INHERITANCE (The Inheritance Cycle, book 4) by Christopher Paolini
Alfred A. Knopf, 2011, 849 pages, 978-0-375-85611-2, Hardcover, $27.99
The long-awaited conclusion to Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle is, to say the least, monumental. The story, staying true to Paolini’s unique style, offers an enticing combination of fantasy, lore, action, and adventure. Scenes from earlier in the series–such as Eragon and Saphira embarking on adventures together–continue to appear, but they are balanced by the duo’s responsibility to the Varden rebel army and their vow to bring down the ruthless King Galbatorix.
This final book differs from the others of the series in that Eragon and Saphira are driven by what they must do and not by what they want. The responsibilities that come with being one of Alagaesia’s last rider-dragon pairs weigh heavily on the duo as they face the challenges before them. This leads to character development in both Eragon and Saphira, and concludes the series with two much more mature characters than it began. Truly, Inheritance wraps up this archetypal coming of age story in a proper fashion.
The Inheritance Cycle began with book one, where a young farm boy, Eragon, discovers a dragon egg while hunting. Saphira hatches from the egg and initiates a magical bond between herself and Eragon. Together, they form the first new Rider-Dragon coupling since the fall of the Dragon Rider Order a hundred years before. The King of Alagaesia, Galbatorix, is a former Dragon Rider who destroyed the Order during his rise to power. His dream is to reinvent the Order in his own image. From the moment Eragon and Saphira meet, Galbatorix pits his vast armies and dark magic against them, attempting to break their minds and bend them to his will. With the help of the few peoples in Alagaesia who have escaped the king’s iron grasp–the elves, the dwarves and, the people of Surda–Eragon and Saphira grow in power and rise to oppose Galbatorix.
Just as Eragon and Saphira have matured from newly coupled rider and dragon into a powerful and dangerous fighting force, so have their enemies. Galbatorix retains his throne and remains an intimidating adversary, while Murtagh and his dragon Thorn continue to grow in power. Eragon’s ally, the rebel army of the Varden, marches forth with aspirations of victory, but standing before them is the might of Galbatorix’s Empire.
The story continues to be told from Eragon’s perspective with the occasional chapter through Roran or Nasuada’s eyes. These protagonists are confronted with many new and dangerous challenges as the story progresses. The difficulties of managing an army composed of four separate races–the ancient and deadly Elves, the trustworthy Dwarves, the ruthless Urgals, and, of course, the ever-plotting humans–come into play, which adds depth and chaos to the plot.
As with the other three books in the series, the storyline takes the reader far across the wide world of Alagaesia to new and mysterious destinations, such as the island of Vroengard and the westernmost reaches of the Elven forest Du Weldenvarden. Despite the side adventures, the story’s plot marches onward, drawing the reader and the main characters closer and closer to the final confrontation with Galbatorix.
Much more emphasis is given to the lore of Alagaesia, and to the Dragon Riders themselves, in this book. Backstory about the fall of the Dragon Riders’ Order, as well as Galbatorix’s rise to power, is explained in more depth. I was pleased to see more of the ancient magical elements explained, as well, since they have always directed events so heavily.
The pacing of the novel is rapid through the first half of the book. This follows the tempo set by books one and three, but it also borrows from book two, which was notoriously slow with plot development in order to allow for character development and backstory. Inheritance does an excellent job of wrapping up the loose ends created throughout the past three books.
As always, you know you have finished a good series when, upon turning the last page, you feel as if you are losing a longtime friend. I have been following this series since the first book was published by Knopf in 2003 and finishing it was a moment of mixed emotion. I am satisfied to have reached the conclusion of this series yet saddened to see it end.
To readers who are looking forward to the final chapter in the tale of Eragon Shadeslayer and Saphira Brightscales, I can assure you it will not disappoint. For new readers who may be considering The Inheritance Cycle as their next epic journey, I would encourage it. It is an experience not soon forgotten.