Since I first heard about Christopher Paolini's novel Eragon, I figured I should probably read it out of homeschooler solidarity if nothing else. I picked it up a few times at bookstores, but wasn't interested enough to buy a copy, and its surprising popularity made it difficult to find at the library. Finally a couple weeks ago I saw a copy in one of the library displays and decided to check it out. Reading it made me wonder why I hadn't pursued publishing any of my fifteen-year-old scribblings! I wanted to rewrite almost every sentence, and as for the subject matter--there's little that can't be directly traced to well-known fantasy sources, mostly Tolkien.
For those who don't know the story, a teenaged boy named Eragon stumbles across a strange stone in the forest only he is comfortable entering. Unsurprisingly for the reader, the stone soon hatches a dragon that must be kept hidden from Eragon's family and fellow villagers, since dragons are believed to be extinct. But it's hard to conceal (and feed) an enormous flying creature, and all too soon Eragon is attacked by dark hooded riders and the bestial Urgals. Enter Gandalf/Professor Dumbledore/Obi-Wan Kenobi/wise yet mysterious advisor, who refuses to share his history yet expects Eragon to trust him fully. Back and forth across the Empire they flee, pursued by Nazgul and Orcs, trying to escape the Eye of Sauron--er, excuse me, all-powerful Emperor Galbatorix (who came to power by kicking his rival in the crotch during their final battle--clearly, supreme evil)--and figure out how Eragon can become a full-fledged Dragon Rider.
It's truly a story written by a fifteen-year-old boy. Nearly every conflict is solved with violence, even the most minor of surprises. It's not long before Eragon discovers his dragon-enhanced magic, which mostly means that he can kill things from a distance. So he does. People get mad at him, but it doesn't really help. Clearly the best enemy is a dead enemy, and anyway, it's more exciting that way. Thus most of the book is taken up with traveling and violence, until finally they reach the Mines of Moria and receive a brief respite while Paolini writes the next book in the trilogy.
To be fair, I've got Eldest on hold at the library, and am interested enough in Eragon's story to read the whole thing and find out what happens next. Hopefully the author's writing will improve with age, and perhaps he'll even branch out into original territory. I just can't help thinking what I thought about Charles de Lint's recently published first stories--there's a reason for practice, and first drafts, and rejections. After a while, you get better! Paolini seems to have the stamina for fantasy novels, and probably could produce something of merit in time, but it's kind of unfortunate that his first attempt is out there to embarrass him forever.