Wednesday, November 25, 2009

[Book Review] Brisingr by Christopher Paolini

Brisingr
Christopher Paolini
ISBN: 978-375-82672-6
Price: $27.50
748 pages, Hard Cover Edition
Fantasy
Rating: 5/5
Review Date: Nov. 25, 2009



Brisingr, the third installment in the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini moves the story closer to the Empire's capital in Uru'baen with just as much action and adventure starting off with Eragon's promise to help Roran rescue his beloved Katrina at Helgrind in Dras-Leona.

While waiting for dawn to break, Roran and Eragon get to talk and catch up on the years they've been apart and Roran asks his brother about Arya and Eragon replies with reasons as to why his relationship with Arya is doomed adding, "I cannot in good conscience marry a woman who will age and die while I remain untouched by time; such an experience would be equally cruel for both of us. On top of that, I find the thought of taking one wife after another throughout the long centuries rather depressing" which is quite true in the sense that Riders tend to have longer lives than humans in part due to their close relationship with their dragons.

As dawn breaks, the brothers came out of their hiding places and went to the base of Helgrind where they had a shocking discovery that led to the dark caves and tunnels that comprises Helgrind. Here the brothers and Saphira fought a hard fight with the two Raz'ac and their parents, the Lethrblaka and was finally able to rescue Katrina. After sending Saphira off with Roran and Katrina on her back, Eragon went back inside Helgrind to personally take care of someone's fate.

Meanwhile back at the Varden, Nasuada's leadership is being challenged by Fadawar, who was asking Nasuada for favors she would not grant to be fair to everyone. Not liking this, Fadawar challenged Nasuada to a Trial of the Long Knives wherein the leadership of a tribe or kingdom is at stake and the winner is determined by how many lashes a person can withstand and of course, witnessed by a lot of people. Afterwhich, Saphira arrives with Roran and Katrina and relates everything that happened in Helgrind and when Arya found out that Eragon stayed behind, she laced up her boots and raced off in search of Eragon, who was pretending to be an elf and Arya a human when they finally met at a tavern in Eastcroft and together they ran back towards the Varden, encountering Galbatorix's soldiers and spirits along the way.

Queen Islanzadi made true her promise to send twelve elves, the best of their spellcasters, to help protect Eragon and Saphira and Nasuada galloped off to meet them at the news of their arrival, leaving her guards, the Nighthawks trying to catch up with her wherein which the Nighthawks captain Garven wasn't so pleased with so saying, "Blast it, Lady Nasuada, you shouldn't have left us as you did! ... For the Nighthawks to be effective, we have to be the smartest, toughest, meanest warriors in the land, and people have to believe that we're the smartest, the toughest and the meanest. They have to believe that if they try to stab you or shoot you with a crossbow or use magic against you that we will stop them ... We cannot fight all your enemies, Lady Nasuada, that would take an army. Even Eragon couldn't save you if all who want you dead had the courage to act upon their hatred ... The only way to keep that from happening is to convince the majority of your enemies that they will never get past the Nighthawks ... It does us no good, then, for people to see you riding off without us. No doubt we looked a right bunch of fools back there, frantically trying to catch up. After all, if you do not respect us, Lady, why should anyone else? ... We will gladly die for you if we must. All we ask in return is that you allow us to perform our duties ... We are yours, Lady Nasuada, fully and completely. So please, let the Nighthawks do what they are supposed to do... Let us protect you."

Upon Eragon's and Arya's return, Eragon was put to the task of removing the curse he unwittingly put on Elva and the child would take no for an answer. She wanted to be free of the curse and though Eragon tried, Elva asked him to stop trying out a new spell "because I don't want any more spells feeding off me. And because I just realized I can ignore them! ... Without the urge to aid everyone who is suffering, I can ignore their troubles, and it doesn't make me sick! I can ignore the man with the amputated leg, I can ignore the woman who just scalded her hand, I can ignore them all, and I feel nor worse for it! It's true, I can't block them perfectly, not yet at least, but oh, what a relief! Silence, blessed silence! No more cuts, scrapes, bruises, or broken bones. No more petty worries of air-headed youths. No more anguish of abandoned wives or cuckolded husbands. No more the thousands of unbearable injuries of an entire war. No more the gut-wrenching panic that precedes the final darkness."

