When it comes to any genre of literature there is always a mixture of talents vying for attention. There are those who are peerless, and those who are decidedly not. Realistically, these are rare, as brilliance is often as hard to come by as true literary rubbish. More common are those who occupy the space in between – ranging from mediocre through to brilliant.
And I have never encountered an author who plays jump-rope between mediocrity and brilliance quite so frequently as Christopher Paolini, author of the at once much-maligned and much-beloved Inheritance Cycle.
To be fair, much of the vitriol directed towards Paolini is more for the film adaptation of Eragon than his work in general. Unfortunately, however, his blatant mirroring of more famous fantasy literary works in his own is hard to ignore. Conversely, however, you can forgive much of that for the fact that he was 16 when he published Eragon. Except when you consider that the Inheritance Cycle was published over eight years, in which time one would expect an author to improve and hone their craft – which he did, by the last book.
As I said … jumping rope between mediocrity and brilliance.
In fact, for me, Paolini’s third book – Brisingr – was the first book that I ever reviewed for Fantasy Book Review, and I gave it 3.2 out of 10. I’m intentionally not going back to read that review, because I also have grown in my abilities over the last decade, and I’d prefer not to read what I wrote. But the book remains a bitter aftertaste in my mouth. I remember a particular incident where Paolini decided to allow his protagonist, Eragon, to use magic as an alarm clock – representative of the author’s willingness to solve any and every problem by expanding the ability of his world’s magic systems.
And yet, by the time that Inheritance finally came around, the Cycle’s fourth and final book, I felt that the author had grown substantially in his craft and had written what I found to be a delightfully enjoyable book.
So, when I heard that Paolini was releasing a new book, I was immediately intrigued. The Fork, The Witch, and The Worm is, essentially, a collection of three short stories. However, Paolini has actually quite cleverly intertwined each of the three stories into a larger framing narrative which serves to tantalise anyone looking to return to the world of Alagaësia. I was initially concerned with this framing sequence because it started out with some very drab and convoluted descriptive language – as if the author were trying too hard – and it felt for a moment like I was reading Eragon fan-fiction.
This was but a fleeting concern, however, as I was not only taken in by the framing sequence, but the transition into the first short story – and the story itself – revealed a strength to Paolini’s writing that hadn’t been there before.
This is further solidified by the fact that my favourite aspects of the book were the first and last of the three short stories, as these were the two written by Christopher himself. The intervening short story is less a short story itself, and more a series of journal entries from the witch Angela the herbalist, written by Christopher’s sister – and the original inspiration for the character – Angela Paolini. While in no way disappointing, the highlight in this book were the stories written by Christopher – especially in regard to how he has grown as an author, and for what we have in store for us as he continues to write.
On this, it seems as if Paolini has not left Alagaësia very far behind, and there were several hints and clues as to what might be on the horizon for Eragon and company. This is especially relevant when you take into consideration the first of the short stories and what it could mean for future larger-scale stories.
In the end, if you are were a fan – or even vaguely interested in and enjoyed – Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle, this book is well worth your time. It is a return to a world we haven’t visited in almost a decade, and done so through the improved craft and imagination of an author with many long years ahead of him (God willing). The Fork, The Witch, and The Worm was, all said and done, tremendously fun and a welcome return to Alagaësia.
Review by Joshua S Hill
7/10 from 1 reviews
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