Review: Brisingr by Christopher Paolini, read by Gerard Doyle (Audiobook)

Brisingr

Written by Christopher Paolini

Read by Gerard Doyle

Listening Library, 2008

Paolini’s first novel Eragon was the book that brought me back to world of audiobooks and while I skipped the audio version of Eldest I decided to give Brisingr a try.  In the first two volumes I found myself equally entralled and frustrated by Paolini’s characterization of the main hero Eragon.  My frustration wasn’t helped by Doyle’s frequently whiny vocalization of Ergaon either and both those elements continue here.  Thankfully, however, the majority of that is relegated to the first portion of the novel and the stronger second half seems to me a stronger more cohesive whole than the first.

The first part of the book focus on Eragon and his cousin’s Rorin’s attempt to free Katrina (Rorin’s wife-to-be) from the clutches of the Razak.  It proceeds to deal with a cascade of events resultant from actions taken by Eragon on that action that to my ear felt a bit forced and stalled much of the books momentum in driving the main story arc forward.  It is obvious the Paolini crafted these chapters as an attempt to allow Eragon a chance to develop a bit but I found the early chapters lacking.  Things take a turn for the better in the chapter titled “A Dragon Rider’s Mercy” (I think I got that right) and the chapters that follow reveal some of Paolini’s deftest characterization to date and mark perhaps the first instance where I really bought into Eragon as being the story’s big time hero.

Things get better later in the novel as well as Paolini features chapters from a couple of different character’s viewpoints including Nasuada, Rorin, and Saphira.  Rorin’s chapters were perhaps my favorite and, save for one rather silly bit involving a mound of corpses (yes, you read that right), offered a more ground level view of the workings of the Varden Army.  Why I find magic and dragons easier to swallow than a battle being fought atop an increasingly growing mound of corpses is something I don’t quite understand but there it is none-the-less.

Saphira’s chapters offered another interesting shift in perspective showing a view directly opposite that of Rorin’s.  There was an air of familiarity to her narrative voice however.  Saphira (and other dragons) view objects in the world in lists of associated words and it took me until the bonus interview after the book was over to understand why that was familiar; it’s similar (though not identical) to method Robert Jordan uses to express the wolf language in his Wheel of Time series.  That isn’t a bad thing and, as I said, it wasn’t identical but I did find it oddly comforting to think that Paolini’s work is informed by other fantasy authors.

The main narrative is, perhaps obviously, given over to Eragon.  This book, more-so than either Eragon or Eldest, sees the character grow into (or at least more towards) a competent and capable leader.   Paolini seemed to particularly enjoy the sections involving the dwarven politics and that joy comes across in the writing transforming what could be fairly dull politicing into rather exciting intrigue.  The later half of the book is taken up by big, possibly portentious, events involving Eragon and Saphira from the confrontation with a treacherous dwarven clan to a near disasterous incident with the sentient Minoa tree Paolini rockets the plot forward with some big reveals and exciting events.  He slows things down in some spots as well to lend appropriate heft to important scenes and, though he handles the big moments well, still requires some work in order to master pacing of the quieter moments.  In particular some of those quiet moments feel too deliberate in their intent to set up events later in the series.

Overall I found Brisingr an enjoyable read and the novel as a whole is a serious improvement on Paolini’s craft over the early books.  The characters gelled well, and the actions was intense.  If you’ve stuck with the series thus far you’ll likely stick with it after Brisingr.  Those who were on the fence, or who were turned off by an earlier book might give the audiobook version a try.

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