Saturday, 19 July 2014

Elantris - Brandon Sanderson

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of Brandon Sanderson, so I’ve been really looking forward to reading his debut novel, Elantris. The friend who lent me this novel said he’d thought the language and plot were rather clumsy compared to his later novels, but I have to say I mostly disagree. Admittedly, Elantris has the odd moment where the words chosen or the sentence structure doesn’t feel quite right, but on the whole it’s still really well written. It’s true that Sanderson’s writing becomes more polished as his career progresses, but there is nothing amateurish about this novel.

The titular city was once the glorious home of god-like inhabitants, whose pale skin and white hair shone like silver, and who could perform magic to raise seamless palaces, heal wounds, and create food out of dust. One day, however, the magic suddenly failed, the Elantrians’ hair fell out, and their skin became grey and blotchy. As their magical powers faded away, they were locked in the city to rot, leaving the outside world in the grip of civil war.

The plot begins 10 years after the fall of Elantris, when a foreign princess is brought to the neighbouring city of Kae in a political marriage to unite two kingdoms against an aggressive religious expansion. When she arrives, however, her husband has been declared dead – but in fact has become an Elantrian and been incarcerated in the crumbling city. We follow her efforts to avert civil war, and her husband Prince Raoden’s struggle to survive in his half-life in the dilapidated ruins of Elantris.

As in his later novels, Sanderson treats magic more like a science. It has strict rules and limitations, more like a kind of script-based alchemy than the type of magic used by your average fantasy wizard. He even includes a glossary of symbols at the back. In a nice added touch, each chapter is headed with a symbol indicative of the themes it contains.

Coming to this novel after having read many of his other works, the Mistborn series and Warbreaker in particular (both of which I highly recommend), Elantris feels rather like a testing ground for many of the ideas explored more fully in his later books. It still works perfectly well as a cohesive story, but it does have a cut-down sense to it, leaving me feeling as though I’d like to have more detail on some of the concepts and characters in it. There are echoes of the relationship dynamics and magical systems that form the core of the Mistborn novels, and the enclosed city populated by ‘gods’ is strikingly similar to the basis for Warbreaker.

Elantris is a compelling, intriguing novel that grips you from start to finish, and as a debut novel is even more impressive. If you’re a Sanderson fan but haven’t got round to reading this one yet, do so immediately! And if you’re into any kind of fantasy novels, you’ll enjoy this, I promise.

Next up: Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie


longhaireddrew said...

I never said clumsy, but I certainly felt it was less polished than his later works.
It was nearly always well written, but I felt that there was less refinement to his ideas than his later work. Which probably only stood out to me because I had read the later stuff first. I certainly still enjoyed it and the perceived lack of polish on my part was not really a criticism, more of an observation.
Even my favourite author is subject to this and in that case there are some directly contradictory plot points between his early and later novels set in the same world. But I still love his work same as I still love Sanderson's. :)

Dithers said...

Ah, then in that case I agree with you more :) Thanks very much for lending me it, by the way!

longhaireddrew said...

My shelves are always open :) Oh, and i was going to tell you on Friday but forgot amongst everything else that was going on; my boss at work was running the secondhand book stall at his local fete last weekend and now has a stack of bannana boxes 6 foot tall of books that are to go to charity.
He is taking them to charity shops one bag at a time, via work, where i get to pick out any i would like to read first. So the 'yet to be read' row of books is growing again.
I can keep an eye out for any i think you might like if you want?

Dithers said...

You know I'm always open to new books :D Please look out for anything good and I'll pay you back!

longhaireddrew said...

The only payment needed is further book swaps. They are all free on the condition that once read, by whoever, they go to charity shops. :D

Dithers said...

Of course they will. Unless I love them so much I feel like I need to give them a permanent home :)