Elantris review

Friday, September 4, 2009

Elantris review Brandon Sanderson
Elantris is Brandon Sanderson first novel (it was released in 2005). I read the first book of the Mistborn trilogy (The Final Empire) before going with Elantris. I have to admit that I started reading his books only to see what he was capable of after he was chosen to write the end of WoT. I should not have waited, this is an impressive debut.

Elantris was the city of living gods. The 'riod' struck and then began the decay of the city and its former gods. The kingdom of Arelon, now without the elantrian protection, chose a king. Ten years later, Raoden the prince of Arelon is taken by the 'shaod' and thrown into Elantris. He will struggle to create a better world for the abandoned elantrians. His wife to be, Sarane comes to her wedding only to discover that she's a widow. Meanwhile, Hrathen, a 'Gyorn' (Derethi priesthood highest rank) from Wyrn's empire in the east (the kingdom of Fjorden) is sent to Kay (Arelon captial city) to convert the arelish heathen. His task will be made more difficult by the cunning princess.

Brandon Sanderson is a master world builder. In the span of only one book he can make the worlds he create feel totally alive. As with the Mistborn novels, this is certainly the author greatest asset. He goes for originality and he pushes it beyond anything we have seen before. Every aspects of Elantris feels palpable. The religions are well integrated (just slightly based on real world basis), the human races, the social casts and mostly, the 'post-anarchy' politic situation. The only negative side with this, as Sanderson admitted himself, is that the narrative of the book is set in only one city (almost the same with Mistborn).

The magic system is where Sanderson concentrated much of his creativeness. I can't get far into its explanation without spoiling the story... so I will tell you that it involves runes written in the air that grant access to an 'overspirit', a kind of force connected with the world. By the way, the fantasy elements don't stop there, the other nations of the world also have their way of accessing powers and there's the 'seons'. They are intelligent balls of light serving their owners with a multitude of abilities.

The writing is fluid but the pace is kind of slow. There's not much action aside for a couple of skirmishes near the end of the story. This book is not about fighting, it's about politics, scheming and religious fervor. It can get tedious at times when long discussions tend to lag. The narrative is done with the help of three PoV: Raoden, Sarane and Hrathen. Raoden is the fallen prince that everybody loves and who firmly believes in human spirit. He felt a little bit too perfect for my taste. He doesn't seem to have weaknesses, he's the absolute indefectible leader. His friend in Elantris, Galladon is a very refreshing sidekick. Much of the humour in the book comes from their discussions. Galladon is pretty stereotypical but I liked him that way. Sarane is almost the feminine equivalent of Raoden. She can be annoying at times but all her plots and scheming makes up for it. As for Hrathen, he's the perfect nemesis in this kind of story. He's not a fanatic and he believes purposefully in logic and his wits. His beliefs are call in question and he is always a pleasure to follow.

The story is not immensely compelling but the evolution of the world and the book characters compensate largely. There are a couple of mysteries throughout the book. As the plot evolves, Sanderson slowly gives us hints. At one point, you'll probably get it all but the problem is that the protagonists don't. They are supposed to be very intelligent, but eventually, I grew frustrated by their lack of insight.

Sanderson said that someday he might return to the Mistborn world but in the world future... a sci-fi setting. Well I hope he can eventually do the same with Elantris. A follow up in the same world would be interesting, in a sci-fi or a fantasy setting (both would be nice). Anyway, the end of Elantris let some doors open.

Why should you read this book? To discover a prolific new author with a gift for the creation of fantastically living worlds and magic systems. You have to pick up this one if you like political intrigue mixed up with religious movement, set in a fantasy setting.

Technically, I think the Tor Books cover for Elantris makes the cities seems a little bit too modern but the characters up front make up for it. It's looking good... The map included is very simple but you can find more detail or explanations here at Brandon's page. There is glossary with all the 'aons' (runes) symbols. The book is 496 pages. The unabridged audio book (from Recorded books) is 27 hours 31 mins and the narration is well done.

Elantris review score :

Characterization............. 8 /10
World building............... 9.5 / 10
Magic system................. 9.5 / 10
Story.............................. 8 / 10
Writing........................... 7.5 / 10

Overall (not an average) 8 / 10


Brandon Sanderson page


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John Anealio said...

I enjoyed Elantris myself. I thought that Sanderson created an excellent magic system and a compelling female lead.

Phil said...

John, have you read Mistborn?

Sanderson magic system in that series seems ever better. I still haven't read Warbreaker but from what I gather, there again it looks like a good read.

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