on 8 June 2009
When it was announced that Robert Jordan's wife had chosen him to write the final volume of The Wheel of Time, Brandon Sanderson became something of a household name in the fantasy scene almost overnight. That's not to discredit the novels that Sanderson had written before this somewhat surprising piece of news, or the fledgling reputation that he'd built, but Sanderson would be the first to acknowledge the boost to his career that the Jordan gig gave him.
I'd read some of the samples of Sanderson's work on his livejournal, and have to say that - in terms of writing - they didn't do a lot for me. Nonetheless, Elantris - his first novel to be published - had a premise that appealed to me. When I saw a hardback copy in a bookshop at a reduced price (due to slight damage to the cover), I snapped it up.
The premise that intrigued me goes as follows: Elantris was a glowing beacon of civilisation, home to beings that were regarded as semi-divine by ordinary humans. Elantrians were highly skilled in the ways of magic, and were semi-immortal. Anyone could become an Elantrian - but only by chance. The transformation was called the Shaod, and it struck seemingly at random, changing the lucky person's life overnight.
When without warning the magic of Elantris failed, the Shaod turned from blessing to curse - it turned its victims into shadows of their former selves, imprisoning them in bodies that would not heal and were horrible to look upon. These unfortunate souls were cast into Elantris - once a city of beauty and wonder, now a decaying nightmare of insanity and despair.
The novel begins with Raoden, Prince of the kingdom of Arelon, waking one morning to find the Shaod has taken him. His royalty doesn't save him - he's cast into Elantris like other Shaod victims, not long before Sarene - Princess of Teod and his betrothed - arrives in the country for their wedding. As Raoden struggles to survive in Elantris and Sarene tries to pick up the pieces of her shattered life, Hrathen - a high priest of Jaddeth - arrives with the intention of converting Arelon and making it part of Fjordell's growing empire...
With Elantris, Sanderson has managed to conjure up a novel that feels fresh. The premise is clearly based on the legend of Atlantis, but it manages to avoid many of the more tiresome clichés that litter the genre. Sanderson does an impressive job of juggling the various strands of the plot, and manages to deftly explore several political and religious themes. The political intrigue of the subplot adds considerable depth to the novel, and helps to keep things interesting (to the extent where I felt it was actually more interesting than what Raoden was up to in Elantris).
Sanderson displays some solid world-building skills, with the symbolic magic system a particular triumph. The cast list is also impressive; Sanderson manages to imbue each main character (and many of the minor characters) with depth and emotion. Raoden, Sarene and Hrathen are strong, engaging POV characters, though for me Hrathen is head and shoulders above the others. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing his feelings and opinions change over the course of the novel, and seeing the problems that this caused to both him and his mission. I feared that Sarene would turn out to be a bit of a 'headstrong young woman' cliché, but she was much more than that.
I liked Sanderson's prose - clean, smooth and accessible. The short chapters as well were welcome, and gave the novel a good feel of pace. For a debut novel, Elantris is remarkably well written - by that I don't just mean the prose itself, but the way the plot is constructed and the fine balance Sanderson has struck between the POVs. Elantris may be Sanderson's first published novel, but it's not the first novel he ever wrote, and it shows: you feel that the skills Sanderson displays in Elantris have been honed over a dozen previous projects.
The best thing about Elantris is the electric climax to the novel. My intention to have an early night was blown out of the water by the excellence of the book's last fifty or so pages. Truths are uncovered, plot twists are revealed, the body count grows...and it all made for a highly enjoyable reading experience.
Flaws are few and far between. My only real complaint is that Raoden is too perfect. I mean, the guy barely makes a single mistake the entire time. He seems to have everything - leadership qualities, intelligence, wit, resourcefulness, and so on. I would have liked his story to have been a bit more of a struggle, like Sarene's and Hrathen's. After the Shaod took him and his life turned inside out, Raoden shows little emotional response and I found that a bit hard to take. The fact that his father (the king) had made no attempt to help him didn't seem to bother him, and he seemed to take to Elantris like a fish to water - it should have been far harder than that. A little vulnerability wouldn't have gone amiss.
I found the explanation of why the Elantrians' magic stopped working to be clever and original, but couldn't believe the Elantrians didn't figure this out, given their high intelligence. Still, a relatively minor quibble.
