Brandon Sanderson – Elantris

After my massive book hangover caused by the Mistborn Trilogy, I thought a nice little standalone title would be just the thing. I’m using the word “little” in its widest sense here. Elantris wasn’t bad by any means but it didn’t compare to Sanderson’s later books. Despite the huge commitment, I’ll probably stick to the long epic series in the future.

elantrisELANTRIS
by Brandon Sanderson

Published by: Tor, 2005
Paperback: 638
Audiobook: 27,5 hours
Standalone
My rating:
6,5/10

First sentence: Elantris was beautiful once.

ELANTRIS WAS A PLACE OF GLORY
The capital of Arelon, the home to people transformed into magic-using demigods by the Shaod.
But then the magic failed, Elantris started to rot, and its inhabitants turned into powerless wrecks.
And in the new capital, Kae, close enough to Elantris for everyone to be reminded of what they have lost, a princess arrives. Sarene is to be married to unite Teod and Arelon against the religious imperialists of Fjordell. But she is told that Raoden, her husband to be, is dead.
Determined to carry on the fight for Teod and Arelon’s freedom, Sarene clashes with the high priest Hrathen. If Hrathen can persuade the populace to convert, Fjordell will reign supreme.
But there are secrets in Elantris, the dead and the ruined may yet have a role to play in this new world. Magic lives.

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After the Mistborn trilogy, any Sanderson book was going to have a hard time keeping up. If it hadn’t been for Graphic Audio, his first (published) novel would have been my last choice for the next Sanderson read. But you know how I feel about the full cast, unabridged amazingness of Graphic Audio. A standalone novel – as opposed to three books with three audio files each – presented a welcome opportunity (at least for my bank account). I apologize in advance for any misspelling of names (ugh, the names!) because I only heard them spoken out loud and didn’t read along in the paperback.

Elantris used to be a city of gods until one day it wasn’t anymore. Anybody afflicted by the Shaod is now exiled to Elantris, to live there in eternal pain, or die of madness. Raoden, prince of Arelon, is perhaps a bit too much of a hero, right from the start. In Elantris, he immediately questions the status quo and starts a revolution. To be fair, the status quo is chaos, murder, theft, and pain – so Raoden represents what any sane person would do in his place. With the help of Galladon, who unfortunately grows into a stereotypical sidekick, Raoden turns Elantris upside down and helps its people find some peace and happiness within its grimy walls.

On the outside, we follow Princess Sarene, Raoden’s betrothed who finds herself minus one husband (believing him dead when he’s really in Elantris) and has to navigate the politics of the court. Likable as she was, her character was very overdrawn – the intelligent girl pretending to be dumb in order to manipulate people into trusting her? The beautiful girl who also happens to be a master swordfighter? Yeah, Sarene is cool but at times I found her skills and accomplishments a bit too perfect, too forcefully surprising. She is WonderWoman, she can do anything! A flaw here or there would have been nice.

art by Alain Brion

art by Alain Brion

As far as plot goes, this book took a long while to get going and never really found its focal point. We see Raoden convincing the Elantrians to work together and make a better life, we see Sarene manipulate her way around court to make the king see reason and save the land. There is also a religious war going on in the background, an element that I found completely unnecessary. But I guess if it’s Epic Fantasy, it needs some kind of war and religion seems as good a reason as any. Once Raoden sets his mind to figure out Elantris’ secret (why did Gods suddenly turn into sickly immortals, doomed to eternal suffering and all that), other plot strings are dropped. Sarene takes her sweet time to get into any contact with Elantris and only then do things really get interesting.

The novel clearly has pacing problems, with the ending being full of events and action sequences, the beginning an undecided build-up and introduction of characters who aren’t all that important. It is clear that Sanderson has honed his craft since he wrote Elantris and because of that, I actually find nitpicking this novel quite fascinating. The overly perfect protagonists, the random scenes that don’t have any impact on later events, the characters who quickly peek in, then either drop away, or are revealed to be somebody else – which, by the way, didn’t really have the impact it should have. Neither revelations about Sarene’s family touched me in any way, nor the secrets Galladon reveals to Raoden. They felt cheap, forced in for shock value, but left me utterly indifferent. It feels like Sanderson was still trying out his plot-twisty ways to find his footing. Well, he must have found it some time after writing Elantris.

The relationships between characters were my favorite part to follow, in part because the world-building didn’t do it for me, and the naming conventions were atrocious. The world is your generic fantasy map with different peoples living in different countries. Some cultural differences are shown but none of them revolutionary or original. Religion obviously plays a part but other than using different gods’ names for cursing, the main characters weren’t very religious. The names really take the cake, though. I looked up how to spell some of them and never in a million years would I have thought the someone pronounced “tell-rhy-eye” would be spelled “Telrii”. Sure, it makes linguistic sense in a way, but it goes so much against my instincts that I would never have managed to read an entire book with names like this. Having them read to me was fine but reading myself would have tripped me out of the narrative every time.

The ending came in two distinct parts for me. On the one hand, the secret about Elantris is out of the bag, on the other hand, Sarene and Raoden reach the conclusion of their character arcs. While the revelation about Elantris didn’t elicit more than a shrug and an “okay”, I actually loved how Sarene and Raoden developed and grew closer together. They didn’t grow as separate characters so much (being perfect from the get go) but they did get to know each other and form a believable bond. I would have liked more information on their floating companion magic-roboty-creatures but maybe the author saved this bit for a sequel?

Altogether, this wasn’t a bad book. I am certain that I would have liked it less if I hadn’t listened to the audio version and even that didn’t grab me as much as Mistborn. However, I’m now on a quest to read All The Sandersons and this is one more book to strike off my list. On to more books in the Mistborn universe!

MY RATING: 6,5/10 –  Okay

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Second opinions:

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One thought on “Brandon Sanderson – Elantris

  1. DJ (@MyLifeMyBooksMyEscape) says:

    I just finished this book earlier today. I did like it more than you, but I still had the same problems. They just didn’t seem to bother me as much. The couple little things that did bother me bit too though, were those little scenes that ended up having no impact at all (felt like annoying plot holes) and then the random characters popping in (what was the point?). Also, a lot of those “secret revealings” didn’t nearly have the impact I think they were meant to. I still liked this one a lot though.

    Like

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