Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

So Elantris was recommended to me by two of the most trustworthy people in the entire world—my brothers! (If you can't trust your brothers, who can you trust?) Brandon Sanderson is most well known for finishing the Wheel of Time series after the unfortunate death of the former author, Robert Jordan.
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.
The book starts out mildly interesting, every chapter alternating between each of the main characters—Raoden, Sarene and Hrathen. As the story progresses, however, Elantris turns into an epic tale of mystery, fantasy and magic. Locus magazine once said, "You'll swiftly forget you're reading a first novel . . . this is one heck of a debut!" I disagree about forgetting that it's a first novel, as sometimes it seems very apparent while reading, but I wholeheartedly agree about it being one heck of a debut!

Sanderson draws the readers in, introducing each character so that they make a mark in the readers' brains. At times it seems things could be worded a bit better—which are the signs of a debut novel to me—but as the book continues, your mind will be blown. Numerous times. At least half a dozen times in the book something happens that completely changes the direction the story is going. You thought you knew what was going on, and then everything suddenly changed in a way you couldn't conceive.

Elantris has truly shocked me by all of the culture and worldbuilding that Sanderson put into it. The magic system, the societies and countries, the people themselves, everything intrigued me. Something that made me laugh was the pronunciation guide that Sanderson has on his website—almost nothing is pronounced how I would assume! Truth be told, Sanderson's pronunciations do sound kind of cheesy, but also kind of cool. (You can check out the guide here.)

In conclusion, Elantris is an amazing novel of fantasy. The climax moved a little too quickly at the end and sterilized some of the emotion, but it was a worthy end nonetheless. The "plot twists" that fit everything together in the end are so simple, yet you never even begin to see them coming until they're revealed. I absolutely cannot wait until Sanderson writes his longtime-planned sequel. It may never be written, but I certainly hope it is.

Reuben Horst

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