Sunday, August 16, 2015

Eragon Chapter 24

So after hundreds and hundreds of years of the main characters wandering in the desert, we readers finally come to the Promised Land: someplace with OTHER PEOPLE so we can hear about something other than Brom beating Eragon with a stick and teaching him magic offscreen.

Yes, Eragon and Brom finally arrive at Teirm, where the fog conveniently clears so Eragon can stare at it.

nestled by the edge of the shimmering sea, where proud ships were docked with furled sails.

Just a nitpick, but… ships that are in dock with furled sails don't look very proud.

The city was contained behind a white wall—a hundred feet tall and thirty feet thick—

  1. ARE YOU KIDDING?! That's like the walls of Ba Sing Se, WHICH WAS BUILT BY EARTHBENDERS, so it was probably a lot easier than THIS would be. And Ba Sing Se was at least THREE TIMES AS TALL.
  2. I mean, does Paolini know how long it took to build a castle? It usually took a decade or more, depending on the weather. A wall like this could have taken centuries, would have required a constant work force, tons of money, and it would have depleted all the quarries! And then some!
  3. Not to mention that that wall is freakishly proportioned. You don't need a wall as thick as a house! That's ONE THIRD of the wall's height! Most ancient walls were like five feet tall, max.
  4. And why does a port city even NEED this? It seems like it would be really fucking inconvenient to have a wall cutting you off from the sea and limiting the traffic that can come in from the docks!
  5. This is one of the first examples of Paolini's really sketchy understanding of proportion. I think he really needs an editor to hold his hand and tell him that goats can't jump forty feet and mountains aren't three miles high.

The wall does have two portcullises… you know, those metal gates Robin Hood climbed on.

Anyway, there is one facing the road, and one facing the sea. Wow. I bet it's fun when more than one ship comes into port and they're trying to squeeze everything through that narrow gate.

Also, there's a giant castle with a lighthouse on top of it. Yes, I am totally imagining it as the top of Minas Tirith, even if it isn't described that way exactly.

I'd also like to mention that this lighthouse is worse than useless. The reason lighthouses are on the shore is so that ships at sea can get an idea of where the shore is, and avoid crashing into it.

But if you put the lighthouse a mile or so from the shore, they'll think that the shore is a mile further than it is, and they'll CRASH. So having a lighthouse on the castle, which is nowhere near the sea, is actually HARMFUL.

rose a huge citadel built of giant stones and turrets.

… oh wow, a castle made out of BIG STONES! Whodathunkit?!

And what kind of citadel is built out of just big rocks and turrets? It sounds like something a little kid would make out of blocks.

Soldiers guarded the southern gate but held their pikes carelessly.

Is Paolini aware that pikes are meant to be used in close formation by a large number of people? And they don't really work very well if you just have a few guys?

“Let’s hope they haven’t received reports of us from the Empire and won’t detain us. Whatever happens, don’t panic or act suspiciously.”

"Hi there! We're just a couple of random guys who totally don't have a dragon in the woods. We're harmless and non-suspicious. Haha!"

Eragon tells Saphira that she should land somewhere nearby and hide, since they might attract attention if anybody noticed a dragon. And Saphira says one of the oddest things in this book:

Eragon told Saphira, You should land somewhere now and hide. We’re going in.
Sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong. Again,
she said sourly.

… what is she talking about? He's not sticking his nose anywhere, he's trying to get information so he can find the Ra'zac and get revenge. It's like there were lines cut from this conversation, but Paolini didn't bother to rewrite what was left.

And for that matter, when has he stuck his nose where it didn't belong before?

If anything happens, I’m going to pin you to my back and never let you off.
I love you too.
Then I will bind you all the tighter.

This is entering uncomfortable Edward Cullen territory, especially with her pinning him down and demanding that he stop riding the horse instead of her.

They ride toward the city, and Eragon predictably asks how big the city is. Brom's helpful response?

“Larger than any city you have ever seen,” said Brom.

And given that Eragon has seen exactly zero cities, that means it could be ANY size. Brom is just SO helpful.

