Eragon Book Review

Eragon is the first book in Chrstopher Paolini’s Inheritance series. It was officially published in 2003 (the first edition was published in 2002). It is based around a teenage boy, Eragon, and the dragon egg he finds in his small village in the fantasy land of Alagaësia. Warning that this post may contain spoilers.

I’m just going to get straight into the nitty-gritty of this review. This novel has a lot of flaws; and I really mean a lot. The first part of this review will probably be a half-review half-rant, but bear with me, because I will get to the positives of the novel eventually.

A lot of the time, it feels as though Paolini is trying so desperately to give the novel a Tolkien-like feel of epic fantasy and adventure, that it falls flat on its face. Location names like Urû’baen, Father Dûr and Gil’ead just feel, for want of better word, try-hard. You don’t need excessive punctuation to make a word sound like it’s not from the Earth we know. It wouldn’t bother me as much if it weren’t for the fact that almost every character, location, and even gates are given names like these. Put three or more into a sentence, which occurs more often than is needed, and the voice in my head just speaks gibberish for half the sentence because I can’t be bothered trying to pronounce words when I can’t even remember what they’re referring to. Yet the fact that I don’t remember what they’re referring to (and usually skim over them) doesn’t make the plot any more difficult t understand than it should.

This is another problem with the language, A large number of new names are difficult enough to remember as it is, but when these names don’t even have any vague resemblance to words in modern English, remembering their pronunciation and what they are the names of becomes a tiresome and difficult task. The unusual language in itself just seems so unnecessary and I honestly can’t take it seriously considering its whole point (I can only assume) is to make the adventure feel more grand and important.

One of the serious major flaws in the novel was almost the complete lack of distinguishable characters. Normally, I wouldn’t mind too much because women in fantasy novels are usually pretty scarce, but in Eragon it was startlingly obvious. I can remember only six female characters in the 500 page novel who were given a name and actually appeared (as opposed to being in a flashback). Of those, only three of them were given any discernible characterisation, and only one of these two was actually human (one was an elf and the other a dragon, who I don’t even know should be counted). Forget about the Bechdel Test, this novel didn’t even have a single conversation between two named women. I realise Paolini was only 15 when he wrote the novel, but this is no excuse for having such a complete lack of women in a novel that has no difficulty in creating a wide variety of male characters.

Then, there’s the actual writing. Most of the time it’s pretty good except in two situations; when there’s something exciting or emotional occurring, and when a new area is entered. I’ll talk about the latter first. Long story short, Paoilini sucks at descriptions. This wasn’t overly noticeable at first until late in the novel (mostly because there weren’t very intricate new locations) but when Paolini described a new location it is one of the most boring things I have ever read. Some of the time, I couldn’t even be bothered scanning the description, but instead skipped whole paragraphs in a desperate attempt to reach the plot. True, I’m not a fan of lengthy descriptions in novels, but even the page-long descriptors in classic novels like The Lord of the Rings and Sherlock Holmes held my interest to some extent. Yet the long descriptions of hallways and rooms that we only see once in dull a dull and monotonous manner really just made me want to put the book down and stop reading.

Now, the former; the writing in scenes when there’s something exciting or emotional occurring. The writing is pretty good when it come to the day-to-day activities (usually the more dull parts of a novel) but the moment there’s a big battle or something, I find that the novel reaches it’s most boring points. It’s almost as if I don’t care anymore. Although, this could be because in almost every major fight scene to date Eragon ends up being predictably knocked out partway through. Then there’s the emotional scenes. About halfway through, a character we’ve known from the very beginning and had grown on the reader to an extent, dies. This is the second major death in the novel and the first which involves a character we’ve known for a while.Can I just say, I cry extremely easily. Those 30 second Worksafe ads you see on TV make me cry every single time. Yet this novel? Nothing. Even less than that, I didn’t even feel remotely sad. During the pages of grief and mourning all I could think was “get over it”. Maybe I just wasn’t emotionally invested in the characters? But a good writer should make me emotionally invested. And Paolini just didn’t.

You’ve probably noticed by now that I keep using one word in particular; unnecessary. There is just so much unnecessary blabber hiding the actually interesting plot that I almost considered not reading to the end.

With all this negativity, it may seem as though the novel has no positive points at all, however it does. Although small moments in the plot may be overly cliché and predictable, overall I don’t have much of an idea where the story is going. I want to keep reading and I want to know what happens next. That’s one of the main things I look for in a novel.

The vocabulary throughout the Eragon is also extraordinary. I often found myself surprised that a book written by a 15-year-old could have such sophisticated language. Yet even though the language is quite complex at times, it doesn’t to any extent make the novel more difficult to read.

In the end, I’d like to say that although Eragon needs a large amount of improvement in the aspect of female characters and unnecessary bits and pieces, considering that Paolini is so young. Do I recommend it? Probably not, but I will have to finish the rest of the series before I give a definitive decision.

