Chapter 71: Heir to the Empire
Gee, I wonder what this chapter is going to be about.
We open with a bit of explanation about Eragon climbing a tower. Sadly, Paolini has chosen the seventy-first chapter of the fourth book to grace us with some decent description:
“It was close to sunset, and through the windows the pierced the curving wall to his right, he could see the shadow-streaked buildings of Uru’baen, as well as the hazy fields outside the city and, as he spiralled around, the dark mass of the stone hill that rose behind it.”
Okay, so it’s not exactly William Morris, but it’s a fair shade better than most of Paolini’s work. Not overdone, just enough description for the reader to visualise it without bogging down the story. Simple, clean, and effective.
And then we get what might just be the best-written sentence in the entire series;
“The tower was tall, and Eragon was tired”.
Perfect! Immediately and strongly evocative of weariness, allows the reader to empathise with the character, no wasted words or distracting descriptions or references to semi-related subjects. Less is definitely more in this kind of scene, and Paolini nails it.
There’s a bit more description and introspection about the mundane events between the last chapter and this scene.
The elves explained why the massive stone overhang didn’t collapse after the nuclear blast of Galby’s body being destroyed. Of course, it is because Magic. “and also because of the overhang’s sheer size, which had allowed it to weather the force of the blast without significant damage”.
Wait. That’s not how physics works. The larger something is, the more stress is placed on the axis/join holding it up. I’m not sure Paolini thought that bit through.
“The hill itself had helped to contain the harmful residue from the explosion”
Okay. Explosives 101. You have a cave dug into a massive stone hill with a single relatively unsecured doorway leading out. Somebody detonates a nuclear bomb inside the chamber, having already bypassed or disabled whatever locks/security was on the front doors. Where is the explosion going to go? Anybody?
“although a large amount had still escaped through the entrance to the citadel, and most everyone who had been in or around Uru’baen needed healing with magic, else they would soon sicken and die. Already many had fallen ill.”
By “a large amount”, I hope he means “99% of the blast energy”. There should be a massive cone of radioactivity extending outwards from the doorway of the citadel, in which pretty much everything is either dead or poisoned.
They seal off the entrance to the palace, but not before searching for survivors. You remember, the ones Eragon and co. walked over/past on their way out?
There’s a bit more explanation about how the elves are going to magically cleanse everything of the nuclear fallout so it’s safe to live in the area again. Meanwhile, Eragon has been dismantling the magic spells and wards that Galbatorix had placed around the city:
“Some of the enchantments seemed benign, even helpful – such as one spell whose only apparent purpose was to keep the hinges of a door from creaking”
Hey, this guy sounds like a pretty decent king, taking an active interest in his subjects’ welfare.
“But Eragon dared not leave any of the king’s spells intact, no matter how harmless they appeared”
Immediately after which the stone ledge collapsed, crushing the city because Eragon was too paranoid to leave sensible spellwork alone.
“As Eragon had released nobles and commoners alike from their bondage, he occasionally felt a cry of anguish, as if he has taken something precious from them”
The eldunari that Galbatorix had enslaved reacted badly to being released, so they have to be moved far away so their mental/magical lashing-out is out of range of the people.
Honestly, the way Paolini keeps vacillating between ‘magic works everywhere’ and ‘magic gets weaker over distance’ is frustrating. Choose one or the other, you can’t have it both ways.
Anyway, after a brief mention of Arya’s overwhelming grief at the death of her mother (finally, a character that sincerely grieves for another!) , Eragon notices that now that the King is dead, he has no idea what do no next.
Nice going, rebellion. Generally when someone plots to overthrow a ruler, they have some kind of a plan to replace them in order to prevent the country from spiralling into unmanageable anarchy. Not so with the Varden, they’ll just wing it and see what happens. Never mind about maintaining roads or patrols, or keeping the economy viable, they’ll figure that out as they need to!
