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!

23 insights into judging speech

Speech kids, listen up.

I was on the Speech team all four years of high school.  Now that I’m graduated and well into my college years, part of me has held onto my Speech kid background.  How?  I moved from a competitor to a judge.  Instead of being the person talking to walls, I’m the lady with the folder that everyone fears.  When I enter the room, the chatter immediately hushes and the air brims with awkwardness.  As I scribble on critique sheets, I can almost hear the speaker’s thoughts: “Oh gosh, she’s writing.  Why is she writing?  She hates it.  She’s going to give me a terrible score.  Oh gosh.  Why did I think this was a good idea?”

Frankly, I love judging.  It’s all the perks of high school speech with more down time, no stress, and (best of all) FREE HOMEMADE FOOD.  Not to mention the fact that I get paid to do what I love.

Speech judges don a particular mindset when walking into rounds.  Consider this a glimpse of that mindset: a sneak-peek into what’s going on in our minds as we scribble away on your critique sheets.  Keep what I say in mind next time you’re at a speech meet–you never know when it could help!

So… here we go.

  1. Judges want to like you.
  2. Negative critiques do not mean your speech was bad!  It just means there’s room for improvement.
  3. We want you to improve!  We want to see you push your performance to be the very possible best!
  4. First impressions are everything.  Within the first minute of your speech, we pretty much already have you placed.  So make a good first impression.
  5. Speak with energy!  Be bold and confident–if you look like you are excited about what you are speaking about, we will be too!
  6. Don’t hold your script in front of your face.
  7. If you’re in a performance category, utilize characters.  Please.
  8. In addition to the above, make your characters as over-the-top as you can.  There’s nothing worse than flat characters.  Make them dynamic!  Even if it’s uncomfortable and you look ridiculous, GO BIG!
  9. If you’re in Prose, stop being in Prose.
  10. If you really have your heart set on being in Prose, please pick something innovative.  If I have to sit through another selection from The Lovely Bones or A Child Called It, I’m going to punch someone in the face.  (Okay, I’m  hyperbolizing a bit.  But still.  Do something original.)
  11. Also, Prose kids–that weird calm, soothing tone you all adapt during narrative portions of your speech?  Don’t do it.  You all sound exactly the same and it makes it hard to tell you all apart.
  12. Negative critiques do not mean we hate you.  They mean that we want you to improve!  We are trying to be helpful!
  13. If you’re in Great Speeches, PLEASE use a rhetorical method more original than Aristotle’s stylistic proofs.  I’m sick of hearing about ethos, pathos, and logos.
  14. Other cool rhetorical methods include Bitzer’s Rhetorical Situation, Metaphorical, Feminist, etc.  Do your research.  There’s so many cool ones to choose from!  (And no, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is NOT a rhetorical model.  So don’t use it.)
  15. Also, while on the subject of rhetorical models… please use them correctly!
  16. If you’re in Info, don’t do your speech on a disease.  It’s so boring.  And, please, don’t explain at the end that a family member suffers from said disease.  Yes, this sounds awful.  But it doesn’t further the informativeness of your speech and just makes it cheesy.
  17. If you’re going to pick a stupid, unoriginal topic in Info, be creative about it.  I once saw a girl do a speech on flowers and she talked about how they were used in ancient cultures and it was super interesting!
  18. Poetry kids–for goodness sake, pick something good.  None of this sappy contemporary nonsense.  Let’s see some Tennyson!  Bring out the Whitman!
  19. If you’re in Creative, make sure your script is well written AND well-performed.  You can do an amazing performance, but if the script sucks, you’re screwed.  And vice versa–if your script is amazing, but you can’t pull it off, you’re not going to do well.  Balance is key.
  20. Please, please, please DO NOT TALK BETWEEN SPEECHES.  Or eat.  Or text.  Or make weird noises.  Or do anything that isn’t sitting quietly and patiently.  Between speeches, we judges are trying to gather our thoughts and give last-minute comments.  Don’t be distracting.  It’s really annoying.
  21. Don’t sass the judge–especially when their back is turned.  Contrary to what you may think, we CAN hear you and we hold the power.  We can (and might) dock your score for rudeness.
  22. If we rip your piece to shreds on your critique sheet, it’s only because we care about you and want to push you to be the very best!
  23. Speech is fun.  SO HAVE FUN!

Also, if you think awards ceremonies are boring now… wait until you become a judge.  They’re ten times worse.