Obdormio.com Unwasted Hours

23 July, 2012


Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

As part of my summer reading, I recently finished Elantris by Brandon Sanderson. Elantris was Sanderson’s first published novel. I have already read and enjoyed several of his later works, so I had pretty high expectations for this one.

Elantris circles around the eponymous city, a magical place where the inhabitants lived as gods, with vast amounts of power at hand. Any person in the land can become an Elantrian, the magical process that transforms a human into one of the gods strikes at random. Upon ascension, they would go live in the city so filled with power that the very stones it was built with glow, and live happily ever after. Unfortunately, ten years before the story begins, the “happily” part was taken out – the city died, the Elantrians were struck by a disfiguring disease, and their powers abandoned them. The random transformation still happens, but instead of gods, the people become weak and fragile wretches, consumed by hunger, unable to heal even the tiniest of injuries, and doomed to live like that forever.

Like most of Sanderson’s books, it is set in his Cosmere universe, but it is still very much a stand-alone. If the Elantrians were to somehow develop space travel, they could theoretically go visit the world of Mistborn or Warbreaker, but since none of the Cosmere books feature such ships, there’s no direct crossover. The Cosmere books share themes, and the underlying structure of the universe, and a few other as-yet enigmatic features, but the stories in them are quite independent of each other.

I had some odd conceptions on what the book was about before I began reading, as a result of seeing snippets and comments on it elsewhere. I had a notion that it revolved around the sort of decadent society seen in Mistborn, with balls and opulence and possibly lots of political intrigue. I pretty much expected to read about the city as it was before its fall. Going into the book with this misconception actually helped, I think, because it made me feel more strongly about the tragedy of the fallen city. The characters were engaging, and I particularly liked the priest of the foreign religion. He could easily have been just another fanatic zealot of the Evil Empire Inc, but Sanderson made him very sympathetic. As a Norwegian, though, I must admit I have difficulty forgiving the name of the empire. “Fjorden”? Really?

Like the other Cosmere books, this book has at its heart a system of magic unique to this particular world. Much of Sanderson’s writing seems to spring out of a desire to explore these systems, and in this book it is certainly tied into the resolution in a very clever way. Despite that, however, this is my least favourite of Sanderson’s systems so far – the drawn symbols to channel power lack the originality of Mistborn‘s metal-based systems. Warbreaker, which is almost Sanderson’s second go at Elantris, returning to many of the same themes, also has a more interesting magic system in its use of colours as a power source. In general, I think it is fairly clear that this is one of Sanderson’s earlier efforts. It feels less polished than his later works. The ending seems a bit rushed, with the main villain suddenly and unprovoked revealing his motivation standing out as the worst patch. Sanderson in general tends towards avalanches of action for his endings, but in this one it didn’t work as well as in his later books.

Despite its flaws, though, it is a good book. There is a reason why it launched Sanderson’s career. While it wasn’t my favourite of his works, it was definitely worth the time and price of admission.


  1. You keep mentioning this Sanderson fellow. On average — not his best, not his worst — how does he rate against, say, Hobb, Eddings, Rowling, Abercrombie and Lynch? Trying to figure out whether I should prioritise him one of these years, or if others still should stay ahead in the neverending queue.

    Comment by Loki — 23 July, 2012 @ 08:39

  2. I’d definitely put him ahead of Eddings and Abercrombie. I find it hard to compare him to Rowling, as they write so very different books, but I think you’d like him better than her. In the vague and not particularly thought-through ranking of my head, I suppose he is at about the same level as Hobb and Lynch, maybe a bit ahead of Lynch.

    Comment by Obdormio — 23 July, 2012 @ 10:01

  3. Well, that’s high praise. I’d put Lynch miles above Hobb — but of course, I still haven’t read your dear, dear Hobb-favourites — so being in the same league as him definitely makes the man sound appealing. Which series should I, were I to delve, begin with?

    And how would you have me prioritise that series versus more Hobb, versus checking out the Dresden Files, versus Rothfuss, and versus the Napoleonic dragon-involving series I cannot recall how to spell? (I think those four are your other main recommendations to me at the moment, no? Outside of Ender’s Game, anyway, and I know nothing would beat that in your book).

    Comment by Loki — 23 July, 2012 @ 10:08

  4. Temeraire, as I think I have said before, is suited for short, light reads between bigger things, so that can go wherever. Rothfuss should go on top of your list, and since you don’t seem to care much for Hobb, you might as well put that near the end of your priorities – I’d still urge you to at least try the first Liveship Traders book, though. The Dresden Files is a pretty long commitment – 13 books so far, and counting – and needs a couple of books to get really good, so that probably influences priorities as well. I’d say read Rothfuss, then Sanderson, and then fit the rest in in whatever order you feel like it.

    As for where to begin with Sanderson – Elantris and Warbreaker are both standalones (and the latter free for download on his website), so if that appeals to you as a lesser commitment, they’d both be good. I’d really advise you to go with the Mistborn trilogy, though, as I like that the best of his works so far. Start by reading The Final Empire and see how you like it from there.

    Comment by Obdormio — 23 July, 2012 @ 10:25

  5. I think you have an askew view of my feelings on Hobb. On the one hand, I thought the storyline a bit predictable and clichéd, and most of the characters reasonably familiar. On the other hand, I was _entertained_ the whole way through, and read the entire trilogy in less time than I usually spend on a single book. It was not Lynch, Erikson, Gaiman or Martin, who I guess are my current favourites, but I definitely *liked* it. Could easily compare to Feist, and I’ve read dozens of books by him. Also, probably a good bit stronger than even the best of Eddings’, albeit with less wit.

    Rothfuss, then Sanderson. Got it. I was inclined to prioritise Rothfuss anyway, so I’m glad to have had my prejudices backed up! I’m well on my way with my Feast for Crows-reread, and then I’ll do Dance. After that I have a wee (much smaller than usual) backlog of unread fiction in the shelf that needs to go first, but with a bit of luck I might be able to get to someone new (which at the moment would mean Rothfuss) this Christmas, unless I end up prioritising catching up a bit on Gaiman, Feist or Erikson first.

    Comment by Loki — 23 July, 2012 @ 10:34

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