Rating; 2/5 stars

Picture Sources

Book cover:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eragon

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A Study in Scarlet Book Review

I had just finished watching season one of the BBC’s Sherlock and I desperately wanted more but the next season would take over a year to be released. It was in this time that I decided to read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes stories to see the inspiration for Sherlock. Warning that this post may contain spoilers.

A Study in Scarlet is the first of sixty, yes, sixty Sherlock Holmes stories. These include four novels (of which this book is the first) and fifty-six short stories. It was written by Doyle in 1886 and published in 1887. It was the first work of fiction to use a magnifying glass as a investigative tool and the novel brought little attention when it was first published.

For a Sherlock Holmes story, there was surprisingly little about Sherlock Holmes. We are shown generally about his behaviour and personality but very little about the science of deduction. It seems like the main story wasn’t really about him and his detective work at all, but about the events that occurred in Utah, USA. The first time I read it, I was very disappointed by this and quickly skimmed through the second part to get back to Sherlock Holmes’ story, but the second time I already knew about it and was prepared. I then found that Doyle’s writing doesn’t have to focus on Mr. Holmes to be awesome. His writing style seems like it could make any story interesting. Reading the second part knowing that Mr. Holmes wasn’t a big part of it really made me appreciate Doyle’s writing style and storytelling more, instead of rushing through it.

He showed that he is great at character development in Part II, but I wish he would have helped developed the characters of Dr. John Watson and Sherlock Holmes more. In the end, for me to want to continue reading a series, the overall story has to be just as intriguing as the story in that one book, but unfortunately this wasn’t the case. It really made me worry that maybe the character development and the stories of Holmes and Watson isn’t actually the main part of the story and that it may not be touched upon or developed in future stories. Never fear though, because I will re-read all sixty Sherlock Holmes stories!

I don’t usually pay much attention to the descriptions in novels, and usually skim over them, so much so that I have a completely different mental picture of a character than what the author envisioned and described. But with Doyle’s writing style, he somehow makes the descriptions interesting and compelling. I actually want to read them and found out that they are an important part of setting the scene and story in a particular place. One of the descriptions I like the most is at the start of Part II, the description of the desert. I felt that I had the perfect image of it in my head and well as the emotions as well as the emotions that the characters would feel being in the landscape.

Favourite character: John Ferrier

Least favourite character: Joseph Stangerson

Favourite scene: When Jefferson Hope is found dead in his jail cell

Least favourite scene: When Lestrade and Gregson are commended for their part in the investigation instead of Holmes

Rating; 3/5 stars

So Yesterday Book Review

I read this novel a few months ago when I was in the library and thought “I need to read some new novels”. So I went to Scott Westerfeld’s section and picked out a novel I hadn’t read before; So Yesterday. Warning that this post may contain spoilers.

The storyline was average. It’s interesting enough do keep you reading but with cliffhangers like “They were the coolest shoes we’d ever seen”, it wasn’t a I-can’t-put-you-down book. If you’re a nerd and couldn’t really care less about what’s apparently ‘cool’ or ‘in fashion’, then this novel isn’t really going to draw you in. The main character, Hunter, seems entirely focussed on what’s cool and what isn’t (I mean, it is his job, but still). While Westerfeld’s writing makes it seem that what is happening in each scene is very important and world-changing, when you take a step back, it appears to be the exact opposite.

Reading the blurb you’d assume that this book is a fantasy, but it isn’t. I was disappointed when I discovered how ordinary and normal the storyline was. It was a story that actually could (but probably wouldn’t) happen in real life. I think Westerfeld does Sci-Fi and fantasy better to be honest which might be why he tried to make it seem like it was in the blurb; to pull his usual readers in and then let them down with a completely normal story.

After reading many of Westerfeld’s novels (others of which I will post reviews on in the future) I think I’m starting to see a pattern; if there is a girl and a guy around the same age in the story, they will end out having a romantic relationship. It’s very predictable and kind of irritating, and also entirely unrealistic. Teenage males and females are actually capable just be friends, but not according to Scott Westerfeld.

Don’t get me wrong, the novel isn’t exactly bad. Westerfeld’s writing style really helps the story along. Without it, the novel would be doomed to fail, but with it, the story has interest, humour and entertainment. I did want to know what happened to the characters, but I didn’t have to find out straight away. Unfortunately, So Yesterday didn’t have any neat little tricks or educational chapters like in Peeps and The Last Days.

Despite this, the book has an educational side as well, sort of. It shows how companies use advertising to manipulate people (especially teenagers) into buying their product. It sends out a kind of warning message to teenagers; what you think is cool isn’t really, it’s just what major companies and corporations want you to think.

