ELDEST opens as Eragon surveys, with great dismay, a field of dead, bloodied bodies, the results of the war that is being fought for the Varden against the evil Empire of King Galbatorix. He has killed the Shade known as Durza. With his dragon Saphira's help, he has bravely fought these enemies who destroyed his uncle and who continue to threaten the Dragon Riders. But his heart is heavy and he senses that there are changes happening to him. The boy is becoming the man, the warrior, the new Shadeslayer, but the cost is so dear.
...He no longer believed that life possessed inherent meaning --- not after seeing men torn apart by the Kull, a race of giant Urgals, and the ground a bed of thrashing limbs and the dirt so wet with blood it soaked through the soles of his boots.
So begins the second book of the Inheritance Trilogy, Christopher Paolini's eagerly awaited continuation of Eragon's life as Dragon Rider. While a 704-page book might appear daunting for readers, ELDEST roars along from beginning to end. The author's writing has matured and he has developed great skill at layering his themes as they build to an exciting climax.
While Eragon receives his training as a Dragon Rider from the wizard/Rider known as Oromis of Ellesmera, his cousin Roran begins a dangerous adventure of his own. Roran, bitter about his father's death, feels that in some way Eragon has been responsible. Roran does not realize that Eragon has left the valley to protect his family and friends from the Galbatorix. He only knows that if Eragon had not kept the strange stone (which was a dragon egg) a secret, perhaps things would now be different. After Garrow's death, Roran returns to the village of Carvahall where he hopes to court the beautiful Katrina and eventually ask for her hand in marriage. However, he no longer has a home or farm (thanks to Eragon) and he needs to build his fortune to win the approval of Sloan, Katrina's father.
Before any of this can happen Roran discovers that the Galbatorix, represented by horrible creatures known as Ra'zac, are after him --- simply because he is associated with Eragon. As the situation becomes more intense, Roran attempts to hide away from the village, but within a short time the village is under siege and the dreaded Ra'zac take Katrina captive. Here begins the true journey for Roran, as he leads the villagers away and begins a frightening, most dangerous adventure to find both safety for them and a way to get Katrina back.
Paolini skillfully weaves the stories of Eragon and Roran back and forth --- creating countless other fascinating characters on all sides. There are even suggestions of romance when Eragon becomes infatuated with Ayra, the elfin princess he rescued, and for Saphira, the only female dragon around, when she is attracted to her mentor, the great dragon Glaedr.
There are also spots of humor, and in one scene especially the often-quoted lines from the film Treasure of the Sierre Madre are played on when Loring, the cobbler, is protesting the use of barges for the villagers to make their escape:>
"Barges?" said the cobbler. "Barges? We don't want no stinking barges!"
The panoramic battles at the end include one of the most exciting moments as Saphira fights a giant red dragon over a bloody battlefield. The battle is vividly realized as Paolini paints a scene that is sure to be a favorite. The identity of Eragon's father is also uncovered during a dual that echoes the power and themes of STAR WARS.
Using blended ancient Nordic languages is affective in the dialogues of this myth-like world, and an excellent language guide is provided at the end of the book. Wizards, monsters, dragons, elves, dwarves, magic forests, witches, storytellers, enchanted swords and powerful spells all combine to make ELDEST a sure winner for fantasy fans. There is no question that Paolini is paying tribute to writers like Tolkien, L'Engle and McCaffrey. His writing is filled with quests, heroes, magic and mysticism. A screen adaptation of these books, as well as book three in the trilogy, are in the making. For old and new fans, all of this cannot happen soon enough!
Reviewed by Sally M. Tibbetts on January 21, 2011