Soon after, Murtagh and Thorn appeared with 300 of Galbatorix's soldiers which would have been an easy battle for the Varden if not for the fact that these soldiers would not die, which caused the Varden to panic and run in fear of these monsters but upon regrouping, they found a way to permanently keep the soldiers laying on the ground in death. After which Eragon marries Katrina and Roran and was sent to Tronjeim to oversee and hopefully speed up the dwarves' process in selecting their new king and to support candidates sympathetic to the Varden while Roran was sent on missions with different captains to overtake and destroy Galbatorix's supply convoys.

Upon reaching Tronjeim, Eragon meets Orik's wife, Hvedra and the members of the Clanmeet and was assured by Orik, "If I cannot be king, trust me not to be so blinded by the prospect of power that I cannot recognize when my bid has failed. If that should happen - not that I believe it shall -- then I will, of my own volition, lend my support to one of the other candidates, for I have no more desire than to see a grimstnzborith elected who is hostile to the Varden. And if I should help promote another to the throne, the status and prestige I will place at the service of that clan chief shall of its very nature, include your own, since you are Ingeitum. Will you trust me Eragon? Will you accept me as your grimstborith, as the rest of my hall -- sworn subject do?" to which Eragon replies that he would defer to Orik in matters concerning the Durgrimst Ingeitum, but in all else Orik has no hold over him.

During his stay at Tronjeim, Eragon was attacked by dwarves and one of his guards got killed in the skirmish that ensued and Eragon finds himself yet again without a sword. The attack lead to a secret investigation by Orik and his most trusted men and was brought up during the Clanmeet where severe consequences was handed out to the clan chief who was found guilty beyond resonable doubt without resulting in a clan war as was the intent of the clan chief who perpetuated such treachery. After all that has been said and done, the clan chiefs finally voted for their new king which was immediately followed by a coronation ceremony and much celebration and as a gift to the new king, Saphira repaired the Isidar Mithrim "... a surge of energy rushed through Saphira ... and she bent and touched the star sapphire with the tip of her snout. The branching cracks within the giant gemstone flared bright as bolts of lightning, and then the scaffolding shattered and fell to the floor, revealing Isidar Mithrim whole and sound again. But not quite the same. The color of the jewel was a deeper, richer shade of red than before, and the innermost petals of the rose were shot through with streaks of dusky gold." After the coronation, Eragon and Saphira flew over to Ellesmera seeking out Oromis and Glaedr and what lies beneath the Menoa tree as Solembum had told him, "When the time comes and you need a weapon, look under the roots of the Menoa tree..." and Eragon discovers something far more important that would free him from the dark shadow of sharing Murtagh's blood and Galbatorix's source of seemingly infinite power.

In all the time that Eragon was away from the Varden, Roran was serving under Captain Edric who "had an abrasive personality, and he disciplined his warriors for even the slightest deviation from established practice ... a style of command that undermined a man's morale, as well as discouraged creativity and invention from those underneath" him. In one expedition, Roran was charged with insubordination leaving Nasuada with no choice but to punish such insubordination in such a public way despite the fact of Roran's heroic efforts in saving the lives of his comrades and killing nearly two hundred soldiers by himself. But because Roran is Eragon's cousin, Nasuada can't afford to have him commit insubordination again so she made him in charge of his own command: an even mix of humans and Urgals with the hope "to convince the Varden to accept the presence of the Urgals without further bloodshed, ... to show the Varden that our two races can work together in peaceful pursuit of a common goal ..." to defeat Galbatorix.