“[…]a sense of emptiness had gripped Eragon. He had expected to feel jubilant if they killed Galbatorix, and though he was glad – and he was glad – with the king gone, he no longer knew what he had to do. He had reached his goal. He had climbed the unclimbable mountain. And now, without the purpose to guide him, he was at a loss.”
I don’t know if this is brilliant or stupid. On the one hand, blunted emotions are a common symptom of post-traumatic stress; on the other hand, Eragon’s callousness and inability to comprehend the human element of his ‘goal’ has been a pervasive if unacknowledged aspect of his personality.
Either way, this is definitely not what a classical Hero type is supposed to think or feel. How about taking a moment to grieve for the thousands of innocents whose blood is on your hands? How about being revolted, or even slightly queasy with yourself, for just a moment, for the countless atrocities that you and the Varden have committed in your campaign to depose a ruler whose worst sins over 100 years were taxes and oaths of fealty?
ANYWAY. It turns out that all this time, for the past four pages of exposition, Eragon was STILL CLIMBING THE TOWER. I mean, I like the idea of having the character’s thoughts drift elsewhere while in the middle of an arduous or menial task(it’s certainly better than straight flashback), but how tall is this tower? Eragon’s just gone over, in detail, things that may have happened over a number of hours or days.
And then we find out that there’s a council of leaders waiting for him at the top. Shouldn’t he have been more worried about what’s going to happen in the meeting, than about what has happened in the hours since Galbatorix exploded? At least he’s not giving a tower-top victory speech to crowds of soldiers and peasants below, which was my first thought when I read this paragraph. That would have just been too much.
Waiting for him in the tower room were Arya, the Alagaesian equivalent of Thranduil, Orrin the Surdan King, Nasuada, Orik the dwarf King and the werecat king. Also, Saphira once again has changed size so that she is capable of being inside the tower-room.
“They stood – or in King Orrin’s case, sat – in a widely spaced circle”
Given Paolini’s penchant for highlighting everything Orrin does as evidence that he is a spoiled aristocratic swot, my first reaction to this line was to roll my eyes. Orrin can’t ever be seen to be equal to the rest of the hardened leaders in the room, can he? It’s not until a paragraph beyond the unfortunately-placed page break that we are reminded that he has an injury. Wait, the rest of the people in the group are uninjured? Now it seems like Paolini’s trying to draw attention to Orrin’s inexperience in battle as well as his spoiled-childlike demands for comfort and luxury.
I don’t know if that’s a fair reading of the scene or if I’m just following a self-reinforcing spiral of belief that Paoloini really dislikes Orrin, but it seems like the poor man can’t do anything without it being compared unfavourably to Arya or Nasuada or Eragon or even Roran.
Okay, so all of this description of what Eragon sees upon opening the door… occurred before Eragon opened the door. Come on Paolini, either Eragon is psychic or you’re getting really sloppy.
ANYWAY. There’s a meeting of the leaders, much uncomfortable silence, and a moment that shows that Eragon continues to be inconsistently characterised, even after four books:
“If he had to, he would contact [Nasuada] directly with his thoughts, but he hoped to avoid that, for his did not want to intrude on her privacy. Not then. Not after what she had endured.”
First, that’s all well and good for his allies, but he had no qualms about treating the enemy, innocent bystanders and civilians like that. Second, by admission of the text, he had not had a chance to talk with her about what she’d gone through, because she was taken directly to seclusion (and, assumedly, a healer) by Jormundr. So how does he know what she’s suffered? This is not explained in the text, and feels a lot like the author forgetting where the character’s perspective ends and where his own begins.
So, they’re trying to decide what will happen now that Galby is dead. As I mentioned above, should they have thought about this before now? Generally speaking, every rebellion has some sort of plan of who’s going to take the place of the toppled elite. Even the various parties of the June Rebellion had their own ideas of who should rule. In most cases, when rebel;s ask the question ‘who should rule?’, they tend to go a bit further than ‘not this guy, am I right?’
And this quote is absolutely perfect:
“We cannot allow every lord with a measure of troops to believe that he can set himself up as ruler of his own petty monarchy. Should that happen, the Empire will disintegrate into a hundred different kingdoms. None of us want that.”
