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Monday, May 18, 2020

A Child of Elvish

Oh boy. I've been looking forward to reading Nancy Varian Berberick's A Child of Elvish for quite some time now.  And unfortunately it did not live up to my expectations at all.

A Child of Elvish takes place some months after The Jewels of Elvish. Nikia is pregnant, and the pregnancy is going well, but there are doubts from Garth and their fathers as to who the child's father is thanks to Reynarth.  Meanwhile, the land continues to sicken and die from the Sorcerer's magics.  While Mannish lands are the hardest hit, this sickness is spreading eastward to Elvish lands, despite the Elvish mages' attempts to hold it off.  In the middle of it all, an Elvish hunter-scout (Kicva) and a Mannish farmer-turned-soldier (Joze) find Islief of the First People, who brings them to his Lady (the ghost of the long-dead queen Aeylin, or Ylin to the Mannish).  She tells them that she can heal the land using the power of the Emerald (sister-jewel to the ruby of Guyaire), but she needs Nikia's unborn child to do so.

I don't like saying this, but I thought this book was an absolute mess.  Where The Jewels of Elvish had a much tighter plot and only a few point of view characters, A Child of Elvish was all over the place.  The books starts out following Kicva and Joze for quite a while (this was largely pretty boring because a lot of it was kind of a recap of the first book).  Then just when it's getting interesting, it abruptly switches to Dail in Citadel.  From there it jumps around from person to person (including to some super random characters like Mother Ina, the nursemaid of Fenyan's son, who has POV for a single scene for no real reason).  It even hit a point where I wondered if we'd ever get back to Kicva, Joze, and Islief! 

I also felt like the world itself had changed; while the basic trappings were the same, some of the deeper worldbuilding, especially around Elvish magic and beliefs, felt different.  Elvish magic was now built on prayers to their gods and goddesses, and their seven deities were suddenly loudly worshiped everywhere (the deities were all pairs: both a god and goddess together made one); in The Jewels of Elvish, I remember Nikia only mentioning her family's chosen deities who were honoured on her wedding cup (and she didn't invoke them through prayer when casting her small magics).

While I struggled to get through the majority of this book (I considered just stopping at multiple points because I honestly just didn't care about what was happening), there were two good things: Islief, and the book's ending (before the prologue).  Islief was a super fun character.  He was the last of his race, cursed to remain alive because centuries ago he stole the crown with the Jewels of Elvish for Aeylin; he would only be able to pass on once those wrongs were righted.  Islief remained deep within his mountain home for untold centuries, but journeyed out to help Aeylin's ghost right their past wrongs.  Because he had been so long away from the rest of the world, he delighted in everything he saw above (but also sorrowed deeply for the dying lands).  He also had a wonderful relationship with Joze (who he called Tall) because Joze, like him, felt everything so deeply.

The ending of the book was also really good.  One of the Elvish king's mages had been tasked with finding the Emerald and bringing it back to the Elvish in order to heal the lands.  Somewhere along the way, the Elvish mage's task gets wrapped up in his dreams of power and wielding the Emerald himself.  Joze and Kicva arrive in the chamber with the Crown to try to stop him, but he loses himself to the magic and is destroyed.  Joze, who is dying of the plague (he had been denying it, but Mage Aidan saw the truth of it in him in the end), insists that Kicva bring the Emerald to Nikia and her baby (she'd had the baby by this point, named Gai by Garth for happiness and gaiety).  Gai, with the ghost of Aeylin and Dail's help (for balance of male and female), heal the world.  Islief goes to return the Emerald to the Crown, and finds Joze not quite dead yet; keeping his promise to the young man (one I had long forgotten, truth be told), Islief gives his strength to Joze in the hopes that he can overcome the plague, and in doing so, passes on to be reunited with his people.

While it isn't something that I "liked," per se, I also need to mention Garth.  I felt so sorry for him throughout this book.  Garth wanted nothing to do with kingship or ruling, wanting to just be off hunting and enjoying the company of his friends and family.  But in A Child of Elvish, he gets maneuvered into being the Regent (his father, heartbroken by Fenyan's loss, abdicates in favour of his grandson, but as the child is very young, he needs someone to rule in his stead).  This is at a time when the lands are dying and plague is hitting the people.  Some of the lords of Mannish provinces (including Karo, the other grandfather of the young King) have also, in their desperation, decided that the treaty between Elvish and Mannish should be broken since the Elvish lands are as yet untouched by the Sorcerer's spells (and they don't appreciate the Elvish "scraps" they have been given).  Garth is dealing with impossible situations (plus the uncertainty of whether Nikia's child is actually his), and it hurt to see this good man so trapped by them.  I was also sad for his death in the middle of all this, even though I saw it coming (part way through the book, Nikia suddenly realized that while she respected and liked Garth, it was Dail who she actually loved; Garth's death meant that Nikia and Dail could be together, especially since Dail, as cousin of the Prince, would also be in line for the throne should everyone else be dead....)

