Book 4 of the Inheritance Cycle
By Christopher Paolini
A Review by Eric Allen
After the success of Eragon and Eldest, Christopher Paolini set to work on the final book of the Inheritance Trilogy. Unfortunately, for everyone involved, the outline he'd written for the third book wasn't going to fit in a single volume. He decided to split it in two. I have to question why, but I'll get into that later in the review. Now we've finally come to the end with the fourth and final book of the series. Was it a good ending? Well, to be blunt, no, it wasn't. The best I can say is that it IS the end.
I'm not really a fan of this series. I saw the movie and thought it was one of the worst things I'd ever seen. A friend of mine told me that the book was way different and much better. He was right on both counts, though I still didn't like it much. It was generic, not exceptionally well written, and it blatantly stole from Star Wars so much I had to wonder how Paolini didn't get sued for it. He uses some very awkward, repetative, and inappropriate wording in his imagery, and lingers on describing completely unimportant things as though they are the holy grail. One example from this book is something like three entire pages devoted to the fingernails of a character whose name we never even learn. Why am I still reading this series? Because Paolini, much to my regret, did make a villain compelling enough that I really wanted to see how he would be defeated. One thing I can say about him is that the quality of his writing does improve with each book. That is like saying of two hot pokers in the eye, one of them burns a little less, but at least he's improving his skills, such as they are. Also, you've really got to hand it to anyone that can so consistently steal from other, more creative people and call it his own work with a straight face. That takes balls my friend.
This book was both too long, and too short. That may seem rather paradoxical, but it's true. I would say that at least 70% of this book was padding that was completely irrelevant to the story, and the 30% that actually had anything to do with the story was so underdeveloped because of it that it felt rushed and unsatisfying. The padding made it far too long, and the lack of attention paid to the relevant plot elements makes it far to too short. It's neither a consistently good book, nor is it consistently bad. It does have some decent moments, albeit, most of them were shamelessly lifted directly from Star Wars, but if you're going to rip something off, it might as well be quality material.
Inheritance begins with several very one-sided battles that are full of Paolini telling us that there's tension rather than actually building it into the story. The Varden are taking cities from the King on their way toward Uru'Baen. Unfortunately, these are largely completely irrelevant to the story, and basically do nothing but add padding. When your heroes can literally walk over a city wall, wade through an army, waltz into the lord's stronghold, and intimidate the soldiers there simply by the power of their own awesomeness rather than having to fight them, and come out on the other side with little more than a few scratches that they instantly magically heal, what's the point? They're never in anything resembling peril, and that makes these battle scenes extremely boring. I equate the first 300 pages or so of this book to shining a laser pointer in front of a cat, or jingling keys over a baby. It adds nothing to the story, but entertains the easily amused. It feels very Michael Bay-ish. Explosions do not equal a well thought out story, and neither do one-sided battles where there is litterally not one ounce of tension, because the characters are so much stronger than the ones that they are fighting. These sorts of things may dazzle those who don't care about anything deeper than pointless action, like anyone who claims to be a Michael Bay fan, but they'll leave everyone else feeling cheated.
One such battle involves Roran riding a horse halfway across the kingdom to win a battle in less than a week. Why? What was the point to that? It served no purpose to the plot, the city wasn't anywhere near where the characters were headed, obviously, and Roran did not grow as a character during this excursion. After winning, he just went right back to the main army where he was to begin with, having learned nothing, and not having been strengthened by his ordeal. We didn't see any new sides of him, and the entire thing is mentioned in passing maybe twice during the rest of the book. Why? Why did we need to spend 100+ pages on this? We didn't, because it was completely irrelevant to the plot. The only thing of note that happens in the first 300 pages is the acquisition of the completely unpronouncable Spear of Dues Ex Machina, which could very easily have been obtained at Dras-Leona, leaving this entire beginning out all together. Or better yet, not at all, allowing the characters to use their own strength to triumph in the end rather than relying on magical artifacts that basically fall out of the freaking sky into their hands.
After that considerably bloated section of filler, the book's actual plot begins with the siege of Dras-Leona, where Murtagh and Thorn have arrived in defense. As the Varden wait outside the walls, Eragon trains against the elves with his sword, and with the disembodied Dragon Glaedr in strengthening his mind, basically relearning things he has spent the last two books learning. A lot of nothing interesting happens, and then a way into the city is found.
In comparison to the rest of the book, the conquest of Dras-Leona is a relatively well done, and exciting diversion from the hundreds of pages of meh yet to come. A few horrors befall those sent inside to open the gates, placing characters that were basically gods in the first 300 pages in real mortal peril, and the battle itself is rather entertaining if you can turn your brain off for most of it and just roll with Paolini's complete lack of skill in writing action scenes. Pointless gore does not make an action scene exciting, especially if it is not realistic, serving no real purpose except to distract from the fact that there's no real skill put into crafting a compelling battle scene full of tension and horror. It sets the Varden up to strike at the very heart of the kingdom, Uru'Baen, where Galbatorix sits waiting for their arrival.
