Eldest is the second book in the planned Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini. It is the sequel to Eragon. Eldest was first published in hardcover on August 23, 2005, and was released in paperback in September 2006. Eldest has been released in an audiobook format, and as an ebook. Like Eragon, Eldest became a New York Times bestseller. A deluxe edition of Eldest was released on September 26, 2006, including new information and art by both the illustrator and the author. Other editions of Eldest are translations into different languages.
Eldest begins following several important events in Eragon. The story is the continued adventures of Eragon and his dragon Saphira, centering around their journey to the realm of the Elves in order to further Eragon's training as a Dragon Rider. Other plots in the story focus on Roran, who leads the inhabitants of Carvahall to Surda, and Nasuada as she takes on her father's role as leader of the Varden. Eldest ends at the Battle of the Burning Plains, where Eragon faces a new Dragon Rider, and a new dragon, Thorn.
The critical reception of Eldest was mixed. Negative reviews often pointed out the similarities between Eldest and other works such as Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. Positive reviews praised the themes of the book, such as friendship and honor. Several of these reviews commented on the style and genre of Eldest, while others considered the possibility of a movie adaptation similar to the movie of Eragon.
A great battle occurs at Farthen Dûr, where the anti-Galbatorix group called the Varden led by Ajihad resides. The Varden wins the battle, but Eragon nearly dies. He is healed by the witch Angela, but is left with a scar on his spine. Eldest begins three days after these events.
Meanwhile, in Carvahall, Roran is being pursued by Galbatorix, who has sent the Ra'zac and a unit of Imperial soldiers to capture him and thus lure Eragon out. After repelling many attacks, the town manages to drive the army away, but Katrina, Roran's fiancée, is captured by the Ra'zac. They decide to leave Carvahall and travel to Surda. Roran earns the name "Stronghammer" because he defended Carvahall with a hammer given to him by Horst.
By that time, Eragon has decided to go to Du Weldenvarden to further pursue his training. After many adventures on the way, Eragon comes to his destination and meets Islanzadí, the elven queen. It is revealed that Arya is Islanzadí's daughter. Eragon is introduced to another Dragon Rider, Oromis; the Mourning Sage or Osthato Chetowa: The Cripple Who Is Whole, Togira Ikonoka; who shielded Eragon in the first book. Eragon and Saphira begin their training with Oromis and his dragon Glaedr. Eragon learns how to read and fluently speak the Ancient Language, as well to use various magic skills. While Eragon's feelings for Arya increase, he continues to train under Oromis' wing and suffers repeated bouts of pain from the scar on his back Durza, the Shade formerly known as Carsaib, gave him. Nevertheless, he and Saphira grow steadily more powerful, but he is held back immensely by the pain from his scar. On a traditional elvish celebration day of the pact with the dragons, called the Blood-Oath Celebration, or Agaetí Blödhren in the ancient language, Eragon is healed of his wound and, as an unprecedented gift from the dragons, gains elvish qualities that enhance his strength and agility.
Nasuada has made a momentous decision and moved the Varden to Surda. Here, she learns that the blessing Eragon bestowed on the child in Eragon was worded wrongly due to his lack of basic knowledge of the Ancient Language at the time, becoming a curse of sorts. Eragon too is horrified when he hears of this, and promises to try and nullify it. In the meantime the girl, Elva, serves as a sort of bodyguard to Nasuada against Galbatorix's assassins, the Black Hand, who are discovered in the Varden.
Because Nasuada moved the Varden, the threat of war with Galbatorix seems imminent. Upon hearing of this, Eragon immediately leaves for the battle in Surda and finds the situation poised on the edge of battle. The armies of the Varden, together with the army of Surda, camp on a plain opposite the vast armies of Galbatorix. Meanwhile, Roran and his men take command of the new Empire ship, the Dragon Wing, and arrive in time in Surda.
The battle begins, and Eragon is able to repel the opposing armies for some time with his new training, but the tide soon turns. During the fighting, Roran arrives at Surda, and his group of villagers join themselves to the forces of the Varden. Then, with the appearance of the dwarves from the east, the situation changes again, until an unknown Dragon Rider appears and kills Hrothgar, the dwarf king. Also at the same time, Eragon feels two new, powerful spell casters arrive on the field of battle and recognizes them for the Twins, thought dead. The Twins systematically start killing off the Varden's group of magicians and sorcerers.