So while there were some things I did really like in this book, overall I really struggled with reading A Child of Elvish.  It was all the more disappointing since I had long been looking forward to reading it. :(

Thursday, May 14, 2020

The Jewels of Elvish

I first read The Jewels of Elvish a long time ago.  I don't remember when exactly, but it was before I started this blog (and I believe before I read Eragon the first time, because I remembered far less of this book than that one).  I don't remember why exactly I picked it up (it may have been because I read The Lioness, another book by Nancy Varian Berberick which I quite liked and read before starting this blog).  I remember, at the time, loving The Jewels of Elvish.  I discovered there was a second book, A Child of Elvish.  It took me many years to find myself a copy.  Of course, at that point, I knew I'd have to reread The Jewels of Elvish so I could remember what happened before moving onto the sequel.  Getting around to rereading it also took me years (like with finishing the Inheritance Cycle, Jacob's Ladder, and the Jeremiah Hunt trilogy).

With the looming threat of the Sorcerer, an ancient foe who was defeated many years ago, reappearing, the Kingdoms of Mannish and Elvish have decided to forge a peace treaty between their two races, who have been warring for generations.  As part of that treaty, the Elvish princess Nikia is wed to the Mannish prince Garth.  Nikia is also presented with the Ruby of Guyaire, the symbol of Elvish rule, by her father.

Sent with only her loyal handmaiden, Lizbet, to live in the Mannish Citadel, an alien place made of stone (unlike the familiar wood of her people's buildings), Nikia struggles to find her place in her new home among the Mannish.  She slowly makes friends, first with her sister by marriage, Gweneth (the wife of crown prince Fenyan, Garth's older brother), and then with Dail, Master of Bards and Garth's cousin, and finds her place as Lady of the Bards, tasked by Garth's father to create new songs to inspire everyone in the wake of the Sorcerer's incursions into their lands.  But she also fights terrible prejudice, as many Mannish mistrust the Elvish thanks to the long years of animosity between the two people. 

But when war finally breaks out in the North, and Garth is lost and presumed dead, Nikia and her friends find themselves kidnapped by the Mannish mage, Reynarth, who has discovered that the Ruby of Guyaire is not just a symbol, but a powerful magical talisman.  Holding her friends and husband as hostage, the mage seeks to break Nikia to his will and use her to unlock its power. 

It's funny, while I remembered very little, as I started reading The Jewels of Elvish, I had a vague recollection of Prince Garth.  In the first chapter, when both the Elvish and Mannish Kings speak with their children of the treaty between their people, as soon as Garth was mentioned, I knew he was the one who marries Nikia (even though King Alain hadn't said anything yet).  I didn't really remember Nikia, nor did I remember Garth's brother, Prince Fenyan or the two kings.  But I had a vague recollection that I knew and liked Garth.  And that recollection proves true: Garth is very likeable, and far more open to his circumstances (specifically that he is part of the treaty with the Elvish) than his older brother, Fenyan.  I also love his introduction to Nikia - chasing his favourite hound while covered in mud and dirt, hours before their wedding when they weren't supposed to meet. 

I find it even funnier that I had no memory of Dail from the first time I read this book.  While Garth is Nikia's love, it's Dail who is far more present in the book, being her companion when her husband is sent off to war (and being by her side when she is kidnapped by Reynarth).  Dail is charming, funny, smart, and a good friend to her (even though he secretly longs for more).

I really liked Gweneth.  She was excited to have a sister and accepted Nikia without question.  She was also such a tragic character, having married for politics, just like Nikia (but without even real affection from her husband), and having miscarried multiple children (which led to Fenyan's distance).  I felt so sorry for her being stuck in Reynarth's machinations (which is another thing I vaguely remembered when talk of the miscarriages first sprung up in the book). Reynarth was also an interesting villain.  He wasn't remotely likeable, but he was also understandable, being driven by hatred for what he lost to the Elvish many years ago.  I also liked how he very much doomed himself, being caught up in a plot of betrayal against the Sorcerer, and himself planning on betraying the betrayer (not to mention he was a traitor to his people, using his magic unbeknownst to them to help the Sorcerer's troops). Needless to say, the characters are really what make this book.

Oh, I didn't mention Nikia either.  I liked her character.  She was a child who is forced to grow up thanks to her circumstances.  She's also got spunk and a heart of gold, even if it isn't always on display (she spends so much time finding her place among the Mannish that she isn't able to often, but this was best displayed when she helped Gweneth's son survive, and took the child from Fenyan so Gweneth could hold him before she died).  I thought there was a lot within Nikia that I could identify with, and so I found her story quite alluring.

