Eldest is the second novel in the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini and the sequel to Eragon. Eldest was first published in hardcover on August 23, 2005, and was released in paperback in September 2006. Eldest has been released in an audiobook format, and as an ebook. Like Eragon, Eldest became a New York Times bestseller. A deluxe edition of Eldest was released on September 26, 2006, including new information and art by both the illustrator and the author. Other editions of Eldest are translated into different languages.
Eldest begins following several important events in Eragon. The story is the continued adventures of Eragon and his dragon Saphira, centering on their journey to the realm of the Elves in order to further Eragon's training as a Dragon Rider. Other plots in the story focus on Roran, Eragon's cousin, who leads the inhabitants of Carvahall to Surda to join the Varden, and Nasuada as she takes on her father's role as leader of the Varden. Eldest ends at the Battle of the Burning Plains, where Eragon faces a new Dragon Rider, Murtagh, and a new dragon, Thorn.
Reviews pointed out the similarities between Eldest and other works such as The Lord of the Rings, while praising the themes of the book, such as friendship and honor. Several of these reviews commented on the style and genre of Eldest, while others considered the possibility of a film adaptation similar to the first film.
Eldest begins three days after the events of the preceding novel, Eragon, in the dwarf city of Tronjheim, inside of a hollowed mountain named Farthen Dûr. Farthen Dûr is in the southeastern part of Alagaësia, the fictional continent where the Inheritance Cycle takes place. Throughout the novel, the protagonists travel to many different places: Ellesméra, the elven capital city located in the forest Du Weldenvarden, on the northern portion of Alagaësia; Carvahall, a small town located on the northwestern part of Alagaësia in Palancar Valley; Aberon, the capital of Surda, located in the southern portion of Alagaësia, and Helgrind located in the city of Dras-Leona, in the southern portion of Alagaësia.
The story is told in third-person through protagonists Eragon, Roran, and Nasuada. Eragon is nearly always accompanied by his dragon Saphira. Due to the multiple points-of-view, multiple stories take place concurrently, and the protagonist characters do not meet often. Several other characters return from Eragon, including Arya (the elf warrior, daughter of the elven queen), Orik, Roran (Eragon's cousin and a major character), Ajihad (the leader of the Varden, who dies and is replaced by his daughter Nasuada), and Angela (the herbalist). Some new characters are introduced in Eldest, such as Oromis and his dragon Glaedr. Murtagh appears briefly as a minor protagonist but then reappears later as a primary antagonist with his dragon, Thorn. Galbatorix and the Ra'zac also reprise their roles as primary antagonists.
Eldest begins as Ajihad, the king of the rebel Varden force, is ambushed and killed, with Murtagh gone while The Twins and Murtagh are assumed dead. At his funeral, Ajihad's daughter Nasuada is elected to command the Varden. The protagonists Eragon and Saphira then decide to travel to the forest Du Weldenvarden to become trained as a Dragon Rider by the elves. The dwarf king, Hrothgar, decides to adopt Eragon to his clan, Dûrgrimst Ingeitum, and have his now foster brother, Orik, accompany him to the forest. Once there, Eragon meets Oromis, The Cripple Who Is Whole, and his Dragon Glaedr, a dragon with a missing front leg, and the only Dragon and Rider secretly alive besides Eragon, Saphira and Galbatorix and his forcibly bonded dragon Shruikan. Oromis and Glaedr, however, are both crippled, and so cannot fight Galbatorix and must hide to avoid Galbatorix hunting them down. Eragon and Saphira are taught the use of logic, magic theory, scholarship, and combat, among other things.
Meanwhile, Eragon's cousin Roran, is planning to marry Katrina, daughter of Sloan the butcher. While the village is at peace, they are unexpectedly attacked by Galabatorix's soldiers and the Ra'zac, the strangers who had killed Roran's father, Garrow. The village metalsmith, Horst, equips his sons along with Roran with equipment. Roran takes a hammer and attacks the soldiers. The Ra'zac and most of the soldiers escape, saying that they want information from Roran. The entire village then sets up defenses, and during a second invasion, the Ra'zac escape again. One night, Roran wakes up to find Katrina being attacked by the Ra'zac, who sneaked into the house. Roran then takes off the cloth around the Ra'zac's face and sees that they are monsters, not humans. A Ra'zac bites Roran, leaving a serious injury, and leave with Katrina captured. While Roran is chasing them, Sloan, the village butcher and Katrina's father, betrays the village and joins the Ra'zac. The Ra'zac escape with their steeds, the Lethrblaka, who were originally their parents.