So there's a brief scene which I think is meant to be funny. Basically Eragon and Brom put on some fake accents, and Brom pretends to be brain-damaged from youthful sunstroke. In case you're wondering, it IS possible to get brain damage from heatstroke, although I'm not sure how bad it is or what kind.

Once they were away from the guards, Brom sat up and growled, “Touch of brain fever, eh?”
“I couldn’t let you have all the fun,” teased Eragon.
Brom harrumphed and looked away.

I think that was meant to be funny. And given that Brom acted like a person who is either functionally retarded or brain-damaged, it seems weird that he takes offense at Eragon coming up with a fake story to support him.

Either that, or Brom is a fucking bad actor who has no idea how "common" people act.

We're then told that the city is a pretty miserable, closed-up place, and for some reason the houses get taller the closer they get to the citadel. Brom explains away that this is so the archers could shoot from the highest ground available, and pick off anyone who invaded. Never mind that if they stationed archers on the walls, they wouldn't NEED to arrange the entire city this way.

Brom nodded. “Teirm has a history of being attacked by pirates, Urgals, and other enemies. It has long been a center of commerce. There will always be conflict where riches gather in such abundance. The people here have been forced to take extraordinary measures to keep themselves from being overrun.

Thirty. Foot. Thick. Wall.

Seriously, how are these pirates and Urgals supposed to get past that? They have two tiny, easily-defended portcullises in a HUNDRED-FOOT-TALL THIRTY-FOOT-THICK STONE WALL. I'm pretty sure the wall by itself counts as an "extraordinary measure," and you probably don't need to do much else!

"It also helps that Galbatorix gives them soldiers to defend their city.”

What a horrible king he is! Sending soldiers to help defend a populated area! Especially a center of commerce! MADMAN! HE MUST DIE!

“I’ve never seen a city planned like this,” said Eragon in wonder.

You've never seen a city.

“Yes, but it was only done after Teirm was nearly burned down by a pirate raid,” commented Brom.

  1. "Commented." It's unnecessary. Not as bad as the infamous "apologized Brom" but still bad.
  2. Burned down by a pirate raid? HOW DID THEY GET PAST THE WALL?
  3. I'm serious. They aren't talking about the wall or anything; they are talking about the arrangement of houses by height! Has Paolini forgotten about that obese defense wall that is almost impossible to get through?
  4. And for that matter, what is the POINT of having a massive thick wall if you don't have archers to wander around on top of it, so they can pick off threats BEFORE they invade?

And despite living in a city with A GIANT FRICKING WALL and a city layout designed for maximum effectiveness against invaders, the people are unhappy. Because... evil king is evil. No other reason really needed.

There were other, subtler signs of adverse times: no children played in the streets, people bore hard expressions, and many houses were deserted, with weeds growing from cracks in their stone-covered yards.

Ah, they've reached the legendary fantasy land of Detroit.

“It looks like they’ve had trouble,” said Eragon.
“The same as everywhere else,” said Brom grimly.


I'm sorry, I find it difficult to believe that the Urgals, who are dumb as bricks and have no special equipment, could seriously pose a threat to this massive city. It definitely shouldn't be as hard-pressed as wandering merchants or defenseless little ass-backwards villages with no defenses. But we're supposed to think they are!

Now I'm not saying a GIANT FRICKING WALL couldn't be breached. I mean, look at the aforementioned Ba Sing Se, or the attacks on Minas Tirith or Helm's Deep.

Here's the thing, though. Ba Sing Se was only successfully breached because of A) the Fire Nation's superior steampunk technology, and B) the Earth Kingdom's complacency. They were only successfully attacked ONE OTHER TIME in all of their history, and that was such a slim victory that it all fell apart when their general had a breakdown. And Minas Tirith? Its walls weren't nearly as tall or thick, and they required siege towers, catapults, a colossal army, a giant battering ram AND THE FREAKING NAZGUL to invade the place even semi-successfully. Helm's Deep was set on solid stone, but again the walls weren't that tall.

Yet we're supposed to believe that Urgals and pirates have BETTER SUCCESS than either the orcs or the Fire Nation, despite having NO goals beyond "rape and pillage," no giant battering ram, no siege towers, no catapults, no Nazgul, and no GIANT SCREW.

