Sunday, April 26, 2020


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!

Saturday, April 11, 2020


I'm not going to lie, it felt very, very good to cross a book off the List.  Eldest is the first book I've crossed off of it in a long, long time (I haven't crossed anything off since 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.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Good Omens

I first read Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett years ago (before I started this blog - I'm guessing the early 2000's).  I don't remember much about it except that I really enjoyed it (I was actually talking to my mom earlier today and she said I tried to get her to read it.  I don't remember that, but it's a testament to how much I liked the book if I tried to get her to read it, especially since it isn't remotely her kind of book).

So a friend of mine suggested that a group of us read it as a sort of book club book.  Since we're not able to see each other right now thanks to the pandemic, she thought a book club on Goodreads would be a great way to hang out, so to speak.  She suggested either Good Omens or another book; consensus was Good Omens (even by the people like me who would be rereading it).

So Good Omens is the story of the Antichrist, Adam Young.  He is mistakenly given to the wrong parents and grows up largely left alone in rural England (while the boy who Heaven and Hell thinks is the Antichrist grows up being tutored by their agents, who hope to sway him onto their sides).  It features a large and eclectic cast of characters, from the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley, to the three kids in Adam's gang (Pepper, Brian, and Wensleydale - the Them), the four horsemen of the apocalypse (War, Famine, Pollution and Death; Pollution replaced Pestilence, who retired when penicillin was invented), Anathema Device, the descendant of Agnes Nutter (a renowned witch who actually got the future right in her prophecies), a couple of witchhunters (Shadwell and Newton Pulsifer of the Witchfinder Army), and a medium (Madame Tracy - she's Shadwell's neighbour), who are almost all flailing about trying to stop the end of the world.

While I liked Good Omens the first time I read it....I honestly wasn't a huge fan this second time around.  It took me over 70 pages before I felt like things were actually getting interesting enough to continue.  I caught myself wondering around page 200 or so how there could possibly be another almost 200 pages in the story.  With the huge cast of characters, I found I only really enjoyed a few of them (mostly Aziraphale and Crowley, but more-so when they were together; there was a chunk in the middle of the book where they largely disappeared and that felt like a slog). 

With that being said though, I actually enjoyed the ending once I finally got there.  Having Adam's friends defeat the horsemen, and Newton halting nuclear Armageddon by attempting to "fix" the machine (because he breaks everything he tries to fix) was pretty great.

But overall, this felt like a book I should have left alone.  I would have preferred to have remembered Good Omens being great (even without actually remembering it in any detail), rather than now living with the fact that it isn't as good as I remember it being. :(

Oh, but one interesting side note on rereading it: when I first read it all those years ago, a friend of mine mentioned that it was really obvious whether Pratchett or Gaiman was writing a given part.  I hadn't yet read anything by Pratchett, so at that time I didn't notice this at all.  Going back to it now though, oh yeah, it seemed really obvious (particularly in the first half of the book - basically the really crazy stuff just felt more like Pratchett, as it were).