|Book Review: Elantris by Brandon Sanderson
Elantris—Brandon Sanderson’s first published novel—was every bit as promising as a great fantasy debut should be. Now I know why he made it this far.
Elantris was the capital of Arelon: gigantic, beautiful, literally radiant, filled with benevolent beings who used their powerful magical abilities for the benefit of all. Yet each of these demigods was once an ordinary person until touched by the mysterious transforming power of the Shaod. Ten years ago, without warning, the magic failed. Elantrians became wizened, leper-like, powerless creatures, and Elantris itself dark, filthy, and crumbling.
Arelon’s new capital, Kae, crouches in the shadow of Elantris. Princess Sarene of Teod arrives for a marriage of state with Crown Prince Raoden, hoping — based on their correspondence — to also find love. She finds instead that Raoden has died and she is considered his widow. Both Teod and Arelon are under threat as the last remaining holdouts against the imperial ambitions of the ruthless religious fanatics of Fjordell. So Sarene decides to use her new status to counter the machinations of Hrathen, a Fjordell high priest who has come to Kae to convert Arelon and claim it for his emperor and his god.
But neither Sarene nor Hrathen suspect the truth about Prince Raoden. Stricken by the same curse that ruined Elantris, Raoden was secretly exiled by his father to the dark city. His struggle to help the wretches trapped there begins a series of events that will bring hope to Arelon, and perhaps reveal the secret of Elantris itself.
A rare epic fantasy that doesn’t recycle the classics and that is a complete and satisfying story in one volume, Elantris is fleet and fun, full of surprises and characters to care about. It’s also the wonderful debut of a welcome new star in the constellation of fantasy.
My introduction to the cosmere world—the fictional universe within which nearly all Brandon Sanderson high fantasy books are set—began with Mistborn: The Final Empire. Only after I read three more of Sanderson’s books, did I go in search for his debut novel. I have to admit, I was worried that Elantris will disappoint me after reading Brandon’s masterpiece that is The Stormlight Archive (will be referred to as Stormlight for the rest of this review).
I should not need to worry. Elantris—notably has less pages than each book in Stormlight—is a solid fantasy novel. Note that I call it a solid fantasy novel, not a solid debut fantasy novel. It was a pleasant surprise. Sanderson has always been a strong in worldbuilding and Elantris is a prime example of it. It has arguably less extensive worldbuilding than The Stormlight Archive, but this “weakness” can also be seen as Elantris’ strength in the sense that Elantris is much more edible and easier to understand than the giant that is Stormlight.
For those who have read Mistborn, some might be disappointed in how the story progressed, at least in the beginning. Sanderson took his sweet time setting up the scene. It was 20 chapters in when I realized I was hooked. After the pace picked up, the book was impossible to put down. The story took many twists and turns to finally arrive at quite satisfying conclusion.
Having sung all the praises for Elantris, I now have to discuss the weaker points of the book. The characteristic of Brandon Sanderson’s books has always been fantasy interspersed with science fiction. Elantris is not an exception to this. Since I have read Mistborn and Stormlight, I could not help but compare Elantris to the two series (as you might have already realized). I found Elantris to be the slightly weaker book in terms of writing. THIS is a good sign because it means that Sanderson has only grown better in writing. I also found the explanation regarding some fantasy/sci-fi elements to be rather lacking, although I do hope it’ll be explained more in the planned sequel. But let’s be real, I probably wouldn’t understand them either way. :p
The book was told from multiple POVs, namely Sarene, Raoden and Hrathen. From these three, at first I enjoyed Sarene’s the most, but as I read more, I became enraptured in Hrathen’s. What bothers me about the characters in Elantris is that some of them are quite similar to the characters in The Stormlight Archive. This is not Brandon’s fault per se. I mean, he didn’t know I would read Stormlight before Elantris. Truth be told, if the order was reversed, namely I read Elantris before Stormlight, I probably wouldn’t notice the similarity. The problem is I feel like I have come to know Stormlight’s characters more intimately thanks to Sanderson’s painstakingly detailed storytelling in Stormlight. Having known Kaladin and co, I couldn’t help but feel that some of the characters in Elantris are the less interesting version of them. This is also why I found Hrathen to be fascinating, as his internal conflict is something I haven’t encountered in my short time being a Sanderson reader. His journey is the one that touch me the most, even though he is not a likeable character.
Overall, however, all three POVs offer an interesting insight into the story. I like that the bad and good is not written as black and white. Sanderson masterfully showed us how one’s good intention might be seen as malice to others, depending on whose POV are you looking from.
Elantris is perfect for people who enjoy high fantasy, detailed worldbuilding, and solid characters development. It often cross my mind that Sanderson highest priority is character development, with fantasy took a close second. It absolutely doesn’t mean the fantasy wasn’t there, it’s just that he dedicated so much time developing his characters. Hence, patience is of utmost importance if you’re going to read Elantris.
If you’re looking for an Introduction to Brandon Sanderson Books, you might be better off with Mistborn: The Final Empire because it’s more fast-paced or alternatively—as I was told—Steelheart, but I haven’t read that one.
For people who have read Brandon Sanderson’s books before and wondering if Elantris is any good, well I have four letters for you: R.A.F.O.
4 stars (out of 5 stars)
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