Eldest, by Christopher Paolini
Apart from being longer than the first, Eldest is proportionately stocked full of juicy, eloquent tidbits covering romance, mythology and cultures of the races, and political intrigue. (Dwarves have seven toes on each foot. Who knew?)
Eldest picks up immediately where Eragon left off: the battle at Tronjheim has left countless dead and, in the fateful aftermath, left the Varden in need of new leadership and suffering the loss of dear friends. Eragon and Saphira must delicately balance their allegiances to all three races or risk becoming the puppets Brom feared them to become. (Then Saphira gets drunk and falls on a dwarf.)
Tronjheim has been too badly damaged to remain the Varden’s homefront. The living collect what they can as they fortify the tunnels only long enough to flee to more protected lands. Eragon, Saphira, Arya, and Orik head to Ellesmera for Eragon’s training. However, the battle with Durza left it’s mark; Eragon now wears a scar across his back that cripples him with pain at seemingly unprecedented times. Unable to hamper or prevent the attacks, some wonder if Eragon will be able to uphold the duties of a Dragon Rider, even with proper training.
The road is filled with knowledge; as they pass through Dwarf and Elf cities, Eragon learns much of the races’s cultures that he never knew. (Dwarves were said to be the first race to inhabit the earth, made from the stones of the mountains, and the other gods/goddesses were jealous so they created man and elves; none were immortal, though each race slowly evolved into their separate lifespans over time.) Eragon falls deeper in love with the strict Arya, though she firmly overlooks his advances, and even Saphira suffers to be loved only to remember there are no dragons left for her to seek a companion. (Then Saphira gets her head stuck in a stairwell.)
Meanwhile, Gallbatorix has sent Ra’zak and soldiers to seek out Roran in Carvahall. Things escalate quickly when a bar brawl turns to the postmortem mutilations of a townsmen by the Ra’zak. The more the outraged villagers fight back, the harder the soldiers and Ra’zak squeeze. Even the lives of women and children are threatened until there is only one option: leave Carvahall – their homes, their lands, their inheritances – for the safety of Surda and hope their body count will be welcomed with open arms in the fight against the king.
In Surda, King Orrin is glad to offer the Varden land to stand on, but he is unable to fund their needs for food and supplies. Their forces are weakening as they feel the oncoming assault of Gallbatorix’s forces preparing for battle. (Then Nasuada uses spell casters to make cheap lace, which then funds their entire battle effort. Girl power.)
Then there’s werecats, a cursed baby, freaky family reunions, death, magic art, death, elves, a little more death, Ra’zak, a big bloody battle filled with death, and dragons. I feel that the last chapters were foreseeable, surprising, heartbreaking, and aggravating. I had to stop mid-chapter a few times in the last 30 pages just to vent my frustrations. But, you know, you gotta read the book to find out what happens! (No more spoilers)