Thursday, September 25, 2008


Well, I did it. I accepted The Washington Post's offer to review Christopher Paolini's Brisingr. I knew when I said yes that I was signing on for a good bit of work and potentially a hard slog, but, what the heck? I've reviewed for The Post before, but never done the embargoed book instant bestseller type of review. You can't say I don't like to try new things.

I knew that I'd have to read Eragon and Eldest, and that I wouldn't get Brisingr until the day it was published, since no copies were to be released before then. And I knew I'd need to read it fast and file faster. But it wasn't until a few days before the book came out that I asked exactly when they wanted the review filed. The answer... (Remember, the book comes out on Saturday) "Monday would be great. Tuesday doable."

What? Tuesday? You mean, like four days after the book pubs? This 750 page book? And then I started to calculate other factors, like the fact that I'd be spending Saturday in the car taking Gudrun and the kids to the airport. And on Monday I have to prepare for class, have office hours, and then teach until 9:50 at night. Friends, I was dismayed.

But, you see, I have this unfortunate trait wherein I don't like to fail to fulfill my obligations. So, I read. I read. I read. I fell asleep. I woke. I read. I finished the book Tuesday morning and managed to send the review off that evening. We fine tuned it a bit on Wednesday morning and, presto, here it is in all it's glory, 900+ words that feel - to me - like rather scant testament to several sleepless nights.

What did I think? Well, it's The Post's property now. You can read it by clicking here.

By the way, the author of the review doesn't choose the title. Just so you know...

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very nicely handled. A well balanced review, particularly in regards to how you relate both its flaws and its strengths in contrast to the different audiences. I like the trick of using different versions of your reading self to represent both the YA and adult reader - it personalizes the reflections and prevents, I think, a patronizing tone, the sort of tone where an adult bashes the simplistic aspects of the story in what seems a condescending manner.

Nicely handled. And congrats on, well, surviving... I'm not sure I would have, at least without venting terrible outbursts upon the fragile decor.

My best,

3:55 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Thanks, Bryan,

That's what I was looking for - balance. Detailed complaints, yes, but also acknowledgment of things Paolini has achieved. I'm no fan of patronizing tones in reviews. You can spot a books flaws without being a snarky bastard about it, in my opinion.

If you look at the early Amazon reviews, a lot of them are very negative and openly sneering. And they're written by adults! So, my thing is... WTF? You're an adult, but you read Eragon and hated it. Okay. You're an adult, but for some reason after hating Eragon you also read Eldest, and hated it. You're an adult, but you rushed out and bought Brisingr the day it was published, read its 750 pages in a day or two, and then - surprise discover you hated it! What's that about? That just seems so absurd to me. Those people should be embarrassed.

Anyway... it's no perfect book, but I'm aware I'm not the target audience. I wanted to touch on that. Thanks for noticing it.

6:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, good rvw, especially for the limited amount of time. Man, cranking out a book of that length in such short time, well done.

And, to echo inklings [which i do alot around here, it seems] it is well balanced. Letting us in on the flaws but also shining some light on the parts where the writing, plot, works.

8:18 PM  
Blogger Constance Brewer said...

That's a nice review, David, considering the pressure you were under. I like a critical evaluation, with both the flaws and the highlights. Nobody's perfect, and I think Paolini has gotten better since Eragon. I'm not the target audience either, but I read YA novels to keep myself in the loop.

I like to read a book the first time through just to read, with the inner critic shut off. Second time - if it warrants a second read - is for the critical analysis. Hence all the notes in Acacia's margins. *g* Which is why I have to buy books I like, the library frowns on such doodling...

8:47 PM  
Blogger Shawn C. Speakman said...

David: We've been discussing this book, series and author over on Terry's forum as well. And for all of the book's poorly handled moments -- from over-written prose to theft of plot points from other sources -- Eragon got millions of children to read. That all by itself is worth mentioning and applauding.

I think I might have to write more about this on Suvudu right now...

2:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, is it fairly common practice for media like the Washington Post to ask authors to review works of other authors who write in the same genre? How does that work?

5:28 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Hey folks,

Thanks for the comments.


It's fairly common, yes. A source like the Post usually publishes reviews by their own staff, by scholars that may have a bit of expertize in an area, by writers that have written reviews elsewhere, and, yes, by other novelists that have some connection with the material.

