Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Book Review: Elantris, by Brandon Sanderson

Mass Market Paperback: 656 pages
Publisher: Tor Fantasy (May 30, 2006)
ISBN-10: 0765350378
ISBN-13: 978-0765350374

Why Elantris? I always meant to review some of Sanderson's work, but never got around to it. The Way of Kings just came out (which I itch to read), so he is fresh in my mind. Here I go.

Elantris was Sandersons's first published book in 2005. I read it (as many did) when we heard of an unknown author that had been chosen to complete the beloved (though, also ridiculed) Wheel of Time by the late Robert Jordan. There was also Mistborn to choose from (released 2006), when it was announced in December 2007 that Sanderson would be taking the reigns for the massive series. I chose to start reading Elantris first, because, well, I like order.

It starts off with a great conflict and premise, and gives you a reason to continue reading, as you seek to uncover the plight of the Elantrians and the disaster of the Reod; which has affected far more than just the once-great city of Elantris.

My great complaint with Elantris is that, except for a few exceptions, the characters are not always consistent or fully conceived. Raoden is well done and comes to life; but the purportedly intelligent Sarene lacks the support to convince me that she is more than just surface-smart, though her compassion is convincing enough. Hrathen's conflict is great but lacks on execution. His is a great struggle to subjugate a people with religion to avoid their death and destruction through domination by force. Compelling? It could have been!

The political intrigue that could have been a profound part of the book, came off as fluff; at least when you compare it to The Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin--which I am obliged to do. But perhaps that comparison is unfair. It was Sanderson's first published book after all, how dare I compare it to the great GRRM?

The magic system was interesting and different, but of Sanderson's other books it is probably his weakest. Also, with a central element of the climax hinging on how the system works--which in my opinion was a stretch of the imagination for the created world--it took away from the tangibility he had worked so hard to achieve.

I've since read Mistborn, Warbreaker and his work on The Gathering Storm. Each experience has been unique and different. The quality has improved on his own work, though it still lacks something for me to consider awe-inspiring. His work on The Gathering Storm, in my humble opinion, was the BEST book of the series by some magical, whimsical quirk of fate, Jordan's exhaustive work, and/or Sanderson's growing ability. I know much of it was already completed by Jordan, but can you just imagine the sheer weight of content and tapestry of threads to weave into a cohesive tale? If anyone has listened to his Writing Excuses podcasts with Dan Wells and Howard Tayler you can conclusively state that he is a force to be reckoned with, and if his first couple books were somewhat lackluster, they still intrigued with his magic, setting and plots; even if his characters (at times) needed work. Perhaps his only true failure in this book was in being a first-time published author, and needing time to grow in his craft.

I went into the book with no expectation or knowledge of the author, merely curiosity as to what the man was like who had been chosen to finish the Wheel of Time. Ultimately I would recommend the read. Elantris is a great city and concept by an author that people will speak of for years to come--more than just for his sheer volume of work, but for his ability to create something that feels new.

I'd give Elantris a 3 out of 5 for being better than some, and a good start by a new writer. What did you think?

Additional note: I'm going to contradict myself from a prior post as I change to a five-point system for review. It has its disadvantages, but I can always go halvsies, and it is what most people go by. 1 is poor, 2 is ok, 3 is good, 4 is great, and 5 is excellent. Any score of 5 would have to be nearly unattainable. Sorry to deviate from Amazon, but I think 1 being "I hate it" is a ridiculous option. How many people are really going to continue reading at that point? I know I don't. I see the GoodReads system is similar to how I think, so I guess I'm not alone.

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