All things considered, Elantris is a fresh, promising debut novel and I look forward to checking out more of Sanderson's work.
on 26 July 2011
Having read Sanderson's continuation of the epic Wheel of Time series and the breathtakingly original work he has produced on his own (so far i've only read The Way of Kings and the Mistborn trilogy) I had really high expectations of Elantris, despite being aware that it was his debut novel and could be a step back.
However, I was a little apprehensive because I like my fantasy complex and engaging and I just wasn't sure that a stand alone novel would be able to deliver.
Well Elantris didn't disappoint. The plot is rich and original with enough mystery to keep the reader intrigued despite giving the perspective of only three characters. In fact, I felt that the choice to focus on the main three characters was a master stroke; it meant that you got to know the characters intimitely without the necessity of extra books.
Now I don't believe in giving spoilers but I was slightly disappointed with the twist at the end of the book because I felt it was slightly incoherent. I think this reflects Sanderson's relative immaturity in drawing together a plot at the time.
Overall, Elantris is original, engaging and has the rarest of qualities... it is 'unputdownable' and I would thoroughly recommend it.
Elantris is the first novel by American author Brandon Sanderson. Refreshingly, it is not the first book in a series, but a self-contained novel in itself (although there are a few loose ends left dangling for possible sequels).
The plot starts off sounding the same-old. The kingdoms of Teod and Arelon is in danger of being swallowed up by their expansionist neighbour, Fjordell, whose religions brooks no rivals. Cue a desperate battle in Arelon and its capital, Kae, as various nobles and merchants race to either ingratiate themselves with the Fjordell or find a way of resisting them.
The more original element of the story is that up until a decade ago, Arelon was protected by the Elantrians, god-like beings with total mastery of magic. Occasionally, humans would be unexpectedly transformed into Elantrians by an apparently random magical process. However, something went wrong. The Elantrians' magic failed and they were transformed from demigods into cursed wretches who are permanantly affected by pain. Every time they suffer an injury, from a stubbed toe to a cut to a broken neck, the pain stays with them permanantly. Unless burned or decapitated, they are also immortal, so a broken back or neck is simply a condemnation to agony rather than death. Unsurprisingly, a lot of the Elantrians are catatonic or totally insane. Their city, Elantris, stands alongside Kae and is now quarantined, with humans transformed into Elantrians thrown into the city and forgotten about.
The novel follows the storylines of three characters: Prince Raoden of Arelon, who is unexpectedly transformed into an Elantrian and thrown into the city, where he tries to make a better life for the people of the cursed city; Hrathen, the Fjordese priest who has three months to willingly convert the populace of Arelon before a major invasion is launched; and Princess Sarene of Tedo, betrothed to Raoden but now immersed in the labyrinth of Arelese politics.
The novel is fast-paced, and generally entertaining throughout. Sanderson is not going to be winning major prizes for his prose, which is effective but somewhat uninspired in places, with occasional over-reliance on exposition. That said, his ideas and execution of plot are pretty good. Hrathen could very easily have been turned into the 'evil priest' cliche but Sanderson gives him real depth and humanity. And, after reading books where the main characters do very stupid things very frequently, Sarene is a refreshingly canny character, although occasionally this thretens to tilt the other way and turn Sarene into a Kellhus-like character (see Bakker's Prince of Nothing Trilogy) who can read people's intentions just by looking them. Sanderson just dodges the bullet on that one. The lack of any magic in the book for about 85% of its length is also refreshing and, when it does come, it's obvious Sanderson has put some thought into it.
There are some other major problems, though. The ending, although fails to resolve every last plot point, could be described as a bit too neat. And the absolute explosion of 'twists' (some predictable, some not) and an unexpectedly huge amount of magic use in the final part of the book threaten to make the ending implausible and a bit OTT.
Overall, this is an enjoyable 'typical' epic fantasy novel, with some neat ideas and reasonable character development. The prose could do with some work and Sanderson needs to pace his endings slightly better, but overall this is a fun book, and a superior alternative to the likes of Brooks and Eddings. I think fans of JV Jones, Kate Elliott and possibly Raymond Feist would enjoy it. 3/5
Elantris is not published in the UK at present, but US paperbacks are available at Amazon. His second novel, Mistborn (the first of a trilogy), is out in the USA this month.
It's hard to pick out the edits in this book as in the main the story seems the same as the last two times that I've read it.
