Chapter 6: What is a Man?
A miserable little pile of secrets? Ha, no, but wouldn’t that be fun?
Anyway, give yourself a very big pat on the back if you figured this question doesn’t get answered in the chapter. Then again, perhaps the implied answer for this chapter’s question is supposed to be “Roran,” at which point I guess I’ll just shrug and say, “Meh. Close enough then.”
I won’t complain too much, though, since this chapter isn’t useless filler like the last dozen or so (you can stop holding your breath now). It doesn’t advance the plot, but at least it does have some good character building for Roran (so, perhaps half a breath?).
In this chapter, Roran is heading home after some trials and travails involved in securing the city. As it turns out, people don’t like it when you invade their homes and will continue to fight back against you. Shocking, I know, but true. We’re treated to this quote:
Roran could sympathize with the people who felt they had to defend their families, but at the same time, he cursed them for being so thick-skulled that they could not recognize the Varden were trying to help them, not hurt them.
Help them, eh? By doing what?
build barricades in the street, search houses for soldiers, and confiscate weapons.
Ah, yes, so helpful. And who knows what else the Varden might be doing? Do you think I’m being ungracious? If so, hold that thought for just a moment.
Roran gets back to Katrina, and they share a good moment as she tends to him. Roran reflects on his concern that if Katrina gives birth before the war is over, she intends to leave for Surda since it’s a safer place to raise a child than a roving war band. This is a good moment because it builds some tension, placing a ticking clock on the war that hasn’t really been existent until now. Unfortunately, this ticking clock is only for Roran—a secondary character—and a later attempt to provide a more general ticking clock will fail miserably (but we’ll get to that when the time comes).
There is something rather unfortunate during the chapter, however. At one point, Katrina compliments Roran for acquitting himself bravely. Roran replies:
Ha! And do you know why that is. I’ll tell you. Not one man in ten is actually willing to attack the enemy. Eragon doesn’t see it; he’s always at the forefront of the battle, driving the soldiers before him, but I see it. Most of the men hang back and don’t fight unless they are cornered. Or they wave their arms about and make a lot of noise but don’t actually do anything.
So, the Varden are cowards. It makes you wonder how they managed before Eragon joined if not even 10% of them were willing to fight during a battle. But at least it can’t get any worse than that, right? Right? I mean, how could it possibly—
I think that, perhaps, they just can’t bring themselves to look a man in the face and kill him, although it seems easy enough for them to cut down soldiers whose backs are turned.
Forgive me, I try not to use emoticons, but this… This is… o.O Yeah, that’s about right. Ok, so the good guys are cowards that will eagerly kill you when you’re defenseless. There are no words. Paolini, did you read this section? Did you at all consider how this made the “good” army look? So, remember back just a bit ago when I was wondering what else the Varden were doing while “securing” the city? Seems a lot more plausible that the Belatonians (Belatonese? Belatonish?) really do need to defend themselves against these heartless, ruthless marauders, doesn’t it?
Oh, and dear, sweet Katrina doesn’t point this out. She just wonders if Galbatorix’s soldiers are as reluctant to kill as the Varden. In the space of a heartbeat, she’s already forgotten that the Varden are only reluctant to kill you when you’re looking at them, like the Boos from a Mario game. That’s probably how long it took for Paolini to forget that he just flat out stated his selected good guys are literally backstabbing murderers.
Well, after that travesty, there’s another good character moment when Roran confides in Katrina that he gave up after his death seemed inevitable. Me? I would’ve confided in my wife that I think my cousin secretly wants me to die since he didn’t magically protect me from the collapsing wall even though he easily could have.
The chapter ends when Roran and Katrina get news of the same imminent birth that closed out Eragon’s chapter previously. We get an amusing thought from Roran who is concerned that the birth may not go well because of the “overlong pregnancy.” I suppose this is Paolini’s attempt to lampshade the rather quick travel the whole village of Carvahall managed to make to the Burning Plains, but I’m not fooled. I did some research on pregnancy (yes, research is one of those things writers do) and discovered that normal term is 38-42 weeks. Modern pregnancies in the United States don’t typically go past 40 weeks because doctors will induce labor if it doesn’t naturally occur by then. After 43 weeks, chance of live birth is greatly diminished. So, a pregnancy that’s 1 month overlong is pushing it. Past that, well, you’d better be giving birth in a Paolini story because that’s your best chance.
Speaking of, let’s see how that goes…
Chapter 7 — The Price of Power
But not yet.
One of my friends pointed out to me that an inordinate number of chapters in Eragon end with someone going unconscious (i.e. knocked out, fainting, sleeping, etc.). Well, in Inheritance he’s got a taste for the cliffhanger ending. He sometimes even nests cliffhangers within cliffhangers like those Russian dolls. Even this time, he’s given us the same cliffhanger for two different chapters and then put a chapter in between the resolution.
