Short Stories 

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Christopher Paolini

Alfred A. Knopf, $27.50/hardcover

Fantasy readers were expecting a conclusion to the battle between good (a young boy, his dragon and an army of rebel creatures) and evil (an old, tainted dragon rider and his twisted empire) in Brisingr, book three of the Inheritance trilogy. But 24-year-old Christopher Paolini, according to his publisher, decided "that a fourth book would be necessary to give each story element the attention it deserved." Considering that books Nos. 1 and 2 have sold more than 15 million copies, can we blame the kid? Brisingr weighs in at a formidable 748 pages, and falls in line with its predecessors: There's descriptive writing with sharp detail, occasional overindulgence in dwarf- and elf-speak, and overly sentimental character dialogue. Though it bears some clever plot twists and an overall engaging story line, Brisingr delivers slightly more buildup than action. To Paolini's credit, the stage is set (again) for one hell of a showdown. Matthew Schniper

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Deaf Sentence: A Novel

David Lodge

Viking Penguin, $25.95/hardcover

Deaf Sentence, David Lodge's 13th novel, alternates between first- and third-person accounts of a retired linguistics professor's coming to terms (or not) with the demise of his hearing, his aging father's eccentricity, and an unbalanced student who demands his help with her possibly plagiarized textual analysis of suicide notes. For a British author and literary critic with so much talent for wry satire, Lodge also has a keen eye (and ear) for the humane, compelling and even sentimental aspects of his characters' behavior. What in another writer's hands could be somber or maudlin becomes, in Lodge's rendering, a thoughtfully amusing take on the attempt to maintain stability in challenging circumstances. The book does take a curious tonal shift toward the end, which results in a somewhat unsatisfying resolution, especially from such a consummate craftsman. Even so, for anyone interested in the foibles of the human condition, Deaf Sentence is a quietly rewarding read. Bill Forman


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