Oh, how quickly they grow up. Just eight years ago, Eragon was an orphaned farm boy, and his inventor was a home-schooled wunderkind. Today, the dragon rider possesses immortality, a light-up sword and enough magic to levitate Hogwarts. And Christopher Paolini, now in his 20s, is an internationally best-selling author. The fourth and final volume of the series, “Inheritance,” is being released Tuesday with a massive 2.5 million-copy print run.
Fans who have grown up with the series will be speed-reading the 880-page finale this week to find out if Eragon and Saphira and their allies will free Alagaesia from the evil King Galbatorix. Also hanging in the balance is the fate of Eragon’s half-brother, Murtagh, and his dragon, Thorn, who have been coerced by Galbatorix. For those disheartened by the lack of resolution in the third novel, “Brisingr,” “Inheritance” offers a propulsive plot and plenty of answers.
Paolini began writing the first book, “Eragon,” when he was 15, and his parents, who owned a press, published it. He traveled to schools and Renaissance fairs, hand-selling his opus, until Carl Hiaasen picked up a copy for his son on a fly-fishing vacation and put in a good word at Knopf. The rest is publishing history.
Eragon and his blue dragon, Saphira, were an endearing duo, but critics, including this one, noted the novel’s debt to everyone from J.R.R. Tolkien and Anne McCaffrey to George Lucas. (I caught a David Eddings reference or two in the new one.) But Paolini had readers at “dragon.”
This final volume offers sieges, duels, traps, secret tunnels, evil priests, more sieges, vision quests, sea monsters and man-eating snails. Aside from a sadly underused Orik, now king of the dwarves, most of our favorite characters get their moment of derring-do. Eragon’s cousin Roran, who relies on wits and sheer cussedness, has risen in the rebel ranks — despite his lack of noble birth. He’s the U.S. Grant of the Varden. The quixotic Angela, who’s never mentioned without her title “the herbalist,” demonstrates heretofore unsuspected fighting skills, like Yoda in “Attack of the Clones.” Eragon’s ally and crush, the elf Arya, and the female leader of the rebels, Nasuada, remain as formidable as ever.
The book could have been tighter: There’s an entire chapter where Orik makes a rock. Paolini still loves highfalutin adjectives to go with his high fantasy. Every sword, spear and spork has a name, and characters pause mid-battle to discuss the provenance of a weapon, like a medieval “Antiques Roadshow.” While individual lines clunk and the “ancient Elvish” still makes me wince, the battles are hard-fought, and there’s a suitably melancholy feel to last third of “Inheritance” — an acknowledgment that magic comes with a price. In that sense, “Inheritance” reminded me of Lloyd Alexander’s Newbery-winning “The Chronicles of Prydain,” another series that featured an orphan farm boy with a flaming sword.
Post-“Hunger Games,” young adult literature has grown so dark you need a flashlight to read some of the titles. In a fall that includes the gore-filled “Gossip Girl, Psycho Killer,” Paolini is hardly the worst offender. But parents of dragon-obsessed tweens should be aware that the graphic violence in “Inheritance” includes the torture of a young woman that goes on for chapters and features one of the creepiest use of bugs since “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.”
But Paolini’s fans, who have spent over 2,000 pages and eight years rooting for his hero, will cheer the final flight.
Zipp regularly reviews books for the Christian Science Monitor and The Post.
By Christopher Paolini
Knopf. 880 pp. $27.99