The plot itself took some very dark turns once Garth disappeared and Nikia and company were kidnapped.  Prior to that, I was quite enjoying it as more of a political story, where Nikia is trying to deal with prejudices (I love the scene where she decides to stop being a victim, and plainly uses her magic rather than continuing to hide it).  But Reynarth's attempts to break everyone are dark indeed (and while it isn't shown, I should give a trigger warning: he does rape Nikia). 

This latter part of the book, in my opinion, wasn't as good as the first half.  It wasn't just the darkness of what happens, but also the helplessness of everyone.  Yes, Nikia is able to find the strength to save everyone (and defeat even the Sorcerer with the Ruby of Guyaire), thanks largely to Reynarth's arrogance (he doesn't even bother to have a guard watch over Nikia because he's sure he's broken her).  And her friends are able to escape thanks to their own ingenuity (and some major helpings of luck).  But I had a hard time reading about just how helpless everyone was for so long (it felt like it took forever for Nikia and company to actually get to Reynarth in Seuro).  It's for this reason that I'm no longer counting The Jewels of Elvish as one of my favourite books (although I do not begrudge my younger self for liking it so much - perhaps I was at a different place then, and the themes within the book spoke more to me at the time?)

Well, whatever my changing perspective and thoughts on the book, it's now time to finally read the sequel, A Child of Elvish.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Grail

Well, here we are: Grail!  After Chill, I really wasn't sure what to expect, beyond the fact that the Jacob's Ladder was going to choose a destination.

Grail takes place fifty years after Chill.  The Jacob's Ladder has been slowly travelling towards the planet they've termed Grail.  During that time, the inhabitants have established a sort of peace.  Wars and uprisings have been quelled under First Mate Tristen.  The world has been repaired as best it can.  And both Captain Perceval and Nova have made peace with each other and their roles. 

But when the Jacob's Ladder finally enters Grail's system, they discover that others have made it there, first.  It seems that humans survived on Earth after the Jacob's Ladder left a millennia ago.  These other humans have evolved their own cultures and technologies, including altering their brains, making themselves more cooperative and less competitive.  And these other humans aren't keen on sharing Fortune (their name for Grail) with warlike outsiders.

I really liked the ideas brought forth in Grail about the diverging human cultures and technologies.  When the Jacob's Ladder entered Fortune's star system, their broadcasts used old technology according to the humans already on Fortune (they had to dig up hobbyists to help them understand it).  Likewise, the people of the Jacob's Ladder spoke an outmoded language....it would be like if the people who spoke Old English diverged into two groups, and found each other now; both groups would be speaking different languages that devolved from the same source (this analogy isn't exact though, because the Jacob's Ladder humans were speaking a language that was more similar to 21st century English than the ones on Fortune, so scholars of 21st century English were still able to communicate with them). 

But culturally, both groups had diverged so much; the humans of Fortune outlawed genetic modification, while those from Jacob's Ladder needed it to survive in space.  I actually liked how the humans of Fortune looked down on those from the Jacob's Ladder as barbarians, that their way was better (even though the people of the Jacob's Ladder were able to see how they weren't really so different, that what the people of Fortune had done to themselves was actually very similar to what those of the Jacob's Ladder had done to survive).  And maybe the people of Fortune haven't actually changed as much as they believe, for there is an assassination attempt against Perceval when her and Tristen are invited down to the planet to help them decide whether or not they want to submit to the necessary surgery if they are to be accepted by the colonists.  (While I wasn't planning on going into it here, Cheryl Morgan talks about the diversity within the whole series, specifically in relation to Grail and how the people of Fortune have eliminated diversity from their population.  Check it out, it's worth the read!)

Unfortunately, the fun cultural clash wasn't the only thing going on in Grail.  A murder and theft alert the crew of the Jacob's Ladder to the presence of remnants of beings they thought long vanquished (specifically Ariane Conn and Dust).  So large chunks of the book are devoted to trying to find and stop the duo.  This part of the book felt like a rehash of the earlier ones; sure, the ship is now functional, so there's no multi day adventure to the bowels of the ship.  But seeing how they were both defeated in the first book, their specters reappearing (and as much diminished versions of themselves) wasn't exactly exciting (like I said, it was a rehash).  I think a much more effective plot would have involved the Go-Backs, who, now that the ship is approaching an alien world, are trying to do everything to stop the ship from succeeding in reaching it (I used that specific example because Dorcas, the Go-Back priestess in Tristen's daughter's body, basically tries to stop the ship from infecting the planet at the end, but only because the means to do so were handed to her by Ariane, not through any agency of her own).

