Book Review: Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

05

SEPTEMBER, 2019

Elantris book cover, taken from Goodreads.

Although I’ve read hundreds of books, I haven’t often taken the time to write a full review of any of them. That was never because I didn’t care about the books I read… I’d just never really wanted to share my thoughts.

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.

Elantris

2.5/5 stars.

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.

 

The Premise

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.

The Characters

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.

World Map of Elantris, first edition. Taken from Brandon Sanderson’s website.

The World

For the most part, I enjoyed the world that Elantris took place in. I lived for more details about Elantris, the magic, and how the structure of Arelon collapsed when the Elantrians lost their power, and how people recovered after that disaster.

However, I felt like I didn’t get much substance from the other countries involved in the story. There were some locations that it didn’t make much sense to go into lots of details about, such as Jindo, which was far removed from the plot. But places such as Duladel, Fjorden, and Teod, which did play a role in the overall plot, still felt… lacking. Like they didn’t feel real in the same way as “Old Elantris” which was given so many intricate, wonderful details.

For example, all I remember about Teod is that it’s a small country with a large naval fleet. Or is it an island? And it’s Princess Sarene home. I know that the people of Duladel are an overly happy and optimistic people, and their government was overthrown by Fjorden and the Shu-Derethi religion.

I think it’s especially important to note that I don’t remember much about Fjorden besides how they’re a religious Empire engaged in a holy war against the Korathi religion, and that’s part of why Hrathen is in Arelon. A bit about the structure of their religion and how it operates across their empire. Oh, and the Dakhor monks, which are cool.

But the actual countries in that empire? Nothing.

Maybe that’s just me, though. I could have missed key details that would have made these places more lifelike because of my frustration with the characters.

The bulk of my complaints about the world actually rest in the place we were most familiar with throughout the story… Kae. The ruling system, wealth-based ranks and titles, lack of military force, etc. didn’t make much sense at all. I’m glad, at least, that several characters made a point of pointing out how unsustainable it was. I just can’t say I really believed the logic that allowed it to exist in the first place.

Mostly, though, I wonder why the working/peasant class even allowed themselves to be oppressed. They had lived under the glory of Elantris for years, always had enough food to eat, were protected, lived in happiness. Though Elantris had fallen ten years before the book started, that isn’t enough time to completely erase that status quo from living memory.

It wasn’t like the merchant class, that took over the government after Elantris’ fall, could have done much against an uprising. They didn’t have much of an army to speak of. No magic. So why did they stand to be treated as slaves and starved for ten years? It didn’t make much sense to me.

10th Anniversary Edition of the Elantris map, taken from Brandon Sanderson’s website.

The Story

I much enjoyed most of the story through Hrathen and Raoden’s eyes.

However… it upset me that Raoden spent all this time working really hard to discover the secrets of Elantris and the Aonic magic, the missing pieces to the puzzle, etc., only to have most of that effort off-set by other characters throwing in key bits of information at opportune moments.

Although, in the end, Raoden was the one to implement those ideas and put it all together… it felt as though most of his effort was wasted. And we only really got to witness like 3 or 4 Aons in practice. Still, Raoden’s journey navigating Elantris and the mystery of the city and its magic was quite compelling and kept me reading despite many of the books other flaws.

Unfortunately, my annoyance of this plus his mary sue tendencies won in the end. It didn’t help how, when Raoden had a real chance to be the one to solve the mystery, the right information came to him in a vision in a very deus-ex-machina fashion. At least in my opinion. That erased any potential excitement I might have felt at him fixing everything.

I adored Hrathen’s redemption arc and, for the most part, his contributions to the overall story involving Elantris. His relationship with Dilaf, Wyrn, his religion, and sometimes even Sarene had me rooting for him until the end. I wanted HIS story to be successful, no matter how that affected the other characters. I’m glad that he achieved his goal by the end, even though some of the details didn’t make much sense in the climax.

Sarene, on the other hand, I feel as though she didn’t contribute much. Sure, she had the opportunity to reveal a couple important bits of information… at the result of literally nearly destroying the whole country she was living in and trying to save. If she hadn’t been so petty and thoughtless in her actions, maybe I would have been more invested in her story. But as is, I could have heard about her craziness from the perspective of another character and I would have been satisfied.

There were many other details about the story that I didn’t like as well (Hrathen’s potions were cool once, but twice?), Ahan’s idiocy, and more, but they felt minor in comparison to the rest. But they did pile on my patience for the story as well.

Conclusion

 

I don’t really think Elantris was a bad book. There were more than enough aspects of it that kept me going until the end, and I have certainly read worse. And having read other books by Sanderson in the past, this doesn’t turn me off of reading more of his books in the future. I just don’t really think it lived up to the expectations I had when going in, which I had already lowered knowing it was his first book and rough around the edges.

But it’s not something I’d really recommend, either.

Have you read Elantris? Do you agree or disagree with my thoughts? Leave a comment below!

—Erynn

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