Book Review: Elantris
“Elantris” is the very first book Brandon Sanderson ever had published. It has blurbs from no less than Orson Scott Card and David Farland. I went into this book expecting great and wonderful things, a tome oozing with brilliance. Having read it now, I’ll say it was good; I don’t know if it was as good as I expected, but it was definitely worth reading.
It is set primarily in the land of Arelon on the continent (or is it world?) of Opelon. In the heart of Arelon is the looming city of Elantris, once home to a god-like race of beings called, not surprisingly, Elantrians. They once lived openly in the city and interacted with the humans of the nearby smaller city of Kae. They wielded great power through the use of AonDor, a magical form of writing that allowed the Elantrians to inscribe potent symbols in the air or on objects and channel tremendous energy for healing, transportation, and what-have-you. Then, the Reod came and the Elantrians were cast into ruin. They became as walking dead men, bereft of power and unable to die, living a life of truly endless suffering. Against this backdrop is set the political struggles of the nation of Arelon; it is but one of two nations that have not fallen under the oppressive rule of the theocratic nation of Fjordell. Embroiled in these struggles are three individuals. First, there is the much-beloved Prince Raoden, now cursed to live in exile among the Elantrians. Second, is Sarene, his wife through political arrangement who never even gets to meet her husband. Lastly, is Hrathen a devoted servant of the Fjorden Empire, gyorn and high priest.
The book tells the tale of these three individuals and how they interact. Raoden begins all-but-damned, and must crawl his way up from the pit of the now-cursed Elantris to try to salvage what meager existence he can in the city. While he’s busy doing that, Sarene and Hrathen are squaring off in the political arena of Kae, each trying to outwit the other and determine the fate of the nation. It’s an intriguing read, with a lot of good points. Again, like in other of Brandon Sanderson’s books, the magic system is half the fun. I’m familiar with the use of runes and sigils from other works, so it wasn’t unique in that sense; but it was well-developed and handled superbly. I enjoyed reading how Raoden pieced bits and pieces of the system together. My only complaint is that it really didn’t come into play until about the latter third of the book. Prior to that, it was impotent and sterile. Then, when it did come into play, it wasn’t quite as overwhelming as I hoped it would be. Sanderson built it up so much, I was expecting explosions and utter chaos. There was some of that, but I wanted more. I guess I’m too much of an action junkie.
Another problem with the book is that the villains weren’t well-defined. They didn’t really show their stripes until the very end of the book; everyone else was developed fine, but the evil warriors at the end just appeared too abruptly for my tastes. Lastly, I think the climax went on too long. It reached a crescendo and peaked, then Sanderson tried to continue at that level for maybe thirty pages longer than he should have. I mean, he had to, to wrap up all the loose ends, but it detracted from that last final punch the book should have delivered. Still, it was a well-developed world and I liked all the major characters.
Overall, I’ll give the book four stars out of five. Definitely worth reading.
This review was originally posted on Shelfari.com on 9/24/12.