Apparently, I’m on a Brandon Sanderson streak.
My Rating: 3 / 5 stars
Summary from Goodreads: Elantris was the capital of Arelon: gigantic, beautiful, literally radiant, filled with benevolent beings who used their powerful magical abilities for the benefit of all. Yet each of these demigods was once an ordinary person until touched by the mysterious transforming power of the Shaod. Ten years ago, without warning, the magic failed. Elantrians became wizened, leper-like, powerless creatures, and Elantris itself dark, filthy, and crumbling.
Arelon’s new capital, Kae, crouches in the shadow of Elantris. Princess Sarene of Teod arrives for a marriage of state with Crown Prince Raoden, hoping — based on their correspondence — to also find love. She finds instead that Raoden has died and she is considered his widow. Both Teod and Arelon are under threat as the last remaining holdouts against the imperial ambitions of the ruthless religious fanatics of Fjordell. So Sarene decides to use her new status to counter the machinations of Hrathen, a Fjordell high priest who has come to Kae to convert Arelon and claim it for his emperor and his god.
But neither Sarene nor Hrathen suspect the truth about Prince Raoden. Stricken by the same curse that ruined Elantris, Raoden was secretly exiled by his father to the dark city. His struggle to help the wretches trapped there begins a series of events that will bring hope to Arelon, and perhaps reveal the secret of Elantris itself.
A rare epic fantasy that doesn’t recycle the classics and that is a complete and satisfying story in one volume, Elantris is fleet and fun, full of surprises and characters to care about. It’s also the wonderful debut of a welcome new star in the constellation of fantasy.
This was a quick read. I started on a Thursday and finished it by Sunday. Most of what I had to say in my discussion of Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy rings true here.
Sanderson is massively talented when it comes to world building. His characters tend to be politically minded and the atmosphere he creates is diverse and realistic. I can tell that this is his first published work, though, because although the world is a good one, it could use more depth. I got the sense that all the countries and cultures had differences, but I didn’t quite know what those were. The biggest strength was the allure of the fallen city of Elantris and I enjoyed watching Raoden discover its secrets.
As far as pacing goes, this book could be a lot tighter. At one point, the focus was on rebuilding society within Elantris. At another, it was on overthrowing the king of Arelon. A few chapters later, the massive problem were fighting off the invading religion. Then, suddenly, the characters rebuilding Elantris were doing completely different things. The focus kept changing, which I found distracting. There were also pages upon pages where it felt like nothing was happening.
Although I liked the characters for the most part, they felt a bit too perfect. I’ve noticed Sanderson favors political idealists who have an intrinsic ability to lead and lead well. Raoden and Sarene were like this. They were so good at politicing that they didn’t feel real. They also lacked major flaws. Raoden was more interesting, as an Elantarin, his body couldn’t heal, but couldn’t die. Any scratches or injuries were permanent, leaving him in constant and growing pain. Sarene, though, was really cool, but also boring. She had all the makings of a “good” heroine–outspoken, strong, intelligent, good ad fencing, etc. But she was too stereotypical and really had no weaknesses, unless you count being crap at painting and embroidery. Her struggles mainly came in the form of loneliness–because being so strong and independent isolates you from others. I felt bad for her because she had pinned all her romantic hopes on her marriage with Raoden only to have them shattered. But, besides that, she was difficult to relate with.
Elantris was an enjoyable read, but I didn’t fall in love.