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Eldest: Inheritance, Book 2    by Christopher Paolini order for
by Christopher Paolini
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2005 (2005)
Hardcover, Audio, CD, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Unlike many complex fantasy series, this one has the good sense to begin with a synopsis of previous actors and events. It's set in the land of Alagaësia, ruled by evil Emperor Galbatorix, once a Dragon Rider. Served by the Forsworn, he destroyed other Riders who refused his rule, and seeks to control the emergence of dragons from the few eggs remaining. The Varden rebel alliance (including human, elves, dwarves and magic-users) opposes Galbatorix, as does the southern kingdom of Surda under boyish scientist King Orrin. The first book of the Inheritance Trilogy ended after an epic battle that gave young farmer hero Eragon the title of Shadeslayer. It also left him with a debilitating wound and the conviction that his friend Murtagh had been killed by (orc-like) Urgals.

Now, after further involvement in Varden politicking, and new alliances, Eragon, his maternal young dragon Saphira, elven Arya, and dwarf Orik leave for elven Ellésmera. There, Eragon receives tutelage from a master, the Cripple Who Is Whole - while not quite a Yoda, he comes close in his teaching style. Eragon develops both in martial and magical skills, and learns something surprising about the strong and silent (bit of a role reversal here) Arya. The young man has fallen hard for the elven lady, his elder by many decades. As his feelings develop, Eragon commiserates with Saphira on his unsuccessful romance. He also takes responsibility for a magical mistake he made earlier which turned a blessing into a curse. Eventually, at an important elven festival that celebrates the original détente between elves and dragons, Eragon undergoes a transformation, one that just might help him survive the coming conflict.

In a parallel story, Ra'zac show up in Carvahall, seeking Eragon's cousin Roran, who loves the butcher's daughter Katrina. Though they hide him, it's the Ra'zac's cruelty, rather than loyalty to Roran, that impels the villagers to fight back. Unfortunately, Katrina is captured by the monsters. Roran desperately wants to rescue her, but knows that he is responsible for the villagers' plight. Since it's clear that fighting the Empire will ultimately be a lost cause, Roran, now known as Stronghammer, leads an exodus of Carvahall men, women and children south through the mountains. Pursued, they hijack a ship, survive a maelstrom, and eventually sail upriver to the edge of a great battle between imperial forces and the Varden led by the lady Nasuada. There, the cousins are reunited, and Eragon learns the meaning of a prophecy that spoke of betrayal by a family member.

While the story shows its sources more than most and the characterization is rough, it's still an exciting series with innovative fantasy elements, particularly impressive given its author's youth. I like the way Paolini explores the ethics of war (for example, asking why an evil dictator should be fought, when the conflict will also kill innocents) through his story - and my younger son, who rarely picks up a tome like this, is fully engaged by the Inheritance Trilogy.

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