Brisingr concludes with the Varden advancing towards Feinster simultaneously with the Elves in the middle of a battle in Gil'ead with as much action, drama and tragedy anyone could hope for in a fantasy epic adventure.

In Brisingr, Eragon grows in wisdom and compassion when he sends Sloan off to Ellesmera as his punishment for betraying the people of Carvahall and his punishment: he can't contact or see Katrina ever again as long as he lives and knowing that Katrina is happy with Roran. And if Sloan's character changes for the better, his vision will be restored by the elves. "Eragon thought with mild surprise at finding Sloan gone with his tracks heading north, 'I want him to succeed, because it will mean we may all have a chance to redeem ourselves from our mistakes.'" But the elves haven't seen fit to restore his sight as Glaedr puts it nicely, "The weeping man is broken inside. He cannot see clearly enough for his eyes to be of any use" which is true enough because all this time that Sloan's been in Ellesmera, his mean and cruel disposition still hasn't changed, although there's a slight change but it's not enough to warrant the restoration of his vision.

Roran's statement, "A man rarely knows the day and hour when he will die ... what will happen will happen, and I won't waste the time I have above ground worrying. Misfortune always comes to those who wait. The trick is to find happiness in the brief gaps between disasters" makes one realize that we should always strive to look for the positive in everything no matter how hard it may seem. And Roran's life is anything but a continuous cycle of hardship not only physical but spiritual as well when he thought to himself, "Must I slaughter entire fields of men in order to regain what the empire stole from me? ... And if I do, how could I return to Palancar Valley and live in peace when my soul was stained black with the blood of hundreds? ... I kill for my love. I kill for my love of Katrina, and for my love of Eragon and everyone from Carvahall, and also for my love of the Varden, and my love of this land of ours. For my love, I will wade through an ocean of blood, even if it destroys me" and such deep love is further demonstrated when he was sentenced to fifty lashes for his insubordination, "'How can I possibly withstand another twenty lashes?' Then he thought of Katrina and their unborn child, and the thought gave him strength" and the same thought spurred him to great acts of heroism the latest was defeating nearly two hundred soldiers by himself in order to save his family, his friends, his comrades.

And Nasuada's leadership continues to grow in leaps and bounds as she work tirelessly to keep the Varden united, heading toward their goal of overthrowing Galbatorix and putting a stop to his reign of terror and oppression. "Eragon allowed himself a secret smile at how well Nasuada played upon their emotions, inspiring confidence, loyalty and high spirits in spite of a reality that was far less optimistic than she portrayed it. She did not lie to them -- to his knowledge, she did not lie, not even when dealing with the Council of Elders or other of her political rivals. What she did was report the truths that best supported her position and her arguments. In that regard, he thought she was like the elves... it was obvious to Eragon that however much the people respected Orrin, they did not love him as they loved Nasuada, nor could he fire their imagination as Nasuada fired it. The smooth-faced king was gifted with a superior intellect. But his personality was too rarefied, too eccentric, and too subdued for him to be a receptacle for the desperate hopes of the humans that opposed Galbatorix" thus in Eragon's point of view, makes Nasuada the perfect candidate to replace Galbatorix in Uru'baen to unite the whole of Alagaesia like she did the Varden. Although sometimes, for she is merely human, Nasuada thinks she made a mistake in accepting the Urgals into the Varden, Saphira's wisdom says otherwise, "You cannot help but be human ... Yet you do not have to be bound by what those around you believe. You can grow beyond the limits of your race if you have the will. If the events of the past can teach us anything, it is that the kings and queens and other leaders who have brought the races closer together are the ones who have accomplished the greatest good in Alagaesia. It is strife and anger we must guard against, not closer relations with those who were once our foes. Remember your distrust of the Urgals, for they have well earned it, but also remember that once dwarves and dragons love one another no more than humans and Urgals. And once dragons fought against the elves and would have driven their race extinct if we could have. Once those things were true, but no more, because people like you had the courage to set aside past hatreds and forge bonds of friendship where, previously, none existed" which also echoes the sentiments of Garzhvog, "It does no good, then, to dwell upon past wrongs. If we cannot overlook what each of our races has done, there will never be peace between humans and the Urgralgra."

