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Weak text, pretty pictures
on November 6, 2009
My immediate reaction to Christopher Paolini's newest book: Is this a blue edition of "Dragonology"?
No, apparently it's "Eragon's Guide to Alagaesia," a rather bare-bones encyclopedia of the history, peoples, creatures and assorted trivia of Christopher Paolini's imaginary world. The text doesn't tell the readers much that the books haven't also told them, but it's a prettily arranged book with some extremely impressive pictures and intriguing clarifications of known facts (like what the heck a shrrg is).
It opens with a little envelope with a letter from Paolini's protagonist, promising to show readers more about Alagaesia. After a brief welcome page, Paolini explores the various aspects of his imaginary world, each with their own little section: Alagaesia's maps and cities, geographical features (the Forest of Stone), plants (the Fricai Andiat mushrooms), animals (the dragonesque fanghur), the dragons and the Dragon-riders, the city of Tronjheim and the forest of Ellesmera, and so on and so forth.
It also studies the various bipedal races of Alagaesia, and (of course) the Elves are vastly overrepresented -- humans and Urgals each get one page, while the Elves get four and the Dwarves get two. Paolini also informs readers about their weapons, their homes, their language (complete with a very short fold-out "Dwarvish/Elvish for Beginners"), their clothes, and unique qualities like Isidar Mithrim (I still don't understand why it was so high up).
If you've read the books of the "Inheritance" series, then you probably will know about 95% of the information contained in "Eragon's Guide to Alagaesia." It's a prime opportunity for Paolini to expand his universe with historical, magical and character information that wouldn't fit neatly in a novel, but would work nicely in a guide. Buuuuuut... he doesn't do this. Almost all of what he tells us is in his novels -- the Menoa Tree, Blagden, and anybody hoping for New Cool Revelations will be disappointed.
But he does expand some stuff -- there's a rather bare-bones timeline of Alagaesian history, an interesting section on Dwarf mythology and gods, and he finally tells us just what "shrrgn" are.
And while the actual info is lackluster, there are some truly lovely illustrations in this book -- lovely watercolors and pencil drawings, ranging from pale pencil sketches to full-page color pictures (like Glaedr and Saphira). You can tell which creatures are evil, like the Empire dragons, the Kull and the Lethrblaka -- they're all black'n'white, spiny and scabby-looking. The highlights are the vast pictures of Ellesmera and Tronjheim -- the former is a grassy, misty-green tangle of lacy dwellings and tree houses reminiscent of Peter Jackson's Lothlorien; the latter is an epic view of the sunlit, glittering city in a circle of light, surrounded darkness, shadows, farmland and rolling clouds.
Physically, this book is made in the "Dragonology" mold -- faux scale cover, faux gems, shiny "gedway ignasia" and lots of little pockets, envelopes, fold-out sections, and hidden items (fur, a polyester flower, an elf token, paper dragon-knucklebones, "jewel" glitter dust) as well as some "letters" from Eragon to the reader.
"Eragon's Guide to Alagaesia" is essentially a glittery bonus for Paolini collectors, because virtually all of the information is pretty much old news (we KNOW the Menoa tree story!). But it has lovely, lovely pictures.