On the Shelf: Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

Apparently, I’m on a Brandon Sanderson streak.

My Rating: 3 / 5 stars

Summary from GoodreadsElantris 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.

My Thoughts:

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.

Check out my On the Shelf page for more reviews and stop by my post on Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy as well!

On the Shelf: Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson

It’s been far too long since I’ve read a fantasy trilogy.  Brandon Sanderson’s name seems to be cropping up everywhere lately–from fellow bloggers to my brother.  After poking around his different work on Amazon, I settled on the Mistborn Trilogy.  (My main motivation was that I could buy all three in a package on my Kindle for relatively cheap.)  I feel weird lumping three books into one post, but don’t have time to discuss them individually.

I actually finished the third book last night and DANG. What an ending!

  

Summary from Barnes & Noble: Brandon Sanderson, fantasy’s newest master tale spinner, author of the acclaimed debut Elantris, dares to turn a genre on its head by asking a simple question: What if the hero of prophecy fails? What kind of world results when the Dark Lord is in charge? The answer will be found in the Mistborn Trilogy, a saga of surprises and magical martial-arts.

Rating: 4 / 5 stars

My Thoughts

I realize that the summary isn’t very helpful.  I usually use summaries from Amazon or Goodreds, but there just weren’t any good ones out there.

The first thing I can say about this series is that it hooked me immediately.

This is my first exposure to Sanderson, but it didn’t take long to see he is a master at world building.  These books take place in an empire where the ash falls from the red sky, plants are brown and shriveled, and the land is covered in mysterious mist at night.  The majority of the population, known as skaa, are enslaved by the mysterious Lord Ruler and oppressed to the point where they don’t even try to fight.  Until one man, Kelsier, “snaps” and discovers he has the powers of a Mistborn.  Mistborns can consume and burn metals in their stomachs, which results in a bunch of super cool powers.  Despite impossible odds, Kelsier has had enough of oppression and assembles a team of thieves and begins a plot to overthrow the Lord Ruler.  Along the way, he recruits Vin, a young, distrustful street thief and fellow Mistborn.

As I said, Sanderson’s world building is fascinating.  The whole feel of his universe is so foreign that it’s compelling.  As the series goes on, he reveals more about the world’s history, religion, and systems of magic.  It’s all very well developed and engaging. Sanderson is also an excellent planner. He inserts seemingly insignificant details early on that frequently become huge plot points.

For the most part, the narrative structure is a little slow, but solid.  Hundreds of pages of exposition pass that aren’t uneventful, but not necessarily important.  Sanderson builds his story brick by brick and delivers a smashing climax.  Once you reach the last hundred and fifty pages, you can’t put the book down.

Although I am deeply attached to all the characters, the biggest weakness of these books is that the emotional components fall flat.  We know that certain characters have chemistry, but I rarely FELT it oozing through the pages.  I wouldn’t go so far as saying interactions feel forced, but they certainly lack depth.  Even in the poigniant, significant moments, the dialogue is lacking.

What Sanderson lacks emotions and dialogue, he more than makes up for in action scenes.  The series is filled with satisfying fights, chases, and show-downs. 

As a reader, I’m usually hard to surprise.  With most books, movies, and television shows, I can see the ending a mile away.  These days, just watching a trailer or reading the back of the book tells me exactly how the thing ends.  This trilogy didn’t shock me at any point, but it definitely kept me on my toes!  Each chapter had me wanting more, wondering what would happen next.  Sanderson frequently flips the tables–taking actions we perceive as good and twisting them. By the third book, he had me eating out of his hand, second-guessing everything. This doesn’t happen often and, boy, what fun it is!

One of the salient themes throughout these books is power.  When dealing with overthrowing empires and re-establishing rule, lots of questions are asked.  What makes a good ruler?  Where is the line between giving people power and taking it for the greater good?  Do people prefer enslavement because it’s easier?  Can people even rule themselves effectively?  Lots of politicking goes on and one thing Sanderson makes very clear is that, despite an overarching battle between the polar forces of Prosperity and Ruin, there is no black and white.  Even the most honorable characters are proved hypocrites–which I love. Other important themes include love and trust. One of my favorite characters is a man named Sazed, whose job is collecting and keeping safe the history of hundreds of dead religions. Through Sazed, Sanderson explores the importance and role of faith.

Overall, I REALLY enjoyed this series. I’m a big fan of well told stories and these books fit the bill! They’re excellent brain candy.  I’ll definitely be reading more of Sanderson’s work in the future.

You Will Like This Book If You Enjoy: Fantasy, engaging stories, world building, magic, action.

I believe this is from the Brazilian edition of the series. Source: Google images.