Spoilers for Eldest follow. Please continue only if you have finished it.
Getting into the flow of reading with Eragon was quite easy. So when I finished the book, rather than taking a moment to gather my thoughts, I directly jumped into Eldest.
For me, since I was remembering the story from all those years ago, I knew what was going to happen, but the end of Eragon gave me some hope. I came to understand that Paolini chose to end the first book on a positive note. Maybe Eragon gets more time before the actual tragedy.
"A Twin Disaster"
For all who have read the book, you know that Eldest opens with the loss of Murtagh and Ajihad. Paolini being cheeky right at the opening drops a hint in the chapter title itself. However, it is only on a re-read that one would pick up the true meaning of the title.
Knowing what was going to happen still did not prepare me for it and I was still saddened by the event. It was frustrating that the Varden did not see through the Twins. It goes to highlight the fact that: "Who watches the watchers?". The Twins even with their duty to monitor the minds of all who entered the Varden were never monitored themselves. This was what led to the fall of the Riders.
The Riders were supposed to guard against the failings of the different governments and races, yet who watched the watchers? It was that very problem that caused the Fall. No one existed who could descry the flaws within the Riders’ own system, for they were above scrutiny, and thus, they perished.
But, of course, I am jumping the gun, we don't find any of this until the end of the book. So getting back to the journey...
Alliances and Politics
Caught in the middle of the turmoil after the death of the leader of the Varden, an unexpected candidate emerges in his daughter, Nasuada. She was an unlikely fit given her age and inexperience, but it is her resolve and the fact that she grew up seeing her father lead that gives some confidence.
We get a glimpse of the politics of the leadership and at this point, it amazed me how Eragon was able to figure out what the right thing to do was by swearing fealty to Nasuada instead of the Varden. He could see through the puppet masters that the Council of Elders looked to be and sought the more stable choice.
It’s better to be sworn to an honest fool than to a lying scholar.
The different agendas would drive any ordinary person mad and it was interesting to find how Eragon handled it all. It's easy to draw a stark contrast (no pun intended) to Ned Stark from the Game of Thrones and his embroilment with the politics. The politics of Eragon is not as high stakes as it is with GoT, but there are times I felt the tension. I was always intrigued by the process on how Eragon settles on a decision and picks the right side to work with.
Then came the offer from the dwarf king, Hrothgar, to join his dwarf clan. It is such an unusual request. I understand now that the only right choice would have been to accept considering how forthcoming and hospitable the dwarves have been. But the request in itself seemed irregular and apart from the urge to exert influence over the Dragon Rider, I did not see any merit in it. Looking at how the dwarves were up to that point, I cannot still believe influence would be a core motivation. Paolini sure seems to have something else in store.
Meeting the Elves
The next stretch of the journey is focused on getting Eragon to the elves so that he can train as a Dragon Rider. Arya tells him of their customs and traditions as she travels with him, Orik and their dwarf companions to the forests in the north.
Being an ancient race, they were totally different from the humans and the dwarves. The elves communicate in the ancient language and you cannot tell untruths in that language. Though over the course of their long lives, being immortal, the elves have mastered the art of telling half truths. So, the entire time with the elves would needed be handled with care.
“Elves, though, are not like other races.”
Our politics move in cycles that are both subtle and lengthy. What you see or hear of an elf one day may only be a slight move in a strategy that reaches back millennia, and may have no bearing on how that elf will behave tomorrow. It is a game that we all play but few control, a game that you are about to enter.
I loved travelling through the forests and learning about how close the elves lived with nature. Their houses were quaint and their magic powerful. In them, there was realized possibility of a race who had all the time in the world and had no need of worldly materials. So, they were free to pursue what they liked. I wondered how it would be to live in a such a world where having a life was the priority over making a living.
A Dragon Rider's Training
When Eragon gets to Ellesméra, he meets the queen of the elves, Izlanzadi and learns of Arya's true heritage. He also finally gets to meet the Cripple Who Is Whole, Oromis, who had helped ease the pain after the encounter with Durza. It is under Oromis's tutelage that Eragon undergoes his training as Dragon Rider. I found his regiment quite interest and have made a note of the same so that us meagre mortals can follow the same (Will share an article on that soon).
As Eragon undergoes his training, we see that he is disabled by the scar that Durza left behind. This always holds him back to give his best in all his exercises. With this physical injury, it is a wonder how he will be able to fight at all. Over the course of his time in Du Weldenvarden, we see how much of a challenge this actually is, esp. with no hope from the elves as well to heal his injury.
I have a new name for pain.
The Obliterator. Because when you’re in pain, nothing else can exist. Not thought. Not emotion. Only the drive to escape the pain. When it’s strong enough, the Obliterator strips us of everything that makes us who we are, until we’re reduced to creatures less than animals, creatures with a single desire and goal: escape.
How would Eragon come out of this?!
I remembered vaguely about the Agaeti Blodhren, the Blood-Oath Celebration, a centennial ceremony that commemorated the pact formed between the elves and dragons at the end of The Dragon War. Coincidently, it was going to happen around the time Eragon was in training. It is during the celebration, through the magic of the dragons that Eragon is healed of his injuries and is transformed into a human-elf hybrid.
I wondered if Paolini had considered alternatives for healing Eragon's injury including getting the elves to figure out a cure, but wanted to project the impossibility of the task and the frustrations and limitations of the injury to the reader. It kind of built a sense of tension and it is understandable that the Dragons in all their might were the only ones who had the power to solve it. It also goes to show their true power and only the little part of magic that humans and elves are able to control.
