Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Brandon Sanderson was already regarded as one of fantasy’s rising stars even before Harriet Jordan selected him to complete her late husband’s epic Wheel of Time series and Elantris was the book that started it all for him. I did actually pick the book up when it first came out in 2005, but put it back on the shelf when something shinier attracted my attention. At 600 plus standard paperback sized pages it’s a fairly sizeable debut, in it’s favour is that it is not part one of a trilogy or series, it’s completely self contained.
The city of Elantris was once the pride and joy of the country of Arelon. Elantris was where the lucky people chosen by a mysterious power known as the Dor went. The Dor could choose anyone from the Prince of Arelon to the poorest farmer and elevate them to virtual godhood, the only stipulation was that they had to be living in or near Arelon’s borders at the time of the random choosing. Elantrians were, without exception, beautiful shining people who could create wonders out of thin air. Arelon’s capital city; Kae, profited greatly by being located next to Elantris and having access to it’s godlike population. Ten years ago it all changed, the Sheod (as the choosing was now referred to) turned from a blessing into a curse. Anyone chosen had all their hair fall out and large, unsightly black blotches appeared over their bodies and faces. The afflicted were cast out and sent to Elantris. Once Elantris was a paradise, now it is a living hell, peopled by barely human savages, who are not even allowed to really die. One thing that remained consistent with how things were is the random method of choosing, anyone within Arelon’s borders can become an Elantrian.
Into this world step 3 people, Raoden, the universally loved Prince of Arelon, his recently chosen bride Sarene, formerly Princess of the island nation of Teod and Hrathen, a gyorn from Fjordell, a warlike theocracy determined to enforce their religion on the rest of the world’s populace. The story is told in chapter form from the points of view of the three protagonists. Raoden and Sarene are determined to keep Arelon and Teod free and find the mystery behind Elantris’ fall from grace. Hrathen is equally determined to overthrow Arelon’s leadership and allow his fearsome godlike ruler; the Wyrn, to take control. Gradually the protagonists converge and in the climactic chapters their paths merge as they strive for the same goal in their own ways.
The world that the story takes place on is not particularly complex, think more of David Eddings worldbuilding, rather than say George RR Martin. This isn’t a real issue as most of the action takes place in the Arelish cities of Elantris and Kae, although of the three protagonists only one (Raoden) is actually a native of Arelon. The system of magic that Brandon Sanderson developed was interesting, a lot of it was related to the Dor (his version of the Force or the One Power) and how runes called Aon, could be drawn in the air and use the Dor for a specified purpose by the wielder. Sanderson’s characterisation left a little to be desired. Not one of the three major characters were particularly well developed, with Sarene almost too good to be true: beautiful, intelligent, idealistic, altruistic, witty, the list went on and on. Raoden had a little more depth to him, although he too at times seemed remarkably naïve at odds with his wisdom at other times. Hrathen was the most interesting of the three, but the least likeable. A particularly appealing idea to me were the Seons; animated glowing balls of light that were this world’s equivalent of the iPhone, I felt they were rather under utilised and under explained. I’m not a fan of needlessly padding out narratives or unnecessary volumes, but in the case of Elantris an extra 100 or 200 pages may have allowed the author to explore things like the Seon and craft a better ending, as it stood it seemed a little rushed and contrived.
I put the few flaws down to the fact that this was Brandon Sanderson’s first book, it was an ambitious undertaking with some clever and original ideas and overall he carried it off well, in some quarters I’ve seen his prose criticised as being uninspired, if that means it wasn’t overly alliterative and exhaustingly descriptive then more power to the man’s pen, it was solid and smooth. Although the story is self contained, he has given himself a couple of jumping off points if he wishes to write a sequel in the future. It’s a strong debut and has encouraged me to seek out more of his work and I can see why he was chosen by Harriet Jordan to finish Robert Jordan’s much loved Wheel of Time.