Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Inheritance/The Vault of Souls - C. Paolini (review)

OK. First, the dragon on the front page is not the BIG, BLACK Shruikan (ie Galbatorix's dragon). It is Firnen and its green. And its Arya's. And it shows up at the very end of the book. Thus Arya becomes a dragon rider. What a surprise. So now that thats out of the way lets get into the Galbatorix killing business which is what the Inheritance cycle is about.

Paolini sets up his characters beautifully. Eragon ofcourse the Luke Skywalker like protagonist. Galbatorix is the Darth Vader like villain. Arya is the gorgeous elf who Eragon has a giant crush on. Glaedr like Obi-wan Kenobi is the all-knowing, experienced dragon; teacher and ever-present advisor to Eragon and Saphira. Nasauda, the leader of the Varden, the strong figure who makes important and right decisions and is a sharp politician. King Orrin from the begining is the annoying character, an alcoholic who is constantly complaining. The dwarf king Orik is the cheerful supporter of both Nasauda and Eragon. Garzhvog, the Urgal leader is another interesting one. Roran, Eragon's brother (not by blood) is the one human warrior leader that sigle-handedly wins battles without magic. Murtagh, Eragon's foster brother, part friend, part villain, sworn to Galbatorix is an enigmatic character. Elva, the witch girl who senses peoples pain, can make people do her bidding, one who even Galbatorix is afraid of. Lastly, Angela, is the mysterious one whos adventures might form a future book from Paolini.

He takes his own sweet time put together this story, as he should. It is a really impressive story make no mistake. Basically he gets the Varden to take over Belatona. Then Dras Leona. Then Uru'baen.

The book starts with the seige of Belatona. There a giant wall crashes over Roran but he lives. Also the Varden find a Dauthdaert - a rare sword that could kill dragons - named Niernen. The werecats join the Varden after the battle. Roran Stronghammer is then sent to Aroughs to clean the mess and take over the place for the Varden. Once he reaches the place, despite his condition, he takes hardly a week to resort the situation. Some outrageous, brave and out-of-the-box thinking gets his troops into the city. A fierce battle follows. There follows a crazy mind-fight between the opposing magicians when the enemy magician loses control and explodes everything around him. Carn, magician of the Varden, dies but his spell drains the enemy magician off all moisture from his body. Thus Roran takes over the Aroughs. Meanwhile Eragon continues his training with the elves and Glaedr and the Varden reach Dras Leona.

Murtagh and his dragon Thorn, awaits them in Dras Leona. Eragon, Arya, two more elves, Angela and a werecat decide to sneak into the city through a forgotten tunnel. Saphira is to distract Thorn and Murtagh from the outside while Eragon is to open the gates from the inside. Thats the plan. Unfortunately on their way Eragon and the others are trapped by Razac worshipers. One of the elf is killed. Eragon and Arya are nearly fed to a Razac but Angela comes to their rescue. Angela then also kills the 'High Priest' who matched the combined minds of Eragon and Arya. Saphira injures Thorn and the Varden take Dras Leona. However manages to escape with Nasauda  who he takes to Galbatorix.

Eragon then takes over the Varden's lead. He is faced with the question how is he to defeat Galbatorix. He decides to heed a previous prophecy and heads to Vroengard, to the home of the old dragons and riders - Doru Araeba. Saphira goes through an uncompromising storm through the sea to get them there. Once there they notice the ruins, the destruction and how the place has been corrupted by misplaced magic. He and Saphira discover there true names and enter the vault of souls. There they find protected Edunari of the old dragons believed dead and dragon eggs. The old dragons accompany Eragon to the Uru'baen. The Varden meanwhile heads to Uru'baen. Nasuada on the other hand is resisting tortures by Galbatorix who wants her to swear fealty to him.

The battle at Uru'baen is again into two parallels. Eragon, Saphira, Elva, Arya, the old dragons and the elves go in chase of Galbatorix. The rest which now includes the elf army under elf queen Islanzadi meet Lord Barst and his army in the city. This is the greatest climactic battle of the series. Barst nearly destroys the Varden single-handedly. He kills the elf-queen. It takes the whole group of huge stones, Urgals and werecats to weaken him. Roran eventually breaks the Edunari he carries defeating him nearly killing himself in the process. Galbatorix hosts the rest. First he easily immobilizes them and matches the dragons in mind-fighting. Then for his entertainment he makes Murtagh and Eragon fight without magic. A fight which Eragon wins. Then Murtagh breaks his bond with Galbatorix and attacks him, however Galbatorix recovers. Then he attacks Eragon to make him swear an oath of allegiance to himself. Eragon manages to take the help of the dragons and casts a spell through his mind beyond himself and without plan. He makes Galbatorix feel the suffering the he made the others endure. Ggalbatorix weakens. Thorn and Saphira attack Shruikan. Arya takes the Dauthdaert and kills Shruikan. Galbatorix unable to bear the pain kills himself in an explosion that nearly destroys everyone, when Eragon gathers everyone and utters a shielding spell. So the Varden wins.

