I must admit that prior to the announcement than Brandon Sanderson would finish that little known series known as "The Wheel of Time" I hadn't heard of the author, I know he already had a big following but I think this was more US based prior to the WOT announcement. Now though he has clearly gained a great deal of success both sides of the pond and has written a number of series while he writes the final novel in the Wheel of Time series.
Elantris was his debut novel and tells the tale of a city built on magic, people would be chosen to ascent to Elantris at random (an occurrence known as the Shaod), from common folk and royalty alike to become transformed into gods and reside in a place of beauty replete with miracles, magic and peace. Ten years ago that all changed - the magic failed and Elantris began to rot from within, even worse the Elantrians turned into powerless wrecks, shunned as lephers and surviving as little more than zombies in a sludge-filled and crumbling city. This once proud city of the gods became a prison and any who now go through the Shaod (which never stopped happening) are locked up tight with all the other sufferers.
There are some very original ideas here, but the real magic is in the highly imaginative and complete world that Sanderson manages to create within the first few chapters of the novel. His world building skills are simply incredible but not only that he is then able to populate this world with believable, likeable (and loathable) characters that live and breathe within the world of his creation. He doesn't just limit this to the main cast but even the minor and incidental characters are imbued with a real depth and emotion. There are a few clichÃ©d characters - in particular both the male and female protagonists however I can see that they are in their own way necessary for the story to work.
Despite the large scale world building and depth of characters within Elantris the pace doesn't suffer as much as I expected it would, in part this is due to the fact that this isn't a high octane action epic to begin with but also the quality of the narrative is quite telling and I found myself swept along with the intrigue. If you are looking for a book that has action on every other page then this isn't for you - that's not to say it is without action but those events are mostly in the latter part of the book when things start heating up and the ending (within the last 50-ish pages) is simply incredible; very climactic.
The plot itself is effortlessly weaved into the novel, a seriously grandiose affair that runs along two main threads and a number of smaller ones, all seeped in political intrigue and religious dogma. The themes of religion, politics and sexism are handled masterfully by the author and you would never believe for a moment that this was in fact a debut novel. The talents of a true storyteller are clearly at play and the whole thing is quite compelling.
Elantris is quite an exceptional read, a wonderfully rich world full of living breathing characters, great plot and some very original ideas.
Written on Monday 3rd October 2011 by Antony.
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