Written by Christopher Paolini
Random House/Knopf Books
Release date: September 19, 2008
I feel as if I should have had this review written and published it a week ago, and that had been the intent. I had greatly anticipated the arrival of Brisingr, the third installment in Christopher Paolini‘s Inheritance Cycle, having enjoyed the first two quite a bit. But it seems that in the past couple of years since I first read his first two books — Eragon and Eldest — my ability to judge good writing has grown.
So, no, this is not going to be a glowing recommendation of Brisingr.
But I have to make one thing very clear from the outset: Paolini has created a fascinating story. The problem is, he just can’t write all that well. And as a result, the enjoyment of the book was severely punished by how hard it was to struggle through the inept form the story took.
Everything became horribly clear when a friend of mine forced me into reading the third book in Isobelle Carmody’s Obernewtyn Chronicles while I was also reading Brisingr. Now reading more than one book at a time is not new for me, as I’ve often got 5 or 6 on the go at any given time. But it was a severe mistake to have picked up such good a book as Keeping Place amidst reading Brisingr. It was blindingly obvious that Carmody knew how to write, and that Paolini really wished he knew how to write.
People have commented on the similarities that the Inheritance Cycle has to other stories, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings specifically. But that would be like saying that those two stories are themselves perfectly original, when nothing could be further from the truth.
The problem arises in Paolini’s belief that he can write like J.R.R. Tolkien. An XKCD comic describes one of Paolini’s major flaws perfectly in a comic entitled “Fiction Rule of Thumb.” In it, a graph depicts a falling curve which states that the probability that a book is good will decline as the number of words made up by the author increase.
Let us get one thing straight: Tolkien was a language genius, having studied the topic for decades and taught it at the University of Oxford. Anyone else attempting to mimic his scope is either very brave or very stupid.
This is exemplified most clearly once you reach the end of the book, where Paolini feels that his story is deserved of an “On the Origin of Names.” In it, he shamelessly attempts to mimic Tolkien in explaining where his characters’ names came from. It is nothing short of ludicrous and laughable. Put in a glossary, sure, but do not think for a moment that your language work is anywhere worthy of an appendix.
Will I ever get around to reviewing Brisingr? OK, fine. The story is great! Eragon continues to learn new things, get himself in and out of trouble with the help of Saphira, his dragon who has a severe ego issue. His cousin, Roran, rescues his bride (duh) and is apparently Hercules reborn (in another dimension, or whatever).
But that’s about the best I can give you. The book is filled with pages of inarticulate dribble which totally deprive Paolini of his excuse for writing a fourth book. Paolini said that he had to extend it because he felt he had too much story to tell in just three books; no, he really doesn’t, he could have done it in this one.
In addition, Paolini seems to be getting around his misunderstanding and inability to comprehend the life and times of a fantasy people by having magic do everything. It acts as a lightsaber (that scene out of Star Wars: Phantom Menace, where Qui-Gon Jin tries to open up the doors in the opening is replicated almost exactly towards the end of Brisingr). It acts as an alarm clock (I kid you not). Paolini’s concept of magic could have been so good. But in the end it’s just a cure-all for Paolini not being able to describe real world answers to how to light a fire.
It was so disappointing to read the book, and be able to only think of how I would have to disparage it in this review. Some might say to me, “Well Josh, you have to admit, you haven’t done anything like this, so give him a break!” Well I’m not going to give him a break, because I could do better than he has done, however unlike boy-genius-Paolini I don’t have a spare few years I can spend doing nothing but writing.
But why is it so popular? It’s the Rowling-Story problem (I’m coining that phrase). Both J.K. Rowling and Paolini (and no doubt a multitude of other authors) have created and imagined stories that were fantastic. Problem is, neither of them is actually skilled in the art of writing well. This means they both have to get by on the strength of the imagination that went into the story.
Now as I said at the top, the story is great, the writing is not. Same went for Harry Potter. I’m an avid fan of the series, but I’m smart enough to know that Rowling isn’t actually a very good writer (there should be a limit on the amount of times a writer can use the word ‘snogging’ in a series).
So to rate this book, I’m going to do it out of 10. There simply aren’t enough numbers in the ‘out-of-5’ system to do this book justice, and other books justice. I give it 4 out of 10. Those points are all for the story.