A train wreck is something so horrible, so atrocious, so fascinating that you stop what you were doing in order to stare.
It took me a month to slog through the third book of Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance cycle, Brisingr and not because I was working copious amounts of overtime or because I like sleeping. Although both are true, I was working overtime and liked sleeping just as much back when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released. It took me a little over 72 hours to finish Rowling’s book of about the same number of pages.
The sorry truth of the matter is, Brisingr is just simply a horrible book. There was nearly no plot to speak of, all the characters were flat and lifeless, and the prose was flowery and forgettable. The only redeeming factor was its train wreck value and even that didn’t last past a hundred pages. How would I qualify that opinion? Let’s review.
First thing’s first: Plot. Wait. What plot? There were less than a handful of plot points, climaxed by the “surprise twist” of Brom being Eragon’s father. This crowning revelation was essentially a long, boring, and tedious infodump. An author shouldn’t need to provide that much explanation, if the reader was sufficiently prepared beforehand to make the necessary logical connections themselves at the moment of the final unveiling. The shock value Paolini was undoubtedly going for in that supposed bombshell was utterly negated by poor reader preparation on his part which led to poor execution, making the entire twist come across as forced, contrived, and reminiscent of pounding a square peg into a round hole.
Disappointing [anti]climatic moment aside, between the four or five plot points in the 800-page monstrosity, there was filler. Endless paragraphs and pages, endless sentences and scenes of purple prose filler. The majority of chapters featuring Roran were nothing but pointless fight scenes that didn’t take Roran or reader anywhere (the rest were attempts at romance so cheesy I almost busted out crackers and wine). The majority of Eragon’s chapters were equally directionless. I couldn’t care less how many scenic spots there are in Alagaesia, but Paolini apparently felt the need to take Eragon and the reader on a tour of all of them one by one. Apparently to him, having people run around (literally) on a fictional landmass qualifies as storyline.
On a filler-related side note, why the hell would I want to read a chapter that was basically summarizing Japanese sword making techniques, Paolini? If I wanted to know about that I would go buy myself a damn book on the subject instead of reading yours. It’s the same with the action scenes. The problem is they’re just that: a string of battles thrown in for no good reason. If I wanted to be mindlessly taken from fight to fight, I would go play some brainless hack-and-slash video game rather than read your book.
In the end, the actual progress of the story was minimal and predictable. There wasn’t enough intricacy or complexity in the plot to begin with to warrant several hundred pages worth of words, and the characters do little to keep things interesting between the important parts. Plot rating: 2/10
Speaking of characters, if the characters had been more intriguing, more complex, more developed, just… MORE, I would have been a bit more forgiving about the number of pages and lack of plot to fill them.
Is it really too much to ask that Paolini’s characters have flaws? Giving Eragon a villain for a father was a feeble attempt, but an attempt nonetheless. In Brisingr even that pathetic effort has been wiped clean off the record. Now not only is Eragon perfect, but his family is perfect too. A perfect family as an extension for the perfect Gary Stu. Great.
Now, I could understand that as a self-insert, Paolini felt the need to make Eragon perfect but unfortunately the Mary Sue-itis doesn’t just apply to the once titular character. Saphira is now the perfect sidekick companion. Roran is now the perfect warrior and captain. Nasuada is the perfect rebel leader. Arya is the perfect woman/love-interest. They overcome all obstacles and odds against them with little trouble and everyone holds hands and sings Kumbaya around the campfire on a weekly basis. The argument between Nasuada and Eragon in the chapter “Orders” is the closest the book comes to interpersonal conflict and even that doesn’t have any lasting effect on their relationship. So really, what’s the point in having the disagreement in the first place if it doesn’t change anything? There’s no conflict, internal or external (and if there is the semblance of it now and then, it’s fleeting and superficial). Without conflict, there’s nothing at stake to be lost or gained. With nothing being risked, there’s no tension. Without tension, the reader is left bored, distant, and apathetic.