The defeated Murtagh attacks in the night after the victory and kidnaps Nasuada, leader of the Varden, taking her back to be personally questioned and tortured by the king, in another extremely long and irrelevant plotline that ultimately leads nowhere. Again, why? Why do we need 100+ pages of Nasuada, a relatively MINOR character being tortured? What does this add to the story? I could see if maybe she turned to the figurative dark side, or if she pretended to so she could betray the king at the most opportune moment, giving Eragon the chance he needs to defeat him. But no, she is bound and gagged during the entire final confrontation, contributing nothing except a sudden case of Damsel in Distress Syndrome. Eragon didn't even realize she was there at first. Why was so much time and attention paid to a completely irrelevant subplot like this when there were elements of the actual story that needed so much more fleshing out?
Following the business model of the Underpants Gnomes, Eragon becomes the leader of the Varden because ... and leaves to go hunting down a prophecy that may hold the key to defeating the king. This is another part of the story that, in comparison to the rest, is relatively well done. Eragon flies to the old stronghold of the Riders, seeing for himself the grandeur that was, and the ruin left by their fall. There's quite a bit of history given, and some decent character development. However, it feels very rushed, and they find a treasure trove of dues ex machina, that basically gives Eragon the ability to stand up to the king without really trying very hard to find a way to defeat or outsmart him. Again, why was so much of this book spent on irrelevant filler, when this part was in dire need of fleshing out?
Eragon races to Uru'Baen and the final battle begins. He enters the city with some elves whilst the army attacks the walls, drawing the defenders. They then sneak past many rather silly traps. The final confrontation is very unsatisfying and rather abrupt. Rather than outsmarting, converting, or utterly destroying the antagonist on his own strength, Eragon relies on the strength of others and literally pulls the solution to defeating the king right out of his ass on the spot without a single prior word or thought on the method. We saw him continuously worry about how to beat the king, but he never actually comes up with any real ideas, so when he does it on the fly, and drawing heavily upon the strength and knowledge of others, instead of his own, it feels as though we're being cheated. Eragon is not developed well enough as a character for Paolini to pull this off believably. Four books have built up to this moment, and it was completely ruined because he doesn't ever show us any hints of spontaneous brilliance, such as it is, in Eragon's character beforehand. He basically became a different character entirely for a few seconds in order to defeat Galbatorix
The book then spends far too long tying up every. Single. Loose. End. Imaginable. And it is EXTREMELY boring. Yes, your ending should tie up loose ends, but really, some of these should have been addressed earlier in the story so you don't have them all dumped at the end in a jumble that's frankly a chore to read through, and also, I don't know about you, but I actually kind of enjoy when some loose ends are left. It gives you something to ponder over when all is said and done. This ending also heavily steals directly from Return of the King, so badly, in fact, that Tolkien must be rolling in his grave. And there is a huge difference in storytelling here as well. Where Paolini made sure that every single loose end imaginable was addressed in the actual book, making it hugely boring, and a complete waste of a reader's time, Tolkien left most of that junk for the appendices, where a reader didn't actually have to read them, or could skim through and find the specific afterward event that he or she was curious about.
The Good? There were some passably good moments in this book, the events leading up to the battle of Dras-Leona, and the battle itself were ok, as was the trip to the ruined city of the Riders. Although my like of these sections of the book may be largely based on comparing them to the rest of the book, rather than on them actually being good. They really stand out amongst the rest of the book as they are both relevant to the plot, and by the time they rolled around I was literally screaming for ANYTHING relevant. Paolini, as an author, has made some very big steps in developing his talents since his first book, and this one is almost passably adequate, if not for all of the irrelevant filler. In this book, he did seem to actually try taking a few steps away from his shameless stealing from other more talented authors, and the book was much better for it. Though he did return to it in force by the end. He could almost be considered a decent writer if he'd only just put some effort into coming up with his own ideas for stories.
The Bad? The amount of time spent on story arcs for minor characters that ultimately lead nowhere is extremely annoying. The core story needs a vast amount of further developing, and instead of doing so, Paolini wasted hundreds of pages on Nasuada's storyline, which dead-ends in no actual payoff, and Glaedr's storyline about overcoming depression and coming to terms with his new life as an inanimate object. Did we really need this? No. These are minor characters that really don't play a very large part in, or contribute terribly much to, the story, and to spend so much time on them when there were more important things that didn't get the attention they needed was just plain stupid.
The ugly? Filler. I don't think I've ever seen an author spend so much time of a book this massive spinning his wheels on storylines that had no point at all to the actual story. And in this case, I'm not blaming the author. When he outlined this book he was fifteen years old. The one the blame really falls to is the editor. I listened to the audiobook while at work, and there is an interview at the end between the editor and Paolini, in which she makes incredibly clear that she did not do her job on this book AT ALL. Rather than sending this unfinished mess back to the author with notes saying 70% of this is irrelevant and needs to be dropped completely or developed further to the point that it is relevant, she basically spent the entire time squeeing over it like an excited fangirl. She's probably a Michael Bay fan too. The job of the editor is basically to coax the absolute best out of the writer. They are the ones that understand the mechanics of storytelling and grammar, and tell the writer what work still needs to be done. She failed at that spectacularly. This book is unfinished, and rather than pointing it out to the author like she was supposed to, this idiot encouraged more of it. She dropped the ball so badly that she should be fired on the spot.
