About an hour into the unabridged audio recording of Brisingr, the third part of Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Cycle, it became clear to me that I had not read the first two parts of the cycle properly.
If I had done, I would have been sufficiently appalled by the poverty of the writing to abandon Eragon early on, and the second volume Eldest would never have made it past the door.
There are two explanations for not noticing (or minding) how badly written those books were: perhaps I made allowances for Paolini's youth. He famously wrote Eragon as a teenager. Or I simply drifted over the text scan reading for sense and plot rather than following every word closely. Listening to a book is an entirely different experience to reading one. The listener is a prisoner of the speed of the narrator. Certainly on the Audible / iPod format, there is no speed reading, ignoring paragraphs, skipping through irrelevancy. And so you listen to every last word. And in this case, that meant experiencing a certain amount of pain at the laboured, unrealistic dialogue or the laboured, hackneyed over-long prose that links the narrative. (A book is easier to put down, but an audio book is a welcome friend in the car, where I predominantly use it, and having used my monthly Audible credit on Brisingr, I was damned well going to use it.)
Paolini rarely uses one sentence when a page will suffice, rarely allows the reader to work something out for himself when he can a fulsome explanation can be provided.
The Boston Globe's Sarah Smith put it well: "He (Paolini) is to English as a dog to a chainsaw: he worries it, and worries it, and devastation spreads around him."
On top of that the plot is a casserole containing ingredients borrowed from every famous mythical story you can think of, although primarily Star Wars - the baddies in the Inheritance Cycle control the "Empire" - and the Lord of the Rings: humans, elves, dwarves and other beings club together to fight the forces of evil.
But, and there is a but, for all that it is still just about entertaining enough. There are still just enough interesting characters - although not Eragon sadly - to sustain interest, and some of the diversions from the plot are interesting enough: power struggles in the kingdom of the dwarves and within the clans who make up the "Varden", the alliance that fights the empire. Some of the magic too is fascinating, and Paolini clearly has a vivid and creative imagination in the way that he wields it, even if sometimes it is swung as Claymore rather than thrust like a rapier.
And the audio was actually pretty entertaining. It was read by actor Kerry Shale who showed a repertoire of the most fabulously convincing accents: New York, the deep South, the Indian sub-continent, Scottish, Irish and a range of English from upper class twit through west country wurzel and on to Ray Winstone cockney. Terrific. Shale did his best to bring life to a sometimes turgid tale. The one character he didn't quite get hold of was Arya, the elf. At one point I thought she was probably supposed to be a Finn, but was never quite sure.
Perhaps another reason I am down on Brisingr is that it did not bring the Inheritance Cycle to the promised finish, but instead ended clumsily and abruptly offering one final instalment. In an end-of-audio interview conducted by a fawning US publisher with a chalk-screech laugh that attacks the central nervous system, Paolini explains that he had anticipated a certain ending that was changed when Eragon reacted differently in a situation to the way the author had expected.
This resulted in an extra hundred pages in Brisingr - comfortably the worst passage - and eventually a fourth book as Paolini felt this third work would just have gotten too long. He should have left well alone and finished while he was still ahead.