I should also mention that this subplot was pretty obvious.  I figured out pretty early on who Ariane was probably hidden in (Oliver Conn's body).  And failing that, my actual second guess (Chelsea Conn, because she had no character, lol) ended up being Ariane's backup plan (and the body she used to enact her ship takeover plan).

The ending of the book was also super weird.  To stop Dorcas from killing every living being on the ship (in order to save the alien planet from being infected by them), Perceval gets her to transform pretty much everything into an Angel (so much like Rien transformed herself at the end of Dust).  But then Perceval might remain in her body (but I'm not sure?  She was walking on a beach), and Nova decides to leave, but Rien wants to stay, so she does and is solid?  Honestly, I'm really not sure what the heck happened here.  But I do know that some of the colonists (specifically Amanda and Danilaw, the pair who went out to the Jacob's Ladder to meet everyone) decide they want to travel the stars as Angels too.  And some of the remaining crew (specifically Tristen and Mallory) go off together, too.

It was interesting to see how the characters had changed this time around.  With fifty years passing, Perceval has grown into a strong Captain.  Tristen is feeling the effects of his age more (he is weary of war, but will fight for his Captain when she needs him).  Danilaw and Amanda were interesting too; I wasn't sure how I felt about Danilaw at first, but it was good to have a character from Fortune who was somewhat more open-minded (although he was still a product of his culture and heritage, for he was the one who thought of those from the Jacob's Ladder as barbarians).  But he was interested in their culture, and was interested in trying to understand them (even though they terrified him because they were basically the monsters his ancestors got rid of through their "rightminding" surgery). 

So now here we are: the end of the Jacob's Ladder trilogy.  I'm not entirely sure how I felt about Grail....I enjoyed it more than Chill (I wasn't bored by the halfway point), but I also didn't enjoy it nearly as much as Dust (either time I read it).  I'm glad that the people of the Jacob's Ladder didn't submit to the rightminding, because that wouldn't have been a satisfying conclusion, but the end just felt weirdly forced (maybe because it kind of just happened so quickly and was weirdly vague?  It was a good peaceful solution in its way because the Jacob's Ladder won't need to take resources from Fortune or anything else in its system, nor will it infect the planet).  And I wish there had been more of the cultural stuff and less of Ariane and Dust.

But I'm glad to have finally read Grail, finishing the series once and for all.  And I'm glad that I liked Grail more than Chill!  I just wish the series had lived up to Dust.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Reread: Chill

I still wish they'd used the other cover.
Like Dust before it, I remember only two things about Chill: the ending (albeit only vaguely), and how I felt about the book (specifically, in Chill's case, that I disliked it).  I wasn't looking forward to rereading it because of that dislike, but I was also willing to give the second book another chance.  Maybe it won't be so bad when I read it directly after the first book?

I already gave the synopsis of the book last time:
Chill picks up pretty much where Dust left off. Perceval is now captain of the ship, which she has managed to save from the dying nova star. The Jacob's Ladder is now accelerating, but it has been damaged in the process and is now in dire need of repair. So enters Caitlin, the Chief Engineer, who must find a way to repair the damage with the limited resources available onboard.

At the same time, Arianrhod, a woman who should have died, has escaped. And so Tristen, Perceval's First Mate and head of the house of Conn, and Benedick, Perceval's father and Tristen's younger brother, are trying to track her down. With a colourful cast of characters, many of whom appeared in Dust (like the necromancer Mallory and the basilisk/torch Gavin), the two brothers journey across the ship in pursuit. Engaged in a pincer movement in an attempt to cut her off, the two brothers encounter vastly different things, from carnivourous plant people to ancient enemies of Tristen's. 
In the beginning, I kept thinking that Chill wasn't as bad as I remembered it.  This time around, I was prepared for Perceval to basically be sidelined, so that realization wasn't a problem like the last time I read the book.  I also liked Benedick and Tristen.  While neither of them were as well developed as Perceval or Rien in Dust, I was willing to give them a shot.  But they never really end up well developed, despite some of their trials (this was particularly weird with Tristen; he's made to remember and atone for his past; while he endures, I never really got a sense of his anguish over the past, other than being told over and over again that he was hurting).  Benedick is joined by his younger sister, Chelsea, who I likewise never get a feel for; she's just someone kind of shoved along for the ride.
And as the narrative continued, more and more characters got added as point of view characters (compared to just the three of Perceval, Rien, and Dust in Dust).  And more and more of those point of views seemed unnecessary.  For example, the book would flash periodically to Arianrhod, who might tell the angel fragment of Asrafil (who was with her) that she had laid a trap for either Benedick or Tristen.  Then the book would cut to one of the brothers dealing with said trap.  Couldn't we have cut out the middle bit, and just gone straight to the brothers dealing with the traps?

