I recently read all four books in the fantasy series the Inheritance Cycle, by Christopher Paolini (Eragon, Eldest, Brisingr, and Inheritance). I enjoyed them all, and came away with some conclusions and observations.
The best character in the series is Angela the herbalist. At least, we are introduced to her as an herbalist, but she's a lot more than that. In thinking about why she's such a good character, I came up with "unrestricted, consistent spontaneity". That's probably contradictory, but I mean that the author didn't put Angela in a box, or try to define her up front. Angela continually reveals new facets of character (sometimes humorous, sometimes mysterious), but there's an underlying consistency to her character from which these seemingly random revelations spring.
The author spends a lot of time on detailing settings. Nothing new there, but in encountering it this time I realized that describing setting is a pacing problem. In a modern book, the normal pace of a story via conversation and interior monologue is significantly faster than setting. I had to slow down my reading pace to appreciate the setting descriptions, and even then, I could tell I wasn't slowing down enough. I'm thinking that setting could be described better via a character's impressions of a place, rather than trying to do an absolute description directly from the author to the reader. I plan to experiment with that.
The ancient language of command and the magic of the world of Eragon are intriguing. Someday I want to write a post about magic (all these things are hints of the real words of power); for now, I'll say that the author kept his own rules. I like the concept of combining words in new ways to get new effects; it's something I'd already considered as a game developer. It did seem amusing, though, that the logical conclusion of the author's world were effectively lawyer-magicians.
The first two books are mostly about training Eragon as a magician and fighter. That's not the first fantasy story I've seen devote a lot of time to training like that. Again, without going into a lot of detail on magic, I'll say that one of the purposes of what I hope will be my first novel, the Beastlord of Underrim, is to present a different kind of magical training.
At the deepest level, I found no trace that the author knows God. I don't mean that in a religious, evangelistic sense; rather, I saw no sign that the author knows what good and evil really are. That's normal; I haven't found many fantasy worlds that do express it. The superficial expressions of tyranny and freedom are there, of course, but I'm always looking for more underneath that. George MacDonald and C. S. Lewis could express a taste of incorruptible glory in a fantasy world, and I want that, and miss it if it isn't there.
But I still enjoyed the series, and got something out of them. And the dragons were cool. :)