This review must begin with my admission that I am a middle-aged, white man. My angst ridden teen years a distant memory most days. However, as the proud – and highly stressed, at times – father of several children, I get to relive those dramatic teen days over again through my kids. Something I tend to do by watching their favorite tv shows and movies with them, listening to their music, and reading the younger children (pre-teens and younger) their favorite books at bedtime. And this is how I first was introduced to Eragon several years ago: First at the movies in 2006, then a few years later as a bedtime story read. More recently, I decide to revisit the story via an audio book.
Why am I starting my review this way, you ask?
Mainly, it is to warn everyone that I am definitely not the target audience for Eragon, so please be aware of that and assume that the review to follow will not be highly favorable of it.
Eragon starts out like many old school fantasy books: The focus being on a poor farm boy. His name here is . . . (drum roll please!) Eragon! This solidly built and morally firm youth is out hunting in the dangerous mountains for food to help his “adopted” family get through the winter. It is something he does willingly, since his uncle has loved and raised him as his own son ever since Eragon’s mother disappeared soon after his birth.
After a tiring hunt, our young farm boy is about to kill a deer when a burst of magic disrupts the peace of the land. As the light disappears, Eragon discovers something much more dangerous than any wild beast lying before him. Rather, he observes an unadorned blue stone! A simple thing really. One that Eragon quickly takes, intending to sell it to get his family food for the winter. Little does he know that the stone is priceless beyond imagination. A metamorphosis soon to occur that will change Eragon’s life (and the fate of the world) forever!
The story that follows mixes a dash of Lord of the Rings (everything), a pinch of Star Wars (knights with glowing swords), a smidgen of Pern (dragonriders), and a cup of over-used fantasy tropes (you name one, it is here) to create a fairly generic story. While it isn’t bad, Eragon isn’t anything great either. Honestly, it seems at times that Mr. Paolini was content to cut and paste his favorite parts from other stories, tacking these borrowed elements together to create his own teenage fantasy adventure. (Yes, I know Paolini was a teenager when he wrote this, which is why I believe this assessment is fair.)
Does that mean Eragon is not worth reading?
No, it is a decent fantasy novel. My youngest child adores it. He has had me read it to him once and watches the movie regularly, but he hasn’t even hit double digits in his age yet. My older children (pre-teen and teens) do not like it at all, however. In fact, when I read it to them as a bedtime story several years ago, they totally revolted, demanding that I stop and read something more interesting. When I asked why they felt that way, they said Lord of the Rings was better. Since I couldn’t argue, I moved to the next book.
So my kids are split on the book, but why didn’t I (middle-aged, white guy) like this one?
As I mentioned earlier, I find it generic. The story is just too formulaic, filled with too many tropes, inhabited by too many archetypes, and too unsurprising to be terribly interesting to me. The generic farm-boy-with-mysterious-past-finds-magical-object-and-becomes-the-chosen-one was overdone even when I was a kid, and by the 2000s, it was almost impossible to concoct anything new and exciting out of that type of scenario. Even adding in the Star Wars-like elements, Paolini’s story had already been told before and told better to put it simply.
Even saying all that, I can understand where others would disagree and personally love this book, especially those new to fantasy. (Whether that is kids, young adults, or adults doesn’t really matter.) It is an excellent introduction to traditional fantasy with enough magic, world building, and mystical creatures to keep a reader interested. In that introductory type of role, I can see how Eragon could be great.
On a final note, I must give praise to the narrator of the audio book I listened to. This person did an outstanding job with this story. The voices he created were amazingly well done as were the emotions that he somehow endowed the words with. Many times, I could tell the characters feeling just by the tone of the narrator’s voice. A performance that was especially noteworthy and in need of a spotlight.