Elantris (2005) by Brandon Sanderson

A charming, inventive standalone fantasy novel by Brandon Sanderson. His first published novel in fact. Quite a strong debut in a lot of ways, as the novel showcases his very inventive worldbuilding tendencies (magic systems, cultures not straight copies of Earth nations like most fantasy, interesting blends of fantasy and science-fiction), his idea of a larger “universe” of standalone and series novels that can be read independently or as part of a greater sequence (the “Cosmere”), his endless fascination with divinity (the Elantrians serving as fallen gods, and the religious conflict that thrusts the narrative forward), and his joy in playing and subverting conventions of the genre.

The prose and characterisation is, unfortunately, pretty weak. The prose is just clunky at this stage, it isn’t at the functional yet indistinct level he’d hit with the Mistborn novels, or the eventual very clean, “invisible” (as in, extremely easy to read quickly, purely a vehicle for telling the story as “efficiently” as possible) style he’d hit by The Way of Kings. I get the idea to make Raoden an atypical fantasy hero in that he has no dark past or anything like that, but reading a character with zero moral conflict is…well, it’s boring. The only truly compelling character in the novel gets a third of the book to himself as least, the priest Hrathen.

Elantris is a fairly strong opening novel, and hints at the greatness to come later in Sanderson’s career. The worldbuilding and refreshing nature as a standalone fantasy novel with a legitimately creative premise is enough to offset the clunky prose and characterisation for me.

I give it three seons, and a shardpool.

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