Book Review: “The Fork, The Witch, and the Worm”

Christopher Paolini, the author of the popular Inheritance cycle, is known for taking a while to write books — so when he released a collection of short stories titled The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm without much warning at the end of 2018, most fans were pleasantly surprised. As one of Oberlin’s many fantasy nerds, I grew up reading Paolini and got a copy of his new book as soon as it was released. 

The collection was a great read, providing a much-needed return to the world of Alagaesia and the characters from Paolini’s first series. Yet it fails to live up to the standard of the original series because of the limits of its format — the short stories don’t provide the same in-depth look at the nuance of his world that the full-length novels did. 

The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm is set shortly after Inheritance, the latest installment in the series, and it is told through the eyes of Eragon, the dragon from the original series, as he hears or reads the three titular stories. Paolini’s latest work is clearly meant for readers of the original series — if that’s not you, I would definitely advise that you pass. 

However, the book is friendly to readers who have not revisited the series recently, giving occasional reminders of who the characters are and where they left off. While I understood its purpose, the process of constantly being reminded of things I already knew was a little annoying. All told, though, this was a price well worth paying for a look at what’s been happening in Alagaesia while we’ve been away.

Paolini’s skilled worldbuilding is a large part of why his books are so enjoyable for me. His characters, countries, and conflicts always feel real and grounded despite their outlandish settings, and this remains the case in The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm. Despite being constrained to a shorter format, Paolini still manages to develop relatable characters with clear motivations, from an Urgal shaman to an innkeeper’s daughter. 

Much of this clarity in the world stems from the heavy lifting his previous novels did in terms of setting. Because of this, however, Paolini’s masterful writing style is somewhat lost; not nearly enough time is spent with the characters we have been introduced to. The book leaves us wanting more, coming in at under a quarter of the length of Paolini’s usual offerings.

This problem with The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm is that it seems to create more questions than it answers. While many people enjoy this in a book, I prefer a little more resolution — particularly when returning to a world I already know. While The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm builds wonderful characters, it does little to further our understanding of Alagaesia or answer any of the questions implicit in the Inheritance cycle’s ending. 

Paolini has made it clear that he will one day write more novels set in Alagaesia, which will aim to answer his readers’ questions. Until then, we will have to resign ourselves to reading stories that are set in this world without developing it beyond the original novels. 

I would be remiss not to mention that the book is not written solely by Christopher Paolini. The second of the collection’s three stories centers around the character Angela, and a chapter from her point of view is written by Angela Paolini — Christopher’s sister and the person on whom the character is loosely based. While the difference in writing style is noticeable, this helps the story rather than hurting it, as Angela is unique enough that the style change helps illuminate her character rather than confuse the reader. The merit of this section is hard to judge independently from the book as a whole, as 25 large-font pages is too few words to evaluate someone’s writing style. Overall, I would say that her contribution adds to the book and helps give us a better, albeit incomplete, understanding of Angela.

At the end of the day, whether or not The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm is worth reading is an open-and-shut case. If you have read and enjoyed Paolini’s Inheritance cycle, this book is a must-read, and you will almost definitely enjoy it. As long as you don’t expect a full-fledged novel, it will not disappoint. It does an excellent job eliciting excitement for Paolini’s inevitable return to the world of Alagaesia.