| January 12, 2009 10:39 pm

There are some books whose influence and impact stay with the reader long after the last page. The ideas, stories and possibilities continue to haunt the imagination like so many restless specters. JRR Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” is one such work. It fills the head with ageless elves, far-away places, and terrible villains. Christopher Paolini’s Brisingr is also such a work. Unfortunately, the ghouls it conjures are of a different type than those that haunt Tolkein’s.

Brisingr is the third book in Paolini’s “Inheritance Cycle.” Once believed to be a trilogy, with Brisingr at its conclusion; the Ineritance Saga will likely be a quartet with Brisingr as its penultimate volume. In trying to review the work, it is probably best to start with the “short” and then proceed to the “long.” E.A. Salinas’ provides a nice summary on Amazon.com:

“Brisingr” may be the “ancient language’s” word for fire, but Christopher Paolini’s third novel doesn’t really have any. Awkward, plodding and lacking a real plot, this flame was out before it even started.

If you haven’t surmised, the short is this: the book is terrible. For those that have already read Brisingr, my sympathies. For those who are wondering if they should, there is far better work, even in the realm of trash fantasy.

Paolini commits all the stylistic sins of consequence: he’s boring, long winded and trite. The main plot is particularly egregious, as the novel doesn’t really have one. The subtitle of the book tells you nearly everything you need to know: “The Seven Promises of Eragon Shadeslayer and Saphira Bjatskoler.” Brisingr moves from one promise to the next without a central storyline to connect them. The novel might have been more effectively organized as a volume of “loosely connected” short stories, since it essentially reads like one.

Paolini’s commits a far more serious sin than being scattered or dull, however. Brisingr struggles to be “Literature” and in the process sags under the weight of politicking and pretentious moral preaching. While many of the questions Eragon ponders barely rise to the level of interesting cocktail banter, there are some issues to which Paolini’s characters come to surprisingly disturbing conclusions. One of Tolkien’s greatest accomplishments was using his writing as a medium for moral thought experiments. It is somewhat ironic, then, that someone who compares himself to Tolkien spends much of his time contradicting the values and ideas which make The Lord of the Rings great literature. Some of these “ideas” so greatly bothered me, I felt the need to more directly wrestle with them.

To understand the great weaknesses in Paolini’s work, it’s first necessary to understand the small ones. Let’s start with the minor sins before looking at their heavier brethren. As I alluded to above, there isn’t much to enjoy in this novel; not at a technical, literary, or philosophical level. While some of the linguistic errors might be resolved with a good editor, many of the other errors are stylistic or structural and are much more intractable. Paolini devotes pages to unimportant minutiae, drowning the narrative in lengthy and ponderous description. At one point he spends twenty-two pages to describe the forging of his sword from space metal. Twenty-two pages!

Following Paolini’s prose is an effort which isn’t made any easier by the moded style that he has chosen to adopt. Rather than sounding timeless or like “the lyrical beauty of Tolkien at his best and Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf,” the language is pretentious and stupid. Good writers use complex language to provide illumination. Paolini sounds like he is attempting to get off using his thesaurus. If the prose is pretentious, the dialogue is even worse. It fails to approach realistic much less elegant. Consider one example where Eragon and Roran share a particularly gag inducing conversation prior to assaulting the Ra’zak, “Even we, who were boys but a short while ago, cannot escape the inexorable progress of time. So the generations pass …” Paolini continues on like this for another ten pages.

While listening to the audio book version of the work, I often wondered if the narrator (Gerard Doyle) needed to pause and ask, “Did Paolini really write that?” There are telling transitions in the narrative where the sentence begins in one tone and ends in another. While such moments were obviously due to the combination of different edits, each awkward combination practically begs the question, “Did Doyle just lose it?” As a listener, I could barely stomach the prose. I can only marvel at the discipline required to record it.

As goes the language, so goes everything else. In typical Paolini style, Eragon skirts from one misadventure to another and from one useless subplot to the next. Fans of Paolini’s might be better served reading the first 100 pages and the last 100 pages. There isn’t much of interest in the middle. Better yet, read the Wikipedia entry and save yourself the pain completely. This might just save you from wondering if Paolini gets paid by the pound for his books.