However, that being said I did enjoy this read more than on previous occasions. I'm not sure whether it's because of changes made to the novel, my more advanced knowledge of the cosmere universe or it's all in my head. Either way, I felt that there was more to like about this novel.
One of my key drawbacks before was the religious format of cycling through the three POV characters. Raoden has always been my favourite character, so any time spent on Sarene and Hratehn always frustrated me. But in this novel Sarene felt a little less overpowering than before and Hrathen less zealous and uncompromising. Whether these were actual changes I don't know but I found this issue to be less of a problem for me on this reading.
The one chapter that did feel like a gift was a chapter with Hoid put right at the very end (literally after all the deleted chapters in the audiobook). I am pretty sure that this was new and I found it to be an enlightening scene about this character that is so central to the overaching cosmere mythology.
Overall this is a hard one to recommend. I really enjoyed reading this newest edition of Elantris. It felt like a much improved story compared to what I have read before. My problem is that I am not sure if this is me or the book as the changes are too subtle to for me to pick out after having only read this book twice before.
However, being as this was a good read anyway and I am always eager to promote Mr Sanderson's works, then I am happy to recommend this book to anyone who hasn't already read at least one version of it. If you've read it before and enjoyed it, then of course give it another go. It might be even better this time round.
on 21 August 2011
This was Sanderson's debut and already here he showed why he is such a wonderful fantasy writer. The book is also different in a way since this is it, there is no series. This book is it and I liked that.'There was an end to it.
Sanderson is a master when it comes to creating religions, political intrigues and magical systems, he just does it so well. His books shines with it and they are a joy to read. The imagination and work he puts in to his stories makes them so much more.
In this story we meet prince Raoden who is tossed into Elantris to die a miserable death and his family proclaims he died from some sudden disease. He is a true hero and loves his people. And now being Elantrian he does his best to help this poor people. Because they are, well zombies in a way. They feel every wound and they seem to be rotting away. When the pain is too much they just lie down and stay like that. The big question is why this is happening since Elantrians used to have power and magic, but then came the curse...
Sarene is the other main character. She comes as a bride but lands as a widow. Still she stays because just as Raoden wants to save Elantrians now, Sarene wants to save her new people and the people back home. She is no scared little princess, she has a keen mind and is not afraid to say what she thinks.
This book is a lot about the political intrigues that are going on in this country and abroad. There is a big bad empire with a religious ruler who wants to take over the world and make everyone believe in his faith. The people in Arelon does believe in the same god, but there are two roads to God, and as we do know people will always find fault in others. Especially when it comes to religious zealotism and here that is truly shown. Because even if Hrathen is bad with his die or convert scheme then there are worse men out there and we meet them. This religion also despises the former Elantrians since they were almost like Gods.
The other part of the political world is the inner turmoil in the country. The Elantrians used to rule but when that broke down the rich took over and created an order where the richest have titles, and the poor are even poorer and in serfdom. It is a system which is crumbling and seems ripe to be plucked by conquerors.
I have already said that I like the magic, politics and religion he creates. But he also creates such wonderful characters to root for, or hate with a passion. And while doing just that you have this dread inside of you, because how can this book end well? Raoden is rotting, Sarene is playing with fire and there is an Empire who wants to crush everyone.
A great fantasy book that I could not put down. I was so immersed in the story and wanted to know what would happen to them all. It is a book I recommend and if you are afraid of long fantasy epics then this one book (even if long) is a great way book for you to start with.
Could not put it down
on 25 February 2016
You can see a couple of places where the story is a little short-circuited to get to a resolution - but the characters are pretty well drawn, and the idea and plot interesting.
For a first novel this is really good, and you can see the makings of the some of the great books and trilogies he has written since then.
on 17 November 2015
So, I heard many good things about Brandon Sanderson and decided to start with his first novel (despite the recommendations of many people online).
I am happy to report that despite this being his first novel, it is rather charming. I won't go too in-depth with this review as I don't want to potentially ruin the plot and because there are many other reviewers here which have provided a long more detailed review.
I will however say that as a newcomer to Sanderson, I am thoroughly impressed with this novel. Considering others regard this as one of his weakest novels as he had not fully developed as a writer, it only makes me more intrigued to see what his latest offerings have in store for me. I am now currently making my way through some of his other books (such as Legion, The Emperor's Soul and Warbreaker) and will soon start on his more popular series Mistborn and The Stormlight Archives.
