WIR #31: Elantris

ElantrisSanderson, Brandon. Elantris. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC. Copyright © 2005 Brandon Sanderson.
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Elantris, a city of gods that fell 10 years prior, is now dirty, grimy, covered in muck, and its inhabitants, who cannot die, feel the pain of every wound they have endured since the city's fall. Prince Raoden, son of the King of Kae, engaged to Sarene, daughter of the King of Teod, is overcome by the Shaod, a process that turns a person into an Elantrian. He is therefore banished to Elantris before he and Sarene even meet for the first time.

The story evolves around several characters, Raoden, Sarene, and Hrathen, a Fjorden priest. Raoden, now in Elantris, looks to transform the city in an attempt to give it some of its lustre back, even if it is a faded glory. Sarene, because of her marital contract, is bound as Raoden's wife, although he is now considered dead. She suspects something is wrong, however, and desires to know what really happened to the man she never married. Hrathen is on a religious quest to conquer Kae and Elantris through evangelism.

An otherwise decent fantasy novel, I couldn't honestly give Elantris 5-stars for several reasons:

First, Part One of the novel, which takes up little more than half of the book, develops steadily, but rather slowly, trying the reader's patience. The pace picks up measurably beginning in Part Two, and then turns into a mad rush in Part Three (more on this in a moment).

Second, Hrathen's quest is to convert the city/nation of Kae to his faith, and his goal is to accomplish this within three months. Simply put, the idea of converting an entire nation (or even an entire city) from one faith to another in only three months is laughable. The Protestant Reformation, to use just one historical example, took fifty years! While I can understand the idea of telescoping the time-frame, three months is ridiculous.

Third, the love story between Raoden and Sarene, when the games between them finally end, becomes grotesquely mawkish. I've seen this happen in more than one fantasy novel. Although Sanderson didn't stoop quite this low, the last thing I want to read in a novel is two lovers spewing "I love you" endlessly. It's adolescent.

Fourth, although I thought the "rune" rooted magical system of the novel rather inventive, I have a major beef with just about every novel in the fantasy genre. In the real world, there are different countries with different cultures and different religions. Most fantastic novels (I include SF in this criticism) fail to capture this. Jack Vance's novels do a laudable job of it, as does Tolkien's LOTR, and more could stand to learn from their examples. Now, my point: While I can understand a novel focusing on the one particular magic system of a given culture, why must every novel that comes out of the fantasy publishing mill assume a world with only one magical system? That's hardly what I'd call verisimilar.

Fifth, Part Three of the novel accomplishes its pace and tension with quick cut scenes. While that can be extremely effective, it can also be bloody annoying. This technique involves a skill that I'm sure is not easily mastered. While Sanderson accomplishes his goal, he does so with the clinking of plot machinery quite visible.

In sum, for a debut novel, I think Elantris is a solid read, if you can manage to weather Part One.

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