If 70% of the book is completely irrelevant to the plot, and can be cut out without even changing the rest of the book to make up for the absence, it's incomplete. It needs to be cut. Everything up to the siege of Dras-Leona can be completely dropped without missing a single thing of importance, the entire storylines about Glaedr and Nasuada can be dropped without missing a single thing of importance, and almost everything after Eragon visits Brom's grave, and more than a few things before, can also be dropped without missing a single thing of importance. The fault of this is partly on the author for not really knowing how to lay out a proper storyline where everything is relevant, but the vast majority of the blame lies on the editor. She came at it as a fan, rather than as a professional. She should have sent it back saying to drop all of the irrelevance, and develop the rest of the plot to the point that the reliance on dues ex machina for the climax is minimal to none.
The final book of the trilogy was split in two, Brisingr and Inheritance. Why? Brisingr suffered from some of the same problems of irrelevance that Inheritance did. If everything I mentioned above was dropped from Inheritance, and the 300 page long tangent about the dwarf king in Brisingr had been dropped as it was ultimately pointless as well, this would have fit very easily into one novel. To make matters worse, he broke one of the ten commandments of writing in the previous book, which was a MAJOR problem in this one. Thou shalt not make thine villain so powerful that he cannot be defeated. Again, where was the editor. This is a huge flaw that should have been pointed out and fixed before the third book was even published. Now, there is literally no way AT ALL, that Eragon can triumph without resorting to dues ex machina and plot convenience. He did not learn and grow as a character until the point that he could defeat Galbatorix on his own merits. He used a very large stepping stool provided by others, pulled a baseball bat out of his ass, and hit the king over the head with it when he wasn't looking.
The entire climax of this book is a complete failure that steals heavily from Return of the Jedi. Plus it takes place closer to the middle of the book than the end. Again, Paolini seems to have completely missed the entire point of the source material that he is ripping off. The duel at the end of Jedi was more about the talking, the temptation, the taunting, with occasional clashes of lightsabers as punctuation to the emotion, climaxing when Luke loses his temper and just starts wailing on Vader, leading him to the realization that he could, in fact, become like his father. This makes his final defiance of the emperor, tossing his weapon aside, all the more powerful, because he's felt the power that could be his if he joined the dark side of the force. This is a poorly xeroxed copy, with none of the meaning or emotion behind it, and no true victory over the enemy, only a hollow shell of one. There's nothing to tempt Eragon. The King keeps saying "join me" and Eragon keeps saying "no". It's meaningless, because there is no attempt by either side at temptation. He hasn't seen the power that could be his, he hasn't felt it flowing through him, he hasn't almost let it consume him and pulled back at the last possible moment in defiance.
One thing I hate when authors do is they will have a character start explaining something and say "ok, this is what I'm going to do..." and then skip the rest of the conversation, leaving the reader in the dark on what is about to happen. It's a crap transitional element that no one should ever use in any medium EVER. Paolini did it at least four times AFTER THE FREAKING CLIMAX OF THE BOOK when there was really no need WHATSOEVER to withhold any information from the reader. He did it several times earlier in the book too. In fact, he did it so many times that I was literally yelling at the audiobook narrator by the end over it. Why? Why would you withold information like that, ESPECIALLY when you go on to reveal it almost immediately afterward. That's just lazy, pointless, and annoying storytelling in the guise of trying to be clever.
In conclusion, this book suffers heavily from an editor that didn't do her job, and a writer with no concept of relevance. It is an ending to the series, and some people might call it good, though I think a lot more are going to call it bad. Most of this book is just Paolini jingling his keys at his readers, and really should have been cut or developed to the point that it actually was relevant to the plot. I think he felt he had to add filler to this book because there wasn't enough of the story left to make a full book after the split, but honestly, had he developed the areas of the story that needed it fully, rather than wasting his time with filler, this would have been a much better, if a little shorter, book. It's not the length that counts, it's the story. If it's told well, a great story can be finished in a page, rather than hundreds.
I'm giving this book two stars, because there were some genuinely entertaining moments in it, but they are bogged down by hundreds of pages of completely irrelevant crap that should have been cut. Paolini is steadily improving as an author, and if he ever decides to stop shamelessly stealing from other authors and figures out how to properly use imagery and metaphors, he might make a decent writer of himself someday. When 70% of the book can be completely removed without changing a single word in the rest with nobody noticing it, there is a huge problem that needs a great deal of addressing before the book is ready for publication. Shame on the editor for not seeing past her fandom to the fact that this book needed massive amounts of work still. Someone needs to sit her down and explain to her what, exactly, her job is, because she certainly isn't doing it.
The best thing I can say about this series is THANK GOD IT'S OVER!!! I didn't completely hate it, but I wouldn't say I liked it either.