I finally read Christopher Paolini’s Eragon after a long time. It was in my TBR for an eternity and I finally made the first leap into reading the first book of The Inheritance Cycle. Conclusion, I thoroughly enjoyed it no doubt. But I read this book after reading Brandon Sanderson’s Words of Radiance, a 1300 page mammoth, the second in the Stormlight Archive.
Before I get into the comparison, let me elaborate on what to expect from these books and the series as a whole.
Eragon is a classic fantasy tale with an evil king, a prophesized hero, dragons, elves, dwarves, magic, and loads of travel and adventure. The tale starts in a small village and probably ends up in the kingdom’s castle. (I am guessing. Still to read the whole series.) If you love Lord of the Rings, then Eragon is surely something you may enjoy.
Words of Radiance or The Stormlight Archive as a whole is a gigantic epic with each book over a thousand pages with a projection of 10 books in the series. It is based in a world called Roshar that faces massive storms regularly. The entire magic system, economy, and plot revolve around this very important detail. Even the animals are all evolutionarily different with adaptations to protect them from the storms. To give you an idea of the scope, some of the main characters do not meet each other until the end of Book Two. Unlike Eragon, The Stormlight Archive involves the story of the entire globe of Roshar.
I read Eragon after Words of Radiance, and it may not have been the best decision. Even though I loved both stories individually, there was something amiss.
Structure, not Story
I am going to talk about the difference in the approach to the stories and the prose, and not the stories themselves. Comparing the stories would be like comparing apples and oranges, or an orange President and… well, oranges. Even though they fall in the same genre on the bookshelf, for me, they are dramatically different in every way.
Secondly, the authors wrote the books in different stages of their careers. And that has to be considered. Sanderson was a mature and established name in the fantasy world, and Paolini was a hatchling in age and experience when Eragon first came out.
The world in Eragon is known to every fantasy fan, who has watched or read any of the hundreds of books written using elves, dwarves, magic, and dragons. It has all the same elements. So the amount of work Paolini had to put into extrapolating the details of the world was minimal. This is my first complaint. He spent way too little words on the world. Without giving any spoilers, there was a scene where the protagonist was witnessing a slave auction. The entire scene was written within a couple of pages. It just didn’t move me mentally.
On the other hand, Sanderson has a vastly different approach to world-building. In the same scene, Sanderson would have established every lasting detail of how slaves are transported, sold, who buys them, what is the economics of the slave trade, and so on.
Eragon left my thirst for emotions through the world unquenched.
We also need to consider that Paolini may have written it with the intention of not wanting to spend too much time in the details and more in the plot which is a totally fair thing to do. But my appetite is as much for the world as it is for the story.
Brandon Sanderson just loves to extrapolate every thought and dilemma of his characters. And he keeps the doubts, insecurities going. We talk about characters breathe on the page, but for him, we could see the lungs inflate and deflate with the utmost curiosity. No wonder his books always break book-length records.
He saw it in her eyes. The anguish, the frustration. The terrible nothing that clawed inside and sought to smother her. She knew. It was there, inside. She had been broken.
Then she smiled. Oh, storms. She smiled anyway.Words of Radiance, Brandon Sanderson
It was the single most beautiful thing he’d seen in his entire life.
This small piece of narration has so many emotions that it makes you giddy even without the story to support it.
Paolini, however, spends little time in delving into the feelings of his characters. His typical line would be, “Bored, he started swinging his sword.” Well, it is not really a line from the book but it gives you a gist. There’s more telling than showing. And it can be unsatisfying, especially in the dramatic moments. Sanderson would linger, stop the clock, rewind it a bit, and then sweep you away in like a blaring alarm clock. But Paolini keeps it pretty much steady.
Eragon looked back at him, confused. ‘I don’t understand.’Eragon, Christopher Paolini
‘Of course you don’t,’ said Brom impatiently. ‘That’s why I’m teaching you and not the other way around.'”
The redundancy of ‘confused’ and ‘I don’t understand’ as well as the impatience of Brom needed to be shown on the page. Paolini missed so many such moments throughout the book where he could have created drama and intrigue but chose plainly to use the easy words and adverbs. It just left me wanting more.
I told my friend recently that the last three chapters in Eragon could have been as long as one Part of a Stormlight Archive book. (Trust me. A Part in a Sanderson book is as big as some novels.)
I know I have preferred Sanderson over Paolini. I would say pretty much any fantasy fan would choose the Stormlight Archive over The Inheritance Cycle solely based on the scope of the stories.
But I am a bit conflicted over my conclusion. Yes, I would have loved another 20,000 words in Eragon to add the spice and saffron I need to enrich my experience. But the story would remain the same. The characters would go to the same places, experience but the same things, but slower in the perception. I still loved the story and the fewer words, drama, and details didn’t draw me out of the story.
Maybe if there were a 400-page version of the Stormlight books compressed to the Eragon style of prose. Maybe then you would have an option on what you want. You could go for the light breezy version if you just want the story. Else, you could go for the mammoth version where you live every tragedy and joy to the fullest.
Something to think about for authors of the future.
Regardless, both stories are amazing and full of intrigue, twists, and turns you expect out of a fantasy. And that is why we read those books.