Mix together equal parts "Star Wars" and J.R.R. Tolkien, then add a generous helping of Anne McCaffrey's dragon-riders and a few random shreds of Garth Nix.
Obviously originality is not Christopher Paolini's strong suit. But that's only one of the problems with "Eragon," "Eldest" and "Brisingr," the first three books of Paolini's Inheritance series -- while there's some promise in Paolini's first book, the second and third are lifeless slogs of painfully pompous plotlessness that occasionally rev up into a battle.
The titular character is lucky enough to stumble across a strange blue stone while hunting. After failing to sell it, Eragon finds that it's actually a dragon egg, and the baby blue dragon inside selects him -- yes, him -- to hatch for and remain with forever. All the Dragon Riders were killed off by Evil King Galbatorix long ago, but for the weird old recluse Brom, who becomes Eragon's mentor. And Luke, I am your father... wait, wrong story.
When Galbatorix's men destroy Eragon's home and family, Brom and Eragon flee to find the mysterious rebels known as the Varden, and rescue the beautiful elf Arya who is haunting Eragon's dreams. But while Eragon and his dragon Saphira learn many things -- and make new allies -- the journey to the Varden brings them a terrible (and totally predictable) loss, and leads them to Eragon's first battle.
"Eldest" picks up immediately afterwards, with Eragon badly wounded and the leader of the Varden murdered. But despite the rebels' turmoil, Eragon is told that he has to accompany Arya back to her home city of the elves, to be taught by a crippled elf named Oromis. Unbeknownst to Eragon, his hometown of Carvahall is being ruined by a band of Galbatorix's soldiers, and his newly-engaged cousin Roran may be their only hope. And our hero's truncated training leads to strange new changes in his body and mind, as he prepares for a devastating new battle against Galbatorix -- and a horrifying new discovery. Yes, you can probably see it coming.
And "Brisingr" picks up right after that, with Roran and Eragon going on a mission to rescue Roran's fiancee from the Ra'zac, while Nasuada is forced to undergo a bloody challenge to retain leadership of the Varden. And even after another fight with Murtagh, Eragon has to deal with a forthcoming wedding, Roran's assignments on dangerous missions, and the upcoming nomination of a new dwarf king. And when Eragon finally returns to Ellesmera, he learns new facts about his own past, and is given a possible key to his future...
Lofty elves, kings-in-waiting, humble farm boys who become revered leaders for no particular reason, nasty goblinesque creatures, cryptic mystical women, special swords, evil tyrants who are evil because they just are, wise mentors, and telepathic dragons in a variety of colors. Christopher Paolini never met a fantasy cliche that he didn't like -- and the "Inheritance" trilogy simply oozes with them.
At first, Paolini paints these typical sword-and-sorcery stories with rather stilted but promising prose -- "Eragon" has some raw potential, and you can detect Paolini's enthusiasm as he explores his invented fantasy land. Unfortunately with "Eldest" -- Paolini's prose becomes bloated, sluggish and painfully smug, with dialogue that becomes more painfully wretched with each chapter ("I walk between the candle and the dark").
It also signals the end of a fast-moving plot -- for two books straight, Paolini treads water in a sea of lace-making, anti-religious preaching, engagement woes, sword woes, and political woes. He whips up a battle every now and then -- either at the book's end or when things get too dull, and spends most of the rest of the time pondering on whether it's okay to kill people. The nadir of all this is Eragon's training, the bulk of which consists of doing yoga and watching ants -- even the hilariously homoerotic moments with Oromis and Roran can't make all this entertaining.
But the biggest problem is Eragon himself -- despite being portrayed as a noble, brave, compassionate soul with a brilliant destiny, he's none of that. He's given a little belated angst over killing people (though this doesn't stop him from coldly killing a young soldier begging for his life), when he isn't being uniformly worshiped by the Varden, Elves, Dwarves and villagers.
The supporting characters are not much better -- Brom and Oromis are intriguing but deeply underdeveloped as characters. And while Eragon spends three books drooling after the elf Arya, she's a snotty ice princess whose looks are all she's got. Everyone else is either a 2-D bad guy who hates Eragon, or a 2-D good guy who just loves him.
Christopher Paolini's not-terribly original fantasy series starts off with the flawed but readable "Eragon," before sliding downhill into the painful "Eldest" and the tediously plotless "Brisingr."