This is an awful, clumsy way of trying to tell us that the land and people are suffering under Galbatorix because he's such a horrible king, and everything would flourish if only they had the RIGHT king. It's a common fantasy trope, but is hardly ever done well. Think Bella Swan and the Huntsman.

Eragon and Brom go into a local tavern, so we can see what a miserable place Galbatorix has made this city EVEN THOUGH THEY HAVE A GIANT FRICKING WALL.

A fire smoldered in the fireplace, yet no one bothered to throw more wood on it.

Possibly because of limited access to trees?

A few lonely people in the corners nursed their drinks with sullen expressions.

"Dammit, our baseball team lost AGAIN."
"Maybe we should start watching Ye Olde Footballe."

A man missing two fingers sat at a far table, eyeing his twitching stumps.

"I can tell that that guy's missing fingers are because of Galbatorix's evil!"
"Huh? No, I'm a carpenter with no depth perception."

The bartender had a cynical twist to his lips and held a glass in his hand that he kept polishing, even though it was broken.

  1. … so I guess what we can take from that is… the bartender is insane.
  2. After all, why would any sane person polish a broken glass?
  3. Also, does Paolini realize how expensive glass was in medieval societies? Nobody wasted it on cups!

Brom asks the insane bartender where Jeod lives, the bartender is an asshole, and Brom tries to pay him money to "remember"… until some random dude swoops in at the last minute to dick with them.

Before he touched them, the man missing two fingers called out from his table, “Gareth, what in th’ blazes do you think you’re doing? Anyone on the street could tell them where Jeod lives. What are you charging them for?”

Well, douchenozzle, why didn't you say that AT THE BEGINNING of their conversation? Do you hate the bartender, and wanted him to be taunted with a big pile of coins that he couldn't have?

So Brom and Eragon sit next to the eight-fingered man, whose name is Martin.

“My pleasure. Can’t blame Gareth, though—business hasn’t been doing so well lately.”

"Turns out not a lot of people want crocheted ship-warmers."

“Jeod lives on the west side of town, right next to Angela, the herbalist."

… ugh. Just hang on, you'll find out why.

Martin informs us that contrary to Brom's assumptions, Urgals are not causing problems. Brom goes, "What? But you're so vulnerable! You only have a giant wall protecting you from the outside world!", and everyone in the room facepalms.

No, seriously, it turns out that no, Urgals AREN'T the cause of the problems, and they haven't been seen in the past year. The problem is actually that various merchant ships are vanishing without a trace, which is forcing the merchants to ship stuff over land rather than sea.

“Do you have any idea who’s responsible? There must be witnesses,” said Brom.

"Well, there's this one drunken one-eyed guy…"

He leaned toward them and said in a confidential tone, “The sailors are saying that it’s magic.” He nodded and winked, then leaned back.

… so?!

Dude, it's been ONE CENTURY since magical dragon-riding Ubermenschen were ruling the entire continent. The king of this country has magic. There are magic-users all over the place. MAGIC IS NOT THAT STRANGE AN IDEA.

Martin also mentions that he works for the captains, fending off pirates and stuff. I… guess that's how he lost his fingers. Are we ever gonna see this character again?

“But a dangerous one,” said Brom. Martin shrugged again and downed the last of his beer. Brom and Eragon took their leave and headed to the west side of the city, a nicer section of Teirm. The houses were clean, ornate, and large. The people in the streets wore expensive finery and walked with authority. Eragon felt conspicuous and out of place.

  1. Did that seem rushed to anyone else?
  2. I mean, we literally go from Martin drinking his beer to them heading through the city.
  3. Would it have been so hard to write something like, "Brom gestured slightly toward the door. With a polite farewell to Martin and the scowling Gareth, they slipped out the door and quickly glanced down the street. Eragon squinted in the bright sunlight, holding a hand before his eyes..." etc etc.

Also that's a… really abrupt ending to a chapter. I'm not kidding, that is actually how the chapter ENDS. It feels like there should be some kind of coda, or concluding line, but it… just ends right there. Odd.

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