Friday, August 20, 2010

Eragon, Saphira and Christopher Paolini

A boy, a dragon, elves and dwarves, bloodthirsty monsters and a malicious, crazy king - all pretty standard stuff for a fantasy novel. This one even has a special sword, how much more typical can it get, right? Well, here's one unusual thing about it - the first book in the series became a NYT bestseller while the author was still in his teens. This was a huge surprise to me when I first looked up Christopher Paolini. I've read some fantasy novels that were their respective authors' firsts and they were not so good, to put it mildly. The "too much" and "too little" plagued them and in a genre where poor writing seems to be the usual shortcoming that's pretty darn bad. This one is actually pretty darn good. I'm reading the second book, Eldest, right now and can already see that the writing has improved and that this guy who's only a year my junior has real talent, that his first book wasn't just a fluke. He knows what he's doing and he's getting better at it all the time.
I won't summarize the book here, you can find a synopsis online yourself, I'll just tell you what in particular I like about this story. I like the friendship between Eragon and Saphira, his dragon. They are honest and fair to each other and they have each other's backs and are in a way one while remaining their own selves.
I like how the relationships between characters are real with sympathy, conflict, respect and suspicion present, just like in real life. I also like that the characters aren't either good or bad. There's more to them than the hero or villain tag. They have their pasts and they have their uncertain futures and all that molds them into multidimensional beings. I particularly liked how Mortagh was shown in the first book. There was such a fine line in him between good and evil, suspicion and trust. You could see just how damaged he was without being able to quickly categorize him. To me that shows a certain level of accomplishment on the part of the author.
I like how Paolini shows us the world of Eragon, the lands he travels and the nations that populate those lands. He doesn't give us long descriptions telling us everything about them upfront but rather reveals small bits here and there, allowing us to learn things as Eragon learns them.
I like that there's humor and sword fights and pain and the wonder of first love and mystery all interwoven into the narrative in a way that creates a believable story with believable characters a reader can actually relate to because they aren't too perfect or imperfect.
I like how the past is never just the past, how it comes back to haunt or help. Real life does that too and if you've read more than just one post of mine you know that stories like that appeal to me.
There's one more thing I like about these books - the author himself. From the interviews he's given it seems like he is a very wholesome and grounded young man who gives important things in life some serious thought and even the not-so-important ones get his attention. His interests range from hiking to painting to making his own chain mail, he's read more than anyone else I've heard of and his range is astounding, from antiquity to the present day, and he expresses himself so well I keep forgetting he's a year younger than I am. He creates an impression of a very thinking, solid young man, the kind I would like to meet and make friends with, the kind I wish there were more of in this world.
The weekend is coming and I can't wait to curl up with Eldest in my lap and find out if certain suspicions of mine are correct. If all goes as planned my bookmark will move on to Brisingr by the time Monday rolls around. Sounds like the perfect weekend!

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