10 Responses to “Literary Sins – A Review of Christopher Paolini’s Brisingr”

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Lauralei Anne wrote a comment on July 22, 2009

Although there are some dry parts in Brisingr, the novel does not even come close to deserving the above review. I’ve read a number of dumb, boring books in my time, and Paolini’s recent work could not begin to touch their worthlessness. Truly, readers deserve a second opinion.

You (Rob Oakes) wrote that Brisingr had no fire and you continuously complained about the prose. It seems you failed to see the beauty the author sculpted into his work: you were so busy looking for things to hate that you missed the detailed imagery of the battle scenes.

As for the comment that Paolini’s style is to skirt from one useless subplot to the next, what exactly would you deem useless? Eragon’s resolution for dealing with Sloan? the part where Eragon fights Murtagh and Thorn? Roran’s marriage to Katrina? Why not cut the visit to Farthen Dur out while we’re at it! Without subplots a book is not much of a story (and in my opinion these additions were not as horrible and needless as you seem to believe).

P.S. If you want to read a truly disappointing book, try “The Final Warning” by James Patterson. Of course, you will have to read the first three books to understand what a disservice the fourth is to the Maximum Ride Series.

DarkRaven wrote a comment on September 11, 2009

I agree that the Inheritance Cycle is filled with flaws and it beats me why Eragon even got published, however I find the hate it receives to be a little to be rather dumb. It seems to me that the likes of Impishidea and the (now closed) Anti Shurtugal only exist for hate. I doubt that many of their members can write anything better than Eragon.

To be honest, if a young author on my forum wrote Eragon I would have applauded him and predicted that he would have a fine life ahead of him in the future. However because Paolini got it published and it became popular people seem to want to make themselves feel better by bashing it.

Arraes wrote a comment on October 10, 2009

No, the hate Eragon receives is rather wise. It is wisdom to hate the untruth, and even deeper wisdom to hate untruths posing as truths.

I read the philosophy teachings that Eragon receives and the logical fallacies left me appalled. To imagine the youth of this world being subjected to such specious argument is indeed hateful.

Sventior wrote a comment on October 30, 2009

Wow. I hate to have to say this, but in response to the above comments, mainly the ones tearing down both Paolini as well as the Inheritance books, Have you Even Read the book? And I do mean Actually having read it. Not a disdainful flipping from page to page, picking out all the things you dislike.

Why do you compare Paolini’s creation to writings of other authors? Those are the visions and imaginative creation of different authors whom, like all of us, see the world and all things quite differently than everyone else. Therefore it should be expected that the worlds and their inhabitants, that they create, should also be infinitely different.

Personally, I Loved Eragon, Eldest, and Brisingr. From the moment I opened Eragon six years ago, I was pulled into the beautiful Alagaesia that Paolini had created. I fell in love with both Saphira and her Rider.

And yes, I understand that everyone likes different things and that some people will (obviously) not like the Inheritance Cycle. However, it pains me to think of people just blindly hating something without ever having actually experienced it.

I would also like to add that all of those “unimportant minutiae” as you (Rob Oakes) call them, are what everyone else likes to call Details. They are the very essence of creating an entrancing world. I’m sure that you don’t understand why in the world that a reader would need to know that a character’s hair was like molten copper, but to rest of us it is details like that which help to, in our own minds, create the world the author was trying to convey. I am quite sad to find that, apparently, you lack the imagination to fully appreciate those “unimportant minutiae”.

As to the comment at the end here regarding logic, wisdom, truths, untruths, and untruths disguised as untruths…Seriously?
You’re going to condemn the Logic lessons to a Fictitious Character from Fictitious Characters in a Fiction book???
But if you insist on doing so, quite a bit of the logic applied in the Inheritance Cycle is perfectly sound.
Paolini wrote everything from the mindset of the time period he was trying to convey. Apparently such subtleties escape your grasp.
You clearly have far too much time on your hands, and not enough mental prowess to do something with it.
I have a suggestion. Why don’t you go read a book?

And as a final footnote, to everyone that should wish to continue tearing down Paolini and his works: I should think that the moment one of you creates something as beautiful as Alagaesia, then, and only then, are you quite worthy to judge.

An eighteen year old Fan.

Nick wrote a comment on December 18, 2009

“Why do you compare Paolini’s creation to writings of other authors? Those are the visions and imaginative creation of different authors whom, like all of us, see the world and all things quite differently than everyone else. Therefore it should be expected that the worlds and their inhabitants, that they create, should also be infinitely different.”

