The darkest of the Inheritance books by far, "Brisingr" opens three days after the grim ending of Eldest. Swordless and facing his brother as a sworn enemy, Eragon joins Roran in his quest to free Katrina from the Ra'zac. Along the way, he discovers secrets, love and surprises: some good, most not.
In the beginning of "Brisingr," Eragon, Roran and Saphira rescue Katrina and kill the Ra'zac — old enemies from the first book. This completes the quest that Eragon left home for in the first place, once more bringing up the Cycle's running theme of revenge. Eragon is relieved to finally avenge those he lost to the Ra'zac. However, he finds no real satisfaction in the deed and is disturbed to feel empty — as though the anger and desire for revenge are what kept him going for so long.
In fact, most of "Brisingr" is spent on similar character and theme development, with less emphasis on plot/action than the first two books. Eragon struggles over the right thing to do with Sloan, Katrina's traitorous father. He is also conflicted about his brother Murtagh, an unwilling traitor, and tormented by the idea of being Morzan's son. The set of values he learned from the elves — including veganism and atheism — are also an important part in his development throughout the novel. So are his prejudices against Urgals, a race of monsters formerly allied with King Galbatorix. Even though the hero's literal journey of "Eragon" and "Eldest" is over, the metaphorical journey continues in "Brisingr." Eragon is trying to find his moral center in a world where war blurs the line between right and wrong. And though he's often hypocritical, he shows more courage making difficult decisions than he ever did in battle.
The Plot Thickens
Not that there are no battles in "Brisingr." The Empire wants to capture Saphira in order to breed a new race of dragons, and they haven't given up yet. Neither have Murtagh and his dragon Thorn — either on their attempts to capture Eragon and Saphira or on their search for a way out of bondage. Before trying to kill each other again, Eragon tells Murtagh that he will be freed from Galbatorix if he can change his ancient name.
Meanwhile, Roran and Katrina marry and Roran joins the rebel army. Nasuada is as strong and unusual a leader as ever, dealing with her duties and holding together a range of colorful characters. Eragon searches for a new sword to replace Zar'roc. Orik the dwarf, Eragon's foster brother, returns to the dwarf kingdom to marry his fiance and elect a new dwarf king. Eragon and Arya grow closer, encouraging Eragon's hopes of romance after her harsh rejection in "Eldest." Eragon and Saphira also return as promised to Oromis and Glaedr to complete their training — and ask why Oromis concealed the true identity of Eragon's parents.
Truth, deception, romance and surprises ensue.
The Negative The quality of the writing in "Brisingr" is top-notch. However, in terms of plot and economy, the author seems to have gotten carried away. The characters are as interesting as ever, but the story drags — most notably, in the several chapters required to elect a dwarf king and the forging of Eragon's new sword. In Christopher Paolini's defense, he wrote this under shadow of the 2008 presidential election — perhaps that is why so much of "Brisingr" is spent on politics and philosophizing. On the other hand, the chapter dealing with the forging of the sword Brisingr is simply long and tedious. It may interest readers curious about medieval sword-making, but it's much longer than it needs to be and reads like a section from some kind of sword-making textbook. Still, one has to credit Paolini for doing his research.
Another criticism of "Brisingr" is the revelation of Eragon's true father. The series has had this Star Wars-like theme of parentage from the beginning of "Eragon"; "Eldest" revealed Morzan to be Eragon's father; and in "Brisingr" he discovers that his father was actually Brom. My personal reaction was to raise my eyebrows. I found it hard to believe that Brom, on his deathbed, wouldn't tell his own son his identity. Or that Oromis wouldn't, for that matter — or Saphira, since she knew as well. All in all, the premise on which the other characters concealed the truth from Eragon seemed thin. What this also does is further distance Eragon from his half-brother Murtagh, implying that Murtagh is doomed to his fate because his father was Morzan. And if Eragon ends up killing Murtagh in the last book, it will be more acceptable because they're simply following in their fathers' footsteps.
The Positive The writing is as strong as ever. Also, the romance between Roran and Katrina is very sweet without being overdone. The way in which Eragon and Arya's friendship grows closer — towards something more than friendship — is handled carefully and plausibly. Instead of throwing himself at her like he did in "Eldest," Eragon makes efforts to heal the rift created in their friendship by his romantic interest. The two grow to respect each other, and a romance doesn't look that far-fetched after "Brisingr." Other strong points of the book include the dragons' perspectives — for the first time, Paolini writes sections from Saphira and Glaedr's point of view. He also makes sure to show the ambiguity of stark definitions like good and evil, making it clear that Murtagh and Thorn aren't completely evil and Eragon, Roran and Nasuada aren't completely good.
Loose Ends and Questions
While the ending of "Brisingr" isn't the shocker or cliffhanger found at the end of the first two books, the novel leaves more questions than answers. There are still many loose ends and subplots to be resolved in "Inheritance." To list a few major ones:
In "Eragon," a witch tells Eragon's future. Most of it comes true by "Brisingr," except for the epic romance with a noblewoman and the prediction that he will leave Alagaesia forever. Is the woman Arya? "Eldest" did not encourage this idea, but the two grow closer in "Brisingr." Still, one book is a short time to have an "epic romance." Also, when will Eragon leave his homeland? Eragon had a vision that hints at this future. Will he leave to find more dragons, or will the Varden lose the battle for freedom after all?
- Murtagh — a favorite character from the early books, will he and Thorn gain their freedom? Murtagh also hinted at a romantic interest in Nasuada, the leader of the Varden. Perhaps Paolini will not follow up this subplot, or perhaps they will have a tragic love affair. Also, are he and Eragon doomed to kill each other, or will they break the pattern set by their fathers?
- Elva, the girl Eragon accidentally cursed, is a major part of "Brisingr." Eragon manages to lift part of her curse, but will Elva keep working for the Varden or go her own contrary way?
- Galbatorix still has a green dragon egg. Likely the new Rider will be Arya, since her magic is emerald green and she is already a major character. How would the Varden get the egg? Or will Galbatorix hatch it? Perhaps the Rider will be Elva, or someone completely new.
- Galbatorix and Shruikan, the evil king and his dragon, are a cursed pair. Galbatorix is insane, and Shruikan is bound in service to him by dark magic and assumed to be insane as well. If the king is defeated, what happens to his dragon? Can Shruikan be freed, or possibly kill Galbatorix himself? Once the king is dead, is he free to choose a new Rider, and who will it be?
- Finally, the Eldunari, or "dragon hearts." Though suspiciously similar to Horcruxes — and like Horcruxes, introduced somewhat at the last minute — the Eldunari will play a key role in "Inheritance." Though Glaedr and Oromis die in "Brisingr," Eragon still has Glaedr's mind/spirit in his Eldunari. The captured Eldunari of dead dragons are Galbatorix's main source of power, but they, like Murtagh and Thorn, resent their bondage. What role, if any, will they take in defeating the king and resolving the end of the Inheritance Cycle?
Paolini, Christopher. Brisingr. Alfred A. Knopf, 20 Sept. 2008.