I am now hooked and don't see any signs of being released. I thoroughly recommend the book and even more so recommend Sanderson.
In the land of Arelon, random people would wake up transformed into shining immortal Elantrians with powerful magic. But ten years ago, the Elantrians suddenly became living corpses, and their once-glorious city became a prison for the afflicted.
The mystery of exactly what happened to the Elantrians hangs over all of "Elantris," Brandon Sanderson's solid but flawed debut fantasy novel. It has a brilliantly complex magical system and an epic interwoven conflict of politics, religion and history, with some genuinely likable protagonists... but it also has some freshman mistakes, as well as an uncomfortable undercurrent to the religious criticism.
Princess Sarene of Teod is shocked when she arrives in her new land of Arelan -- her fiancee, Prince Raoden, has unexpectedly died. And because of an odd clause in their betrothal contract, she counts as his wife even though they technically didn't get married. So now she's a widowed princess with a dead husband she's never seen in person.
However... Raoden isn't actually dead. He's been turned into an Elantrian, meaning he now resembles an immortal zombie who suffers from a never-ending hunger, and will eventually go mad from the assorted small injuries he can't heal from. But he decides to make the best of his imprisonment in Elantris, gathering followers and trying to clean up the filthy, slime-drenched city. And as he studies Elantrian texts, he begins to learn what caused the terrible transformation.
Meanwhile, Sarene finds herself in the middle of political and religious conflicts -- she joins up with some friends of Raoden's in order to figure out if her betrothed was murdered. She also comes up against a devious Shu-Dereth priest named Hrathen, who has been given three months to convert all of Arelon to his religion, or the entire country will be invaded. But she soon finds that overthrowing the king may only be the beginning of the chaos.
One of the best things about Brandon Sanderson's books is that he's an absolute genius at coming up with fantasy worlds and different complicated systems of magic. "Elantris" is no exception, since he slowly reveals some of the magical intricacies of this world -- particularly interesting is AonDor, an alphabet of magical signs (with modifiers!) that are drawn in the air or on objects to cause changes like light, teleportation, healing and whatnot.
The story is mostly split between Sarene and Raoden -- half about Elantris and how it went bad, and half about the crumbling kingdom. Both halves are essentially about a young, pragmatic person trying to restore order and balance to a place that has fallen into ruin (socially, literally, or both). By the end, he weaves together these two stories in a fiery, bloody, epic battle that sprawls across two countries, and keeps throwing shocking twists right up to the end.
Sanderson's writing has some noob flaws here (guess how many times Sarene blushes/flushes), but his prose has a robust, detailed quality that is equally good at the bright and elegant as the bloody and decayed. The middle section of the book tends to drag somewhat, but he keeps things interesting by switching between three different third-person narrators -- Sarene, Raoden and Hrathen -- and juggling their stories as he slowly weaves them together.
His characters are also likable... but flawed. Sarene and Raoden are practically perfect -- she's a politically-adept princess who scared off all the weaker men with her giant brain, brings feminism to Arelon, and is so persuasive that she instantly gets the masses to accept a king who is seen as undead. Raoden is pure-hearted and beloved by everyone, to the point where his paranoid, corrupt father was trying to disinherit him because he was just so awesome.
However, these characters ARE quite likable despite a hefty dose of Mary Sue -- they suffer, they struggle, they take actions they regret, and at times it seems that their cause is lost. And over time, they begin feeling more like three-dimensional people and less like perfect dolls. There are some interesting supporting characters -- the mysterious Galladon, the kindly elderly duke Roial, the roguish cooking-noble Kiin, and especially the conflicted, crafty Hrathen.
Unfortunately... it has an unpleasant anti-Catholic overtone. I doubt it was deliberate, but Sanderson spends a LOT of time talking about how the Wyrn (a single religious leader who is the only one supposed to speak for a monotheistic God) sucks, the assassins and warriors trained at monasteries (no REGULAR monks are ever mentioned) and the backstabbing internal hierarchy of Shu-Dereth... whose gyorns (highest priests) wear bright red. Like cardinals. Subtle.