Other than the aforementioned repetition of characters saying plans then other characters stumbling into said plans, the book is super repetitive in other ways.  I know that Perceval, Caitlin, Tristen, and Benedick are all still mourning over Rien's sacrifice.  But t felt a bit much that by halfway through the book everyone was still upset when dealing with the new angel, Nova (now don't get me wrong, it made sense for Perceval to still be struggling). 
And then, there was the plot itself.  Benedick and Tristen are trying to catch Arianrhod, but rather than meet up, they try to catch her in a pincer move.  They go through all kinds of holds and see all kinds of fantastical things.  And by about two thirds of the way through the book, it gets very, very boring.  They go from hold to hold, but nothing they encounter feels like it actually matters.  Will the plant people have any part in the story within Grail?  What about the Edenites (despite Tristen's parting words to their priestess that he'll be in touch after the crisis is over)?  They feel like these are just random diversions thrown at the characters that they have to deal with, rather than actual alliances that have more consequence.  The stakes don't even seem high, despite the fact that there's a giant alien asteroid thing attacking the ship that their dead sister captured.  I had to push myself to finish reading the last thirty pages or so, because I just didn't care about what was happening.  :(

But I did it: I reread Chill. And my quest to Grail is complete: I can now finally read the final book of the Jacob's Ladder series.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Reread: Dust

Continuing on with my apparent quest this year of rereading books/finally finishing a series, I've now turned to Elizabeth Bear's Jacob's Ladder trilogy (which I am referring to as my "quest to Grail" because I've already read the first two books in the series).  I decided to tackle Jacob's Ladder right after the Inheritance Cycle because I needed a break from epic fantasy.

I admit, I was somewhat hesitant to reread Dust.  While I don't remember much other than the ending, I do remember loving it (not so much Chill, the second book).  Would it hold up?

As I said before:
Dust tells the story of two girls. Sir Perceval was captured in battle, her wings cut off. She waits only to die, to be consumed by her captor. Rien is the serving girl who was to attend Perceval, and who is also Perceval's lost sister. Together, the pair escape Rule and set off to find their father in hopes of stopping a war. Their journey takes them throughout their world, the ruined starship Jacob's Ladder, in an unforgettable story that I couldn't get enough of!
But I didn't give much detail of the book.  Perceval used the nanotech chains that bound her in Rule to help her and Rien escape, but the chains became new wings that attached themselves to Perceval's back, melding onto the stumps of her old wings (Rien called the new wings Pinion; Pinion scared both of the girls because they had a mind of their own),  After escaping Rule, the pair finds themselves in a Heaven (which is like an orchard with different fruit trees) where the necromancer Mallory and her companion, the basilisk-looking cutting torch Gavin, reside.  Mallory gives Rien a peach which contains the essence of a long dead engineer, as well as a plum (which Rien keeps but has no intention of eating after consuming another being in the peach).  Gavin decides to accompany Rien and Perceval to their father, leading the way.  But thanks to the engineer inside of her, Rien finds a side tunnel that will get them there faster, where they discover their uncle, Tristen, whom everyone thought was long dead.  Together, the four of them make their way to Benedict Conn.  Then one of the ship's AI fragments, Dust, makes himself known to Perceval and kidnaps her with his construct, Pinion; Dust wants Perceval to become the ships new captain, but this involves Perceval submitting to him (or one of the other fragments).  In an attempt to save her, Rien, Gavin, Benedict, and Tristen make their way to Engine searching for allies; there Rien meets both her mother and Perceval's (they have different mothers) and unravels the plot centered around Perceval that threatens the whole world.  Racing to her sister's side, Rien sacrifices herself to make the ship AI whole and save her sister and everyone else on the world.

It was a different experience reading Dust this time, because, while I didn't remember most of how the story went, I did remember the ending.  And seeing the book building inexorably towards it and Rien's sacrifice was quite something.

But even though it was a different experience, I still loved this book.  Rien, Perceval, and Gavin are all fantastic characters.  I love how Rien, thanks to her upbringing as a Mean and servant in Rule, looks at the world in a more naive yet also more suspicious way than Perceval.  And how Rien is just an all around good person, willing to name the nameless (even when she offers to name her armor, she detects a jauntiness in the armor's step).  Perceval, in comparison, is much more world-weary from being a knight on errantry (but her errantry makes her more open to the trials of the world; if not for her, they wouldn't have saved Tristen).  I liked how the narrative switched between the two as well.  And of course, Gavin just added that little bit of spunk to the team.

I also love the worldbuilding of Dust.  How the Means, while looked down on now, were meant to be the controls in the great experiment that  was Jacob's Ladder.  How to save itself, the ship's AI fractured (and pieces of it have been lost).  How the split between Engine and Rule happened because when disaster first struck centuries ago, the engineers and command didn't agree on how to save them.  I'm so glad that Dust remains such a fantastic read. :)

Of course, now I have to tackle Chill....and while I don't really remember the book much at all, I remember it being terrible, especially in comparison to Dust.  We'll see though; maybe it'll be better when I read it right after Dust rather than a year later?

