Author: Brandon Sanderson
Publisher: Tor Fantasy
Publication Year: 2006
Here we go! We're launching the #YearofCosmere with Brandon Sanderson's first novel: Elantris!
First, a quick summary:
Elantris was the city of the gods. It's inhabitants, the Elantrians, were radiant, god-like beings blessed with wisdom, health, and magical abilities that kept the inhabitants of the surrounding lands prosperous and happy. Then, ten years ago, Elantris fell. A blight swept over the city and its inhabitants turning them from semi-divine into monsters. What caused the blight?
The story follows three heroes whose stories intertwine: Prince Raoden of Arelon, beloved by his people, has suddenly vanished, where did he go? Princess Sarene of Teod was to be a bride and found herself a widow instead, will she survive in her new home? Hrathen is a high priest with the mandate to convert a nation or destroy them, what path will he choose?
Elantris is Brandon Sanderson's first published novel. Long time fans and readers of Sanderson who come to Elantris after having read some of his more well-known series often feel that compared to his other works Elantris falls short in a couple of categories. While it is not the best Sanderson novel out there (it was his debut after all!) It is still a very solid and enjoyable read, particularly for readers who love a good political fantasy or are looking to dip their toes into the fantasy genre.
There are two particular aspects of this book that make it particularly well suited for either Young Adult readers looking to try out Adult Fantasy or for adult readers who feel intimidated by large, multi-tome, multi-thread epic fantasies, but would like to get into the genre. First and foremost is that this book is a standalone (although Sanderson did publish some accompanying novellas set in the same world, they are not necessary to enjoy the story). The plot is not overly complicated, following only three distinct story threads, which follow the three main characters. These threads eventually cross and the reader oftentimes views the same event from the point of views of two or more characters which keeps the story engaging as the readers witness the political machinations of each character.
Secondly, the magic system is both ingenious and easy to follow. On his website Sanderson writes about the differences between 'soft' magic that is nebulous, not defined and leaves readers with a sense of wonder without quite comprehending how or why magic occurred (think Tolkien) and 'hard' magic which is defined by hard and fast rules about when and how it can be used (think Asimov). In Elantris, Sanderson's magic system falls between the two. The book's glyph based system is one of the more unique aspects of the book and through it we can see Sanderson's early development of intricate rule-based magic systems which would become his signature in the fantasy world in his books to come. The way in which the magic system is used and how it ties the story together was absolutely delightful. Sanderson's logical resolution using his magic system will satisfy readers who might have a harder time suspending disbelief for more hand-wavy magical solutions. Sanderson's evocative yet clear writing style also makes it easy for the reader to follow along and not get bogged down in flowery language.
There are two aspects of the story that I found were not quite up to par with Sanderson's other works. The first was the character development. Prince Raoden and Princess Serene are both delightful characters, strong leaders, witty and principled with excellent banter but overall static. Hrothen was by far the most complex of the three characters, the ending provided a big twist to his story line. Unfortunately his was also the least captivating of the three story lines throughout most of the book.
The second aspect that I found a bit lacking was the uneven distribution of tension throughout the story. Despite the initially tense premise set up in the first two chapter, the plot seems to lack urgency for the first half of the book. This did not necessarily make the plot boring but some of the minor obstacles faces by the characters had conveniently easy resolutions which deflated the sense of danger. Luckily, the tension picks up in the later half of the book and the last chapters are truly cinematic and gripping. It was like watching an epic scene from the Lord of the Rings where you can't tear your eyes from the screen or in this case, the page. Seriously, The ending is absolutely action packed and phenomenal and certainly worth the build up but it just takes you a little time to get there.
Overall this is a fun and engaging political fantasy novel and I definitely recommend it! Even though it is not Sanderson's best, it is still a strong and unique stand alone fantasy novel and a great literary appetizer if you will, into Sanderson's work. Bon Appetite!
For those of you who are curious I have linked Sanaa's video review of Elantris here. I always find her reviews to be very thoughtful and fun to watch. make sure to check out her other videos as well!
The Hope of Elantris is a short story published by Sanderson in 2006, six years after Elantris was published. The story takes place after the ending of Elantris and features a flash back to some events that were took place during the denouement of Elantris. It is available for free on Brandon Sanderson's website along with some annotations by the author explaining the background to the short story's orgin. The story is a short and fun revisit to the world of Elantris. It is not necessary to read this story to fully enjoy Elantris but it is a nice bonus. The story also contains major spoilers for Elantris so I don't recommend reading it before you read the book!