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

What better way to spend Winter Break than by reading?  I haven’t been doing a lot of it, in light of the fact that I’m taking three literature classes next semester and don’t want to overdo it.  However, I’ve been enjoying some fun, light reads!

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

This book has been on my radar for a LONG time.  It didn’t disappoint.  Rowell creates a marvellous coming-of-age story about Cath, a fandom-obsessed introvert transitioning to college.  I related to Cath on so many levels.  Although my own fan-fiction efforts (culminating in an unfinished novel-length fic and several short one-shots) died out after a few years, I’ve been knee-deep in fandom culture since I was fourteen.  Fangirl is your typical teen-lit novel in many ways.  There’s love, family drama, a weird roommate, and lots about what it means to be a writer.  It’s a fast read and a fun one.

Yulin Kuang, a filmmaker and co-creator of the YouTube channel Shipwrecked, filmed a scene from Fangirl, featuring the incredible Mary Kate Wiles.  Definitely check it out!  (And check out her other videos as well–they’re incredible.)

Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon

This is the fourth massive novel in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series.  Honestly, it was my least favorite.  I understand that one of the great things about these books are the depth of historical content, from larger political events to the tiny details of everyday life… but I thought she got carried away.  The first half dragged.  I think Gabaldon spent too much time with Jamie and Claire.  The Bree and Roger bits, for me, were the most compelling.  I would slog through 200 pages of Jamie/Claire story just to get to the twenty pages about Roger.  I think that the story could have been much stronger and more compelling if she had spent more time developing the younger generation.  Because, when major events began happening halfway through the book bringing all the characters together, I found myself not caring.  Why?  Because I wasn’t invested enough in Bree and Roger to actually care.  All in all, although the story is interesting, the character development was misplaced and underdone and the plot needs MAJOR tightening.  Because this book was so disappointing, it’s going to be a while before I work up the desire to finish the series.

Any Anxious Body by Chrissy Kolaya

Since its release last Spring, I’ve wanted to read this collection of poetry.  Chrissy is a professor at my college and I’ve had the opportunity to take several of her classes.  She was my guide in the basic freshman writing class.  A year ago, I had the opportunity to be in her Innovative Creative Writing class.  The class taught me that I don’t want to write creatively for a living (or for pleasure, for that matter), but gave me a deeper appreciation for those who do.  It’s always fun reading the published work of people you know, and I adored Any Anxious Body.  I’m not much of a reader of poetry collections, so I don’t really know what to say beyond the fact that I really enjoyed the work.

Before Midnight by Cameron Dokey

This is a book I will be re-reading all my life.  I’ve had my copy for about six years and have probably read it at least five times since then.  It’s a quick read–I usually breeze through it in a day or so.  It’s simplistic, easy, aimed at a lower reading level.  But, oh, how I adore it.  If you’ve been with me on this blog for a while, you will know that I adore a good Cinderella adaptation. Before Midnight fits the bill.  It’s simplistic, the characters are pure of heart without being overbearing, and centered on the power of wishes and value of love.  Dokey does a masterful job weaving elements of the fairytale with a story of her own–one that is new, fresh, and engaging.  At the end of the book, Dokey talks about the research that went into her retelling.  She discovered several old versions of the story where Cinderella’s didn’t die, but merely dropped from the story, submissive to the stepmother.  Dokey says, “If Cinderella’s father is still alive, but takes no action to save or protect her, what mights this say about both him and the woman to whom we are all accustomed to assigning the role of the bad guy?  What would happen if I put a father back into the story?”  Other questions I’m sure Dokey asked regarding her adaptation are: What if political intrigue factored into the plot?  What if the stepmother wasn’t cruel?  What if Cinderella’s new family learned to love her?

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Next time I do one of these posts, I’ll be knee deep in academia.  Assigned reading, here I come.