I’ve harped on Inheritance Cycle quite a lot, and that’s mostly because, despite it being my favorite series, it could have done so much better. Most of its flaws could have actually been strengths had the author been aware of them. For example, had Paolini been aware that he made Eragon a sociopath, the books would certainly have been more interesting.
The Varden would have needed to recognize having Eragon around as a necessary evil with which to overthrow a bigger evil. Eragon wouldn’t have been a beloved hero, but a terrifying anti-hero on whom people were forced to rely. Additionally, had the books been self-conscious about both the Varden’s and Eragon’s unethical practices and ideals, the Varden would have had to work harder at justifying their actions. Instead, the books assume that we’ll automatically agree with Eragon and the Varden, while simultaneously hating Galbatorix and the Empire.
That right there is a sure sign of terrible writing, especially because our main villain, Galbatorix, and his followers, the Forsworn, don’t seem anywhere as evil as the books make them out to be.
Galbatorix used to be a promising, talented Dragon Rider. Unfortunately, to make a long story short, his original dragon, Jarnunvösk, was killed. Galbatorix, in his grief over her death, demanded that the other Dragon Riders give him another egg. They refused, although they really had no reason to. Dragons choose which people they hatch for, so it’s entirely possible that Galbatorix never would have gotten another dragon and the Order would have lost nothing by letting him try. Additionally, it really doesn’t seem as if the other Riders cared about Galbatorix’s pain over Jarnunvösk’s death or ever provided any kind of emotional support for what happened.
Following this refusal, Galbatorix stole a new dragon hatchling, Shruikan, killed his Rider, and then bound Shruikan to himself using dark magic. From there, Galbatorix went about recruiting the Forsworn—thirteen fellow Riders, one of whom was the infamous Morzan, Murtagh’s father—who followed Galbatorix because they felt that the Order had done them wrong in some way. Galbatorix and these thirteen Riders set out to take over and reform the Order. For reasons we’ll talk about later on, all of the Order’s dragons and Riders were killed, leaving Galbatorix and the Forsworn to take over the land and established the Empire.
All that said, though Galbatorix did some terrible things, such as killing Shruikan’s Rider and binding Shruikan to himself, I have no reason to feel bad that all the other Riders and dragons were eradicated. I’m going to explain why in a minute.
But before I have anyone getting on my case about what bad people Galbatorix and his followers are, let me just say that I know. I read the books too. I’m aware that they’ve murdered people, took over the land, that Morzan threw a sword at Murtagh, that Galbatorix is also a rapist, etc. The list of terrible things that they have done is quite extensive. My problem is that other than a few things here and there—Murtagh’s scar, Oromis’s and his dragon Glaedr’s health issues from torture—we are never given proof of the terrible things they’ve done. Additionally, most of the evil things they’re accused of, the Varden willingly does as well.
I’m sorry that Oromis and Glaedr were tortured, and I’m sorry that Nasuada, the Varden’s leader, was tortured as well. However, these same people believe that evil is okay if it’s done for a greater cause. In Brisingr, there is actually a scene where Nasuada oversees the torture of a spy the Varden caught. We’re told nothing else about who this man is or how exactly he’s being tortured, but I’m not going to say that Galbatorix is more evil than Nasuada in this case. Why should I feel worse for Nasuada than for the man she caught spying? Torture is still torture.
So yes, while I am aware that Galbatorix and his Forsworn have done terrible things, everything we know they actually did or were willing to do, the Varden and Eragon does as well—mind rape, murder, torture, taxing people. Yes, taxing people is one of the reasons given as to why Galbatorix should be overthrown. We are told that the taxes are ridiculously high, and yet never at any point are we shown that. Peasants live in multiple-story houses and no one ever loses their property because of the taxes—so I do question what the hell taxes these people are paying, because whatever the amount, it does not have a negative impact on their livelihoods. Hell, in Inheritance, Galbatorix threatens to have two little children murdered in front of Eragon if Eragon doesn’t do what he says. And Eragon’s reaction to this is somewhere along the lines of “fuck it, I might not be able to save the kids anyway, so who cares, right?” Eragon is literally so bad at being a hero that Galbatorix’s plan to murder children as blackmail doesn’t work on him. Because of all these things, I don’t have any reason to side with one group or the other.
On top of that, some of the other things Galbatorix is accused of—being power-hungry and unbalanced—don’t make much sense within the context of the story. While it is true that Galbatorix may have gone insane with grief when Jarnunvösk died, there is nothing during the course of the actual books to indicate that he’s still insane. He seems like a fairly balanced guy, who’s maybe a little angry and harsh, but in the end, he comes across as someone who is in control over himself. Additionally, if he were power-hungry, I highly doubt the Empire and its neighboring country Surda would have been able to live so peacefully together for the past hundred years. The Empire only attacks Surda after Surda starts openly supporting the Varden, the terrorist organization bent on overthrowing Galbatorix, and Galbatorix only attacked the dwarves arguably for the same reason.
I suppose we could say that it was terrible of Galbatorix and his Forsworn to wipe out all the other Dragon Riders, since the land was prosperous under their leadership. However, as I said earlier, under Galbatorix’s rule, we have peasants living in two-story, multiple bedroom homes. The land is still prosperous.
Furthermore, the Order seemed like a pretty reprehensible organization. This is the same group of people who did the Banishing of the Names, a massive spell meant to attack the Forsworn. When the Order learned of the Forsworn’s betrayal, they banished their dragons’ names, with the exception of Jarnunvösk and Shruikan. Without their names, these dragons turned into mindless beasts and many of their Riders were driven mad as a result. And I have to wonder what else the Order would have been willing to do, if the Banishing of the Names seemed like a justifiable punishment for a group of people who only wanted to reform the Order, not destroy it.
And that’s another thing. Galbatorix and his Forsworn, we discover, didn’t actually destroy the Order, which is one of the big accusations they face. We learn from Glaedr in Inheritance that when the Forsworn went to attack Vroengard, the island where the Riders lived, the Riders killed themselves, because they thought that defeat would be inevitable. This was an island filled with hundreds of Riders and dragons, and when thirteen Dragon Riders betrayed them, they chose to kill themselves instead of, I don’t know, listening to the probably well-founded grievances the Forsworn had, or even fighting back. This mass suicide is why dragons almost went extinct, and there was no reason for it whatsoever.
So after reading this series for four books, I have little to no reason to want someone else on the throne other than Galbatorix. I think the only evil thing Galbatorix allows that the Varden and other Riders don’t is slavery. I can call him evil for that, because slavery is an evil thing. However, when comparing Galbatorix and his Empire to Eragon and the Varden, Galbatorix sadly comes across as the lesser of two evils. Galbatorix might be a terrible person, but under his rule the land is at least stable and flourishing—the only instability is brought about by the Varden, and Nasuada has little to no leadership skills despite being in charge.
This is, quite possibly, the worst possible way that the books fail. I, as a reader, have actually sided with a rapist who supports slavery and wanted that man to come out on top, because everybody else is either incompetent or just as terrible, normally a combination of the two. And it’s so upsetting, because not only do I find myself siding with a character with whom I should have no reason to side with, but also because, once again, had the author been aware of this issue, he could have turned it into the series’ greatest strength. But instead, the struggle between the Varden and the Empire just becomes aggravating to read.