André's Reviews > Elantris

Elantris by Brandon Sanderson
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's review
Jun 01, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: fantasy

Review in Portuguese here

I'm officially a Sanderson fan. After reading Elantris - the one book both friends and online reviewers say is his worst - and actually liking, I have to admit it. I do agree that ii is not as good as the Mistborn ones, be it because Sanderson was less experienced at the time he wrote it, be it because some of the themes or the plot itself aren't as well worked and explored as I'd imagine. Despite all this, I rather enjoyed reading Elantris, its worldbuilding, the slow revelation of its secrets, whatever was left unexplained, some of the characters, the supporting characters evolution and, as Sanderson has already gotten me used to, the way he has the story oppose worldviews and societies and the characters questioning with no absolute answers provided.

Elantris is also the name of a city where a very powerful magical people lived, randomly transformed from regular humans of the surrounding lands, becoming almost and being venerated as real gods, until something that changed the face of the land 10 years ago left them powerless. Elantrians became zombie-like beings, with no magic, no beating heart or healing capacity, but still no dead nor dying naturally, still feeling and thinking. It is a literal distopia. The book's main plot, or at least the most interesting one, develops within and about this place and Raoden, the prince of Arelon who becomes elantrian and is thrown into it - as society often does with the less liked ones or those who embarrass or scare us - and his unwavering optimism in the face of overwhelming despair around him. Raoden was the character I liked less, though he is a good primer to get to explore some very relevant issues (and not only does he like books, he uses them in problem-solving!).
In Arelon is left Raoden's bride - Sarene, another kingdom's princess - who now believes herself a widow but still becomes the driving force for the evolution of the society and the political system around her, be it in her feminist struggle - unfortunately sometimes too cliché - or in her fight against despotism, serfdom and the proportionality between money and political power. The way she deals with the king, the nobles and the women who allow themselves to be belittled keeps Sarene a very interesting character to follow.
The third axis of the story is the big bad enemy, never missing from a fantasy book. Here the "evil" is represented by an empire centered on a fully hierarchical religion in which every person owes absolute obedience to his immediate superior and so on until the emperor who is the one who speaks with God. In the plot we are acquainted with this enemy intent on world domination through Hrathen, an agent tasked with converting Arelon on a very tight schedule or see it conquered by deadly force on his emperor's orders. His relationship with his religion and his faith makes Hrathen the most interesting of the main characters, despite Sanderson using his chapters for infodump through internal monologues.

The book has two very strong points: the changes and transformations in big groups and tendencies - something that Sanderson seems to accomplish very well all the time - and the evolution of some of the secondary characters, as I stated above.
There will be no real spoilers here, from the introduction it's already obvious we have a conquering force, a struggle between different views on society and a legendary place in dire need of rehab. Throughout the plot, the reader is lead into thinking about monarchy and democracy, about the power of money, about tradition and progress, about community and individuality, about motivation and depression, about preconception and prejudice, about apparent perfection and constant imperfection.

The matter of character development is always relevant to these stories, more often than not its through the evolution, the learning and growth of the main characters that the reader feels he gets something from the book. In Elantris, Raoden and Sarene have little or no transformation, whatever motivates them, whatever they care for, whatever they fear, it is mostly the same by the time the book is finished with them. This may be seen as a weakness to the story, but it doesn't have to. To be honest, these two are the pillars around whom all else happens and that way their constancy ends up making some sense. Hrathen on the other hand has a very interesting evolution. Some supporting characters, touched in one way or another by main characters and events, do change quite a lot and are one of the things I rather liked on Elantris. In real life, though to ourselves we may often feel like the main characters, we are almost always just another fellow and our relation with most things is secondary at best as with these characters. Their relevance is in their actions when it is possible for them to do something of importance (whether they know it or not), not in the fact that a whole plot centres on them for some fate or because all the characters keep looking at them or for them or because they keep being in the right place at the right time with the right skills for the job.

I'll say it again, Elantris is not at the level of Sanderson's other works. There are moments far too crammed into the plot, it lacks subtlety, there are events that seem quite unnecessary, there are clichés I didn't like - how I hate predestined deus ex machina -, there are chapters with more infodump than plot and the prose of more recent books is much more polished. But the positives, particularly for those who, like me, enjoy a story that deals with entire communities, religions, traditions and politics, humanity itself, at the same time as little things are important to each character, easily supersede the negatives. And yes, there are things left unexplained, as I have read often in reviews. On that point, all I can say is deal with it. Such is life, there is a lot of stuff we never really get and sometimes inside stories it's more interesting to deal with the question that having the answer delivered on a platter. As for the rest, well, there is space and time for a sequel, though the story doesn't actually need one, so you might as well wait.

I'd recommend Elantris for big fans of epic fantasy and mainly for Sanderson fans, it is quite interesting to find how he began and to read another entry into his Cosmere.

“To live is to have worries and uncertainties. Keep them inside, and they will destroy you for certain - leaving behind a person so callused that emotion can find no root in his heart.”

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Quotes André Liked

Brandon Sanderson
“To live is to have worries and uncertainties. Keep them inside, and they will destroy you for certain--leaving behind a person so callused that emotion can find no root in his heart.”
Brandon Sanderson, Elantris

Brandon Sanderson
“They tried boiling books, but that didn't work very well."
"I'm surprised they haven't tried boiling one another."
"Oh, it's been tried," Galladon said. "Fortunately. something happens to us
during the Shaod—apparently the flesh of a dead man doesn't taste too good.
Kolo? In fact, it's so violently bitter that no one can keep it down."
"It's nice to see that cannibalism has been so logically ruled out as an option," Raoden said dryly”
Brandon Sanderson, Elantris
tags: humor

Reading Progress

June 1, 2011 – Shelved
April 1, 2016 – Started Reading
April 1, 2016 – Shelved as: to-read
April 25, 2016 – Shelved as: fantasy
April 25, 2016 – Finished Reading

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