Favourite character: Mandy

Least favourite character: Jen

Favourite scene: Hunter asking the library how to put on a bow-tie

Least favourite scene: All the discussion about the ‘cool’ shoes

Rating; 2/5

The Last Days Book Review

Shortly after I read Peeps, I read this novel as it is the sequel that could almost be a stand-alone book in itself. It was recommended to me by the same friend who recommended Peeps. Warning that this post may contain spoilers.

The book as a whole isn’t really as good as Peeps. I think this is mainly because none of the new characters are very likeable. I really wanted to see the old ones but by the time they were seen, it didn’t really turn out the way I thought it would. They just weren’t the same. One of the things that irritates me about the novel is that sometimes Westerfeld writes as though you haven’t read Peeps. He explains things that we already know and tries to add a sense of mystery about things we already understand. Yet, I think a lot of the information in the novel would be missed if Peeps hadn’t been read beforehand to explain it. I don’t know how well The Last Days would work as a stand-alone novel without Peeps as its predecessor.

However, one of the cool things about this book is that every chapter name is the name of a band. This is just one of the quirky things that makes Westerfeld’s novels just a little bit more awesome. Unlike in Peeps, though. Westerfeld’s writing style has changed. He seems to write like he’s actually writing, rather that as if he’s talking like he usually does. This might be due to the constant point-of-view changes.

Weirdly enough, I think the reading experience of this novel is greatly improved when listening to rock music at the same time; especially in the second half of the book. It really helps you escape from the real world and be immersed in the world that Westerfeld has created. Random, but true.

Another awesome things about The Last Days was the sub-plot. Throughout the whole story I really wanted to know about what they would eventually call the band. This kept me very enthralled and I was delightfully surprised at the end when I found out that I had already know the name of the band all along.

The ending is a bit like Peeps. It is a good ending except that it implies a lot about the ending rather than stating it outright and by doing so leaves the ending to make you think that there is still more to come when there isn’t. Overall, the novel needed a more interesting storyline to make it better rather than just an interesting idea, but Westerfeld’s writing style partially made up for this. The story improved as the book went on.

Favourite character: Pearl

Least favourite character: Cal (I liked him is Peeps, but not in The Last Days)

Favourite scene: When the band plays their first gig and the worm rises during it

Least favourite scene: The petty arguments and relationship problems

Rating; 3.5/5 stars

Peeps Book Review

Peeps is a young adult, fantasy novel by Scott Westerfeld and the first of his many novels I read. I first read it as a recommendation from one of my friends who generally has the same taste in books as I do, a few years ago. Warning that this post may contain spoilers.

I usually start off by going straight into my review but I’m going to do things a little differently for this novel; I’m going to rant a bit. Although this novel is fiction, every second chapter is given as fact and there are ‘facts’ strewn throughout the book. A lot of these are incorrect. First off, evolution. Westerfeld pretty much says it’s 100% true and states that a scientific theory “is a fact”; WRONG! According to my university textbook scientific theory is “When an explanation has been supported by a large number of tests, and when a majority of experts have reached a general consensus that it is a reliable description or explanation.” According to this, evolution isn’t even a theory because you cannot test it. Also, evolution will only be generally accepted until another, better theory comes along. Then it will be discarded like the theory of spontaneous generation. I’m not anti-evolution, I’m just anti-factual inaccuracies. In one chapter Westerfeld also states that Wolbachia is smaller than a single cell. Seeing as a cell is the smallest living thing, that’s kind of impossible. In addition, some viruses are stated as being caused by parasites such a the rabies virus. So beware that not everything said to be fact in this novel is. Westerfeld likes to make out that he has a superior knowledge of science when he doesn’t. Rant over.

Now, to my review. Westerfeld’s writing style is very unique. He writes like he’s talking to you, it seems like he’s having a conversation with the reader. I quite like this because it adds humor without the need for jokes. The notion of the novel is good as well. Once again, I love the ‘weird things going on in our world that we don’t know about’ idea and the way that Westerfeld has tried to make vampires factual and actually possible is very interesting and actually seems plausible.

The mysterious feel of the novel is also great, I love the scenes where we are given lots of information about the history of the Night Watch and peeps. The book is a page-turner that always makes me want to learn more about what is actually occurring.

The ending is also pretty good. It doesn’t have a sudden death that isn’t explained or explored or a terrible fairy-tale style ending. I like it. The only problem is, is that it is a leading ending. It’s the kind of ending that makes you think that the story isn’t finished, that there is more still to come, so it’s a good thing that Peeps is followed by The Last Days. I haven’t reviews these two novels together (as one series) because they are such completely different books told from the point of view of completely different people and I thought they deserved to be reviewed as stand-alone novels.

Favourite character: Lace

Least favourite character: Morgan

Favourite scene: The swimming pool scene and when they first meet the giant worm

Least favourite scene: The factual inaccuracies strewn throughout

Rating; 4/5 stars