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Book Review : Brisingr by Christopher Paolini

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

It's going to be hard not to mention the "T" word when talking about this book. I'll try really hard.

This is run-of-the-mill high-fantasy, skilfully written and entertaining enough to read. It draws freely on all the tropes and clichés of the form, to the extent that you really have to admire Paolini's chutzpah in producing it. This is a book that contravenes no end of writing advice I've seen over the years, for example. There is mediaeval language. There are elves and dwarves. There is the Dark Lord. There are impossible quests and magical items. Which is all well and good, of course. You might as well criticise a murder mystery for having a murder victim. But still, you can't help wishing for something more original. And to be fair, Paolini is aware of the need to transcend what has gone before. He works hard on giving us believable characters who have strong doubts about the violence they are caught up in. At one point he pokes fun at the whole "named magical sword" phenomenon in fantasy. There are admirable attempts to get away from black-and-white depictions of good-guys and bad-guys. Still, the book never really breaks out of its mould.

This volume in the cycle sags rather, compared to the previous two. Paolini explains he has taken the time to explore his characters more. Again, this is all well and good, but sometimes not enough is happening. You reach page 200 and, apart from a daring rescue, you've really just had people chatting to each other. About weighty matters, sure, but still just chatting. At other times, the book flares into life. The political machinations of the various dwarf clans, for example, is great.

I have to mention the invented words and phrases - "Du Vrangr Gata", "Agaetí Blödhren" etc. etc. Sometimes they work. But sometimes, frankly, they're just a bit embarassing. Curse those Az Sweldn rak Anhûin!

Go on then, I'll say it. Sub-Tolkien. Enjoyable and readable but still sub-Tolkien fantasy.


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