Unlike Eragon, which followed only him around, we get to witness what happens through other points of view in this book. These perspectives allow us to understand events happening on the other side of the world and the ripples of consequences of choices made by Eragon.
This evolves the story beyond Eragon and provides us with viewpoints from other heroes in the journey.
This perspective shift begins with Roran and we get to see what Eragon left behind in Carvahall through his eyes. Unlike most stories, which choose to sideline the family, friends and village of the hero, either by having them captured or killed and razed, we get to see the resistance rise as the villagers understand the evil of the Empire.
I was drawn in to Roran's journey, which was a stark contrast to Eragon's, because the stakes were higher and to see Roran grow and take on the mantle of a leader is amazing. I jumped through chapters at points in the book just to follow Roran's story. Even though this was a re-read, I most engrossed in his journey and his moral choices as he has to kill for the best interests of his people and his love.
We get to see the repercussions of Eragon's choice, though I still wonder why Brom did not leave more detailed instructions for Roran to be prepared for the Empire. Perhaps in the hurry to leave, Brom did not pay much thought beyond an explanation that would keep Roran safe.
We also get to meet Joed on his journey, who finally fills Roran and the villagers in on the true motives of the Empire. It was a great way to get an older character to join in the crew and provide the exposition and knowledge they needed.
When Roran and the villagers do reach Surda to join the Varden, it is right in the middle of the battle and it is unsurprisingly, without a fall in his stride, that Roran proves himself. The death of the Twins by his hands was a form of poetic justice (suspension of disbelief and high coincidence aside)
In Nasuada, we see a leader rise to the occasion. She gathers the entire Varden and moves to Surda from their previous hiding with the dwarves and we get to her demonstrate strength, resilience and tactical prowess as she maneuvers through the political landscape of the new country.
She is even able to work out a solution for their monetary troubles and prepare the army for a battle soon to be breaking out.
We also see what happens of Elva and the blessing that is a curse that Eragon had laid upon her. Being a shield for misfortune would make you think that perhaps she had become a victum of bad luck or something. But the truth of her ability to feels other's pain and try to resolve at her own behest is strangely horrific and unreal. Paolini shows how inexperience with magic can have a huge price.
The Battle of the Burning Plains
Every book in the Inheritance Cycle ends with a major battle between the Varden and the Empire. Where Eragon had the Battle of Farthen Dur and the confrontation with the Shade, Durza, culmination of the tension and conflict that has been building throughout the book reaches a crescendo with the Battle of the Burning Plains.
The stakes are higher with the armies meeting in the open field. There a sense of conclusion as the armies race to meet in battle, with Eragon having to fly with Saphira from the forest of the elves along with Orik.
You would think that with Eragon's new abilities and training this would not be a challenge. But there on the field of battle, when even the enemy pits their magicians against yours, the battle seemed like an even match. Of course with Eragon and Saphira's prowess, his chances of winning were way better until Paolini threw a spanner in the works in the form of a rival Dragon Rider.
The Big Reveal
I don't remember how I felt when I first discovered the true identity of the rider. I wish I had written down what was running in my mind then. Oh, what I would give to know my thoughts. This time around knowing what I know about who it was and what was going to happen, there was a sense of impending doom.
I mixed up the events of this book and the next and expected a certain character to also be killed, but the fact that the dwarf king fell and that the other character would fall in the future still is heart-breaking (Reading the opening chapter of Murtagh actually reminded me the depth of the loss and now as it happened I still couldn't believe it).
It was finally the brother's bond and the bond of camaraderie that made Murtagh spare Eragon on the battlefield. There was still some hope. Though I still wonder at Paolini's motivations when he got Murtagh to kill the dwarf king. Did he want to show the control that Galbatorix exerted over Murtagh or the frustration that Murtagh had over the world that made him lash out? To have a dragon and to be enslaved, how much more will the elder brother be burdened with.
This, of course, brings me to the biggest reveal, that Morzan is Eragon's father. And so the title makes sense, Eldest and the red dragon on the cover is that of Murtagh's, Thorn. You can see hints of this laid in the first book. I am presuming that certain aspects of the story were set in stone when Paolini started writing and he was able to sprinkle the connection throughout.
They had won, but he had lost.
Eldest is a brilliant follow up to Eragon. In Eldest, I found that Paolini had found his stride. The writing seemed more mature and coherent and the flow of the story kept you engaged at all times. Where Eragon featured travels across one end of Alagaesia, Eldest goes on to show the other end with chances to explore other dwarven cities and the mysterious elves and their homeland.
It was great to see more of Angela and her quips in the book. From the stars to Alagaesia, she is one of my most favorite characters in the Inheritance Cycle and I would even say across all books I read (Kaz Brekker and Inej also share a spot there).
“I suppose I won’t see you for a while, so farewell, best of luck, avoid roasted cabbage, don’t eat earwax, and look on the bright side of life!”
- Angela to Eragon when he is leaving to Du Weldenvarden
I was lost in the world of Eragon and found myself craving more of it. Paolini had weaved such a beautiful and comprehensive world that I understand even now, as I did when I was a kid, the urge to create one as enticing. The races of humans, dwarves, elves, Urgals, dragons were all complex and fleshed out that you can't help but get engrossed and entangled in their affairs.
The only thing holding me back from starting Brisingr is writing down my thoughts, which is now complete.
Onwards to Brisingr...
Originally published on 5th November 2023. It's Eragon week for me as I catch up on all my thoughts on the Inheritance cycle, in anticipation of the release of Murtagh. I am in the middle of Brisingr and have decided to take my time with it because I want more of the world of Eragon.