Thursday, September 16, 2010

Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

I love fantasy. I was about 8 years old when my dad read me The Hobbit, and around 12 when I finished my first read through The Lord of The Rings. Ever since I have sought out and enjoyed many fantasy series. In one year, I read 60 fantasy books, 40ish being my average. However, lately my fantasy reading has stalled, I have found very few new and worthwhile fantasy authors, and have read so much of the genres back catalogue over the past 15 years that I feel like I am caught up, waiting desperately for something new and exciting to come out. That feeling has dropped me out of the fantasy mainstream for the past couple of years, and I have instead been reading academic history and politics books in order to round out my education. It is rapidly approaching time for me to graduate college, and with a light semester upon us I have been searching high and low for new and interesting fantasy to read. Poseysessions introduced me to Brandon Sanderson and Elantris.

I will jump right in and say Ioved I Elantris, it was the best, and most original fantasy novel I have read since Michael Moorecock's tales of Elric of Melnibone. Sanderson writes with a dry narrative style that allows the stark reality of his world penetrate the reader imagination. Elantris is refreshingly free of flowery embellishment, or sappy emotional overtones. While the characters in the story suffer, it is a dignified, humble suffreing that shines through in Elantris. Along with a masterful use of the invisible style, Sanderson is a genius worldbuilder. Because Elantris is a standalone novel it made sense that Sanderson did not bog down the story with unneccesary details about the world. Arelon and Elantris are wonderfully portrayed, as theya re the focus of the story. The rest of Sanderson's world feels real and definite, each culture is explained well inasmuch as it affects the story at hand.

The Magic in the story is one of the biggest assets to the book. Sanderson created a magical system that is based in reason, yet remains mystical. The payoff regarding Elantrian magic is simple and that simplicity lends credit to Sanderson's imaginitive process. I thoroughly enjoyed Raoden's discovery , especially because Sanderson made the magic based in notions of science that allowed me to solve the problem regarding AonDor pages before the main character. This is consistent with Sanderson's view that magic in his books is always based in the natural laws of the worlds he creates. As a reader I appreciate the fact the there is no Deus Ex Machina in Elantris. It makes the reader (me) feel like Sanderson is an author who has faith in my ability to reason.

Elantris was not a book without its shortcomings. For a fantasy book I felt it suffered from a lack of action, especially a climbing story arc. The first 500 pages felt like a continuing arrangement of point counterpoint by the Sarene and Hrathen. The only point of view that seemed to have a rising storyling was Raoden's and even that was broken midway through the tale, only to be restored later on. The climax finally came in the last 10% of the book, yet it felt totally unconnected to the previous pages. Sanderson end-loaded the book, a huge chunk of the movement of the story happens after page 500. There are very few "carrots" for the reader in the first three quarters of the book, and without story movement, or action, the reader is left with (the very well written) political intrigue. Which was more than enough for this reader to fall in love with Elantris.

My final gripe with the book was the lack of character depth, while I did grow fond of Hrathen, Raoden, and Sarene, I felt the latter two lacked depth and cahracter development, there were both very one note. Hrathern, however, was extremely well written and developed, his inner struggle was a point on which the story hung for me, that along with the mystery beind him made constantly wonder how he would turn the tale.

Elantris was a good, bordering on great fantasy read, while I did have a few technical gripes with the story I felt myself slowing down my reading as I reached the end, soemthing that is common for me when nearing the end of a book I love. I just do not want it to be over. I wish Elantris was a series and not just a standalone novel. I am impressed that Sanderson fit so much lore and intrigue into a single volume, especially for a debut work. It speaks to Sanderson's place among the top tier talent of fantasy writers.


Kailana said...

This sounds really good. I will have to look and see if I can get a copy!

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