Meanwhile, Nasuada chooses to move the Varden from Tronjheim to Surda to mount an attack on the Empire. The Varden, who are effectively refugees, suffer financial troubles, until Nasuada learns that she can create an expensive lace with magic, and sell it at extremely low rates. One night when Nasuada is in her room, a character named Elva saves her from an assassination attempt. Elva is enchanted, and 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.
In the meantime, Eragon continues his training, but is discouraged when the scar on his back causes him to have agonizing seizures multiple times per day. He has been swooning over Arya for most of the book. Saphira also has a similar problem with Glaedr, as she believes him to be a good choice for a mate and tries to win his affections. Eragon tells her it would not be proper, and she in turn replies that Arya is not as important as his education. Both efforts fail miserably, but bring Eragon and Saphira closer together. Later, at the ancient elven ceremony, the Agaetí Blödhren (Blood-Oath Celebration), Eragon is altered by a spectral dragon. The changes alter his senses, and enhance his abilities, effectively turning him into an elf-human hybrid, as well as healing all of his wounds, scars, and back injury. Reinvigorated, Eragon continues training until he learns that the Empire will soon attack the Varden in Surda. Afterward he confesses his feelings for Arya who rejects him harshly. Dismayed, he leaves without completing his training, to aid the Varden in battle. Upon leaving he is given a bow with magical arrows, a belt with twelve priceless diamonds, an enchanted flask of elvish concoction, a copy of a poem he wrote and presented for the Agaetí Blödhren, and the blessing of Oromis and Glaedr.
Meanwhile, Roran is planning to rescue Katrina. He decides that the only solution is to join the Varden in Surda, and so he convinces almost the entire village to travel there. The village reaches Narda, where they pay for barges to sail to Teirm. In Teirm, Roran meets Jeod, Brom's friend, who tells him about Eragon and that he now is a Dragon Rider. Roran is stunned that his cousin is a Dragon Rider, and he asks Jeod for help to reach the Varden. Jeod decides to go with them and he gathers a group of his friends to steal a ship called the Dragon Wing. The village is chased by a group of Galbatorix's boats, but they force themselves into the gigantic whirpool, the Boar's eye, so that they can trap the enemy ships.
Meanwhile, Eragon arrives at the Varden's camp, who are under attack by an army of one hundred thousand of Galbatorix's soldiers. A group of Urgals join the Varden, and Eragon is able to repel the opposing army with help from the dwarves' reinforcements. 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, his old friend. Murtagh tells Eragon that he was kidnapped and forced into loyalty by Galbatorix after a dragon hatched for him, whom he named Thorn. 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 Zar'roc, which he believes to be his inheritance. Ultimately, Galbatorix's army is forced to retreat due to heavy losses, after the arrival of the dwarves and the village of Carvahall and the departure of Murtagh and Thorn. Roran manages to defeat the Twins by bashing them in the heads with his hammer, thus enhancing his title of Roran Stronghammer. In the end, Eragon reunites with Roran and Eragon decides to help Roran rescue Katrina from the Ra'zac in Dras-Leona.
Eldest received generally negative reviews, and it was met with criticism similar to Eragon for its derivative nature. School Library Journal noted that Eldest lacked originality, but would still find reception among fans. It also acknowledged that themes of Eldest are based generally on the works of other writers. BookBrowse also criticized Eldest, but said, as School Library Journal noted, that nothing the reviewers can say will stop some children from reading the book. Entertainment Weekly rated Eldest as one of the worst five books of 2005, calling it a "700-page drag." The Boston Globe gave a negative review for Eldest, criticizing the very low points and for "drama that rises to a wet pop." The Christian Science Monitor gave Eldest a C+ grade. Similar to other reviews, it criticized the long plot and its similarities to The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, as well as the lack of humor. The review commented that Roran, one of the secondary major characters, had the best part of the book. SFSignal also gave Eldest a poor review, giving it one out of five stars. The main reason of this was for its dull pace. The SFSignal review, like The Christian Science Monitor, did say that Roran had the "strongest sequence" in the book.