Nasauda becomes the successor to Galbatorix. Eragon decides that he needs to leave Alagaesia and find a place to train the new dragons and dragon riders. Arya takes with her a dragon egg they find in Uru'baen which hatches for her. Arya also becomes the new elf-queen.

There obviously is the chance that Paolini might do a Tolkien and make this world he has created richer. I am certainly looking forward to that.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Passing Rhythms

Liverpool FC and the Transformation of Football
- Cathy Long, John Williams and Stephen Hopkins

This book is an excellent account of Liverpool Football Club and gives a beautiful overview of the club, its fans and Liverpool's place in the world of football. It is aptly (and perhaps a little emotionally) titled 'Passing Rhythms' - Rhythms describing the playing 'way' of a team in a single match or over a period of time; and Passing referring to progress of football, especially significant in the case of Liverpool FC, as they dominated the game in England from 1960 to 1990 and hav'nt been any where near winning the title since.

The book begins by talking about the city of Liverpool in the times when it was a dynamic and cosmopolitan seaport. The spirit of democracy and fierce independence reigned in the city, different from cities like Manchester and London. The city people have Irish roots and share a close bond with Celtic FC. Since the decline of sea-trade the city has had economic and unemployment problems and it became known as a tough place to live in.

The first football club in the city of Liverpool was ofcourse Everton (originally St.Domingo) formed in 1879. Liverpool FC was formed in 1892 after a dispute about club finances mainly initiated by John Houlding who controlled the ground at Anfield Road. Everton moved to Goodison Park, Houlding was kicked out of the Everton board and went on to form Liverpool FC. The clubs' base was strongly non-English as Houlding himself were Irish and player scout John 'Honest' McKenna recruited its earliest players from Scotland.

The book evolves gradually by talking about the pre-Shankly period, the first few titles that the club won. Special mentions for manager George Kay and the 1950's hero Billy Liddell (the 'flying Scottish winger') who was also worked as an accountant. The stories about Bill Shankly's time at Liverpool are an amazing read - "He will make his players learn to kill a ball and move it all in the same motion...he will make them practice complete mastery of the ball." He first got Liverpool promotion to the first division; followed by a league title in 1964 and the club first FA Cup in 1965. Other important figures under him were Joe Fagan, Rueben Bennett, Ronnie Moran, Roy Evans and Bob Paisley. More league titles in 1966 and 1973, FA Cup win in 1974 and the first European trophy - UEFA Cup - in 1973; then the European Cup in 1977 and 1978. His success marked a team built around the socialist ethic of collective effort with equal wages and no prima donnas. The five-a-side training and boot room tradition were established during his time.

"Courage is skill, plus dedication, plus fitness, plus honesty, plus fearlessness."
- Bill Shankly

Bob Paisley is given his praise. His words - "The longer you keep the ball, the less time the next man to receive it has." - inspired the 'early ball' game. There is a continuity of important players that was maintained during this era at Liverpool. Shankly resigned in 1982/83 which is believed to mark as the end of an era after which players started becoming more powerful and expensive. He was followed Paisley, Fagan and Dalglish who won the last league title for Liverpool.
There is an important chapter on fan culture at Liverpool. The Kop and its standing terrace (until 1994) is beautifully described. Liverpool's first all-red kit featured in Nov 1964. The great football tragedy's of Heysel (1985) and and Hillsborough (1989) are covered. Here is a comment that says something about the new 'supporters' of Liverpool FC:

"Stewards should patrol the Kop with a big net pulling out anyone under 12 with a painted face or with a Liverworld bag and eject them immediately. You have to be cruel to be kind. I wont harp about commercialization and Robinson dos'nt give a fuck anyway, but the arse who permitted the 'M' on the side of the Kop should be dragged through the streets by dogs!"

There is a chapter on John Barnes and racism in football. Hitachi was the first shirt sponsor for Liverpool in 1978. The fall of Liverpool began by the resignation of Dalglish after Hillsborough. It also marked an end of the boot room. 

"The bootroom was a professional touchstone of Liverpool club's playing success for some 25 years; a place where the club coaching staff would meet to discuss players, coaching and tactics, and, after matches, to suck in knowledge from other clubs about coaching techniques and 'likely' players in lower divisions."

Souness followed, then Evans and Houllier (first overseas manager of Liverpool). A 12million pound youth academy was established at Kikerby in 1998 under Steve Heighway. The 1998/99 season had Evans and Houllier as joint managers which ended up being a disaster. Houllier took over as manager a in 1999. There is a good chapter on Houllier clearly demonstrating his qualities and justifying his choice as a Liverpool manager. The book does not judge him; ofcourse we only know now that his reign as manager was not great but he still can be credited to move the club in the 'right direction' in my opinion.
There is an excellent chapter by Rick Parry on how television changed the whole economics of football in England. Also a chapter dedicated to female football fans.

"We fear that making football more 'female friendly' as a matter of policy might well contribute to the game losing some of its appeal, at least part of which includes being hugged and slobbered over by sweaty, scruffy men who have lost themselves momentarily and gone berserk as we score."

All in all a superb read; recommended to any football fan.