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Inheritance

Well, here we are: Inheritance, the final book in Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Cycle.  After Brisingr, I was seriously considering not continuing with the series.  But a friend of mine who has read the series told me I had to finish it now that I made it this far.  So I did (despite the book being about 850 pages).

This is going to be very spoilery, so if you intend to read the series, be warned.

Inheritance continues the Varden's inexorable march towards Galbatorix in Uru'Baen, conquering cities as they go.  After conquering Belatona (where Roran almost dies), they are halted at Dras-Leona by the appearance of Murtagh and Thorn.  Eragon, Arya, Angela and one of the elves sneak into the tunnels beneath the city to try to get the Varden through the gates; Arya and Eragon are very nearly killed by the cult of Hellgrind who worships the Rez'ac and Lethrblaka (and happens to have some eggs that are ready to hatch).  Angela rescues them and they succeed in opening the gates, but Eragon loses the belt of Beloth the Wise (a gift from Oromis). The Varden are able to drive off Thorn and Murtagh, but the duo return and kidnap Nasuada, leaving Eragon to lead the Varden without her.

In desperation, Eragon and Saphira end up taking Glaedr and journeying to Vroengard in an attempt to solve the remainder of Solembum's riddle.  There they find more than they could have ever hoped for: Eldunari that were hidden from Galbatorix, as well as dragon eggs!  Leaving a few Eldunari behind with the eggs (and agreeing to having the knowledge of the eggs removed from their memories until such time as Galbatorix is defeated), the trio return to the Varden to begin the assault on Uru'Baen.  Eragon comes up with a daring plan: he will take Saphira, Elva, Arya, the Eldunari, and the elf spellcasters, sneak in, and assault Galbatorix while the remainder of the Varden, along with their allies, provide a distraction by attacking the city proper. 

Making it through all the traps (and losing the elf spellcasters in the process - they weren't killed but removed from play by one of Galbatorix's traps), Eragon, Saphira, Elva, Arya, and the Eldunari confront Galbatorix, who knows all about them (and even prevents Elva from speaking so he will not have to worry about the witch-child's powers).  Galbatorix has found the Name of the Ancient Language, and so can rewrite the laws of magic as he chooses (effectively crippling Eragon and company).  He also has two children present who he threatens to kill if the allies do not immediately stop and cease any attempt to kill him (while many of the older Eldunari do not care, the others want to try to save the children if they can, and so convince everyone to cease).  Eragon challenges Galbatorix to direct combat; Galbatorix declines but insists that Eragon fight Murtagh.  As the fight ends in his defeat, Murtagh realizes that his true name has changed (because he now cares about others, not just his own survival) and he's able to blindside Galbatorix by also using that Name.  In the ensuing struggle, Galbatorix corners Eragon within his mind and attempts to crush him into submission; in a desperate move, Eragon just wants Galbatorix to feel all the pain and suffering he has inflicted on everyone over the last century.  Aided by the Eldunari (many of whom lost their riders and friends in the battle against Galbatorix and the Forsworn a century ago), they succeed in vanquishing the mad-king.

In the aftermath, Nasuada is crowned queen and seeks to unite the humans within Algaesia.  She intends to police the magicians and wants Eragon to lead in that effort.  But Eragon knows his first commitment is to the dragons and the new riders who will now emerge.  He and Saphira realize that Algaesia is not the place for the dragons to live though, and so, fulfilling Angela's prophecy from when she told his fortune, the pair agrees to leave the continent (possibly forever) in order to keep everyone safe.  But before they go, they change the magic of the dragons so that Urgals and Dwarves can also become Dragon Riders, thereby making the new future Riders truly of all the races of Algaesia.

I glossed over a bunch of things that happened, like the third egg Galbatorix had hatching for Arya (this was in the aftermath - her mother died in the last battle, so Arya ends up both Queen of the Elves and a Dragon Rider) and Nasuada's torture by Galbatorix as he tried to get her oath of fealty (as well as growing friendship with Murtagh).

I'm not going to lie: I really liked Inheritance.  It was by far the best book in the whole series, and honestly was a fitting end (although I do find myself curious about what happened to everyone afterwards).  While, as I already mentioned, the book is huge, the first 700-750 pages just flew by (the last bit didn't though because that was all the aftermath after Galbatorix was defeated; the book built very nicely to that, but kind of lagged afterwards, much in the way the story of the first Bioshock game does).  This was in stark contrast to Brisingr (and even like all the Eragon parts within Eldest), which lagged and honestly felt like huge chunks should never have made it into the final book.