Eragon faces off with the unknown rider in both aerial and ground fights and ultimately unmasks his opponent, revealing Murtagh. Murtagh tells Eragon that the Twins had betrayed the Varden and taken him to Galbatorix. Galbatorix made Murtagh and Thorn, his red dragon, swear fealty in the ancient language. Galbatorix knows the true names of both Murtagh and his dragon, and thus is able to control them. One of the two remaining dragon eggs has finally hatched which was eagerly awaited by Galbatorix for a long time. Murtagh also reveals that Galbatorix is working to save the dragon race by capturing Saphira and having her mate with one of the two remaining dragon,one still lying dormant in its egg, and the other having hatched for Murtagh. Murtagh says that Saphira holds the key to a new era, because she is the only female dragon left. He and Thorn prove to be more powerful than the battle-weary Eragon and Saphira, while Murtagh displays the great and terrible potency of his magic powers, using spells that would have killed a normal human. Together, they watch Eragon's cousin, Roran, kill the Twins. Murtagh decides to have mercy on Eragon and Saphira, but before leaving them, he reveals that Eragon was the youngest son of Morzan and Selena, and that therefore Murtagh is Eragon's elder brother. Murtagh takes Zar'roc, Eragon's sword, away from Eragon, saying it should rightfully have been his, as he is the eldest son of Morzan. Eragon decides that even though Morzan may be his parent, Garrow was his father and Roran is more of a brother than Murtagh. In the meantime, Galbatorix's army is forced to retreat after the arrival of the Dwarves, the death of the Twins, and the leaving of Murtagh. In the end, Eragon and Roran decide that they will seek out Katrina together.
However, there were also some more positive reviews of Eldest. Bookmarks Magazine saw Eldest's similarity to other works, but said that Eldest displayed more emotional depth than Eragon. Publisher's Weekly also gave a positive review for Eldest, praising the revelations in the final pages. Barnes and Noble gave a positive review for Eldest, in particular for its style, characters and themes such as friendship, forgiveness, responsibility, and honor. Eldest won the 2006 Quill Award in Young Adult Literature. Eldest also was nominated for a British Book Award in the Children's Book of the Year section, the Disney Adventures Book Award, the Colorado Blue Spruce Award Young Adult Book Award, and the Wyoming Soaring Eagle Book Award.
"One of my goals as an author is to explore various aspects of human nature. It's my job, then, to attempt to understand why people act, even if it differs from my own point of view or practice, and to present those reasons to the best of my ability. The actions and beliefs of my characters are not necessarily my own."
There are also themes of religion and atheism, the dwarves being highly religious, the elves being atheists, and Eragon, growing up without a religious background but a set of superstitions, wondering if there are higher powers.
"He is to English as a bad dog to a chainsaw: he worries it, and worries it, and devastation spreads around him."On the other hand, Barnes and Noble called the writing style fluid and Children's Literature praised the story for being richly detailed. Kirkus Reviews compared the story to a patchwork of fantasy elements and characters, then concluded that it, despite being derivative, was exciting and held together well.
According to an interview with director Stefen Fangmeier:
I'm not quite sure what is currently going on. My own personal perspective is that until we sort of figure out what happens in the third book. Evidentially, I asked Christopher [Paolini; writer of the Inheritance cycle]..., about that and he was not volunteering much of what was going to happen. I think it's very important to see where this ends up; how it's resolved. I think until you kind of have an understanding of what the third piece of that puzzle is, it's kind of hard to look at that second book, of course I read it, it's very much a transitional story element. I think one would be best off to write the third film first, and then, being happy with that, going back to the second one and doing all the set-up work that will pay off in the third. Then probably filming two and three together as they did with Pirates of the Caribbean; as one production."
That means, given the time frame, it might still be another year before there are actually are scripts for both films and these things can move ahead. I don't know if Fox is waiting to see the revenues the DVD will create. I think they were modestly happy with the worldwide box office."
Fangmeier's comments were made in March 2007, before the October 2007 announcement that the trilogy was to be expanded into a four-book cycle. As of 2008, there are no plans for Eldest being made into a movie.
Eldest has been published in forty-one countries, several translations from English into different languages have been made. Translations for languages such as Spanish, Portuguese, and Serbian have appeared. Worldwide Eldest has several publishers including Gailivro, which publishes the Polish and Portuguese Eldest, and Gramedia Pustaka Utama, the publisher of the Indonesian translations.