Wait, wasn’t that the entire point of the rebellion? That Galbatorix ruled everyone as a single supreme overlord, not allowing anybody (except Surda) to cede and become independent? What WAS the goal of the rebellion, then, beyond Brom’s and the elves’ desire for revenge? Also, just as a point of political interest, why wouldn’t the elves want the human nations to split into a hundred bickering nation-states? Instead of, say, massing their forces against the elves in revenge for the slaughter of the human city of Ceunon?
Forcing everyone to bow to a new supreme overlord will be just as bad, if not worse, than not having a revolution at all. Because now, the common people have seen that commoners amassed can enact change, AND they’ve been given the expectation of freedom from Imperial rule. When they realise that all of this loss and destruction was merely to exchange one (passably effective) King for one who does not have a hundred years of experience and the unwavering loyalty of his troops, they’re probably going to be a bit disappointment.
This chapter is far too long for what it is, so I’m just going to move along.
The rebel leaders spend another couple of pages arguing about who should rule, with the elves making threats (the way Eragon sees it; whereas the words themselves seem to be nothing more than a wise consideration) and Orik immediately accepting that humans are racists who would never accept a dwarven king; Eragon declines the crown because he has ‘other responsibilities’ which I assume involves rebuilding the order of dragon riders (… That’s going to end well…)
Okay, so that boils it down to Nasuada versus Orrin, and now Orrin wants to rule and isn’t going to step down. He threatens Nasuada with civil war, and then states his claim. Poor timing. To be fair, it’s a strong claim. His people have sheltered and protected the Varden, risking and eventually going to war with a far superior military force, and probably crippling the lace-making industry by flooding the market with cut-price magically-produced product, and the largest bulk of Varden redshirts was made up of Surdan soldiers.
Sadly, he didn’t make the point about the plummeting value of lace, but he did wax poetic about the rest of it. The elves and dwarves restate their allegiance to the Varden, with the implication that an attack on the Varden by the Surdan people would constitute and attack on the elves and the dwarves.
Gosh, isn’t politics exciting? Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy, this is not.
Anyway, there’s more bickering, Nasuada reveals plans to enact exactly the same philosophy of magic-restriction as Galby was about to introduce, and Orrin is bullied into withdrawing his claim because, and I quote, Nasuada “believe[s] [she] can make a good queen”. Yes, even though Orrin has demonstrably and relatively successfully ruled an entire country for many years, Nasuada believes she would do better than him at ruling a larger one, without any experience whatsoever except for commanding the rebel group. And that’s good enough for everyone else in the room.
“Then Orik (who had earlier proclaimed that he would not interfere in the question of human rulers) struck the butt of Volund’s haft against the floor and proclaimed “The king is dead, long live the queen!”
Shouldn’t it be a human saying that? What right does Orik, a dwarf, have to finalise the negotiations as to who will rule the human empire? This is just dramatic scenery without regard for political substance. The humans in the room should be insulted that a dwarf who promised earlier that he would not try to influence negotiations, has made their decision for them.
Finally the chapter ends with the setting sun, because there’s only two ways that Paolini knows how to close as scene: loss of consciousness, or the sun setting.
I really dislike the level of Orrin-hate in this chapter. It’s not deserved, it flies in the face of the evidence, going so far as to call him a “snarling cur” in mental dialogue, and makes a mockery of the contributions and involvement of Surda in the Varden’s plans. Without Surda, the rebellion would likely have never gone any further than one ex-rider and the elves cradling a stolen egg and hoping Galby doesn’t find them. Without Surda, there was no Varden, and no rebellion. And yet they continue to brush the Surdan king off like a spoiled child, even demanding that he swear allegiance to the Empire!
Wow, this got long. True, it was a long chapter by Paolini’s current standards, but the sheer level of emptyheadedness and ignorance of psychology, logic and the process of political negotiations makes me quail. Possibly even grouse.