The characters, the entire cast of them, fall flatter than ever in this third installment. They are more perfect than before, and it’s that very perfection that keeps readers from being able to empathize, or even care about their trials and tribulations, or what ultimately happens to them. When Oromis and Glaedr are killed, I was supposed to experience some sort of emotion like sadness, pity, or hell, even outrage. Something. ANYTHING. Instead there was nothing. I didn’t care about either of the all-knowing mentor characters, nor do I care enough about Eragon and Saphira to really appreciate the supposed depth of their loss that Paolini was attempting to convey. They’ll overcome that minor obstacle with as much ease (and perhaps another Deus ex) as they’ve overcome everything else, I have no doubt.
If there was one word needed to sum up all the characters in Brisingr, it would be “superficial”, and to more of an extent than in both Eragon and Eldest. I know, I didn’t think it was possible either. But rather than using this third installment to start developing the characters properly, Paolini chooses to do things like load them up with “moral quandaries”. The problem here with internal character conflict is the same as the issue with how Paolini handles external character conflict. These little moral dilemmas that confront the characters never get taken past inner thought or dialogue. Eragon and Roran may wax eloquent for pages and pages about the guilt and regret they feel over killing other humans but Paolini never lets that affect their capacity for it (two hundred in a row, anyone?). The characters’ conscience never actually impacts their actions so it renders all that moral philosophizing meaningless and shallow. The lack of proper follow-through to what could have been good starts, because of Paolini’s refusal to sully his characters, resulted in boring, uninspired, and thoroughly superficial characters. Character rating: 2/10
Alright, so the story is minimal and the characters are about as interesting as slabs of plywood sitting a lumberyard. What about the prose? The writing is, simply put, dreadful. It’s fancy, flowery, and forgettable. The narrative is loaded with unnecessary amounts of adjectives and the dialogue is essentially a compilation of fantasy-epic clichés borrowed from a hundred other authors. There wasn’t a single line in the entire 763 pages that struck me as eloquent, inspired, or original.
Some parts were dull, others were lifeless, and a LOT of it was rambling on and on about things that I couldn’t care less about, like dwarves and happy-glowy-floaty-orby-spirits. Even worse, Paolini’s verbal diarrhea hampered fight scenes by slowing down the action so much that I found myself falling asleep even at what were supposed to be fast-paced and exciting (or something like that) parts of the novel. In fact, the prose was constantly putting me to sleep no matter what type of scene it was. Thus the four weeks it took me to finally finish this lumbering beast of a book.
If Paolini had spent half the amount of time he used flipping through a thesaurus for adjectives to think through his characters and lay out plot lines, he might have actually had himself a good book. Long-winded writing style is fine if you’ve got the story and characters to back it. Instead, it’s plain that he chose quantity of words over the quality of everything else. The end result? A book nearly eight hundred pages long that doesn’t go anywhere. Prose rating: 3/10 (This would get a “2” as well, but I thought that an extra point should be awarded for sheer effort involved in digging up so many big, complicated words.)
Speaking critically, Brisingr is a failure of a fantasy novel. The plot was too few, too far between; the characters attained insta-godhood rather than grow, and the prose hindered more than helped. It was a cesspool of one irrelevant and pointless scene after another, drowning in its own length a third of the way through. At best it’s filler, at worst it’s plain crappy.
But even though it’s a horrible book in many, many ways, it was an AMAZINGLY horrible book. And I did manage to read all of it. Sometimes, I couldn’t STOP reading, it was so atrocious. Thus, Brisingr was a train wreck in all of its fiery glory. I laughed, I sighed, I raged, I facepalmed and headdesked and kept right on reading. In the end, Brisingr still had horrendous but morbidly attractive entertainment value and practical uses (ie: how NOT to write a novel, part three) that outlasts what is essentially a read-and-forget or don’t-read-at-all novel.