In the magical world of Alagaesia, an average young man named Eragon is given the chance to become extraordinary. A rock falls into his hands and is revealed to be something much more precious: a dragon egg. Saphira hatches and begins to guide Eragon through a world of magic, elves, dragons, and most importantly danger. Galbatorix still rules the land with an iron fist, and he will be the only dragon rider left if he can get his hands on Eragon and Saphira.
What is the Inheritance Cycle about?
Paolini’s series, Inheritance Cycle, is at its core about the struggle of Alagaesia to break free of Galbatorix–the dictator/ruler of the land. Galbatorix rose to power by destroying the somewhat neutral Dragon Riders, who acted as peace enforcers. As a rider himself, Galbatorix mastered the use of magic and created a group of dedicated and loyal followers keen on utilizing the darker magic to kill and gain more power. The story takes place in a resigned version of the land, where Galbatorix has been a selfish and neglectful ruler, but ruler nonetheless, for some time. Populations such as the Elves and the Varden have worked against him for years, and one such task of theirs has been to secretly transport a sole surviving dragon egg across the land in search of a rider to bond with it.
The egg falls into the hands of the main character for the series, Eragon, who ends up hatching it and becoming a dragon rider himself. The series largely focuses on Eragon’s training, self discovery, and relationships with other characters. Over time the books shift to include more perspectives, more varied characters, and more complex plotlines concerning Eragon and those characters. At its heart, though, is the pressure that Eragon feels as the newest dragon rider to oppose Galbatorix and free the land.
This series begins very much as an ode to traditional High Fantasy. A lot of elements from classic works such as Tolkein’s are used, and the first installment in the series can be viewed as a bit of a cookie cutter production from High Fantasy. However, the following installments are where this series shines. Unique ideas, interesting character arcs, and far more interesting fantasy elements begin to emerge and develop from Eldest onwards.
- Eragon – This debut novel for Paolini introduces the titular character Eragon, a seemingly average orphaned farm boy. Early in the story, Eragon finds a stone that turns out to be a dragon’s egg and bonds with the dragon that hatches, Saphira. The book focuses on Eragon and Saphira’s bond, developing their magic abilities, and introducing them (and the readers) to the main conflict of the series: Galbatorix’s dominance over Alagaesia.
- Eldest – The second book of the series takes place after a significant battle in which Eragon and his allies were victorious, but at a high cost. Eragon himself is left physically and mentally traumatized and must recover and develop his skills to prepare for the inevitable next battle.
- Brisingr – The world begins to really expand in this book. Eragon’s paradigm has massively shifted, and as a result he requires a more advanced instructor who can help guide him towards defeating Galbatorix. This book really sees Eragon grow as a character into a much more heroic person, as well as introduces a lot more interesting magic.
- Inheritance – What was originally meant to be a trilogy culminates in this final installment. Inheritance is the payoff to the series-long build up of the moment Eragon confronts Galbatorix. Additionally, it brings around the resolution to various plots including the fates of various side characters such as Nasuada, Murtagh, and Arya.
- Eragon – the main character for the series as a whole, and a dragon rider
- Bram – a man from Eragon’s village who becomes his mentor
- Arya – an elf, charged with protecting the dragon egg that eventually hatches for Eragon
- Saphira – the dragon that hatches from Eragon’s egg
- Murtagh – an adventurer/outlaw that Eragon meets in Eragon
- Nasuada – a prominent member of the Varden, a group working against Galbatorix
- Galbatorix – the main antagonist and villain of the series
- Angela – a seer who pops up frequently
Once this series gets rolling, you see some very interesting character developments. Some of the story arcs are surprisingly complex and nuanced–such as Murtagh’s struggles with his parentage and Nasuada’s ascent to leadership. I felt that the magic system was well developed, as well, showing its limits early on and demonstrating how growth and practice is required to build up the strength to continue working with magic. I also enjoyed the world building that allowed Alagaesia to feel like its own fantasy world, despite the heavy influence of Tolkein and other high fantasy on the original concept. These books are long, but they’re surprisingly well paced and I never found them difficult or cumbersome to read.
As this series does draw its inspiration from High Fantasy, and fits well into the genre, it comes with some of the–in my opinion–drawbacks of the genre. The books are large and dense, and though I am able to read them quite quickly nonetheless, that is still something to take into consideration. Additionally, there is the presence of tropes common to High Fantasy without a lot of clear thought towards deconstructing them. By the end of the series, you can absolutely see how much Paolini grew as a writer and the fourth book is easily the best one with the most unique ideas, creative writing style, and unexpected inclusions. That being said, you do have to read the first three books to get to that beautiful finale.
Let’s hit on the elephant in the room. For as much as I adore this series, and think Paolini is a wonderful author, I have to admit that the first book is…not his finest. He wrote it as a teenager and self-published before the book was picked up by Knopf. While self publishing now can yield some wonderfully impressive books, especially debuts from authors that have been kept out of traditional publishing, it hasn’t always been a mark of great literary debuts. Eragon is good, but it’s not great. The rest of the series is much better in terms of style, characters, narrative voice, and world building. There are a lot of legitimate criticisms to be made for the first book, but I implore you to put that out of your mind and give it a chance. If you enjoy fantasy, dragons, and especially High Fantasy then The Inheritance Cycle will scratch that itch.
I have a lot of love for this series. I read the first book, Eragon when I was younger and first getting into dragons. I had the special edition with a detachable map of Alagaesia that I’ve hung on walls all the way up to my days in undergrad. I was so excited to read Inheritance that I preordered a signed edition that I still treasure. I have the 10th anniversary edition of Eragon as well, with the beautiful illustrations it was released with. I acknowledge that there is legitimate criticism of the first book–and some of the series as a whole–but I also recognize that many of these criticisms can be applied broadly to the subgenre of High Fantasy. This series is beautifully written as it progresses, and I love that you can see how Paolini grew into the series he was writing. The use of magic is interesting, the characters develop into some fascinating people, and I liked the wistfulness of the ending.