Friday, May 2, 2014

Post-Mortem: Elantris(low spoilerage)

by Brandon Sanderson
A stand alone novel

The story of why I read this book has many smaller folds.  My girl and I were looking for a new book series that we could read together so we could interact like we did with Harry Potter, Hunger Games and Lord of the Rings.  We rather enjoy our discussions and perceptions of the characters and the plots of books, but we're both sort of tepid when it comes to committing to a multi-book series.  I decided to look at some stand alone novels by people who had done book series.  Several names came up, Tad Williams, Jack Vance, and many others, and then I saw Brandon Sanderson's name.

Brandon Sanderson is known right now as the hand picked successor to Robert Jordon, chosen to write the last books of the Wheel of Time series using Jordon's notes.  Wheel of Time is the classic example of what I feel is a trilogy or quadrilogy that so obviously starts being expanded purely for profit.  Just like with A Game of Thrones, people can point to the book where the author said "let's see if we can stretch this out".  I am no fan of Jordon(on a side note, I am more likely to read the his novels than George R. R. Martin's though), so I almost passed on Sanderson's entire body of work, an unfair and now admittedly stupid thing to think.

Elantris had me after reading its back cover, where it explained people would become Gods and reside in a magical city for all eternity; except eternity ended ten years ago.  Yes, its a story of demi-gods that had fallen from grace.  They did not become evil, they became some sort of living zombie creature, too pitiful to die and too insane to live normal lives and one of the main 3 voices in the book had just become one.  It is a hell of a start, and proper bait for me to bite at when it comes to describing a book.

Sanderson's style won me over immediately.  I am not a fan of writers who write "smart" to prove they are smart, yet I am not fan of drab and boring writing either.  Sanderson is a great example of people taking inspiration from The Hobbit more so than from The Lord of the Rings when it comes to plain exposition.  I love it.  I can fly through pages without pausing, and remember everything I've read.  When the action gets intense, my reading does as well.  Also unlike a few recent books I've read, the author doesn't linger too much on certain details and use that to continually fill space with description.  I read a book recently where food was unusually focused upon at all times, despite it not being central to the plot.  I do not know if starving himself was the author's way of getting into the writing mood, but it certainly seemed like it.

The character of the Princess was the next thing that won me over.  She is a really great protagonist, if a little cliche in our day of "a princess that's not a lady" arch type, but something about her made me like her.  Unlike the first Shrek's Fiona, Repunzel in Tangled, and a few others; Princess Sarene does not grate on my nerves with her insistence on proving to an audience that she's crude.  The other characters grew on me as well, and I actually found that I wanted more from almost all of them; something that Sanderson sadly stayed light on.  Most characters show their true selves by the end though, and none of them are a disappointment in this respect.

The plot is really well done.  If you are well versed in this type of literature, you can guess several things that are going to happen; its just the nature of the genre.  However, Sanderson does a good job of presenting the real clues only a chapter or so before it happens, so you do not spend half the book saying "I bet this is what's going to happen, I'm 90% sure".  It really is pretty smart to do it the way he does, he simply doesn't foreshadow real facts till right before the reveal.  The plot focuses on Hope without being sticky sweet.  There is sorrow, remorse, and regret in this book, and the reader will feel it as well.  But also there's Hope, and I think the reader will feel it as well.  Not exactly the kind of hope that a movie like Braveheart brings, but a yearning in the back of your mind that you want the good guys to succeed.  In many of today's plots you aren't sure who is the good guy, or if the protagonists coming out on top is really anything more than a changing of the despots.  I am all for "gray" characters, as I name them, the bad that aren't so bad, or the good that aren't so good, but they have to be done right.  Elantris doesn't touch on gray all that very much, but where it does, it offers a nice shade away from the view points of the always morally "right" view points we get.

The book really bursts open the last 100 pages or so, and will leave you wanting more of the world.  Seriously, while being a great stand alone novel, and self contained, it sure could be the opening of something grand.  The world, the veil of a fantasy world with only a few bits of fantastic things, and a legend, gets blown wide open toward the end and you almost wish immediately for a book that expounds on it all.  Oh, and that "burst" is not exactly what you've been waiting for from the start, its not as obvious a veil lifting as you think of from the very beginning.  Again, Sanderson knew what he was doing.

The bold princess is bold.  The magic is truely magical.  The suspense is paid off.  The epic story ends epically.  I could only hope certain ongoing series that I am reading right now has this sort of pay off(lookin' at you Patrick Rothfuss).

I give Elantris my highest mark: recommending it whole heartedly.  I can't see people that enjoy fantasy novels being disappointed in it at all.  I am not one to ask people to read things that I think could be a waste of time in the least.  I would want to know what people have read and liked before I recommend something, but if someone just said "Fantasy", Elantris would be right after The Hobbit(the Lord of the Rings requires some dedication compared to The Hobbit).

Media with related themes:

Atlantis mythology of all types
Grandia by Game Arts
Vagrant Story by Yoshi Matsuno
Zombie literature
Political drama

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