In the past two books in the Inheritance Cycle, readers have wondered what would happen if Eragon successfully reverses his curse on Elva and now that he did, and Elva's take on this new freedom saying, "I will never be like ordinary people. If I must be different, then let me keep that which sets me apart. As long as I can control this power, as it seems I now can, I have no objection to carrying this burden, for it shall be by my choice and not forced upon me by your magic, Eragon. Ha! From now on, I shall answer to no one and no thing. If I help anyone, it will be because I want to. If I serve the Varden, it will be because my conscience tells me I should and not because you ask me to, Nasuada, or because I'll throw up if I don't. I will do as I please, and woe unto those who oppose me, for I know all their fears and shall not hesitate to play upon them in order to fulfill my wishes" makes one think that reversing the spell only made things worse. It seems Eragon unleashed a monster in the form of a child without compassion nor conscience, making Angela, the herbalist, right when she said, "Now I'm going to have to spend the next ten years teaching Elva how to behave! That's not what I had in mind for the next decade!" Truly this is not going to be a task anyone in their right minds would be looking forward to doing considering how Elva is hell bent on doing what she wishes to do.

In Tronjeim, Orik succeeded Hrothgar as grimstborithn (clan chief) of Durgrimst Ingeitum and one would think he hungers for power since he too aspires to be dwarf king but he puts everyone straight when he explains to Eragon, "A dwarf king or queen is always at the mercy of the clans, no matter how strong a ruler they may be, just as the grimstborithn are at the mercy of the families of their clan" and when Eragon questions whether he can surely win the throne, Orik replies, "If I cannot be king, trust me not to be so blinded by the prospect of power that I cannot recognize when my bid has failed. If that should happen -- not that I believe it shall -- then I will, of my own volition, lend my support to one of the other candidates, for I have no more desire than to see a grimstborithn elected who is hostile to the Varden" proving not only that he does not hunger for power but merely wants to see the Varden's goal of overthrowing Galbatorix become a reality, with which clan chief Iorunn said quite so eloquently, "... the most important issue we must decide is whether to commit ourselves to the Varden's campaign against the Empire. If theirs were merely a war between rival clans, it would not matter to me which side won, and I certainly would not consider sacrificing our warriors for the benefit of outlanders. However this is not the case. Far from it. If Galbatorix emerges triumphant from this war, not even the Beor Mountains will protect us from his wrath. If our realm is to survive, we must see Galbatorix overthrown. Moreover, it strikes me that hiding in caves and tunnels while others decide the fate of Alagaesia is unbecoming for a race as old and as powerful as ours. When the chronicles of this age are written, shall they say we fought alongside the humans and the elves, as the heroes of old, or that we sat cowering in our halls like frightened peasants while a battle raged outside our doors?"

