January 20, 2011


The Inheritance Almanac: An A-to-Z Guide to the World of Eragon. By Michael Macauley. Knopf. $18.99.

The Keepers Trilogy, Book I: Museum of Thieves. By Lian Tanner. Delacorte Press. $16.99.

     Fans of Christopher Paolini’s highly derivative but very popular Inheritance cycle now have a single place to go in order to keep track of the many characters and settings in the first three books (Eragon, Eldest and Brisingr) and the still-untitled, still-in-progress concluding fourth novel. The Inheritance Almanac was put together by Michael Macauley, webmaster of the fan site www.shurtagal.com – whose name, spelled shur’tagal, is what the elves call the Dragon Riders in Paolini’s books. Macauley’s book is strictly for those who are thoroughly steeped in Inheritance lore and trivia. Every entry assumes knowledge of the novels’ contents. Under “Siege of Feinster,” for example, is a paragraph that begins, “The Varden leader Nasuada, weakened by the arduous Trial of the Long Knives, asked Eragon to lead the attack against the coastal city of Feinster, an Empire stronghold considered pivotal to their cause. (Once the Varden took Feinster, they could march on the cities of Belatona and Dras-Leona and from there attack Galbatorix’s stronghold of Urửbaen.)” These entries are clearly not for the uninitiated. There are some explanatory illustrations here that merit more than a passing glance, though. For example, Helgrind, a “bare mountain with three soaring peaks and one small peak,” was “inspired by Shiprock Peak in New Mexico. It means ‘The Gates of Death’ in Old Norse.” And the Ra’zac (“considered the most evil race in Alagaësia”) are “based on Jerusalem crickets.” Both these entries include photos showing the real-world bases of Paolini’s fictional creations. A great deal of The Inheritance Almanac is simply forthright and explanatory: Hlordis is, “in dwarven myth, the first woman created by Helzvog, the god of stone,” and nalgask is “a lip balm made of melted beeswax and hazelnut oil.” Longer entries are provided for major events and characters: the discussions of Eragon and Galbatorix, for example, run nearly three pages apiece. Some of the earlier works on which Paolini’s draws are made clear through the derivations of names given in The Inheritance Almanac. For example, “the name Bid’Daum (the first dragon to be paired with a Rider) spelled backward yields Muad’Dib, the main character from the novel Dune. Fans of Paolini likely do not care much about his books’ many borrowings from Frank Herbert, J.R.R. Tolkien and Star Wars, and The Inheritance Almanac is quite prosaic in its mentions of some of those relationships. Macauley’s book will not bring any new readers to Paolini, but it may help existing fans keep some of the complexities of the nearly complete tetralogy straight.

     Paolini originally intended to write a trilogy, which is a more typical approach to modern fantasy novels and the one that Lian Tanner is following with The Keepers. The first book in this series, Museum of Thieves, introduces protagonist Goldie Roth and the dystopia where she lives, Jewel – a city ruled by the Blessed Guardians (anyone called “Blessed,” with a capital B, is almost sure to be evil in today’s fantasies). The museum of the book’s title is the Museum of Dunt, whose constantly changing rooms will put readers in mind of the frequent architectural changes encountered by Harry Potter at Hogwarts. But Tanner, although her writing clearly derives in part from that of J.K. Rowling and other modern fantasists, creates from the start a darker world than do many other fantasy authors. Goldie, like all children, wears a silver “guardchain” that will not be removed until she is allowed out on the streets alone after Separation Day – another bland name that almost but not quite conceals something evil. Then Separation Day is cancelled, and Goldie decides to run away despite the danger to herself (if caught, she will be put into Care, yet another euphemism) and to anyone who helps her (they may be sent to the frightening House of Repentance). There is considerable unrest in Jewel, and political undercurrents threatening to erupt any moment into violence. And when Goldie finds herself at the Museum of Dunt – where she meets a boy named Toadspit – she discovers (not surprisingly in a coming-of-age tale such as this one) that she may be a key to the future of Jewel and may have to fight to clean out its cesspool of corruption. Some characters here have brief but interestingly evocative names – Favor, Frow, Sinew, the Fugleman, Morg, Broo – while others have more conventional ones; and the evil city rulers have names such as Guardian Hope and Guardian Comfort. Toadspit ends up becoming a tutor to Goldie, and they have some interesting and amusing initial miscommunication; but there is little levity in Museum of Thieves, as Goldie learns the “Three Methods of Concealment,” passes through the Dirty Gate, and makes a bargain with Bald Thoke, one of the city’s Seven Gods, before having to deal with a Great Storm that changes Jewel dramatically and derails the Fugleman’s plans – at least until City of Lies, the second book in the trilogy, appears to move the story further ahead.

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