Eragon is the story of a seemingly ordinary young man who discovers a dragon's egg during one of his hunting excursions. He brings the strange stone home, hoping to sell it and earn some extra money for his family, but lo and behold it hatches! Saphira the dragon bursts into his world, changing his life, and his fate, forever.
I'll cut to the chase. I enjoyed Eragon. I'm just not entirely sure why I enjoyed Eragon. The plot is not original, in fact, the entire book is so similar to the plot of Star Wars Episode IV, I could pinpoint the exact time the mysterious and snarky loner character would come in, or when they would rescue the beautiful Elf from prison, or when the hermit old man character would reveal his backstory. At this point, it will be more of a surprise to me if the character I think will be Eragon's dad turns out not to be Eragon's dad.
The world-building, while more original than the plot, was quite similar to Tolkien's Middle-Earth. However, I can cut the author slack here, because what epic fantasy is not similar to Middle-Earth in some way? Nevertheless, while I can excuse similarity to Middle-Earth, I felt that at times Paolini was attempting to write like Tolkien. It made his voice less strong and heartfelt, and it slowed down the plot with tedious wandering and "world-sight-seeing". Arguably Tolkien did the same thing, but it never squandered his voice. In fact, I think the depth and complexity and exploration of his world was part of his voice. Paolini, however, has different strengths than Tolkien. I wish he had explored those a bit more in Eragon, and left the Fantasy World Tour business to Tolkien.
Let's talk about Paolini's strengths! My personal favorite- his voice. A writer's voice is difficult to define, but it is basically the moments and words that stem from the writer's heart. It's the Thing that can bind every aspect of a story- characters, plot, theme, symbolism, and the words themselves- together. It takes practice to develop your voice. He was only fifteen when he wrote Eragon. It would be unreasonable to assume his voice would be well-developed. The little bit his voice shone through though- the first hundred pages or so of his novel, most of his secondary characters, Saphira, the enchanting language he invented, the magic system- are so compelling that I believe it is the Thing that made me enjoy Eragon, and keep at it even when it became slow. It's the reason I fully intend to read the next book in the series, Eldest. I want his voice to grow, and I want to read it. Unfortunately, his voice suffers by his imitation of other writers in Eragon, and it makes the story much less heartfelt.
Another strength, while not perhaps all that important in literary terms, is important to me- Paolini's respect towards women. Don't get me wrong, I have read many books written by male authors that truly respect women, and I am grateful for them, but Eragon strikes me as particularly meaningful. Perhaps it was because Paolini was only fifteen when he wrote it, and yet, he already understood a respect many adult men in my acquaintance have yet to grasp. Or maybe it was because all of his female characters- Saphira and Angela in particular- were realistic and compelling. Or maybe, it was just the fact that his female characters were never harmed by his attempt to imitate other writers. It gave me the feeling that he purposely put effort into creating them, he thought of them as human beings rather than plot devices, and it allowed his voice to shine through his writing... and his voice is decidedly wonderful when it comes to his opinion of women.
Usually, if I can guess even about a third of the plot, I stop reading the book. I kept reading Eragon, and I was glad I did, even when it ended exactly as I thought it would. I'm not sure why I kept reading, and oddly enough, that raises my respect for the book. I'm usually in-tune with my own feelings and reasoning. The fact that this book has me stumped is truly impressive. I suppose I just know there is so much potential for honesty, emotion, and greatness in Paolini's writing, that I'm more than willing to give Eldest a read.