What's more, they're all evil, wild-eyed fanatics who want to cleanse everything with fire, except for a single character who ends up renouncing his religion. And for some reason, Sanderson goes out of his way to inform us that while other religions are essentially good and at least partially true (the Jesker belief in Dor ends up being pivotal to the story), Shu-Dereth is not only evil, but fundamentally false and based on a pagan belief, and all their scriptures and culture have been lies to cover this up. So... combine this with the emphasis on "pope be bad," and it paints a rather unpleasant picture.
"Elantris" has some hefty flaws -- particularly an unpleasant religious undercurrent -- but not enough to obscure the talent and imagination that Brandon Sanderson has proven over the years. It's certainly worth a read.
on 20 July 2014
Elantis is the first published novel by Brandon Sanderson, who later became famous for being invited to finish the Wheel of Time series, and also for his own later works, including the Mistborn trilogy. I've been reading his works out of publication order, so to me Elantris felt very reminiscent of Mistborn - they share a pattern of female lead character, stratified society, revolution and change.
Sanderson's writing has many strengths, even this early, particularly in world building. Very quickly, he establishes the basis of a fantasy world for his characters to inhabit, and then gradually reveals more and more about it, and in particular its unique magic systems, while leaving plenty of hints that there could be far more to uncover if there were ever a sequel.
The narrative moves at a good pace, keeping things changing throughout, although towards the end the pace is upped quite a bit, and the conclusion almost feels rushed, with a lot happening in the space of a few chapters. The ending also seemed quite abrupt - there's clearly a lot of space to explore further in this world, and it felt like at least a little of that could be done within the novel.
I very much enjoyed returning to something early from Sanderson's canon, and its made me realise again how much I enjoy his writing, and encouraged me to continue catching up with his novels that I've missed so far.
on 28 October 2014
I really enjoyed this as a read. I’ll get straight to it, because you can read the background to Sanderson himself and the plot in any number of other reviews. Any criticism that has been levied at this book seems to be in direct opposition with a lot of the plaudits.
Firstly, this is not part of a trilogy or monolithic series, en vogue for just about every fantasy writer: Sanderson included. It therefore follows that the conclusion will be relatively swift. On this note, I disagree with the 'deus ex machina' criticism comments. Whilst predictable in its resolution (and let’s face it, who really thought Frodo was going to fail on his quest) there are no proverbial ‘rabbits from hats’, and the conclusion is thrilling, at the same time as being satisfying in its simplicity. Sanderson has, incidentally, hinted at an Elantris 2 – but this would not be a linear continuation; so we’re safe…
I’ve never been a fan of ‘balls to the wall’ action. You’ve got to care about the characters; or it’s all a little pointless. Therefore any criticism that this is slow, whilst perhaps at times factually correct, is ill thought out – and dependant on your definition of ‘slow’. Throughout the book the interactions appear genuine and at times ‘homely’. Which, when combined with the political machinations, religious intrigue, and Machiavellian intent of the key protagonists; produces an at times almost Shakespearean dynamic (there is a betrayal and subsequent death that epitomises this quality too). There are a few cringe worthy passages and one liners, particularly towards the end of the book (one cartoonish “well that was unexpected”, before said character passes out, springs to mind). But nothing’s perfect, and it’s hard to stay ‘cool’ throughout a full 600 pages.
Sanderson’s great win however is to create an imaginative and not too outlandish arena for the story. It’s quite tight and insular as you would expect with a standalone: only reference is made to other realms. The portrayal of the ‘dead’ Elantris is the standout imagery, and the details on the inhabitant’s predicament and perils is well thought out and, again, highly imaginative. The idea of never healing in particular did prey on my mind for some time.
The book has an almost fairy-tale quality, as it come full circle on itself to really leave no loose ends or remaining questions. In this respect, it’s just so refreshing to read something that just ‘concludes’.
NB. I’ve literally just started Sanderson’s projected ‘epic’ Stormilight series. I’m so early in that I wouldn’t comment on plot or Sanderson’s supposed maturing as a writer. I have to say though, that in the first 100 pages the writing style and characterisation is very much the same as Elantris. There are a lot of reviews that say Sanderson gets better, and I’m sure that’s the case for the plot, structure, and writing. But if you do not like his style (distinct from writing ‘finesse’) and characterisations, my feeling is that you will not find a substantial deviation from this in his subsequent books (one of the character in early Stormlight basically is Sarene). Please comment if you feel I am wrong in this respect.