Sharon Shinn's Royal Airs last June!)
Alright. Eldest. This book was quite the ride. The first chapter starts off with some utter craziness: three days after the battle in Eragon, Eragon's back is still hurt from the shade Durza; it randomly shoots excruciating pain through him. No one knows how or why this is happening because his back is otherwise fine. Then Ajihad, the leader of the Varden, gets slain while returning from hunting Urgals (I had a really hard time with this point: why the heck did Ajihad go hunting them while his second in command stayed back with the rest of the Varden? And how the heck did Urgals sneak up on them in such large numbers when they were specifically HUNTING the Urgals???? It kind of gets explained at a later point in the book in a hand-wavey way, but really, this still seems super unbelievable to me). In that same attack, the Twins (the Varden's best magicians) and Murtagh are kidnapped. Arya chases the Urgals but cannot catch them (because sure?); all she finds is their blood soaked clothes.
Ajihad had not appointed a successor. And so the Council of Elders decide to name his daughter, Nasuada, as the new leader. The Council intends to use her as a puppet, and try to trap Eragon into swearing fealty to them; he instead swears fealty to Nasuada, thus cementing her own power, making her largely free of the Council's meddling. From there, Eragon is sent to the elves in order to continue his training now that Brom has been slain.
Eragon is accompanied by Arya, the elf girl, and Orik, the dwarf who saved him from being killed by Urgals. He is also offered membership into Orik's (and the dwarven king Hrothgar's) clan, an honour never before bestowed to a human (although Eragon and Saphira suspect it's to also lay claim to him as a rider); Eragon ultimately accepts this honour, and is so taught knowledge of the dwarves that no outsider has ever before learned. Eragon, Saphira, and Orik make their way to Ellesmera, the capital of the Elves, where Eragon learns that Arya is an elven princess (because of course she is), and that there is a rider of old still alive: the elf Oromis, and the gold dragon Glaedr. The pair were injured by the Forsworn when Galbatorix destroyed the Riders of old; while they can no longer fight, they have been in hiding waiting to teach the next Rider.
While Eragon and Saphira are learning from Oromis and Glaedr, the book jumps to Eragon's cousin, Roran. The Ra'zac have returned to Carvahall, this time looking for Roran. Most of the village refuses to give him up. When it becomes clear the Ra'zac and their soldiers aren't leaving, Roran and some of the other villagers decide to fight back. The village comes under siege, and the villagers give as good as they get. Unfortunately, during this time, Roran asked Katrina, the love of his life, to marry him. He didn't do the proper thing and ask her father for his blessing first though (not that Sloan probably would have given it - Sloan didn't like Eragon and Roran's family). Sloan finds out when he discovers Katrina in the group of women, children, and elderly who were going to hide in the Spine (he forbade her to go, but Roran asked her to anyway because he didn't want anything to happen to her - she only agreed if he agrees to never again ask such a thing of her again because her place is with him). After basically disowning her, the Ra'zac attack that night and kidnap her; Roran and the other villagers give chase (even though Roran was wounded) and find that Sloan betrayed them to the Ra'zac in order to get his daughter back. The Ra'zac, Slaon, and Katrina then fly away on the Ra'zac's fierce mounts. In the aftermath, Roran convinces the villagers to abandon Carvahall to go seek refuge with the Varden in the South (he wants to both protect them and find Katrina, but he cannot do both if the villagers remain, especially knowing that more soldiers are on their way). The majority are convinced. And so they go on a perilous journey first through the Spine, then South along the coast.
I'm not going to lie, when the book first changed view points to Roran, I was a bit annoyed. But honestly, the siege of Carvahall and their journey South was really cool, and far more interesting than anything Eragon was up to.
The book also periodically switched to Nasuada's viewpoint. The Varden had relocated to Surda as planned. While Surda had given them what it could, the Varden were in dire financial straits; Nasuada ended up solving this problem by getting her magicians to manufacture cheap lace. By selling it (both in Surda and the Empire), the Varden were able to fund their war efforts!
Nasuada's story also dealt with the child Eragon and Saphira "blessed" in the last book. Eragon's blessing was said erroneously, and the child is now cursed to take on the pain of everyone around her. She actually made herself grow up faster because as a baby she could do nothing. It was very strange, but also pretty interesting.
Like with Roran, I wasn't exactly thrilled to read about Nasuada at first. But her story also proved more interesting than Eragon's. I'll admit it here: pretty much everyone in the book except Eragon (and honestly at times, even Saphira....I did not like her as much in this book) was more interesting than Eragon.
