I think it’s no surprise to anyone that is a fan of fantasy novels that Brandon Sanderson is pretty popular. For a good reason too. Writing novels, in general, is surprisingly difficult, and this manages to crank one out almost every year (in between working on collaborative projects, book signings, several podcasts, interviews, and in-house magic the gathering tournaments). As a fan of his work, I’m a relative newcomer to his work, having only picked up “The Way of Kings” in the last year or so.
Now, I’m the kind of guy who goes to bookstores and picks out fantasy novels by their garish cover art (I really love that old, hand-painted style that they used to have). While this has sometimes revealed hidden gems (like when I found Jackpot Capital casino download) they have, more often than not, provided me content fodder for these reviews of mine. “The Way of Kings” was different because I had heard from multiple sources that it was really good, so I figured that I would check it out.
One of the best decisions I ever made.
However, I’m not here to review “The Way of Kings”, or any of “The Stormlight Archive”, or any of Brandon Sanderson’s current, ongoing fantasy series, such as Mistborn, The Rithmatist, The Reckoners, or his Wheel of Time work. Instead, I’m going to be looking at his very first novel- er, in terms of publishing. Apparently, it was the sixth book he had ever written, but he wrote thirteen books in total before a publisher finally got back to him with a positive answer about it. The book I’m talking about is, of course, “Elantris“.
This novel focuses on three main characters- Prince Raoden, his bride-to-be Princess Sarene, and the priest Hrathen who is determined to convert the city lest it is destroyed.
The majority of the plot takes place in the city of Arelon, which is adjacent to the ancient city of Elantris. The Elantrians were once held up as Gods. Their skin was silvery and metallic, and they had powers beyond that of any mortal men. With their magic, they could heal the sick, create light, and, well, do just about anything.
Then it all collapsed. The Elantrians vanished, their city rotted, and the magic was no more. Now, people at random are afflicted with the curse known as “Shaod”- an affliction that turns one into a parody of an Elantian. The skin turns silver but also withers. Any pain inflicted is eternal, and these Elantian’s cannot die, no matter the injury. They simply continue until the minds break from the pain. Such people lie in the streets, moaning and wailing and muttering, oblivious to the world around them. All Atlantians hunger, for food is scarce, and the gnawing in their stomaches is eternal.
Our story begins when Prince Raoden, heir to the throne of Arelon, is taken by the Shard. He, like all the other victims, is locked within the walls of Elantris, and his disappearance is covered up to hide the shame.
So it happens that Princess Sarene of Teod arrives in Arelon to find herself apparently a widow before she ever met her husband. Although Sarene is immediately suspicious, she must, for the moment, hold to the bindings of marriage so that the treaty between the two nations will be upheld.
Meanwhile, Hrathen of Fjorden, a full Gyorn, makes a stark scene by his arrival. As a high ranking member of Shu-Dereth, he’s been tasked with converting the populace of the city within three months by Wyrn, the God-King of the east. Otherwise, Wyrn will send his armies and take the city by force. Hrathen is determined to avoid that outcome at all costs and decides that scapegoating the Elantrians is perhaps just the tool he needs to accomplish such an ambitious goal.
It’s going to be hard to not constantly compare Elantris to the other novels that Brandon Sanderson has written. On the one hand, comparing and contrasting his work against itself is arguably the fairest way to do it. On the other, I want to speak of Elantris on its own merits.
The world that Sanderson puts together here possesses Sanderson’s trademark sense of scale. Events and Places of lands far and wide are mentioned and made relevant to the overall plot. There was a bloody revolution in a faraway land, for which Hrathen is allegedly responsible, and which drives a huge part of his motivation for how he conducts himself throughout the novel.
Arelon, in some ways, feels like a far more grounded version of Mistborn’s Luthadel. While Mistborn’s imagery will always be unique, with its bloodred skies and falling ash, Arelon and Elantris, being far smaller, for some reason, hooked me far better. Perhaps it’s this smaller scale that makes every interaction seem a lot more meaningful. While a novel like Perdido Street Station (written by China Miéville) does a phenomenal job of making its city of New Crobuzon feel immense and imposing, Elantris does the opposite by making everything personal.
The King is the father and father-in-law of our two protagonists. The Elantrians live, literally, right next door. Hrathen preaches on regular streets. While Arelon is far smaller and (arguably) possesses far less character than the magical cities of Luthadel or New Crobuzon, it makes up for it by making the reader care about all the parts that matter. The regular joe-shmoe people don’t exist in some sort of crazy, Millennium-old power divide. They’re in an oppressive system that only arose within the last ten years and actively resent it.
Brandon Sanderson doesn’t bring to life the wildest, most magical worlds I’ve ever read. However, he puts them together with such meticulous care, you can feel them living and breathing. It feels that if you were to put the book down, the little city of Arelon would continue to chug along its own merry little way.
If there is one thing Brandon Sanderson is known for, it’s his magic systems. He wrote the book on the subject- or rather, the article. His rules for magic break down a lot of the philosophies behind how he believes good magic systems should work, the differences between soft and hard magic systems.
Basically, a Hard Magic System is defined by what it can’t do, while Soft Magic systems are only limited by what they have already been shown they can do. Sanderson loves himself a Hard Magic system, and both his Mistborn and The Stormlight Archive are famous for the deeply intricate systems he developed.
This is why I was immensely surprised that Elantris actually goes for what I would define as a Soft Magic System. However, since how the magic works is sort of integral to the plot of the novel, I won’t go into any further details about it. I really like it, though, and although it would probably be hard to write further stories around, I do hope to see it again in the future.
Where Brandon Sanderson really shines, above his magic systems or worldbuilding abilities, is his characters. Each of the main characters is given a really satisfying arc, with wants and desires and aspirations that they strive for above all else. They have their flaws and virtues, their passions, and their ideologies.
For instance, Princess Sarene is probably the best example of this. While she’s a political prodigy, witty, and intelligent, these same traits also push her away from what she desires most: To be loved. Most men find her domineering personality and sharp mind intimidating, and while they may respect her, their eyes often set on others. It doesn’t help that she’s six feet tall and knows how to fence, either.
Hrathen also turns out to be a surprisingly complex character. While he’s completely devoted to his god, Jaddeth, his personal calling to the religion is because of his love for order and systemic hierarchies. While the religion is harsh on non-believers, Hrathen genuinely wants to save people- both spiritually and physically from the Wyrn’s armies.
Raoden, meanwhile, is Prince Charming if Prince Charming was thrown into the Hunger Games and / or The Purge. He constantly moves to help others help themselves, and his charisma and intelligence quickly garner him a following within Elantris. So while Sarene works at the problems from outside Elantris, Raoden races the clock to solve the problems within, before the pain and madness take him forever.
Overall, I think I have to rate Elantris higher than I did Mistborn. I know that would probably upset a lot of people- Mistborn is immensely popular and is completely deserving of its following. However, personally, I found myself liking the characters of Elantris, the city, and the people of this world more than I did Mistborn’s cast. Of course, this comparison is like comparing two slices of pizza. One has pineapple, and the other doesn’t. Neither are bad because pizza is pizza, but they’re different flavors for different people.
Oh, and Sanderson’s short story / novella “The Emperor’s Soul” is set in this world, which is one of the best of Sanderson’s works, in my opinion.
9.5 / 10 I really really think of anything negative to say about it. It’s that good.
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