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Christopher Paolini
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2007

Knoft / Random House
US Second Edition Hardcover (36th Printing)
ISBN 0-375-82668-8
509 Pages; $18.95
Publication Date: 08-10-2004 (Originally Published 2002)
Date Reviewed: 02-12-07

Index: Fantasy

It's easy to dismiss 'Eragon' by Christopher Paolini as derivative fluff for kids. In a genre super-saturated with 'Lord of the Rings' wannabes, Paolini's corner piece for a fantasy trilogy offers little that is new or original. But don't discount the break-neck pace, some decent writing and an admirable ability to stay on-topic and focused on a single-story through-line. Readers of fantasy have been down all the paths trod here before. But Paolini is smart enough to know this and offers up enough enthusiasm to keep the mind switched off and the pages turning. We all know by now that the book was famously started when Christopher Paolini was fifteen. This is a book by a fifteen year-old kid for fifteen-year-old kids. If there's more than a bit of fifteen-old boy rattling around in your battered soul, then you might find something to like here.

The story here is as simple as the prose style. Boy meets dragon, and is transformed from nebbish nothing into conquering hero. In the process, the nebbish grows up, takes responsibility and learns to listen as well as act. Life is pretty tough in the kingdom of Alagaesia. Eragon is the farmboy who finds what proves to be a dragon's egg. Once it hatches, it grows as quickly as he telepathically bonds with it. He gets an Obi-Wan Kenobi-style teacher to help him learn the ways of the Dragon Riders, and a Darth Vader style villain on his tail who is demonstrably NOT his father. Visions of a captured elf-girl torment him until he meets her. Battles, dwarves, and monsters follow on. You know. It's Fantasy 101.

For all the re-treads of every cliché that stuff nearly every page of this novel, it's still pretty much fun. Paolini realizes that he's not covering new ground, so he covers old ground really, really fast. The chapters are short and paced for young adult reading. Actual adults who have read just about every novel this one cribs from may cringe now and again, but the combination of enthusiasm and the undiluted enjoyment the author derives from his work manage to make the familiar pretty damn entertaining.

Familiarity is probably the key to enjoying this novel. Seasoned genre-reading vets can play a spot-the-influence drinking game that will have you sloshed every three chapters. Young farm boy who becomes hero? Check. Grizzled outcast who happens to have once been a decorated veteran? Check. Star Wars? Check. LOTR? Check. Dwarves and elves? Plenty. Orcs, or in this case Urgals? There! Short chapters? Great idea. Climactic battle? You got it!

Readers who have no patience with derivative fantasy fiction will not want to spend their time reading 'Eragon'. It's just not for you. This is not the book you are searching for. But if your child wants to read this book, if your child has read this book and wants to talk to you about it, or if you just want to shut off your brain and enjoy derivative fantasy by someone who themselves enjoys derivative fantasy and set out to write something they -- and perhaps you -- would enjoy, then this is that book. I read it easily and without complaint. I don’t know if I will go back to this world, but my visit to Alagaesia was not unpleasant. 'Eragon' is not a book for most readers of this column; the familiar fantasy tropes recycled for the three trillionth time are easily read and easily dismissed. But Paolini is undeniably talented and mind-bogglingly popular. That is quite a bit more difficult to dismiss, especially if he is popular with your children.

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