Book Report: Inheritance by Christopher Paolini

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First, a caveat: you may have guessed from previous posts mentioning Inheritance that epic fantasy isn’t my thing. My preferred method of escape is what I term “fluffy fantasy.” This tends to be middle-grade, shorter, more episodic books (as opposed to lengthy, involved books aimed at adults and sometimes teens, with plot points carrying over long distances between books in the series.)

However, I’m glad I finished out the series. Paolini has always been a hero to me, because I’ve had authorly aspirations since I was ten, and he provided hope that kids can get published.

What I liked about Inheritance:

This was a fitting epic finish to an epic series. Paolini didn’t balk at dealing with all the ramifications of a continent-wide, multi-racial conflict. He depicted the effects of a drawn-out campaign in detail and allowed painful things to happen to his main characters.

As always, Paolini is a good descriptive writer. The settings were well-fleshed out with sensory details. In addition, the dialogue felt natural, with each character using his or her own distinctive voice. I especially enjoyed the camaraderie and banter between Eragon and Saphira. The bond between them felt strong and real.

Inheritance satisfied many of my expectations as to how the series would end, and surprised me a few times as well.

What I disliked about Inheritance:

I felt that the narrative should have begun later, leaving out one or two of the battles that make up the first half. The second half had much more character development intermingled with the battles, and the characters are what I cared about.

(Pet peeve alert) I counted no less than four times Paolini had a character come up with a Crazy Plan That Just Might Work and explain it to other characters without letting the reader know what the plan was. I got tired of sitting there while characters said, “There’s no way that’ll work!” or, “You’re nuts, but I’ll stand by you,” without even knowing what they were discussing.

<SPOILER>While the climax was fitting and the denouement tied up numerous loose ends quite nicely, I felt the very ending was a cop-out. I really didn’t buy that there was nowhere on the whole continent he could raise the dragons. What does he think he’s going to find across the sea? More people who won’t want dragons in their backyard, that’s what.</SPOILER>

I recommend this series for teens and lovers of epic fantasy. Those who fall under both categories will love it.

P.S. Anyone else catch Paolini’s allusions to Princess Bride and Doctor Who? They totally threw me out of the story, but they were entertaining. (pg. 665, 814)

Happy Yarning!

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Book Report: How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell

IMG_3396I picked this up on Saturday afternoon and finished it before dinner. It was a breath of fresh air for me from Inheritance. Well, perhaps not “fresh” air–more like a well-needed burp. This book would be great for boys  aged 7 to 12 (and girls too if they’re not above a bit of nose-picking).

The plot of the movie of the same name resembles the plot of this book in much the same way that an apple resembles an orange. Which is to say, not at all. The conflict was aged-up for the movie (hint: the addition of a love interest). However, both are clever and funny. I don’t know if I could pick my favorite.

One thing I liked better about the book was that the dragons had more personality. This is of particular interest to me because the next story I’m looking at writing involves (to put it simply) griffin familiars. Cowell’s dragons have different motives from the humans, which creates friction and conflict between them as Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third, the Hope and Heir to the Tribe of the Hairy Hooligans, tries to figure out what makes his dragon, Toothless, tick.

I need to consider what kinds of conflicts would be inherent in a society made up of both humans and sentient griffins. It may be that because the griffins’ sentience stems from their bond with humans they operate on the same kinds of motives, but then again perhaps it is not so simple.

Withheld Information: Or, This Crazy Plan That Just Might Work

I’m part way through Inheritance, by Christopher Paolini, and it’s got me thinking about withheld information in narratives.

Megan Whalen Turner–you’ve got to watch her or she’ll pull a fast one one you. In the three of her books I’ve read (The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, and The King of Attolia) she leaves out one critical bit of information at one critical point. When it is revealed later, it changes your whole idea of a situation or a character. I loved it, once I caught on.

So I’m not sure why it bothers me so much when Christopher Paolini does something similar in Inheritance.

Here’s the scenario (spoiler-free): the point of view (POV) character is sent to take a city and end a siege. It’s hopeless, but he comes up with this Crazy Plan That Just Might Work. Only thing is, Paolini won’t tell us anything about the plan. Not during the scene in which the POV character explains it to his friends, not during the scenes in which the POV character oversees preparations, not even during the scene in which the POV character can’t sleep the night before it’s put into operation.

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I notice this kind of thing all over the place. To name a few off the top of my head: M. E. Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret, the scene in which Lady Audley gives instructions to her maid, and the reader doesn’t get to hear what she says; Brandon Sanderson’s Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones, when a chapter ends right before Alcatraz explains his Crazy Plan That Just Might Work, and we come into the next chapter as Alcatraz and Co. put it into operation.

All authors withhold information until key moments. Maybe the POV character doesn’t know it yet, or maybe the POV character doesn’t want to talk about it yet. Or maybe it’s not important to the plot, yet.

I think it bothers me in Inheritance because I can’t see a valid reason for that tactic in this case, at least not for as long as it goes on–chapter after chapter after chapter. Is it to avoid redundancy (we’re going to see how it plays out so an explanation is unnecessary)? Or is it a cheap trick to keep us flipping pages?

I don’t know. But it makes me mad.

I fear I’m doing something similar in the novel I’m revising. I try to slowly reveal that the main character’s view of the world and of his family is fundamentally flawed, but in order to keep it from being obvious from the get-go, I hold back on his motivations. I need to make it clear at the beginning what it is he thinks he’s accomplishing, and slowly show how wrong he is.

I definitely want to avoid making readers feel like I do while reading Inheritance, because honestly the withheld information turns me off the book rather than hooking me in.

When my main character comes up with his Crazy Plan That Just Might Work, I kindly have him tell his friend the gist of it before we watch it play out.

Happy Yarning!