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A review of Elantris by Brandon Sanderson (Tor Fantasy, 2006)
Elantris, Brandon Sanderson is fond of saying, is the sixth novel he wrote and first novel he published. It is the ninth book of his that I’ve read (the first eight, in order, are: The Gathering Storm, Towers of Midnight, The Way of Kings, the Mistborn trilogy, The Alloy of Law, A Memory of Light), and I am of the opinion that it is his best. (This isn’t counting Gathering Storm, Towers of Midnight, and Memory of Light, which are co-authored with Robert Jordan, and have a special place in my heart because of my addiction to the Wheel of Time series.)
Why do I love Elantris? For one thing, it’s a standalone novel. The Alloy of Law has a sequel coming, The Way of Kings is part of ten-book epic. There’s something about a finished novel that’s satisfying. Like a good meal, it fills you. You know you’ll be hungry later, but for now you can sit back and sigh with pleasure.
But wait, the Mistborn trilogy is complete. How can Elantris be better than three books? There are three factors that make Sanderon’s first novel better than his first series. One, the noble hero of Elantris, Raoden, is better than the noble hero of Mistborn, Elend. Raoden earned his status as beloved of the kingdom, suffered before becoming powerful. Elend was given his magic, and then he became this silly demigod.
Two is the depiction of magic. The magic of the Aons in Elantris is mysterious but understandable. The magic of Mistborn is prosaic, but at the same time is too powerful.
Three, are the fight scenes. Battles in Elantris are exciting because they mean something. People die when they fight, while in Mistborn everybody gets saved. There are pages and pages in Mistborn of boring blow-by-blow accounts of insignificant fights. The trilogy actually suffers from being so long. Elantris is tense, because it’s compact. (Note: the above statements aren’t meant to suggest that the Mistborn series isn’t worth reading. It’s very good. Elantris is just better.)
Hrathen is the best character in Elantris. He’s a priest who has already caused the destruction of one country with his preaching. He has lost faith in his God, Jaddeth, but continues to serve, out of a sense of guilt and duty. He wants so much to avoid the violence he caused in Duradel, to protect Arelon from bloodshed. In the end, he betrayed his religion in order to be true to his faith. In the process, he saved Arelon and found forgiveness and peace. His is a great story of redemption.
Elantris is a book about religion, pretty relevant in these times of ours. Domi is the God of those who belong to Shu-Korath, Jaddeth to those who belong to Shu-Dereth. Shu-Korath and Shu-Dereth come from the same parent religion, Shu-Keseg. (Sanderson tries to build his world not just with detailed magic but with small things like expresions. For example, in The Way of Kings there’s “Storm you!” and “Storm Father!” In Elantris, it’s “Merciful Domi!” and “Idos Domi!” The latter is serious, while the former seems silly.) Sarene, princess of Arelon, resists Hrathen not just to protect her country economically, but because she worships Domi and doesn’t want to bow down before another god (even if only for show).
Currently I’m reading Warbreaker, another novel of Sanderson’s. I’m going to follow that up with The Emperor’s Soul, a novella of his, and maybe Legion, another novella. Meanwhile, I’ll be waiting for the sequel of The Way of Kings, as well as this year’s Dragonsteel. Sanderson ascendant, it’s a great time to be a fan.