Monday, February 01, 2010

"Eldest" Inheritance, Book Two by Christopher Paolini

Inheritance, Book Two
by Christopher Paolini
Published 2005 by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Christopher Paolini continues to amaze me. After reading "Eragon," the first book in what is book one of the Inheritance series (three books have been written and it is rumored there is a fourth book on the way.), I was totally sucked in to the fantasy world where dragons, elves, dwarves and magicians exist and an evil king has tried to destroy all Dragon Riders. Now with book two I just couldn't hardly put the book down. When finishing the first book I looked up information on the author and found out the book was written when he was only 15 years old. An amazing feat in and of itself, but to be able to create this fantasy world with many depths that's a serious job for any author,no matter what the age. This second book was published when the author was in his early 20s so now that he's got his style and his world created the books can only get better, as this one does.

In book one, "Eragon," the reader was taken on a quest in which Eragon and his Dragon, Saphira, learned of the reason behind their bonding and the development of their skills as Eragon sought revenge on the Ra'zac for the killing of his uncle. He eventually was taken to the Varden, both to save Arya (the elf that sent the dragon's egg to Eragon, and to escape King Galbatorix's wrath. Along the way Eragon learns his travelling companion, Brom, is a former rider. They also are rescued at one point by Murtagh who joins them on their trip to the Varden, although he says he cannot complet they journey to Farthen Dûr, the home of the Varden. When they arrive in Farthen Dûr, Eragon is led to the leader of the Varden, Ajihad. Ajihad imprisons Murtagh after finding out that he is the son of Morzan, Galbatorix's right hand man.

"Eldest" begins three days after the events of the preceding novel, "Eragon," in the dwarf city of Tronjheim, inside of a hollowed mountain of Farthen Dûr. Farthen Dûr is in the southeastern part of Alagaësia, the continent in Paolini's world where all this action takes place. Eragon must complete his mission and be trained as a dragon rider, to do so he must journey to Ellesméra, the elven capital city located in the forest Du Weldenvarden, on the northern portion of Alagaësia. Before he leaves,Eragon must attend the funeral for the fallen leader of the Varden, Ajihad. Ajihad is ambushed and killed, with Murtagh while Ajihad's other guards are assumed dead. At his funeral, Ajihad's daughter Nasuada is elected to command the Varden. Eragon travels to Ellesméra where he meets Oromis and his dragon Glaedr, the only dragon and Rider secretly alive besides the Eragon and Saphira and Galbatorix. Oromis and Glaedr, however, are both crippled, and so cannot fight Galbatorix and must hide instead to avoid Galbatorix hunting them down. Eragon and Saphira are taught the use of logic, magic theory, scholarship, and combat, among other things.

Back in Farthen Dûr, Nasuada chooses to move the Varden from Tronjheim to Surda, to mount an attack on the Empire. The Varden suffers financial troubles, so Nasuada decides to fund the Varden and the war with Lace. The lace is magically produced and they can sell it cheap. One night when Nasuada is in her room, Elva saves her from an assassination attempt. Elva is the child which Eragon and Saphira blessed, the problem is that this was before Eragon was adept at the ancient language used in magic and accidentally curses her to BE a shield rather than TO BE shielded. Elva locates the assailant, who is killed after unwillingly surrendering information to Varden magicians about a subversive group based in Surda called the Black Hand, who is plotting to kill Nasuada. Nasuada later attends a meeting with key figures in Surda's government to discuss a potential upcoming battle against the Empire. They learn that the conflict is coming sooner than they initially suspected, and mobilize forces to attack, as well as sending for help from the dwarves.

Eragon continues his training, but is discouraged when the scar on his back, caused by the Shade he killed, causes him to have seizures. At the ancient elven ceremony, the Agaetí Blödhren, Eragon is altered by a spectral dragon. The changes alter his senses, and enhance his abilities, as well as healing all of his wounds. Reinvigorated, Eragon continues training until he learns that the Empire will soon attack the Varden in Surda. He leaves without completing his training, to aid the Varden in battle, much like Luke Skywalker left Yoda before his training was finished. I just found this a very neat similarity.

Meanwhile, Roran, Eragon's cousin, is hunted by the Ra'zac in Carvahall. He eventually persuades the entire village to attack the Ra'zac in the night, and succeeds in driving them off. After more conflicts with the village, the Ra'zac manage to kidnap Katrina, Roran's fiancée. Roran then stirs the village to mobilize, departing on a journey to join the Varden in Surda. He leads them to Narda, and then by sea to Teirm. In Teirm, they meet Jeod, who helps them pirate a new vessel from Teirm. Pursued by sloops from the Empire, the vessel manages to escape through a whirlpool, and eventually makes it to Surda, arriving just as the Battle of the Burning Plains is about to begin between Surda and its allies, and the Empire.