However, there were also some more positive reviews of Eldest. Bookmarks magazine saw Eldest's similarity to other works, but said that Eldest displayed more emotional depth than Eragon. Publishers Weekly also gave a positive review for Eldest, praising the revelations in the final pages. Barnes & Noble gave a positive review for Eldest, in particular for its style, characters and themes such as friendship, forgiveness, responsibility, and honor. Eldest won the 2006 Quill Award in Young Adult Literature. Eldest also was nominated for a British Book Award in the Children's Book of the Year section, the Disney Adventures Book Award, the Colorado Blue Spruce Award, Young Adult Book Award, and the Wyoming Soaring Eagle Book Award.
Several themes in Eldest have been noted. A Barnes & Noble reviewer praised the honor, friendship, responsibility, and forgiveness in the book. The reviewer called these themes "age-transcendent". School Library Journal commented on how Eragon looked for a definition for good and evil. A third review, while not identifying any specific themes, said the author was "layering his themes" to make the book more exciting. Another review praised the story for the themes of power, family, and maturing. Paolini commented on the theme in Eldest of vegetarianism:
"One of my goals as an author is to explore various aspects of human nature. It's my job, then, to attempt to understand why people act, even if it differs from my own point of view or practice, and to present those reasons to the best of my ability. The actions and beliefs of my characters are not necessarily my own."
There are also themes of religion and atheism, the dwarves being highly religious, the elves being atheists, and Eragon, growing up without a religious background but a set of superstitions, wondering if there are higher powers.
Literary style and genre
Eldest falls in the genre of juvenile fiction and fantasy. Reviews often commented on how Eldest borrowed from the fantasy genre. Other reviews criticized and praised the writing style of the author. Los Angeles Times, while noting that the writing was more mature, criticized the novel for being inconsistent. An Entertainment Weekly review was negative toward the story because it was slow-paced, while The Washington Post said Eldest needed to be shortened. A reviewer from The Boston Globe said:
"He is to English as a bad dog to a chainsaw: he worries it, and worries it, and devastation spreads around him."
On the other hand, Barnes & Noble called the writing style fluid and Children's Literature praised the story for being richly detailed. Kirkus Reviews compared the story to a patchwork of fantasy elements and characters, then concluded that it, despite being derivative, was exciting and held together well.
Whether or not the book will be adapted to film remains a matter of speculation. When asked whether there would be a movie adaptation of Eldest at the premiere of Eragon, Christopher Paolini replied, "I think we'll know after opening weekend." Many critics have considered the possibility of a sequel in their reviews of Eragon. One critic said that 20th Century Fox's plans to adapt Eldest was "jumping the gun" and that "they will have a tough time convincing anyone but the most die-hard fans to return for another helping." Even some critics who gave the film positive reviews were skeptical towards the possibility of a sequel: "That the studio hopes to build a franchise on this, now that—that is expecting way too much."
According to an interview with director Stefen Fangmeier:
|“||I'm not quite sure what is currently going on. My own personal perspective is that until we sort of figure out what happens in the third book. Evidentially, I asked Christopher... about that and he was not volunteering much of what was going to happen. I think it's very important to see where this ends up; how it's resolved. I think until you kind of have an understanding of what the third piece of that puzzle is, it's kind of hard to look at that second book, of course I read it, it's very much a transitional story element. I think one would be best off to write the third film first, and then, being happy with that, going back to the second one and doing all the set-up work that will pay off in the third. Then probably filming two and three together as they did with Pirates of the Caribbean; as one production."|
That means, given the time frame, it might still be another year before there are actually are scripts for both films and these things can move ahead. I don't know if Fox is waiting to see the revenues the DVD will create. I think they were modestly happy with the worldwide box office."
Fangmeier's comments were made in March 2007, before the October 2007 announcement that the trilogy was to be expanded into a four-book cycle. As of 2015, there are no plans for Eldest being made into a movie.
A deluxe version of Eldest called the "Limited Edition" was released on September 26, 2006. It was published by Random House. The deluxe edition included an excerpt of Brisingr, a poster of Glaedr (which would become the cover art for Brisingr), the history of Alagaësia, art by Christopher Paolini, and a list of characters, places, objects, and dwarf clans. The deluxe edition was also released in an Ebook format.
Eldest has been published in forty-one countries, several translations from English into different languages have been made. Translations for languages such as Spanish, Portuguese, and Serbian have appeared. Worldwide Eldest has several publishers including Gailivro, which publishes the Polish and Portuguese Eldest, and Gramedia Pustaka Utama, the publisher of the Indonesian translations.