I have to start out by giving props to Paolini, who initially drafted this story at age 15. Yes, I’m sure there is a question as to how much outside assistance he had in terms of penning it, but it still begs the question – how many 15-year-olds would even want to sit down and write a novel-sized work? Based on my experience, that would be next to none.
That being said, yes, Eragon has its flaws, chiefly in allowing its inspirations to shine through a little too clearly. But I do agree with some reviewers in saying that this does make for a good introductory fantasy work, especially for young readers, as the young protagonist, dragons, magic, and sense of fun adventure seem perfectly in tune to that age group.
For starters, what I enjoyed most about this novel was the human-dragon relationship. It’s quite common to depict dragons as villain creatures, so it’s nice to see this reversed where dragons become the heroes of a piece. Saphira is, without a doubt, a powerful being and not to be trifled with, but she’s also patient and tries to impart wisdom to Eragon. Eragon is also a likable protagonist and his relationship with Saphira is admirable and consumes the best parts of the novel for me. To be honest, it was this dynamic that kept this book from being just “okay,” hence my three-star rating as opposed to two stars.
Granted, the plot is easy to take but it follows a very traditional destiny/quest structure and doesn’t do much to deviate from that or add anything new. Likewise, most of the characters are tropes: Eragon is the young, unsuspecting hero; Brom is the “wise old man” or teacher figure; Arya is the female lead/love interest; Durza is the dark villain; and so on.
Hence becomes my biggest criticism of this book – its inspirational sources become a bit too apparent. Granted, certain types of stories (such as destiny stories or quest tales) bear hallmarks that are simply conventional; but I can take a slight issue with stories that don’t hide their mechanics, as it were. I had the same trouble with The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett where the constant hearkening back to similar Gothic romance novels and Regency fiction (namely Jane Eyre and the works of Jane Austen) overshadowed the story.
I say all of this because, for me, Eragon suffers the same fate. It’s no secret that its characters, themes, and plot were inspired by (and perhaps derived from) Beowulf (one character is even named Hrothgar); the works of J.R.R. Tolkien (try saying Eragon and not think of Aragorn – that’s happened many times to me while penning this review!); and even Star Wars. Again, all writers are inspired by other writers and it’s okay to pay an homage. But you can’t allow your work to entirely be an homage (without openly calling it that).
Does that mean Eragon is a rip off? No, I wouldn’t go that far; but many times it reads like a young writer’s tribute to his favorite writers and stories. Again, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with that, but you have to be graceful. Rowling, for example, pays homage to other writers, from Austen to Lewis to Dickens, but readers aren’t hit over the head with these references. They’re executed subtly and they’re not on every page. In contrast, Eragon is not so subtle and therein lies its greatest flaw and mental stumbling block for older, more seasoned fantasy fans – when compared to other fantasy works, this novel pales in comparison but it is by no means poor. It’s simply a generic, standard fantasy quest story that works but struggles to stand apart from the crowd of similar novels.
Content-wise, Eragon is clean and devoid of language and sexual content. As far as violence is concerned, there are battle scenes but there are no moments lingering over blood or gore. As a whole, and based on its size, this book is geared for older children to adults as younger children simply wouldn’t have the patience to follow along.
Overall, Eragon is a debut novel that reads like a debut novel as well as a debut novel by a young writer. It isn’t terrible and has its shining moments, especially regarding its treatment of dragons, but it borrows too heavily from fantasy conventions and doesn’t try to breath new or unique life into them. That being said, this novel would make a good pick for new fantasy fans, especially among the independent reader set seeking for a big book to sink their teeth into. For everyone else, it’s worth checking out just to admire the work of a young man who decided to use his time creatively and constructively, and that’s more than what I can say for most 15 year olds!