When conflict begins, Eragon is able to repel the opposing army using magic. Eventually, a Dragon Rider appears in favor of the Empire. The hostile Dragon Rider kills the dwarf king Hrothgar, and soon begins to fight with Eragon. The Dragon Rider is soon unmasked by Eragon and is revealed to be Murtagh. Murtagh tells Eragon that he was kidnapped and forced into loyalty by Galbatorix after a dragon hatched for him. Murtagh outmatches Eragon, but shows mercy due to their old friendship. Before leaving, Murtagh reveals that Eragon is his brother, and takes Eragon's sword as well. Ultimately, Galbatorix's army is forced to retreat after the arrival of the dwarves and the departure of Murtagh and Thorn. In the end, Eragon and Roran decide that they will seek out Katrina together.

Lots of adventure, lots of excitement all very well portrayed and with some magical storytelling that will suck you into this alternate world.

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posted by Gil T. @ 7:25 PM Comments: 0

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Eragon (Inheritance, Book 1) by Christopher Paolini

Eragon (Inheritance, Book 1)
by Christopher Paolini
published by Knopf Books for Young Readers 2003

I've always been fascinated that young readers have some of the best literature written for them. The authors that cater to these youth seem to have an inside feel toward what will keep a generation of youth entertained and interested. J.K. Rowling did well with her Harry Potter books, Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler) did well with his "Series of Unfortunate Events" and Stephenie Meyer (although I didn't like those books) kept the teens entranced with the "Twilight" series. The fascinating thing is that adults, myself included, can read these books and be entertained as well. But these are all adults writing for a younger audience, so they know how to include the adults as well. But with the "Inheritance" series featuring the new dragon rider Eragon the books have a little extra to offer. These books are written by a member of the audience he is aiming for. Christopher Paolini wrote this first book when he was only 15 years old. In "Eragon," Paolini not only created some fun fiction for youth but as with most good fiction it branches out to all ages. I found this first book very enjoyable and wondered why I hadn't read the book sooner.

The story begins with a young farm boy, Eragon, out hunting for food for his family and just as he is about to down a buck there is an explosion that frightens the deer away and scorches a part of the forest. Eragon goes to find the source and instead finds a a blue and white streaked stone. The stone has to be man made so with the unsuccessful hunting trip he decides to take the stone into his hometown of Carvahal and trade it. After learning the local butcher wants nothing to do with the stone the local blacksmith comes to his aid and purchase the food for Eragon to take back to his family. He also tells Eragon to hide the stone.

Soon a traveling band of merchants come to Eragon's hometown and Eragon and his uncle decide to try to sell the stone. One merchant is known to deal with rarities but even he has never seen such a stone. During the celebration, of sorts, that surrounds the travelling merchants, Brom is introduced as an old story teller. Brom tells the audience, which Eragon is part of, a tale of the Dragon Riders of Alagaësia and how King Galbatorix wanted all the power and killed all dragons and kept the eggs to himself.

After a few days the stone soon reveals its true nature when a dragon hatches from the egg. When Eragon touches the newly hatched dragon he becomes marked with what is later learned to be the Gedwëy Ignasia, or "shining palm", a white/silvery oval of skin located on the hand with which the Rider touches a hatchling.

Two of King Galbatorix's servants, the Ra'zac, come to Carvahall looking for the egg. Eragon and Saphira manage to escape by hiding in the forest, but Eragon's uncle is fatally wounded and the house and farm are burned down by the Ra'zac. Once Garrow dies, Eragon is left with no reason to stay in Carvahall, so he goes after the Ra'zac, seeking vengeance for the destruction of his home and his uncle's death. He is accompanied by Brom, who insists on helping him and Saphira.

Eragon learns how to be Dragon Rider through his bond with Saphira and the training with Brom. On the journey, Brom teaches Eragon sword fighting, magic. Their travels bring them to Teirm, where they are able to track the Ra'zac to the southern city of Dras-Leona. Although they manage to infiltrate the city, Eragon encounters the Ra'zac in a cathedral and he and Brom are forced to make their escape. Later that night, their camp is ambushed by the Ra'zac. A stranger named Murtagh rescues them, but Brom is gravely injured. Knowing that he is about to die, Brom tells Eragon that he used to be a Dragon Rider. His dragon's name was also Saphira, but an evil Dragon Rider named Morzan killed her. Brom then avenged Saphira's death and killed Morzan. After telling Eragon this, Brom dies.

