I have a tendency to feel terrible when I dislike a book, particularly when it feels like it was given thought and time and effort, but I was thoroughly disappointed with Elantris.
Elantris, the rotting fallen city of the Gods. The gift that once saw them rise, the Shaod, has become a curse which visits unsuspecting citizens in the night without warning. Arriving at the neighbouring city Kae, capital city of Arelon, Princess Serene of Teod is to marry Prince Raoden in hopes of solidifying their respective nations against the threat of the Fjordell Empire, but the Prince is dead and the city is in mourning. Bereft of a husband Serene throws herself into the politics of Arelon and finds herself at odds with the Fjordell Derethi priest, Hrathen. If Hrathen succeeds in converting the populace to Shu-Dereth, then the Fjordell Empire will finally be ready to take what little remains of the globe.
The problem with Elantris is that it is a wonderful concept but that it was just so poorly excuted. I know that this was Sanderson’s first novel but it felt utterly lacklustre and, I hate to say it, boring. It took me two weeks to get through this, I actually had to stop and read another book because I would rather not read than have to pick this book up. When I read the Mistborn trilogy, I mentioned that Sanderson has a very simplistic writing style which worked really well when the characters and plot were strong enough to carry the story forward but in Elantris there was nothing to make up for the dull as dishwater prose, and the pacing was also painfully slow. I liked that there wasn’t a heavy emphasis on the magic system and I was looking forward to the heavy emphasis on political manoeuvring, but there was nothing engaging here at all.
Serene and Raoden are terribly written characters and there is zero development, of any kind. Raoden seemingly popped out of the womb a perfect leader who is charming, handsome, intelligent, kind, basically an all round wonderful guy and yet he still manages to be incredibly boring. What is worse is that this description fits Raoden at both the beginning and the end of the novel, and I find it hard to believe that despite everything that happens to him he manages to have no emotional conflict and no emotional change. At all. As for Serene, she is just … UGH! I am losing words now. This woman is upset because men, men she is not even attracted to, respect her opinion and trust her as a leader but are not sexually attracted to her. I just cannot. I know Serene is smart, fierce, talented, strong and (like Raoden) perfect because I am told that she is, however all I see her do is whine about how tall and gangly and single she is, successfully pretend to be stupid and interrupt a speech.
The most redeeming thing about this book was, without a doubt, Hrathen. Essentially Hrathen is introduced very early on as the villain and he is the only complex character in this story. He is a Derethi Gyorn, sent to convert the people of Arelon and, while his actions are questionable, he is motivated by the desire to save them and we get to see this internal struggle. I wish this story was about Hrathen, I would have loved a story that detailed his conflict against what he felt to be right and what he was told was right. I didn’t care about Serene, Raoden or any of the other, interchangeable, character but I did care about Hrathen because he felt real. However, Sanderson manages to cheapen even this character by throwing in some stuff (sorry, I am being deliberately vague to avoid spoilers) that comes completely out of the blue.
I will admit that the last part of the book was much easier to read (or maybe I was just excited to finish) but it still lead to the most anti-climactic ending. There were so many interesting topics and themes that could have been explored with this book, there was so much possibility with the mystery of the Elantrians, the Dor, the politics and the various religions, all of which were glossed over in favour of whatever it was Sanderson was trying to do.