As for briefly stopping by Ellesmera, Eragon was seeking answers to questions that would help him and Saphira defeat Thorn and Murtagh and ultimately Galbatorix himself, he sought the help of Oromis and Glaedr and asked to be taught how to summon spirits to which Oromis had the wisdom to say, "Sorcery is not like other magics, Eragon; by it, you attempt to force incredibly powerful and hostile beings to obey your commands, beings who devote every moment of their captivity to finding a flaw in their bonds so that they can turn on you and subjugate you in revenge. Throughout history, never has there been a Shade who was also a Rider, and of all the horros that have stalked this fair land, such an abomination would easily be the worst, worse even than Galbatorix. Please choose another subject, Eragon: one less perilous for you and our cause" to which Eragon asked he be given his true name and again, Oromis in his wisdom replies, "Yes, I believe I could. But I will not. A true name can be of great importance magically, but it is not a spell in and of itself, and so it is exempt from my promise. If your desire is to better understand yourself, Eragon, then seek to discover your true name on your own. If I gave it to you, you might profit thereof, but you would do so without the wisdom you would otherwise acquire during the journey to find your true name. A person must earn enlightenment, Eragon. It is not handed down to you by others, regardless of how revered they be." So Eragon learns instead to magically transport objects with Oromis' last words in his ears before they parted ways, "You now have the hands of a warrior, Eragon. Take care they do not become the hands of a man who revels in the carnage of war" to which Eragon later proves, as they were flying towards Feinster, when he said, "Sometimes I wish I enjoyed fighting as much as you do. Then this would be so much easier" but then Saphira in her wisdom, replied, "If you did, the entire world would cower before our feet, including Galbatorix. No, it is good you do not share my love of blood. We balance each other out, Eragon ... Apart we are incomplete, but together we are whole."

Rhunon, the elf who made the Rider's swords has sworn off forging another weapon saying, "Why should I loose another soul-reaver upon the world?" since the weapon she made for the Rider's was used for ill will and destruction and Eragon persuaded her with this argument, "Because if you did, you could help put an end to Galbatorix's reign. Would not it be fitting if I killed him with a blade you forged when it was with your swords he and the Forsworn slew so many dragons and Riders? You hate how they have used your weapons. How better to balance the scales, then, than by forging the instrument of Galbatorix's doom?" which is the best and sweetest revenge Rhunon could ever have if Eragon's argument comes to pass and thus Rhunon's cunning and wit emerges as she was able to find a way around her oath and not break such a solemn promise, "I am glad I was able to help the Riders this once more. Go, Shadeslayer, Go Brightscales. Return to the Varden, and may your enemies flee with fear when they see the sword you now wield."

The greatest and most humbling part of Brisingr was when Oromis and Glaedr decided to entrust his heart of hearts (Glaedr's eldunari) to Eragon and Saphira for safekeeping, "For many reasons, I am sure. if you hold my heart, you shall be able to communicate with Oromis and me -- no matter how far apart we may be -- and I shall be able to aid you with my strength whenever you are in difficulty. And if Oromis and I should fall in battle, our knowledge and experience, and also my strength, shall still be at your disposal. Long have I pondered this choice, and I am confident it is the right one ... I do not wish to be parted from Oromis, but whatever happens, I shall continue to do what I can to topple Galbatorix from his throne. That is our only goal, and not even death shall deter us from pursuing it. The idea of losing Saphira horrifies you, Eragon, and rightly so. However, Oromis and I have had centuries to reconcile ourselves with the fact that such a parting is inevitable. No matter how careful we are, if we live long enough, eventually one of us will die. It is not a happy thought, but it is the truth. Such is the way of the world."

The bond between dragon and Rider is clearly evident when "... Glaedr felt Zar'roc slash Oromis from shoulder to hip. Glaedr howled ... as Oromis had howled when Glaedr lost his leg. An inexorable force gathered inside of Glaedr's belly. Without pausing to consider whether it was possible, he pushed Thorn and Murtagh away with a blast of magic, sending them flying like windblown leaves ... and dove toward Gil'ead ..." and Eragon understood "what it's like to lose your Rider or your dragon" and how Galbatorix went insane from losing his dragon.

In this third book, Paolini once again captures the imagination of his reader although there was a section in the book that was a little bit slow for my taste (one that I think the book would be better off without it), overall, my experience with Brisingr is highly enjoyable that I am looking forward to the next book and hopefully, Paolini doesn't decide (at the last minute) to prolong the series by adding a fifth book to conclude the Inheritance Cycle as most writers of this genre enjoy doing. I personally don't want a never-ending story and reading about the same battle storyline and the same characters can get old quite fast.