Murtagh becomes Eragon's new companion. They travel to the city Gil'ead to find information on how to find the Varden, a group of rebels who want to see the downfall of Galbatorix. While stopping near Gil'ead, Eragon is captured and imprisoned in the same jail that holds a woman he later discovers is an elf and has been receiving dreams about. Murtagh and Saphira stage a rescue, and Eragon escapes with the unconscious Elf. During the escape, Eragon and Murtagh battle with a Shade – a sorcerer possessed by evil spirits – named Durza. Murtagh shoots Durza between the eyes with an arrow, and the Shade disappears.

After escaping, Eragon contacts the unconscious Elf telepathically, and discovers that her name is Arya. She tells them that she was poisoned while in captivity and that only a potion in the Varden's possession can cure her. Arya is able to give directions to the exact location of the Varden: a city called Tronjheim, which sits in the mountain Farthen Dûr. The group go in search of the Varden, both to save Arya's life and to escape Galbatorix's wrath. When they arrive in Farthen Dûr, Eragon is led to the leader of the Varden, Ajihad. Ajihad imprisons Murtagh after finding out that he is the son of Morzan. Ajihad tells Eragon that Durza was not destroyed by Murtagh's well placed arrow, because the only way to kill a Shade is with a stab to the heart.

Eragon is able to get a short rest, but a new invasion is imminent. As the battle begins, the Varden and the Dwarves are pitted against an enormous army of Urgals, deployed by Durza and Galbatorix. During the battle, Eragon faces Durza again. Durza, having gravely wounded Eragon's back, is about to capture him but is distracted by Saphira and Arya. Durza's attention is diverted long enough for Eragon to stab him in the heart. After Durza's death, the Urgals are released from a spell which had been placed on them, and begin to fight among themselves. The Varden take advantage of this opportunity to make a counter-attack. While Eragon is unconscious, a stranger contacts him telepathically and tells Eragon to come to him for training in the land of the elves.

Some great excitement in this introductory novel. Now I HAVE to read the other books.

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posted by Gil T. @ 9:21 PM Comments: 0

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"The Subtle Knife" Book 2 of "His Dark Materials" by Philip Pullman

"The Subtle Knife"
Book 2 of "His Dark Materials"
by Philip Pullman
Multicast performance
Produced by Listening Library

Continuing in my quest of trying to figure out why some folks are up in arms about the "His Dark Materials" books I gave this audio book a listen. To be honest, I'm still not seeing what the fuss is about. There are some minor mentions of organized religions stifling independent thought, and maybe towards the end of the book something that may be a threat to some religious zealots, but still the series seems to be just a fun adventure. Especially more so in this book as the main characters are travelling to alternater worlds/dimensions.

The story begins with Will Parry killing a man after hiding his OCD mother with a friend and setting off to find his father. The man was searching for information on Will's father. In his efforts to escape the police, he discovers a portal that leads to Cittàgazze, a city in another world. The city looks recently deserted, and Will chooses a house to find food. It is here that he meets Lyra Belacqua and her daemon Pantalaimon, who came here after entering the hole in the sky that her father, Lord Asriel, created at the end of "The Golden Compass."

In Will's world Lyra uses her alethiometer to instruct her what to do. She is told to find a scholar in Will's world who is experimenting with dark matter, which is equal to Dust in Lyra's world. The scholar, Dr. Mary Malone, has created a computer to communicate with dark matter trying to prove her hypothesis that dark matter is intelligent. Lyra uses the system to communicate with the dark matter as she does with Dust through the alethiometer. This proves to Dr. Malone, who lost funding for the project and was about to be shut down, that she was on the right track. During this time a man from Lyra's world steals the alethiometer and recruits Lyra and Will to steal the Subtle Knife in return he'll give back the alethiometer. The knife can cut through any material and more importantly cut through the veil between worlds allowing the user to travel between worlds.

This story branches out in from there following the witch Serafina Pekkala, who was separated from Lyra during a battle in "The Golden Compass,"and is searching for her. She discovers that the Magisterium and Lyra's mother, Mrs. Coulter, have learned of the prophecy surrounding Lyra and plan to destroy her. She calls a meeting of the witches council. The witches vote to band together and join Lyra's father, Lord Asriel, in his fight against the Magisterium.

The Aeronaut Lee Scoresby ventures out to find the explorer Stanislaus Grumman, who is rumored to know of an object that gives protection to whomever holds it. That object is the Subtle Knife.