I've reviewed for The Post and the Raleigh News and Observer, several times each. I've done historical fiction, African-American fiction, non-fiction with an African-American subject matter, and now fantasy. In each case I've understood why they asked me.

But my review knowledge is limited to my own experiences. I've never gone on the market to review, but I've been lucky enough to have them seek me out. I've turned down a few, also, when something about the book made me wary of getting involved.

5:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a feeling a large percentage of the adults who read YA are struggling YA authors themselves, thus the sometimes over-the-top anger in the critiques. And it IS rather frustrating when so-so writers not only get published, but have their novels catch fire and become the works against which every other piece is compared forevermore. That said, I read Eragon and didn't hate it; it was just kinda same old same old. Haven't picked up the sequels yet, but may do so eventually. Your review, though,was excellent.

7:10 PM  
Blogger Andrea Eames said...

I agree with Inklings - I like the way you see it from an adult's and a teenager's perspectives. Great, well-balanced views. And I thought your brief analyses of the previous books were very fair (I haven't read Brisingr yet, but am looking forward to doing so). Great job!

Did you see the movie adaptation of Eragon, by the way? Just dreadful, I thought.

1:18 AM  
Blogger Mark Lavallee said...

I thought the review was good, as other people have stated you could have just come out swinging, but that would defeat the purpose of the review in my opinion.

Besides, what reviews say isn't exactly what the consumers think. The increasingly inaccurate "Inheritance Trilogy" has sold a ton regardless of it's flaws, so I doubt a review is going to keep anyone from buying it. At that point I wonder how useful reviews are anyway.

About picking the title - I used to be the sports editor at a small local newspaper back in the day (which was a Wednesday, by the way, little known fact) so I always got to choose my titles. It was great because when the local team started to really stink my titles were supportive of the rival team.

The coaches thought it was funny.

I miss those days. Brisinger's been on my desk since release day, and so far I'm on page... ah 6. Hey! Give me a break! I work full time AND I'm a full time student!!!

But yes, Paolini's books tend to bog in the middle - my chief complaint about Eldest. If they weren't so long it wouldn't be so bad.

"And then Brom looked at Eragon. His look said it all. He looked at him with his eyes. Because he's human. And human's have eyes. And it was in color. And ... "

;) Sorry, couldn't resist.

4:13 AM  
Blogger Shawn C. Speakman said...

Incubus: That was hilarious! Nearly spat out my breakfast upon reading that!

I wrote some thoughts over on Suvudu concerning the Paolini issue. I've firmed up my own beliefs over the years but felt like writing them all the same.

I do have to say I am one of those people who do not get angry with authors when they are perceived late or who don't wrap up a series convincingly. The journey is what is important to me. Then again, I rarely read a book in a series that isn't finished, so maybe I just insulate myself from many of these "problem" writers. :)

1:43 PM  
Blogger A. Hartman Adams said...

Cool review--ditto pretty much what everyone said above.

I'm reviewing the audio version for work, and since it focuses mostly on the audio experience, I've been able to set aside the very flaws you pointed out and just go with it. However, there are moments...

Gerard Doyle is narrating beautifully, so it's not a bad listen, despite the fact that it's 29 hours long. I may take that back once I finally get to the end.

By the way, the bit about D&D made me smile. You are, as always, among friends.

12:46 PM  
Blogger Mark Lavallee said...

Shawn: Great post about it on Suvudu, and I couldn't agree more with your closing statements.

The thing is, I like the books - I consciously choose to ignore the mirrored plot points and all that simply because I enjoy reading the books.

At the end of the day, I feel like Eragon's adventures put me back in my imagination and entertained me - which is all I'm looking for anyway. And to that end, he succeeds well.

As to the plot point mirroring... well, I look at it like the music industry. How many songs out there are really unique? Not a lot, because there simply are so many songs out there. It's inevitable that they will sound similar, or do the same things from time to time. That's OK. It would be different if Eragon was named Luke and Galbatorix was named Palpatine. It would be different if he carried a sword that revealed the "truth" about the wielder and his opponent.

Oh and, I couldn't be happier that you lost your breakfast because of me. ;)

12:52 PM  

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