Brandon Sanderson is the hottest thing going in fantasy right now. Patrick Rothfuss might be if he ever released the third installment of the Kingkiller Chronicle, but since we’d all be dead if we were holding our breaths, I’ll stay with Sanderson. I’ve made previous claims to my aversion of series due to the commitment finishing one takes, so his standalone Elantris was an easy choice.
A locus of magic and authority possessed by its occupants, Elantris was once the city of the gods. Now, a decade after their aonic (rune) power has fled—the city is in ruins and the gods turned to wretches. Anyone displaying the mottled stain of Reod (a perverse Elantrian appearance) is considered cursed and cast out from civilization. The three intertwining stories of Prince Raoden, Princess Sarene, and Gyorn Hrathen tell the story of how Elantris fell, the consequences it has wrought, and the eventual hope of its return (or destruction) to bring about salvation.
To ensure I don’t ramble too much, I’d like to make several cogent points and then allow anyone who wants to weigh in do so. That said, this is probably for people who have already read the book. So *SPOILER ALERT* on #5 and #6!:
1) Based on the popular opinion of other works by Sanderson, he is most known for his world building. That is the case here. He creates a diverse civilization and several cultures complete with their own unique religions, politics, and histories.
2) The story alternates between the point of views of three characters. This method told the story more completely—it would be a different story (or the understanding of it would be different if only told from one character’s POV). Despite knowing that, I sometimes felt it made the narrative a little jarring and possibly garrulous. This leads into point number three.
3) I’ve stated on many occasions that few books deserve to be longer than 500 pages. In the case of Elantris, the rule holds. There were places in the alternating point of views where there was little progression in the story (and basically a rehash of what the previous POV character had already understood). My argument is that more crucial elements could have been explained. For this reason I will concede that the page count could have exceeded 500 pages but within those pages greater tension was needed. A disclaimer: I am aware this was Sanderson’s first book, and he’s published about 50 in 13-14 years. If my math is correct, that’s 50 more than I’ve published. So. I get it.
4) Banter. Good banter can distinguish a novel in memory. I still recall lines of delectable quips from previous novels. However, certain banter can make me groan in its hokey childishness. It attempts to channel a kind of teenage awkwardness, but draws more attention to itself as an author trying to channel teenage awkwardness (and not succeeding). This happens a lot.
5) *Possible Spoiler Alert* The Pool. I didn’t have anything against its existence nor that when you threw an Elantrian in, he melted. But then Raoden trips in, and the water is somehow subservient to his will? Still nothing entirely wrong with this. But. Then. What was its purpose? Why did it exist? If there was a sequel to Elantris I would allow Sanderson the grace to explain then. But since there isn’t one (an e-book novella in a completely different part of the world doesn’t count) I’m not satisfied. Even if somebody says “oh well that’s explained in the greater scope of his Cosmere universe,” I retort that such an explanation is insufficient. But I would like answers if you have them!
6) *Possible Spoiler Alert* As Raoden is attempting to use the aons, he discovers that the aons match up with the physical landscape of the world, but an earthquake changed the landscape (creating a large chasm) and therefore changing how the power of the aons is activated. He begins adding in the “chasm” to his aon drawings and minimal power exudes. Then, at the book’s climax, he drags a branch across the landscape—and that somehow makes the chasm more defined to allow the full power of the aons to be used? A couple of things: first, wasn’t the chasm line already there due to the earthquake? And second, how can dragging a branch through the dirt be significant enough to “open” the totality of aonic power? Wheels on a horse drawn carriage could cause the same degree of markings and thus screw up the Elantrian power indefinitely and constantly for all time. What have I overlooked?
Let me end here because I want to make it clear Sanderson is a good writer. He’s a sincere talent in the world of SFF. But, also, I guess wanted more from him. Maybe that’s an unfair expectation, but I’m sticking to it.
3/5 stars (3.5 or higher is a recommend).