The world is no longer safe for the Dragon Rider Murtagh and his dragon, Thorn. An evil king has been toppled, and they are left to face the consequences of the reluctant role they played in his reign of terror. Now they are hated and alone, exiled to the outskirts of society.
Throughout the land, hushed voices whisper of brittle ground and a faint scent of brimstone in the air—and Murtagh senses that something wicked lurks in the shadows of Alagaësia. So begins an epic journey into lands both familiar and untraveled, where Murtagh and Thorn must use every weapon in their arsenal, from brains to brawn, to find and outwit a mysterious witch. A witch who is much more than she seems.
“It was bootless to consider what ifs and might have beens. What was, was, and it was the lot of the living to deal with it as best they could.”
In order to properly review this book, I need ya’ll to understand the impact the world of Alagaesia has had on me as a reader. The Inheritance Cycle was not just my introduction to fantasy, it was the door that opened epic fantasy in a way that led me to who I am as a consumer of fantastical worlds. Much of my fantasy trope idiosyncrasies originated in this series. The way that character arcs progress and the idea that doing the right thing doesn’t necessarily mean that happy endings are on the horizon. I was 17yrs old when Inheritance was released. I remember waiting in line at Barnes & Nobel for the midnight release. I recall shutting myself in my room and devouring the book in a single weekend. Throughout the years I’ve read The Inheritance Cycle at least once a year. It’s my comfort series. Now, here I am, a decade later and I love this world just as much, if not more, than all those years ago.
Full disclosure, I read this book with the full knowledge of The Inheritance Cycle. These characters feel like family and although I will try and keep this review as unbiased as I can, know that I unequivocally love this world and whatever issues I came across were inconsequential under the amount of adoration I have for this story and the characters within it.
First of all, I’d like to answer the question for those of you have who haven’t read the original series. Can you read Murtagh before The Inheritance Cycle? The short answer. No. Murtagh has been marketed as a book that can be a new readers introduction into the world of Alagaesia, but it is my opinion that this will severely hurt the reading experience. So much of the magic that is within Murtagh is knowing where the character comes from. There will be name drops of vital characters who played massive roles in the Inheritance Cycle, and it will mean absolutely nothing to those who haven’t read the original series. The magic system is complex and has severe consequences when used improperly, the rules will feel vague without the background knowledge to it. The emotional connection to the character Murtagh is half the battle and without knowing the tragedy that is his life, the reader who hasn’t read The Inheritance Cycle will not fully understand the arc and growth he goes through in his own novel. This, of course, is my own opinion. As a lifelong fan of the series my advice is to read The Inheritance Cycle before Murtagh, but ya’ll do what you want. I’m not the boss of you.
Now, for come chunky word vomit. Murtagh takes place about a year after the events of The Inheritance Cycle. He’s living it up as a wanderer, picking fights and trying to heal from some severe war trauma with his bonded dragon, Thorn. Their relationship is the heart of this novel. I’ve always loved the portrayal of rider and dragon in this series, and it just adds to the magic of the world. There was much left unsaid in the original series as to Murtagh’s upbringing and time spent in Galbatorix’s clutches. We knew the basics, but not much of the details. Paolini shares the horror of Murtagh’s past with heartbreaking detail and it gave me a far broader scope of just how hopelessly fated Murtagh was to become who he had. He never had much of a choice in anything and it made me want to hug him throughout the entire book.
Murtagh shines a light on events we’d been told about but not shown. Feelings that were glimpsed but not explained. Everything I ever wanted to know about my favorite character was told in ways that ripped my heart out of my chest. This book is entirely unhinged! It is dark and grim and provides no mercy on its characters or the readers. I had planned on enjoying the nostalgia, not calling the doctor for emergency heart surgery! While Eragon can be placed in the genre of YA and slowly grows more into the New Adult genre by Inheritance, I would place Murtagh firmly in the genre of Adult Fantasy. The last half is gnarly and the emotional trauma I was put through is no joke.
We spent most of the Inheritance Cycle in Eragon’s point of view and it’s so interesting how different Murtagh and the younger dragon rider are, especially when you know the details of just how complex their relationship is to one another. Eragon is more likely to throw a rock blind at an enemy and hope to hit someone. Murtagh is the opposite. His knowledge of the ancient language is not as vast as Eragon’s and so he is forced to improvise and use his wits to solve a problem. Eragon grew up illiterate and poor while Murtagh had the benefit of tutors and weapons training. There’s a reason I chose the quote above. We get to see more of Murtagh’s life and think on the what ifs and could’ve beens had events in the Inheritance Cycle played out differently. It literally kills me to think about it. Eragon and Saphira had a bond that would allow them to do anything for one another. Murtagh and Thorn do not. There are lines drawn and traumatic wall built that neither one of are willing nor able to climb over. Not even for each other. Their relationship is hard but the love that they share is their bridge to keep working to break down those barriers to better themselves and each other.
A little piece of worldbuilding that I want to comment on is the continuation of True Names. In The Inheritance Cycle we learn about True Names, which is essentially a magical set of words that describe the soul of your being. Who you are as a person at that moment in time. Most people in this world do not know their True Names and if they do it is a closely guarded secret as it can be used for nefarious purposes. The beauty of True Names is that they are constantly evolving. As humans, we are in a state of perpetual flux and I’ve always loved how this concept is integrated into the world of Alagaesia. It’s one of the originating factors of my love for character-driven stories, though I did not know it at the time. It’s such a great way of mixing world-building with the characters arc. I absolutely loved how it was used in The Inheritance Cycle and I was brought to tears as it was continued with Murtagh.
The arcs for both Murtagh and Thorn were phenomenal! This book ends with so many questions and lots of potential for a continuation in the world of Alagaesia. This is both a sequel to The Inheritance Cycle and not a sequel. All us fans know about the long awaited Book 5, but this is not the book 5 Paolini has been talking about these many years. Murtagh is more of a pathway to book 5 which is now book 6. It’s a glimpse into what’s to come. There are lots of loose threads left here on purpose with no resolution. There will be moments that will feel like a weird segue from the plot at hand, but if you know what had come before, you will have no issue writing some chaotic theories on your bedroom wall. I have THOUGHTS.
This book is not perfect. Like I said, some weird segues, but I had no issue with it because I opened Murtagh with the expectation that this is not a direct sequel. There was a bit of bending to the magical rules of this world that I side-eyed a bit, but it was only once towards the end and honestly, I couldn’t care less. I was so immersed into the story that I hardly noticed. Murtagh is a prime example on how a book does not need to be literary perfection to be a five-star. It’s all about how the story makes you feel, and wow did this book make me FEEL. If an author can accomplish writing multi-faceted characters with meaningful relationships and realistic decision making according to their personalities and past experiences, who cares if we lingered a bit too long on a side-quest? What does it matter if the magical rules bend a tad? Or time spent on a seemingly non-important scene that could’ve had a shorter word-count? All the in-between issues I had were small in comparison to the love I have for this world and the characters. A book doesn’t have to be perfect to be amazing and Murtagh is that book for me. I couldn’t have been happier to start off my year with it and I’m so excited for what else Paolini has in store for this world!