After a long hiatus of seven years, bestselling author Christopher Paolini returns to the public eye with his long-awaited publication “The Fork, The Witch, And The Worm: Tales from Alagaësia.” Picking off shortly after the end of the Inheritance tetralogy, the novel couches three short stories about a fork, a witch, and a dragon within a framing narrative written in the familiar tones of protagonist Dragon Rider Eragon’s stream of consciousness. Although the volume is initially a welcome return to the eccentric world that thousands fell in love with as children, Paolini’s latest creation is noticeably lacking in substance (and length), leaving long-standing fans wondering what he’d actually hoped to achieve with his brief vignettes.
The novel begins with Eragon as the head of his new Dragon Rider settlement, grappling with feeling homesick and overworked. While the character is sympathetic as always, Paolini doesn’t quite manage to advance Eragon’s character development, given the lack of more immediate challenges or interpersonal conflicts which might have provided opportunities to add depth and maturity. Instead, Paolini seems to have merely replicated Nasuada’s struggles, creating a warrior-turned-bureaucrat embroiled in political indecision, struggling under the heavy responsibility of being a leader. Furthermore, Eragon’s woes are embarrassingly childish, reminiscent of the problems of an angsty teenager. Perhaps this was an attempt to make the text more accessible to new, younger readers, but if so, it falls flat for Paolini’s original fan base who are no longer schoolchildren.
The first tale, “A Fork in the Road,” features a refreshing break from the dim chambers of Eragon’s new settlement. Essie, the daughter of an innkeeper, meets grizzled traveller Tornac, later revealed as Murtagh. Perhaps a little cliché, the narrative is nonetheless an enjoyable read as Murtagh responds thoughtfully to Essie’s youthful troubles. Paolini also includes a cameo of Arya’s whimsical woven grass ship, a nod to the old fan base, though it does come off more as a trailing afterthought than a concerted attempt to target that particular demographic.
The second installment is penned by Angela Paolini herself, Paolini’s sister who served as inspiration for the character. The character hands Eragon the manuscript of a half-finished autobiography to read, which, despite being satisfyingly idiosyncratic, feels like an incredibly piecemeal attempt at a narrative. The autobiography leaps through what could be centuries of Angela’s life, only barely touching upon a moment in time before hurtling forward to another. While I loved the intelligent banter between Elsa and Angela as well as Angela’s Oðin-esque pursuit for forbidden knowledge, I nonetheless felt there was so much unfulfilled potential in what the chronicle could have expounded upon. The concept of time as energy that had been introduced in previous volumes was left untouched, as were Angela’s early encounters with Solembum, just to name a few neglected plot lines.
“The Worm of the Kulkaras” concludes the volume, offering a lengthy account of loss and kin-bound vengeance. Narrated by a Kull bard, the tale is undoubtedly the most developed of the three, offering readers the gratifying character development that is painfully absent in the other two. Perhaps a little heavy-handed with its imposed morality, the tale is forgivably so, populating the Alagaësian universe with a new cast of unique personalities who evolve and adapt to the circumstances as the plot unfolds.
Ultimately the novel concludes on a high note with the hatching of a new dragon – an ending that perhaps is just a smidgen too predictable. Going forward, I’d love to see a story written from Elsa’s perspective, and I do feel that Paolini’s decision to omit Elsa’s dealings with the insane Eldunarí as she fought to restore their sanity was a massive missed opportunity to develop the narrative further. “The Fork, The Witch, and the Worm” does set the stage for a lengthier sequel, raising unanswered questions such as whether the Ra’zac are truly gone for good, what the strange stone Murtagh has found will lead to, and who the witch Bachel is, but on its own, the novel is disappointingly elementary, paling in comparison to Paolini’s earlier works. Do give it a read if you’re curious (or a part of the old fan base), but if you’re new to the land of Alagaesia and looking for a fresh exciting read in the fantasy realm, you’d be better off looking elsewhere.