Fantasy Book Review: Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

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I read this a while back, but I thought I’d dig out this old review because this is one of those books that has really stuck with me in some ways.

Elantris was the first Brandon Sanderson book I ever read. Since then, he has established himself as one of my favorite authors.

Why was I attracted to Elantris?

1. It was a standalone (and not terribly long).
2. The concept was really cool. I mean, who doesn’t want to read about a fantasy city that draws on the legend of Atlantis, but does it in a completely novel way in a secondary world?

This novel is probably the least polished of Sanderson’s efforts. You can tell this was early in his professional writing career. But it’s a great book nonetheless. I was sucked in immediately by the first line of the prologue.

Elantris was beautiful, once.

This captured my attention because of the final word, separated skillfully by a comma to emphasize it. As I read, I immediately wanted to know why it wasn’t beautiful anymore. This is an author doing his job. There’s a mystery here, and that’s one great way of showing tension.

When I got to the first chapter, I was immediately sucked into Raoden’s story. Why? Because of this opening line:

Prince Raoden of Arelon awoke early that morning, completely unaware that he had been damned for all eternity.

This line, although it might be seen as a break in POV, truly grabbed my attention. I didn’t even know who this prince was, but I already felt for him. Being damned for all eternity sucks. A lot. Anyone can feel empathy for a character in that situation. Not to mention, it adds mystery and gets the plot rolling. Working through mysteries is one of Sanderson’s strengths as a writer.

Now, to the rest of the book:

It has been more than two years since I’ve read the book, so I won’t go into incredible detail here. However, I will mention what Sanderson did well (and what he didn’t).

The good:

1. Sanderson created likeable characters. Note that I said likeable. For many readers, Raoden and Sarene are not perhaps the most interesting characters. But I know I liked them, and I wanted to root for them.

2. The main antagonist, Hrathen. He is not perhaps as likeable as the other two main characters, but he makes up for it by being one of the best villains I’ve ever read. I won’t give away too much of the plot, but I’d describe him as a great example of an anti-villain.

3. The setting. The city of Elantris is one of the most interesting settings I’ve ever read in fantasy, and it has really stuck with me. It’s a city where people, taken by a mysterious transformation, are doomed to live out eternity looking hideously disfigured. Not only that, but for every injury they suffer, their pain remains, building until they go insane. It’s a city without order, where gangs rule the day. It’s this chaos that Raoden seeks to correct once he is exiled there.

4. The magic. As you’d expect from Brandon Sanderson, the magic system is intricate, interesting, and integral to the plot (how’s that for alliteration and consonance!). I’ve forgotten some of the details, but I remember the magic, which you discover later in the book, as a great mystery to unravel. Just like the city of Elantris itself.

5. The mystery. As I mentioned above, mysteries abound in this one. The city of Elantris is a mystery. The magic is a mystery. The character of Hrathen is a mystery. Sanderson achieves a well-developed balance of mystery, intrigue, and action that keeps you reading despite occasional rough patches in the writing itself.

6. The action. Through much of the book, you don’t see big battles, but there is one at the end, and it’s awesome. That’s one of Sanderson’s strenghts.

The bad:

1. The writing isn’t as clean as Sanderson’s later work.

2. The pacing is, at times, a little slow (but not terribly so).

3. The “interesting factor” for two of the MCs, as mentioned above.

As you can see, I can’t find much bad to say about this. Elantris is one of those books that has really stuck with me. I loved it when I read it, and I still love it now. It’s not perfect, but it’s a highly entertaining read that every fantasy reader should at least give a chance.

Rating: 9/10

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