This is the first book that we actually get to see Galbatorix (he took over Murtagh and Thorn briefly in Brisingr to talk to Oromis, but that wasn't the same).  He reminded me a lot of Thanos from the Marvel movies, wanting to make a better world but not really thinking about the consequences and hurt of doing so.  In a lot of ways that kind of made him scary because you could see the appeal of what he was proposing (I was actually amazed that none of the characters willingly chose to join him, especially since he was so charismatic when he chose to be).

Roran takes a back seat in this book, which is a shame but understandable (a lot of the action took place around Eragon and the dragons/Eldunari).  Surprisingly, we actually got to see more of Galbatorix thanks to Nasuada (as well as more Murtagh, which was nice as he wasn't in battle).  I still think Murtagh is a super interesting character, and honestly would have loved to see much more of him struggling against and learning from Galbatorix.

Eragon also feels like he has grown up a bit.  I didn't feel like he was looking down on people as much as in the other books (or whining that he's not as powerful as he should be, even though like everything was coming to him easily).  So that definitely made the book more pleasant to read.

I also really liked that Arya and Eragon don't end up together (although at the end it feels like a near miss).  With all the times she told Eragon no, she wasn't interested, and how he kept apologizing, saying it wouldn't happen again, then making his feelings plain to her again anyway, I was getting super fed up with the whole thing.  Like come on, Eragon, no means no.  I was also laughing because by the end of the first book, I had a feeling that those three eggs would end up with Eragon, Murtagh, and Arya, and I ended up right.

Oh, and I was pleasantly surprised that Brom didn't come back from the dead somehow.  I don't know why (probably the similarities to Lord of the Rings), but I kept expecting Brom to show up again.  So very glad that didn't happen.

One thing that annoyed me to no end in this and the other books was how characters wouldn't explain plans to the reader while they were explaining something to someone else.  Like in the aftermath of Inheritance, when Eragon's asking the Urgals and Dwarves if they want to be Riders, the book says  things like "The Herndall listened in silence as he explained, though Garzvog stirred, as if uneasy, and uttered a low grunt.  When Eragon finished, the Herndall did not speak or move for several minutes..."  Then the book reveals the plan later when he's actually changing the spell to make people of those races Riders.  It's a lazy way to build suspense, and the books were rife with this.

So that's it, the Inheritance Cycle is read!  It feels good to cross off these three huge books from the List. :)

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Brisingr

Ooof.  Brisingr.

The story picks up not long after Eldest.  Roran, Eragon, and Saphira assault Helgrind to rescue Katrina and get their revenge against the Ra'zac.  The plan succeeds, but Eragon discovers a slight hitch: Sloan. Katrina's father who was responsible for letting the Ra'zac invade Carvarhall and kidnap Katrina, is still alive there, too.  Eragon makes a hasty decision to send Katrina and Roran back to the Varden with Saphira (without telling them that Sloan is still alive), then to get the butcher out of Helgrind and punish him in some way.  He accidentally discovers Sloan's true name, and ends up sending him to the elves, cursing him to never again lay eyes on his daughter.

With that accomplished, Eragon then needs to run through the Empire back to the Varden.  On hearing that he stayed behind, Nasuada sends Arya to go help him.  And so after finding one another, they spend a whole bunch of time running through the Empire together and otherwise dodging imperial soldiers. 

Upon making it back, and swearing he will not leave Saphira again, Nasuada orders Eragon to go the the dwarves alone.  The dwarves are choosing their new king, and as an adopted member of one of the dwarf tribes, Eragon has the right to be there.  Nasuada wants Eragon to try to get Orik on the throne or, failing that, someone else who will remain sympathetic to the Varden.  While she cannot order Saphira to do anything, she requests that the dragon remain to keep up the ruse that Eragon is still with the Varden.  The two reluctantly agree to the separation.

Meanwhile, Eragon's cousin, Roran, marries Katrina (it's a hasty thing so they can keep Katrina's honour intact as she very quickly becomes pregnant upon her rescue - this happens just before Eragon leaves, so he gets to be present, too).  Afterwards Nasuada sends Roran on missions under the Varden's command to assess his skills (and whether or not she can entrust her people under him).  Roran excels under his first commander, but runs into trouble with his second one: the man is ridiculously rigid, and Roran ends up defying direct orders from the captain in order to keep his men alive).  As a result, Nasuada is forced to punish him (even though he kept her people alive and single-handedly slew almost 200 soldiers); he receives 50 lashes, but almost immediately is then given command of his own company of men, reporting directly to Nasuada (in her words, she cannot risk him defying orders again, but she knows he can inspire people and will be valuable to the Varden).  He's also given command of Urgals; someone within the Varden had taken it upon himself to kill three of the Urgals, so Nasuada needed the two races to work together (and thought Roran would have the best chance of keeping the peace as leader).  One of the Urgals challenges Roran for leadership and, despite the Urgal having more natural weapons (horns and claw-like fingernails) and Roran still recovering from the lashes, Roran manages to best the Urgal.

