Recently, I took some time for an at-home vacation. It had been a long while since I’d devoted myself to leisurely reading a new book without any other motivation. This time, I chose to read Brandon Sanderson’s Elantris.
Like many Wheel of Time fans, Brandon Sanderson came under my radar when it was announced that he would be completing the series started (and almost finished) by Robert Jordan. Back when that was announced, I bought a couple of Sanderson’s books, including Elantris, which then sat on my shelf for a few years. Suffice it to say, school and work left little enough time for the kind of leisure reading I was used to, and during those brief respites I often turned to familiar novels that were a comfort without risk.
This time I decided to risk reading Elantris, despite my recent distasteful experience, and I’m glad I did!
As far as I know, Elantris is Brandon Sanderson’s debut novel. I would be impressed with this novel if it were written by a consummate master, but as a debut, I must say that I am especially impressed. Sanderson shows his firm grasp of the genre, while breaking with the traditional tropes and conventions. Though this is a work of pure fantasy, his style has cross-genre appeal, giving this novel a contemporary flavor.
Two complaints: First, I found Sanderson’s take on Adien, one of the minor characters, somewhat disturbing—though I did appreciate how he made Adien useful in the end. The way he described and dealt with Adien’s cognitive disability seems to reflect a poor understanding and/or lack of appreciation of people with similar cognitive disabilities, which was especially disappointing considering his respectful approach to physical disabilities and chronic pain.
Second, I was disappointed when I uncovered a major plot point much earlier than the characters did. This usually provides me with a bit of writerly satisfaction, because I attribute it to my understanding and appreciation of plot, but in this case it was a bit too transparent and the delay in the characters’ understanding was a bit too long. I’d have much preferred they caught on to the nature of the problem earlier, without knowing quite how to solve it, than having the nature of the problem elude them for quite so long.
Overall, however, I would say it’s a great book and it certainly is worth the risk. It also indicates that his subsequent books are worth the risk. After my latest disappointment, I’m sure you can understand why I might be hesitant. But Elantirs made for an excellent palate cleanser, washing the bitter aftertaste clean from my senses.
I especially enjoyed the way Sanderson took the traditional villains, not only of fantasy but of society, and made them the heroes of his work. Unlike similar attempts, Sanderson kept the villainous stereotypes intact, but made the internal reality of the characters classically heroic. The result is not only an excellent work of fantasy, but a telling work of social commentary. This combination of popular appeal and lasting significance, achieved with great skill, makes it an excellent work of literature in the classic sense; I would be so bold as to put Elantris up there, in my mind, with Pride and Prejudice and similar classics, which were written for the popular or general audience, but also stood the test of time. Only time will tell if I’m right.