Don’t get me wrong. Cliffhangers can be very good. It builds tension. We are presented with a dramatic event that we want to know the resolution to, but we have to wait to discover the resolution, so we wonder how things will turn out as we wait. So, is anybody super worried about how the birth will go? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? And not only is that supposed to be the cliffhanger for one chapter, but two!
Ok, so if this chapter is not about the resolution of the cliffhanger (the birth), then what is it? Filler again. It has next to no important plot information. I’d be tempted to call it character development for Orrin, but I refuse to call character destruction “development.” Oh yes, this is one of Paolini’s most baffling decisions (and that says a lot). Does everyone remember Orrin from the previous books? Let me sum up: He basically comes off as something of a philosopher king. He’s mainly interested in his experiments into the properties of natural law and has gone to great length to ensure that he can take his experiments with him during the war. He even seems uninterested in executing the war as compared to his science hobby. Now, I wouldn’t necessarily have wanted him to be my king if I were a Surden in the war, but at least he was something of a character.
In this chapter (the first chapter that we’ve seen him since the third book!), he has now completely changed character. Please excuse me while I sigh for a moment.
Ok, I’m ready. He’s no longer charming in his awkward way; he’s now a rude jerk. He’s no longer interested in his experiments; he’s now dark and brooding. He’s no longer a philosopher king; he’s now a pompous, self-important aristocrat. And this is all in basically the flip of a switch! The last time we saw him, he was one thing; the next time we see him, he’s this other thing altogether!
And what caused this change? Ugh, it gets even worse! He lost a childhood friend during the battle because of a Belatonican (Belatench? Belatonasian?) man upset regarding the fact that the Varden have a pact with the Urgals. Oh, and why should the local populace be concerned about the roving band of people dedicated to destroying the Empire that have teamed up with the war-hungry monsters that mount babies on pikes? But let’s ignore that—let’s go back to this moment that has changed Orrin’s character. IT IS TOLD TO US! We are not shown this moment. We don’t see how he reacts. We don’t hear what he says as it happens. And why would this change him right away? Why can’t we watch as Orrin returns to his tent that night, starts to fiddle with a flask of something, and then puts it away as he prefers to brood on his friend’s death and this misbegotten pact with monsters?
And there’s another big problem with Inheritance which begins to come to light in this chapter. I’m going to go into much more depth on this later, but let me plant the seed. I call this problem “The Inexorable March to Victory.” You’ll see what I mean.
One other big problem in this chapter is Paolini’s lack of strategic wisdom. The big problem that the Varden face is the occupation of all these cities on the way to the capital. Each one they capture necessitates the loss of troops not just to death but also to garrison duties, which makes the next seige even more difficult. In the end, it will leave them the fewest amount of troops possible with which to besiege the main goal. So, what’s the solution? Is it to bypass the cities and head directly to the capital? No, of course not! If they did that, the armies from the cities they bypassed would just attack them in the open, combining with the forces from the capital coming in the other direction and forcing them to fight a losing battle on two fronts. By the way, this is a point that was already brought up in the third book, so I guess Paolini just wanted to hammer it into our heads that that’s a bad idea.
So, what’s the solution? It’s to keep doing what they’re doing and hope it works! Pardon me for a moment; it’s hard to type with my palm against my forehead.
Ok, I’m better.
Now, I have a question (and the numbers are not mentioned, so I’m just going to make some up). Which is more dangerous: ten thousand armed men behind fortified walls or ten thousand armed men in an open field? Or how about ten thousand armed men marching through a valley unaware that they’re walking through a trap set by the enemy they believe they’re pursuing?
Why does Paolini believe the only two outcomes are “besiege every city along the way” or “fight multiple armies on multiple fronts at once?” I mean, how are the armies at Dras-Leona supposed to know the Varden have bypassed them anyway? Do they know when the Varden are supposed to get there? Will they pour out immediately if they’re a day late? A week? If the Varden start a bypass maneuver, will the capital empty out right away to complete the flanking? If so, how will they know that the Varden are heading straight for the capital or trying to lure both armies into a trap or even trying to outmaneuver them both and occupy the capital before either army knows what happened?
It’s like Paolini believes his good guys have the best possible strategy and he wants to make sure the readers know that, too. Even if they did have the best possible strategy (which they don’t), that’s still terrible writing. If we already know they have the best possible strategy, there’s no tension that they might lose. Are you beginning to see what I mean by The Inexorable March to Victory? Trust me, it gets much worse as the book goes on. But that’s a review for another time.