Book review of Brandon Sanderson’s Elantris
Brandon Sanderson is one of the hottest names in fantasy right now, since he took up the reigns of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series following Jordan’s passing. I’ve already read Mistborn, but I wanted to go back to the start of Sanderson’s fantasy career, and so here I am with Elantris. Elantris came highly recommended to me by the same friend who recommended Tigana a few years back, so I had fairly high hopes for the novel. Elantris is a stand-alone novel, and does a great job of telling a story within one volume.
Elantris takes place mainly in the city of Kae, one of the four outlying cities that surround the city of Elantris. The city of Elantris itself is past its glory days, to say the least. Formerly, all inhabitants of Elantris posessed god-like qualities, coming to individuals who inhabited the surrounding cities in a sudden, transformational process called the Shaod. The novel opens in more recent times, where the Shaod seems to have the complete opposite effect on people: dark, splotchy skin, hair loss, among other various ailments. It is here that Elantris displays a nice social commentary on the effects of various diseases, with the Shaod having some fairly similar qualities to cancer. The magic system in Elantris is similarly as broken as the Shaod: the magic was once controlled by the drawing of symbols, but when drawn now, they hover for a moment in the air, fizzle and die. The city of Elantris itself has even become completely run-down, covered in a thick, slimy grime. It is this bleak scenario that Sanderson paints within the opening pages of Elantris.
The story of Elantris follows three main characters: Raoden, prince of Arelon, Hrathen, high priest of Fjordell, and Sarene, princess of Teod. Royalty and high ranking religious officials can sometimes be tricky characters to pull off; Sanderson does so in Elantris in wonderful form. These are characters that you get to know, feel for, and similar to George R.R. Martin’s work, you’ll occasionally find yourself confused as to who to be rooting for. Absolute quality characterization.
Elantris has similar elements when compared with Mistborn: characters you love, with seemingly unobtainable goals, with undercurrents of justice, truth, and hope. Sanderson is a master of building up what seems like a completely impossible feat, and somehow finding his characters working through it. The idea of a character in a seemingly hopeless situation (in Elantris‘ case characters with a disease that has done everything to kill them but stop them from walking around), but finding hope, and an optimistic view despite all odds is one that I heard refrained in Mistborn, but again is one that Sanderson accomplishes to a resoundingly satisfying effect.
Sanderson mixes in various elements of truth in Elantris, one that I found particularly familiar being the following:
“We have no slaves in Teod, my lords, and we get along just fine. In fact, not even Fjorden uses a serf-based system anymore. They found something better – they discovered that a man will work much more productively when he works for himself.”
Elantris is chock full of little gems like this one.
Elantris is a fantasy novel that gets it right. It moves quickly, contains vivid characters in situations you can relate to, introduces a truly unique and inventive magic system, and underpins the whole thing with themes of hope. The first 500 pages went by quickly, and the last 100 or so were the most entertaining pages of literature I’ve read in a long time. You’ll be doing yourself a disservice if Elantris doesn’t end up on your shelf.
You can purchase Elantris over at Amazon.com.