The book follows the separate adventurers as they travel and fight their way back together to leave a huge cliff hanger as the end of the book. Along the way people die and get hurt, but in order to leave you with something to read I'll leave it at that. Trust me this one is just as good, if not better, than the first book in the series and will leave you wanting more. Again religion is not yet threatened and the concept of free will is emphasized. So read away my friends.

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posted by Gil T. @ 9:30 PM Comments: 0

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"His Dark Materials, Book I: The Golden Compass" Written by Philip Pullman

"His Dark Materials, Book I: The Golden Compass"
Written by Philip Pullman
Read by Philip Pullman and Full Cast
Produced by Listening Library 2004

Back in 2007 I was intrigued by the Movie based on this book "The Golden Compass," and had to go see it. What intrigued me most was that churches were protesting this fantasy story. Anytime organized religion says a movie is dangerous or in any way harmful, I have to go see it. I'm one of those folks that cannot fathom that arts and entertainment can warp a mind so badly that it will cause one to harm oneself or others. Art may reflect life but I don't think that art can bend life to its will. So began my journey into the worlds created by Philip Pullman.

After watching this wonderfully imaginative movie I couldn't figure why all the fuss. After discussing it with some folks I heard that the producers of the movie cut out much of the obvious anti-religion material discussed in the book. Well....that meant I now had to read the books. I got the books and was prepared to read them, I'm talking about the actual physical books here, with pages and all, but I ran across these audio books being narrated by the author and a full cast of performers and had to give that a listen. After all who better to read a book than the author. His voice could add emphasis to areas he wrote where he felt it was more important. Thus giving his intentions rather than something that could be misunderstood. I'm glad I did. The production was very well done with a cast of voices that fit into the characters voices perfectly. There are no sound effects or incidental music like some full cast production audio books, but that's what made this a better experience.

To answer the question about what has this book got to do with religion, well the book does not say at any point that religion is bad, merely that organized religion is power hungry and that could be a bad thing. Two simple examples as to how religion could be too powerful are "The Inquisition" and Reverend Jim Jones. Without getting into a debate about religion let's just say that religion CAN be used for bad as well as good.

In this book the religious negativity comes in the form of the church wanting to reclaim original sin and harnessing the potential power held within. After all without original sin we could all live in the Garden. However the evil way the church tries to harness that power is to create zombies out of children so they may never be touched by original sin. In this book original sin is represented by Dust. The Dust seems to settle on adults but not children, at least not until the child reaches puberty and their daemon settles on a permanent form.

In the world created by Pullman all humans have a daemon. The daemon is best described as the human soul taking and animal companion form. For children the daemon can shift it's shape into any animal form but once the child has hit puberty the daemon settles on one shape for the rest of the human and daemon's life. The daemon's form seems to reflect somewhat the soul of the person but that would require more research on my part to fully explain, in fact any aspiring students looking to write a thesis on these books could look into that aspect. For right now just understand the daemon's are best explained as being an outward expression of the soul. They can comfort the person during times of stress and can help with many tasks. The daemons also have the ability of speech.

"The Golden Compass" (originally titled "The Northern Lights") introduces us to the main character of Lyra Belacqua, supposedly orphaned and left in the care of the academic staff of Jordan College, Oxford. Lyra's "uncle" Lord Asriel is researching Dust in the north and finding the link between Dust, the soul, multiple universes, particle physics and the Northern Lights. The church does not want Asriel to continue his experiments and investigations. When Lyra discovers a plot to kill her uncle she warns him and saves his life. She then finds out, by hiding in a wardrobe, about Dust through a lecture given to the academ by Lord Asriel.

Lyra's journey begins when children start to go missing. These children vanish without a trace and when one of Lyra's good friends, Roger, disappears she feels the need to find him. The children all tell stories of the disappearances but most stories circle around the "Gobblers" who take the children and do all manner of unspeakable things to the children including eat them. The truth is actually more sinister.

Before Lyra can begin her search she is taken in by Mrs. Coulter. But before she leaves Jordan College the headmaster gives Lyra an alethiometer. Resembling a golden, many-handed pocket-watch, it can answer any question asked by the user. Although initially unable to read or understand its complex symbols, Lyra takes it with her to Mrs. Coulter's. Lyra learns that Mrs. Coulter is the head of the General Oblation Board, a.k.a. the Gobblers, and that she is the one abducting the children. Lyra is to be used to abduct more children. Upon finding this information Lyra runs away. She is then rescued by a group of Gyptians, a nomadic folk who live on boats. The Gyptians take Lyra to meed the King of the Gyptians and discover that Lyra has more to her life's mission, but cannot be told of her mission. Leaving the outcome to freewill.