So while all that's going on, Eragon and Saphira are training (and Eragon is mooning after Arya, even though she has told him she's not interested. I don't know how many times she's told him no and he keeps trying anyway after promising he won't. I really hope he doesn't end up with her in the end! Like geeze dude, no means no). The book doesn't go into what Saphira learns like at all, but Eragon learns much (including reading and writing in the old language, which opens him up to much philosophy, and through meditation he learns to feel the minds of every living thing around him). But during all of this, his back still pains him (and might be getting worse? I don't know, I really didn't get it beyond "magic"). But at an elven celebration, the magic of the dragons heals him and transforms him basically into an elf; his back is healed, he is stronger and more powerful than a human, and even his features become elvish.
Around this time, Eragon discovers that the Varden are going to be attacked by a massive army from the Empire. After agreeing to return to finish his training when time permits, Eragon, Orik, and Saphira fly South to meet the Varden. During the massive battle (where Roran's ship shows up in time, like I figured it would, lol), it's revealed that the Empire has a second dragon and Rider. Eragon and Saphira fight them but are overpowered. Eragon realizes that the other Rider fights in a familiar way; he manages to get the Rider's helmet off and discovers that it is Murtagh (shock!)! Murtagh had been kidnapped by the Twins (who used the Urgals to kidnap him and kill Ajihad) and brought to Galbatorix. One of the dragon eggs hatched for him, and so both Murtagh and his dragon were forced to swear fealty to Galbatorix in the ancient language (which binds you). Murtagh reveals that he is (as I guessed) Eragon's brother. He is in fact, the Eldest brother (lol, I'm not going to lie, it took me a bit to get it, lol). After overpowering Eragon and Saphira (he has apparently learned crazy things from Galbatorix), Murtagh reveals that Galbatorix wants Saphira (Galbatorix and Murtagh's dragons are both male, as is the last remaining egg), Murtagh leaves, but warns Eragon that he will probably not be able to let them go should they ever meet again.
The book ends with Eragon getting over his shock that he is related to Morzan (the leader of the Forsworn) and telling Arya, and Nasuada what happened, Eragon is reunited with Roran (oops, forgot to mention that Roran single-handedly killed the Twins, who were rampaging around the battlefield). The two, who agree they are more family than Murtagh and Morzan, agree to go rescue Katrina and kill the Ra'zac, thus avenging their father, Garrow.
While reading Eldest, I was repeatedly struck by how it isn't exactly a "good" book. The writing (like in Eragon) is often clunky, being full of instances where things are told (this is particularly bad when someone says something, then it is told to someone else. It happens all the time and is honestly quite annoying to read - couldn't there have been some way to make this more interesting, at least some of the time?) The book also felt pretty preachy at times (this was particularly bad first when Eragon decides not to eat meat (I can't remember the exact line, but it was a patronizing "I won't look down on others for eating meat." Yes you will, Eragon, that's what you always do), and when Oromis was explaining how the elves don't believe in gods, man did it sound kind of propaganda-ish while also seeming like they look down on anyone who does believe in gods). And I honestly kind of hate Eragon. He's constantly looking down on people in this thinly disguised veneer of pity, which gets especially pronounced once he's got the strength and reflexes of an elf (ugh, how he looked down on the Varden's magicians and how they struggled with things he now finds easy - again, his arrogance was hidden under a weird thin pretense of sympathy for them. He's so patronizing and criticizing to Saphira. I hate him so much!)
But overall, I did enjoy the book (when talking to a friend who has read it, I called it "mind candy" - you kind of just shut your brain off and enjoy the ride). As I already said, I especially liked the stuff from the other characters' perspectives. How Roran became the respected leader of Carvahall (while also becoming a scary berserker) was very interesting to read; I wish there had been more of his journey through the Spine and down the coast. After my initial displeasure of having the narrative shift to him or Nasuada, I quite looked forward to their chapters to see either what was happening with Carvahall or with the Varden's war effort (I honestly wish there had been a bit more of Nasuada). I liked Oromis and Glaedr (the idea of war vet dragon and rider is super cool); I just wish we had gotten some chapters from their perspective. Oh, and the Ra'zac are even cooler than I could have imagined: the humanoid ones who talk are the larvae, and their "flying steeds" are actually their parents. That's so cool!!!!! Apparently the parents are as smart as any dragon, so I'm really looking forward to seeing what they'll be like in action in the next book(s).
And while the stuff with Murtagh was largely predictable, I'm quite interested to see where it all leads; he's a fantastic character in a crazy position (being forced to join/serve the one person he absolutely hates) and I'm hoping he and his dragon, Thorn, can get free.
So now that Roran and Eragon are reunited, I'm honestly looking forward to seeing where the story goes from here! I just hope the narrative doesn't stick with Eragon the entire time.
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