Meanwhile, after Orik wins the vote and is crowned king of the dwarves, Eragon and Saphira (who joined Eragon for the coronation and to mend the star sapphire she and Arya broke during Eragon's fight with the shade, Durza), fly to Ellesmera to talk with their teachers, Glaedr and Oromis.  They learn the truths of Galbatorix and Murtagh's power (they have many dragons' heart of hearts (Eldunari), an organ that a dragon can hide its consciousness in and so live if its body is destroyed), as well as Eragon's own parentage (he is the son of Brom, not Morzan).  Eragon is in need of a weapon, and so, remembering the werecat Solembum's advice, they go looking for a weapon under the roots of the Menoa tree (a tree that an elf joined her consciousness to many years ago).  They discover that at the tree's roots isn't a weapon per se, but the metal used to craft the Dragon Riders' swords.  They convince the tree to give it to them (although they make an unknown promise to give the tree something in return), then bring the metal to the smith, Rhunon.  While she has sworn an oath not to make another sword, she instead uses Eragon and makes the sword through him.  Although they are super pressed for time, the two of them craft her masterpiece: a beautiful blue sword that matches Saphira; Eragon christens the sword Brisingr (and every time he says the word, the sword's blade bursts into flame). 

As they are about to part from Ellesmera, Oromis and Glaedr gift Saphira and Eragon with Glaedr's Eldunari.  To Eragon and Saphira's surprise, Glaedr and Oromis also ride to battle, but rather than joining the Varden, they fly to support the elves.  Eragon and Saphira fly south and find the Varden already sieging the city of Feinster.  They join the fray and make their way to the city's keep with Arya to confront the Lady Lorana.  To their surprise, the woman is willing to help them as much as she can (she was forced to swear oaths to Galbatorix, and so cannot do much herself).  She urges them to stop a trio of spellcasters who are frantically trying to make another shade.  They slay two of them, but the third spellcaster is successful.  But with Eragon and Saphira's help, Arya manages to slay this new shade (making her the fourth person to ever kill a shade and survive by Eragon's reckoning).

During this confrontation, Eragon and Saphira are periodically immobilized by thoughts and feelings from Glaedr as he and Oromis confront Murtagh and Thorn.  Suddenly, Galbatorix speaks to them through Murtagh, and slays them.  Glaedr finds himself trapped within his Eldunari with his grief over losing his life partner.

I remember years ago, when I was waiting for Brisingr to be published, that Christopher Paolini was on record saying that the story was too big to fit into one book, and so needed to be split into two.  While I have not yet read Inheritance, having read Brisingr, I can say that is most likely not true.  While yes, a lot does happen in Brisingr, there's a lot of padding to the story.  Eragon (and Arya) running through the Empire went on far longer than it needed to.  There was even a whole chapter where they sat around a fire and Arya talked about her life (and while it could have been interesting, it dragged and really wasn't).  That's followed by Eragon running off to the dwarves almost immediately (yawn, been there, done that already). There were a few chapters from Saphira's perspective (which hasn't happened before); while kind of interesting to see how Saphira views the world, they didn't actually add anything to the story (and we later get those flashes from Glaedr once he gives up his Eldunari to Saphira and Eragon which would have given the same glimpse into dragon life in a much more meaningful context). And a whole lot of stuff happening that just doesn't feel very important; not a good feeling for a reader to get when your characters are literally embroiled in a world war. :/

I was also sad that the Ra'zac are no more.  The fight happened early in the book and felt too easy; plus the story was robbed of their menacing presence.  They would have been a more worthy end fight for the book than some random shade shoved into the last 20 pages.

But while a huge chunk of the book was slow and boring, there were some really cool things in it.  I loved the political stuff with the dwarves and actually wished there had been more of that (seeing how Orik and company tried to get votes would have been quite interesting).  Orik's speech telling the other clan leaders about the assassination attempt on Eragon's life and getting the clan responsible banished was masterful.  Orik was definitely my favourite character in this book.

While yes, the villain of this book was random, having Eragon and Saphira trying to fight the shade while also getting distracted by Glaedr and Oromis was well done (and made the shade fight have a bit more weight - would they actually be able to vanquish this one or would the distractions get them killed?)

So while I had some major issues with this book through a lot of it, and was seriously contemplating either stopping part way through or not finishing the series, I'm now on board to see how this all ends.  Hopefully Inheritance will be a satisfying conclusion to the Inheritance Cycle!