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Remember how I’m taking over my library’s bookgroup?  And how they decided to read Eragon?  And how I wasn’t too enthusiastic about it?  The group meets tomorrow afternoon, and I’ve still got 300 pages to go, but at least it’s making me laugh.

Gosh, where to start?  There was that awesome first sentence: “Wind howled through the night, carrying a scent that would change the world.”  That left me speechless.  Okay, not really – did the scent really change the world?  Or the person/thing that gave off the scent (and honestly, I’m not really sure what the scent is supposed to be – the elves?  This is one rare example of Paolini not overdescribing something.)

Then there was that awful description of a massacred town that had me snorting with laughter.  It takes real skill to make a massacre – and a dead baby – the funniest scene in a book.

Then there’s the fact that Eragon doesn’t have much of a personality.  I suppose if you’re reading for plot and fantasy elements, the hero’s personality isn’t too much of an issue.  He gets snappy over things, like you would expect from a teen boy, resenting advice adults.  He likes to wander in the forest by himself, hunting.  He lives at subsistance level on a farm in the mountains, but it’s not until he sets off on his adventures that he gets muscles (seriously?)  “The long days and strenuous work stripped Eragon’s body of excess fat.  His arms became corded, and his tanned skin rippled with lean muscles.  Everything about me is turning hard, he thought dryly” (170-171).

I have many predictions about where the plot will go, who Eragon’s father will turn out to be, etc. etc.  But who knows, maybe I’ll be surprised.  I’m curious to see if the characters develop much, because right now I feel ambivalent about them.  I’d be curious to see how the Knopf edition differs from the original, self-published version.  It is a remarkable effort from a teenager, and kids do respond well to it.  Witness the bookgroup member whose mother, when I called with a reminder about the meeting, told me that he’d put off starting it, but once he picked it up was totally hooked.

Paolini obviously grew up on a diet of Tolkien, which is making me think about the ways Tolkien manages to make things work, while Paolini doesn’t always succeed.  I think there was more humor in Tolkien, and a better sense of tragedy, too.  And characters that felt living and breathing.  They do have those blasted elven poems in common, though.  Skim, skim, skim.

The Serpent's Tale The Serpent’s Tale by Ariana Franklin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
While it stands alone in terms of plot, I would recommend reading Mistress of the Art of Death first, because the stories are really more about the characters and their world than about the mystery. Like the first book, this one has its gruesome and disturbing moments, and the England of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine is never romanticized. Adelia continues to give us that handy outsider perspective and of course uses her medical knowledge to solve murders that others don’t even recognize as more than accidents, the work of highwaymen, or suicide. The supporting characters always keep things lively, including Adelia’s baby, who is more realistic and fleshed out than most fictional babies. I’m glad I switched to the audio version for this installment, because the reading is really, really excellent – Kate Reading’s voice makes it impossible to imagine any other, and she does fantastic, fairly subtle voices.

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Sacred Scars (A Resurrection of Magic, Book 2) Sacred Scars by Kathleen Duey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
When I read Skin Hunger, I wasn’t terribly enthusiastic. It was disturbing at times, and I felt at a distance from the characters. But I couldn’t stop thinking about the book, and wondering what would happen to them. That was in December of 2007, but the world of the book stuck with me so completely that when I picked up a copy of Sacred Scars from the library, I started reading it on the walk home. While I couldn’t remember the plot of the first book in detail, Duey provides just enough information to remind the reader without doing a full recap. And, as I discovered, the world-building had been so successful that I was swept back up into it.

This time, I didn’t feel a distance from the characters in the same way, even though Hahp, in particular, wasn’t always likeable. The alternating storylines are set far apart in time, but how far apart we never quite know, and the distance shrinks quite a bit as the story progresses. Each storyline has its own tensions, but wondering when the two will meet adds a delicious third tension that made this nice fat novel fly by. Things wrap up a bit in the end, but it’s definitely a middle-of-a-trilogy story with plenty of things left hanging.

In terms of plot, the second volume is less puzzling than the first, because we know more about the relationships between all the characters. I felt like I was able to put together several pieces of the puzzle here, which got me wondering about how many clues had been in the first book and if I was too distracted by other things to figure them out. So I suppose I can go back and reread (this is a series that begs rereading) while I wait impatiently for the final installment.

This is definitely a YA series, with language and violence and a sense of darkness that would make it inappropriate for younger readers. Although the worlds are very different, it might appeal to the Megan Whalen Turner crowd for its complexity and world-building.

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September 2009

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