Since I began attending university three years ago, I’ve not only realized the value of analyzing why I do and don’t like a book, but the value in sharing those thoughts, too.
I believe writing these book reviews to be a necessary part of my author journey. That is, I mean to achieve a higher understanding of what works and what doesn’t, how the industry has changed over the years, to refine my personal likes and dislikes, as well as look deeper at many writing mechanics employed in storytelling.
In the future, I’ll discuss more about how writing these reviews affects me as a writer. But for now, I’m just working on writing relatively spolier-free thoughts on different books.
I hope to help you find more books that you’ll like, too.
Now… onto the review.
I’m going to start out by acknowledging that this book is fourteen years old and Brandon Sanderson’s debut. I have read other books of his that I enjoyed much more than this, and that’s not me saying that I didn’t like this book. There were wonderful aspects of it that thrilled me, but they were often overshadowed by the mountain of other issues that rose to the surface.
Elantris was the city of the gods. The very stone used to create the city shone with the white inner glow of magic, shared by the godlike Elantrians who inhabited it. These Elantrians, created by a phenomenon known as the Shaod, were long-lived and the only ones who could access the magic of the Aon Dor.
But ten years before the story begins, the Reod destroyed the beauty of Elantris. It lost its magic, as did the Elantrians, and they turned into husks of their former selves. Arelon all but collapsed with the disappearance of magic and the Elantrians.
The story begins when the Prince of Arelon, Raoden, is taken by the Shaod. But for the last ten years since the Reod, the Shaod has been a curse, not a blessing.
There are three rotating POVs in Elantris, Prince Raoden being one of them. The prince, however, is a mary sue.
He is quite literally perfect in every regard. Not only is he handsome, royal, politically savy, intelligent, and near unreasonably optimistic, he opposes just about everything his father (who just about everyone hates) does. This includes the wealth-based title and ranking system, creation of a peasant class that borders slavery (where before it was essentially Elantrian or non-Elantrian), and his decision to maintain a country without a significant military force.
Despite this, I enjoyed most of Raoden’s journey in search of a “cure” for Elantris, his discovery of the Aon’s power, and his fight to save his country from his father (and later other forces). Many of my issues with his mary sue-ness didn’t come until the conclusion of the book, which had me decided that he had little-to-no character development through the whole book, even though he was successful in his journey and overcame the difficulties set out before him at the beginning.
I think I preferred Galladon to Raoden, really. He was an excellent character, as were many of the side characters such as Dilaf, Kiin, Roial, and Lukel.
In comparison to the “witty and brilliant” Sarene, Raoden didn’t annoy me that much.
Seriously, I don’t know how many times I wanted to throw this book at a wall because of how frustrating I found Sarene. I would classify Sarene as a mary sue as well, if I’m being honest. Although I believed she was far from perfect (in a bad way), she was portrayed by just about everyone in the book as being perfect as Raoden, with her only real flaws being that she was too tall and “too witty and smart” to attract a husband.
It’s not much of an exaggeration to say just about every decision she made throughout the book was awful, selfish, or petty, and she caused more trouble for no good reason. I think all she accomplished was make things worse for Arelon, and she certainly wasn’t an enjoyable POV to read. Don’t even get me started about her pettiness when it came to “helping” the Elantrian’s during her Widow’s Trial.
I WANTED to like Sarene. I really did. But I felt like this book might have been significantly better if her POV had been replaced by someone else or if the story had focused more on the conflicts between Hrathen and Raoden.
Hrathen, on the other hand, was quite interesting… until the moments surrounding the climax. His POV was probably the least engaging at the start, but as my annoyance of Sarene and Raoden grew, I was constantly looking forward to Hrathen’s story. The dynamic between him and Dliaf, another priest, was wonderfully done. It was always unexpected what might happen next between them and how they might overcome the other.
I especially enjoyed his inner conflict involving his faith and his eventual redemption. He, unlike Raoden and Sarene, felt flawed and real. He wished to do good even though the demands of his religion were brutal, even if his methods were less-than-ideal. Ultimately, his goal was not necessarily to convert people to his religion as was expected of him, but to save people from a horrible fate, or at least give them the chance to save themselves.
For me, although I loved most of his story, that experience was soured at the ending because some things just didn’t make sense. Particularly some decisions made because of certain affections held for a certain annoying woman.