Elantris, by Brandon Sanderson
Posted October 5, 2015on:
published in 2005
where I got it: purchased used
Hard to believe I haven’t read any Brandon Sanderson, isn’t it? His name has been a buzzword for quite a while now, I’ve seen more than a few Sanderson read-alongs pop up, the dude is like, everywhere. One afternoon at my local indie bookshop, I asked “got any Sanderson that isn’t in the middle of a series?”, and I came home with a copy of Elantris.
We open with some history of the world, where the god-like citizens of Elantris never wanted for anything, and kept everyone safe. Their magic suffused everything, allowing Elantrians to glow and magical creatures to wander the world. Then something horrible happened, there was a short war, and now the grand city of Elantris sits abandoned. Only those who have no one else to go, those who have been afflicted with the horrifying Shaod disease now live in Elantris.
In nearby Kae, Prince Raoden awaits the arrival of his fiance Sarene. By the time she arrives, the King has already announced the Prince has died of a wasting disease. Sarene can’t go home, so she sticks around, and learns as much as she can about her new family. Also, when can she stop wearing black to mourn a husband she never met? She’s not the only one new to the court. There’s a religious war brewing, and Hrathen, a high priest of Fjordell is on a mission to convert the citizens of Arelon before they can be viewed as heretics.
Told from multiple points of view, the secret that the reader is in on right from the beginning is that Prince Raoden is alive if not entirely well. Afflicted by the Shaod, he now lives in Elantris, among the mad and hopeless. He slowly learns the horrible secrets of Elantris, that no one ever dies, that you don’t need food to stay alive, that injuries never heal – that he’s trapped somewhere between life and death. If he can uncover the not as horrible secrets, he’ll need to do so before he goes crazy.
My favorite character was Hrathen. When I first met him, I pegged him as a religious zealot, an inflexible asshole. true dat. He’s the character that grows the most throughout the story, who pays the biggest price to understand what’s happening around him. Hrathen thinks he’s so smart, and he often assumes he is outsmarting those around him. And well, none of that is true. I didn’t like him as a person, but I looked forward to his chapters, because he’s the one going through the worst emotional anguish.
The magic system in Elantris revolves around something called Aons – representational pictograms whose magical effects can be changed by the size and width of the lines drawn, and of the skill of the person drawing the Aon. Magic is mostly dead in this world, and Aons don’t work anymore, but some people still learn how to draw them as a link to their past. I liked how the names of Aons completely suffused the language. For example, Sarene is from the aon “Ene”, which means clever; the Shaod disease is from the aon “Shao” which means transformation, Raoden is from the aon “Rao”, which means Spirit. Most characters from the geographic region around Elantris have a name that is connected to an Aon, yet the knowledge of how and why Aons work has been lost. I really liked that touch, that we might forget, but language doesn’t.
The worldbuilding was great, the characters kept my attention, i liked the politics, the magic was really cool. I can’t find anything negative to say about this book. And yet, i kept putting it down. I’d read 10 pages, and put it down. I can’t explain why, but Elantris didn’t keep my attention. The pacing was good, not great, I felt some of the intrigue and politics went on a little too long. After the first few chapters, I had a lot of questions about the world, and characters, and plots that had been started, and hoped that those questions would be answered as I continued to read. Very few of them were. I got a lot of details, but I felt like I was getting very little useful information, because much of the magic that was hinted at wasn’t explained, or the details didn’t go anywhere. it was a just fine book! I don’t know why it didn’t work for me. Elantris ends on a conclusionary note, but it screams for a sequel, if only to explain everything that happens in this book.