Growing up, I always had a book tucked away with me in my school bag, or violin case, or carry on, or simply stuck under an arm. The epic saga of the Wheel of Time filled in the gaps between classes at high school and during longer orchestra breaks when the second violins had to go fend for themselves.
While Robert Jordan’s vision of the Wheel of Time world and its characters is still a masterpiece in my mind – the tone of the story itself grew darker with each giant book to the point where it became harder to see if anyone would have a happy ending. Like the rest of the fans of the series, Jordan’s early death caused me a great deal of worry. Would whoever took the reins and finished the story be able to do it justice?
Knowing what I know now, I shouldn’t have worried. When Sanderson took up the story, he captured the story and its characters and breathed life and hope back into them. Readers could imagine the satisfying ending they’d been wishing for and then he delivered it.
But, this post isn’t about Wheel of Time. It’s about Brandon Sanderson’s first published book, Elantris.
Elantris was once a city of magic and those with incredible power lived there. When the cataclysmic event of the Reod happened, the city and its inhabitants became cursed. The gates of Elantris were closed to the outside world. The inhabitants of the city couldn’t die or heal and were doomed to suffer continuous pain from any injury for the rest of their days.
When Prince Raoden shows signs of the curse, he’s thrown into the now closed city and is doomed to suffer with those living there. He’s not willing to accept that, however, and immediately goes about trying to make things better for those condemned in Elantris. While he does this he discovers vital clues that will help him solve the mystery of why the magic stopped working.
Against him are the gangs in Elantris who gang up on any new comer to steal what meager provisions they might carry and a high ranking priest mandated to convert the country to the Derethi religion. With him is the resourceful and determined Princess Sarene with whom which he was destined to wed if not for the curse.
I love a strong fantasy with magic that feels real and makes sense, so this book already had a lot going in its favor before I even opened it. Prince Raoden is the kind of character that you want to root for. He genuinely wants to make things better despite his own problems and is willing to work. He knows how to organize people and inspire them to his cause. The situation he’s thrown into is a hard one. It would be way too easy to fall into despair, but he refuses. Of all that happens in the book, his character is what makes the story successful.
There is a fair amount of political maneuvering in the book and for the most part it serves its purpose, which is to raise the stakes for our heroes. But for me, it also ground the action to a halt.
That said, I loved how the big problem was solved (no spoilers!) and thought that the solution itself was nothing short of ingenious.
This is a solid fantasy book that will clearly hold a lot of appeal with fantasy readers. I would recommend it for readers 12 and up for descriptions of injury and political intrigue. There is no offensive language or overly romantic situations. While this would be a good starter book for those who would like to familiarize themselves with the fantasy genre, I wouldn’t consider it a typical example of a fantasy novel.
I’d still give it five stars. 🙂
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