In an adventure that leads Lyra to meet with Witches, Armored (intelligent) Bears, and seeking to rescue her uncle, Lord Asriel, from his imprisonment by the church, Phillip Pullman creates a novel of epic proportion that in this audio book form is an exhilarating listen.

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posted by Gil T. @ 9:59 PM Comments: 0

Friday, April 04, 2008

"Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography"

If you haven't yet read any of the books in the "Series of Unfortunate Events" you really should. In fact you should before you pick up this book and try to make sense of it. (If any sense can be made of this book.) The Series of Unfortunate Events books cover the adventures of the Baudelaire orphans as they discover that their parents were members of a secret volunteer society known as "V.F.D." This organization was actively helping people in secret. How or what is never revealed. One day a schism occurred.

Well the books are written by the mysterious Lemony Snicket. He's following the Baudelaires adventures and keeping track in the books...But who is Lemony Snicket? To find that answer pick up this book and read it cover to cover. It is a fun read and keeps the same mysterious style and humor found in the "Series of Unfortunate Events" books. No, this book will not answer the question as to who Lemony Snicket is, but it will entertain you to no end.

This book is a great companion to the series and even sheds some light on some of the events that occurred in the books. There's a section on disguises that pretty much describes every character in the series. Most o f the book is written as clandestine communique between Snicket and various agents. One such agent (whether good or bad is never quite clear) disguises himself as a cow and travels around trying to find information on Monty Montgomery's reptiles. This section had a laugh out loud moment that I always loved with this series.

The agent disguised as a cow writes:
"Approached a married couple who apparently own the 'Prospero' to ask if any reptiles had recently boarded the ship. Couple alrarmed by talking cow, refused to participate.

Saw signs indicating there was a dairy nearby. Did not approach due to fear of being milked."

Great Stuff here.

If you are a fan of the series you have to own this book. It also features a reversible dust jacket so no bad guys can tell you are reading. The reverse side of the dust jacket is for a fictitious book called "The Pony Party!" by Loney M. Setnick (an anagram of Lemony Snicket).

Which reminds me, the book is filled with anagrams and references to many famous authors. Figuring some out is even more fun.

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posted by Gil T. @ 8:41 PM Comments: 0

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

"The Magic Sneakers" by Robert J. Evans

If you were given a super power would you use it for good or for selfish reasons? Peter Parker's Uncle Ben once said, "With great power comes great responsibility." Would that be your motto?

That is just the issue that Jimmy Burton is faced with when he goes to buy new shoes for school and soon discovers his shoes give him the power to fly. Jimmy immediately wants to show off and then thinks twice of it. After all if he showed off then everyone would want to have HIS shoes. So maybe he could just use them a little in sports to be better. But that wouldn't be fair to the other players who practice. As you can see Jimmy is faced with a dilemma.

In this book Robert Evans takes us on a journey on deciding what is good and what is bad. The adventures he takes us on are fun but at the same time give a little lesson on morality. At one point Jimmy does tell his best friend, Billy, and Billy starts telling Jimmy what "WE" could do. So a little lesson on greed jumps in.

One of the neat parts of this book is the turn it takes about halfway through when Jimmy and Billy decide to have some fun with the sneakers. Jimmy is caught on camera flying above the ocean near Santa Monica Pier and soon the Pentagon is involved. Jimmy is whisked away to Washington D.C. where the President tells him how this power could be used for good but we can't let the other nations get it. So Jimmy has a HUGE decision to make, would the U.S. use this power for good or war, and should he reveal his secret. Jimmy "hijacks" a tank and flies it back to California to pick up his parents and his best friend. (Yeah, you read that right "flies a tank") He then returns to the Pentagon and decides to tell the secret, but Jimmy meets a mysterious Major Flynn, who says he can get the shoes back.

Jimmy is guest of honor at the White House where he spends the night in the Lincoln bedroom and meets the great man himself, or at least the "ghost" of Lincoln. He also meets 2 aliens and they then talk about how the Earth is not quite ready for the power in the shoes.

Now at this point the book becomes interesting in that it could be best described as a youth version of "The Celestine Prophecy" with a little of Deepak Chopra mixed in. I will leave this up to you, the reader, to find out the fun in this one.

All in all this book is a fun read and a pretty quick read surprisingly. With all the adventures and in depth discussions of physics and the universe you just can't put it down. I highly recommend this one for anyone with children ages 6 - 16 a little something for all the kids in that range.


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posted by Gil T. @ 7:42 PM Comments: 0