This is a ridiculous cop-out, nothing exists in a vacuum and Paolini has obviously borrowed heavily from the fantasy tropes established by previous (and better) authors. It is utter and complete rubbish to claim that a work cannot be judged by other works because it is different. I wouldn’t judge Paolini by Hemingway’s standards of course, but if he is going to put out a fantasy book he better be ready to be judged next to Tolkien. A work that cannot withstand comparison is a work that does not deserve to see the light of day.

Nate wrote a comment on March 24, 2010

As the great literary theorist Northrop Frye has repeatedly stated, literature cannot be compared. There is no such thing as good or bad literature, there is just literature. One person (on another blog) claimed that Eragon embodied the persona of a sociopath; to his credit, it actually did make a lot of sense. What’s wrong with that though? Is it unacceptable for a fictional hero to have psychological flaws? In my opinion, if authors are rewarded with a taste of success, they are thoroughly criticized by those who strive to have a unique opinion. I guarantee a portion of those who utterly hate Paolini’s works would praise the trilogy had the outcome been unsuccessful.

The trilogy is far from perfect, don’t misunderstand me. On the contrary, however, perfection does not exist in the literary world (and the natural world, but that’s misinterpreting my point). And for the record, all novels should be read to delevop an educated imagination. To say the trilogies should be left untouched is simply an arrogant thing to say.

Last point, I promise. I agree with Oakes – to a degree – regarding Paolini’s descriptive style. However, there are other genres of writing other than narrative and persuasive in the world. Descriptive writing offers the mind a vivid image to fall back on, but only if the reader has attained a visual frame of mind. Linguistic minds may not understand the trilogy as well as others, so should that cast a horrible shadow over the novels? What I’m trying to say, is literature can be correctly interpreted in any possible way. One author (his name is eluding me) spent years to create a word that described the mental interpretation of love; it was thirty pages long and derived from multiple languages. Should this word be deemed useless because some – or most – may think the word is far too long and confusing?

Just something to think about…
– Nate

Zil wrote a comment on March 31, 2010

I must say I agree with Oakes alot here. The Inheritance Cycle is rife with excessive prose, 2-dimensional characters, and absurd use of deus ex machina. However just to make myself clear, I don’t think all the books are bad, just the most recent. Eragon wasn’t a bad read. Sure it was predictable as heck but it was still enjoyable. Eldest started the slide into the depths of suck. It introduced the obnoxiously perfect elves, the cooke-cutter Tolkien re-imaginized elves none the less. Before the thoroughly unlikeable and in-explicably leather-clad, yet strictly vegetarian Arya was the only representative of her race. I really wish it had stayed that way, that way one could just assume that she is just a particulaly annoying elf, but instead it turns out Miss Perfect is practically the norm. So absolutly perfect and beautiful people who can do no wrong and are always right to the point noone can argue with them. Not to mention atheistic, which lead s to a particularly head-desk worthy section in which Arya verbally and publicly anvilliciously castigates a dwarven priest in his own city and while she is there at the dwarves expense. Brisingr does kinda subvert this a bit, but is so vague on the details on if that specific event actually happened, so it really doesn’t matter.

Anyway moving, one of the above posters insisted that Paolini’s work not be judged against the likes of other fantasy authors, I’m sorry but I must disagree. Oakes line about “the lyrical beauty of Tolkien at his best and Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf,” wasn’t an abstraction that was a direct quote from Paolini himself in where he thinks his writing falls, which flies beyond presumptuous and straight into outright arrogance. When he himself views himself as being equal to far greater writers then he and his works are fair game. Probably the worst thing about Paolini which effects the quality of his work is som ething so basic that every writer needs: criticism. Paolini’s parents have mentioned they don’t expose him to bad reviews and the such out of fear it would damage his confidence or some BS reason like that. The trouble is, how does one improve if all your feedback is nothing but inane fanwanking. You have to be able to see your work from other points of view even the negative ones. Otherwise your work will stagnate and fall apart.

Shaleen wrote a comment on December 21, 2010

I agree with everything you said. That book was an absolute abomination.

Shadora wrote a comment on September 16, 2012

Not really a critique of the review, but… Am I missing something? Where’s the rest of the review? He said he’d tackle the lesser sins first and then it drops off. I wanted to read the rest of it.

Care to comment?