to expressing your love and adoration towards someone whom you’ve come to care for.

“Fathers, mothers, brothers, cousins, thought Eragon. It all comes down to family.

In the end,I leave you with the below verse by Blagden, Queen Islanzadi’s pet raven who has a rather saucy tongue:

Dragons, like Wagons,
Have Tongues.
Dragons, like flagons,
Have necks.
But while two hold beer,
The other eats deer!

This part made be giggle 😛

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