Monday, December 29, 2008

Review: Brandon Sanderson's "Elantris"

Yes, it's one more post about Brandon Sanderson, but please rest assured it will probably be the last for a while as I have now read every book the man's had published. Elantris was Sanderson's first published novel and, though parts of it are a bit shaky, it is overall a very good book.

The introduction on the back cover:

"Elantris was beautiful, once. It was called the city of the gods: a place of power, radiance, and magic. Visitors say that the very stones glowed with an inner light, and that the city contained wondrous arcane marvels. At night, Elantris shone like a great silvery fire, visible even from a great
distance.

"Yet, as magnificent as Elantris had been, its inhabitants had been more so. Their hair a brilliant white, their skin an almost metallic silver, the Elantrians seemed to shine like the city itself. Legend claimed they were immortal, or at least nearly so. Their bodies healed quickly, and they were blessed with great strength, insight, and speed. They could perform magics with a bare wave of the hand; men visited Elantris from all across Opelon to receive Elantrian healing, food, or wisdom. They were divinities.

"And anyone could become one.

"The Shaod, it was called. The Transformation. It struck randomly--usually at night, during the mysterious hours when life slowed to rest. The Shaod could take beggar, craftsman, nobleman, or warrior. When it came, the fortunate person's life ended and began anew; he would discard his old, mundane existence and move to Elantris. Elantris, where he could live in bliss, rule in wisdom, and be worshiped for eternity.

Eternity ended ten years ago."

That's more of a back story than an introduction, I guess, but it provides at least a framework for what the book is about. It revolves around three main characters: Prince Raoden, the happy-go-lucky noble-is-as-noble-does son of a merchant king who wakes up cursed by the Shaod; Princess Sarene, his politically-conniving spinster of a fiancee; and Hrathen, the missionary "gyorn" bent on either saving or destroying the people.

While the most interesting character of the three was unarguably Hrathen (of whom the reader has conflicting perceptions which finally come together in a huge twist in the end), Sarene was also well-written as she creates political plots and leads a small group of noblemen in a rebellion against the king. My only complaint about Sarene is her constantly running internal monologue that goes something like this: "I'm tall and smart and can fence and most women aren't and can't, which is great because I'm a feminist, but no one will ever want to marry me! Why would they? After all, I'm tall and smart and can fence. Will I never have a wedding of my own?" While I appreciate the feminist sensibilities present in the internal battle between being traditionally feminine and being culturally acceptable, the fact that she's very close to the "always a bride's maid and never a bride" sentiment was a bit tiresome after the first four hundred pages. Her evolving relationship from arch nemesis to something bordering on respect with Hrathen, however, more than makes up for her occasional "poor me" moments.

Prince Raoden, on the other hand, left quite a bit to be desired. He is, as one writer describes, "very much a fantasy, a nobleman doing noble things because noble things are the noble way of living a noble life." [1] He's completely two-dimensional and unbelievable, if only because he can see the silver lining on every cloud even after he's become a zombie locked in a ghetto living in constant pain. His motto of hard work curing every ill is a bit Polly Anna even for this Sound of Music fan.

Despite these shortcomings, however, the book was very good. I'd give it a B+ /A- (I'm still on the fence on this one.) I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys the fantasy genre.

(Interested? Here's the google books edition.)

Work Cited:

[1] Abbamondi, Paul. "Elantris - Review." Wistful Writings. http://wistfulwritings.blogspot.com/2007/09/elantris-review.html

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