Elantris by Brandon Sanderson
A quick summary stolen from the back cover: Elantris was beautiful, once. It was called the city of the gods: a place of power, radiance, and magic. Visitors say that the very stones glowed with an inner light, and that the city contained wondrous arcane marvels. At night, Elantris shone like a great silvery fire, visible even from a great distance.
Yet, as magnificent as Elantris had been, its inhabitants had been more so. Their hair a brilliant white, their skin an almost metallic silver, the Elantrians seemed to shine like the city itself. Legend claimed they were immortal, or at least nearly so. Their bodies healed quickly, and they were blessed with great strength, insight, and speed. They could perform magics with a bare wave of the hand; men visited Elantris from all across Opelon to receive Elantrian healing, food, or wisdom. They were divinities.
And anyone could become one.
The Shaod, it was called. The Transformation. It struck randomly--usually at night, during the mysterious hours when life slowed to rest. The Shaod could take beggar, craftsman, nobleman, or warrior. When it came, the fortunate person's life ended and began anew; he would discard his old, mundane existence and move to Elantris. Elantris, where he could live in bliss, rule in wisdom, and be worshiped for eternity.
Eternity ended ten years ago.
How I'd sum it up to another reader: Whew! Good thing I'm here because that scene setting/history lesson on the back flap certainly tells us nothing about the book or its characters. So here's the skinny--Prince Raoden wakes up in the morning to discover he's been cursed by the Shaod, which forces the king to exile him to Arelon's neighboring walled-in city of Elantris while telling citizens he died of natural causes. His almost-to-be wife, Sarene, a princess from Teod, arrives too late to marry her fiancé. And then shortly after her appearance, the gyorn Hrathen pops up with a mission of genocide. Now, Raoden must survive inside Elantris, where survival is second-to-none to pain and torment. Princess Sarene must keep things together outside the city so that Teod and Arelon can unite as neighbors. And, well, Hrathen has to find the right people to help him with his deadly task.
The cover sez and shows: Two figures getting some fresh air outside while gigantic fireflies play tag with one another. Actually, those two figures would probably be Hrathen and Sarene, respectively, with the fireflies actually being Seons--sort of the magical animal companion except they are by no means animals. Towering buildings can be seen behind them though it's hard to make out where one structure ends and a new one begins. That crack down the middle keeps looking like a strike of lightning flying down! Merciful Domi!
Number of dragons, wizards, and reluctant farmer boys: Alas, no dragons or wizardly wizards per say. There is some spells and magical runes. Prince Raoden befriends a man inside Elantris who used to be a farmer. Guess that counts for something...
Hardest name to pronounce in my head: Hmm, where to start? Duke Roial? King Iadon? Fjordell? Lord Eondel? Hrathen? Eh, pick one. They all gave me headaches.
Best part: I really enjoyed how Sanderson took Hrathen, presented the gyorn to us as a devoted man bent on a mission of dire consequences, and that at the end have him twist so hard he became a completely different character to me. It was nice to see the villain, so to speak, handled aptly for a change. Also, the Seons--very neat even though we really only get to know Sarene's Ashe, but the idea of them and the way they handle themselves is fun. Definitely made for easier communication with Sarene's father who lived across the ocean.
Worst part: Prince Raoden. Period. He's too cheery, too optimistic, even in death. He thinks things like "I'm going to make these people happy!" and then does. Simple as that, no real struggle, no internal battle, no external crisis to thwart his ways. He's very much a fantasy, a nobleman doing noble things because noble things are the noble way of living a noble life. Yeah, he begins to get on your nerves after awhile. There's a few moments when he's not being himself that work better, but for the most part you have to follow this do-gooder around because he's pivotal to the plot.
Random thoughts and theories: It's definitely a stand-alone adventure, and for those that think Sanderson's novel Mistborn is a sequel--it isn't. But there's potential here for one. A richly imagined world with many offerings in the forms of further struggles or past battles. I, for one, would love to see how newly healed Elantrians make it in the living world once again.
If said book could smell like any scent: It'd be a mixture of a wondrous feast prepared by the top chefs of the world and that of rotted flesh. Yeah, how's that for you?
If in school its grade would be: B+
Come on, write us a haiku:
Locked in deep, us now
Hair gone, skin pale, Seons mad
Only pain remains
Overall, y'all: It was a fairly enjoyable read. My sister claimed she hated Elantris from the get-go, but I thought both the beginning and ending were rather gripping. The middle is where I worry folks will grow bored. All that happens is a bunch of wishful thinking on Raoden's part and some internal musing on Sarene's. It definitely drags then, but Sarene and Hrathen are very interesting characters, and even though I wanted to know more about the magic system that keeps Sanderson's world upright I found it both believable and original in form. Still, an adventure that is both fulfilling and diverting. Not ideal, but good. The themes are a bit wishy-washy, as are Sanderson's beliefs that people with a purpose in their doings will be most happy with themselves no matter what else surrounds them.
Books I might or might not compare to: Perdido Street Station by China Miéville, The Awakeners: Northshore & Southshore by Sheri S. Tepper, Mélusine by Sarah Monette
Some linkage: Brandon Sanderson's homepage and weblog, an interestingly deeper review of Elantris from the now extinct Emerald City