Elantris by Brandon Sanderson. Now this is a re-read for me, but it has been probably seven or eight years since I first read it, so it almost felt like a new book to me (though I knew the destination, I forgot most of the twists and turns).
Told in the POV of three characters – a prince of one land, a princess of another and a high priest of a third – the story is about the fall of the great city of Elantris and its godlike people. Ten years prior to the story, the great city was broken and everything was thrown into chaos, you know, pretty normal stuff in the fantasy world. The Elantrian people were gods and normal people could become gods themselves when this magical happenstance came about them. Well, we all know that wouldn’t make for a good story, so a great destruction came to Elantris and the people were no longer gods, but deadly corpses that walked and talked like normal, though they are mighty hungry (not zombies though, get that out of your head ASAP!) So fast forward to the start of the book and the prince gets lucky and undergoes the transformation, he is thrown in Elantris and must find a way to survive. The princess, from that second place, was coming to prince’s home to marry him, but since he was “dead” she is stuck due to a tiny line at the bottom of their contract binding the marriage. Thus she makes it her goal to stick her nose in all things politics and help reform the country, because the king is a moron. The high priest comes from a warlike empire and is given three months to convert the country before they are destroyed. The princess and the priest spar quite often in public and consider themselves friendly adversaries. In the end, the priest is betrayed by his empire and the prince discovers the truth about how Elantris fell, fixing it. A big battle ensues and the prince becomes King and marries the princess, the priest has a heroic moment and all live happily ever after – well not all of them, gotta have someone die for the drama to be worth it…
What isn’t to say about Elantris? For Mr. Sanderson, this was his first major published book and to be honest, I don’t know if there is a topper. This is a stand-alone book and it sure does stand alone, but it has so much depth and creation in the world that it is stunning. I wouldn’t say it is a perfect book, but it is certainly damn well close, in my humble opinion.
The history, the languages, the religions, the politics, the robust characters are so amazingly crafted that it gives this aspiring author the want and need to emulate it. Each land is so well-crafted that you feel there. The conversations of the people are excellent and human. The religions are deeply thought out, but not extremely described which is perfect for a religion – there needs to be some mystery. The magic system is flawless and original, but it doesn’t take away from the real heart of the story – the characters.
Each character is perfect. Raoden, the prince, is thoughtful, energetic and compassionate. Even when struck with this disease, he tries to help the cause. Sarene, the princess, is clever, tactful and deep. She comes to care for a country she has no knowledge of only because she sees it as sport and duty, but then as hers. Hrathren, the priest, starts out as a holy ass, but he is beset by the tempting of all religious people, the question of why do you believe? His arc starts out as hateful and scornful, but he becomes an anti-hero toward the end, one that you will root for.
This is almost nothing too bad, but it was somewhat annoying: each character gets a chapter, then the next, then the next (Raoden, Sarene, Hrathren in that order) and it doesn’t switch up until the final few pages. Though this tactic largely works, sometimes the chapters feel tedious and unnecessary, just to keep the order going. It felt like some chapters (only a page or two) were just there to keep it up and they could have been cut or re-arranged.
Another nitpicky thing was the length of the book. For a first time book and stand-alone, this book was over 600 pages in paperback. While it tied up nicely, some of the middle was a bit long-winded, especially the political backstabbing and patriot acts. They were interesting, but could have been shortened.
Things I want to use in my writing:
Like all writers, I want to be successful and this book has a ton of things that I need to “steal” and incorporate into my writing. 1stly, I need to follow how Mr. Sanderson forms dialogue between his characters. Each sentence is very human-like and sounds natural, especially when he has the different types of people and their history/background.
Another thing to copy is his world-building. Unlike some authors, Mr. Sanderson doesn’t over detail things, places or objects, but he does it in a way that makes the reader visualize what he is describing and that is way more visceral to a reader than being told repeatedly how things should look.
Finally, just his overall sense of pacing. Though the book is long and sometimes I thought the chapters unnecessary, there was never a point in the story where I didn’t want to keep reading (hence why I read it in less than four days…). The pages kept flowing and the plot kept churning and this led to heightened drama and tension, something absolutely necessary for any novel.
4.5 out of 5