Elantris has a great plot, but a disappointing love interest

Elantris is the first book I read by Brandon Sanderson, an author I kept hearing about from a lot of different people.

A year ago, I wouldn’t have said I was a fantasy fan – in fact, I kind of scorned fantasy in favor of science fiction. Now, I just think I wasn’t reading the right books. For example, I tried to gut my way through the Lightbringer series (Brent Weeks) almost two years ago on a friend’s recommendation. I thought the magic system was cool, but I couldn’t get into the plot and wasn’t a fan of the main character. I also thought the writing was sort of shit. But, last year, my coworker kept talking about Patrick Rothfuss and his book The Name of the Wind. I thought it sounded all right, but I wasn’t that interested. My manager offered to lend me her copy, though, and I couldn’t think of a nice way to say no. I borrowed the book and read it and it was fucking awesome. I quickly read The Wise Man’s Fear, the sequel. And now I’m waiting in anticipation for the third book to come out. Another coworker raved about Sanderson. Then, my dad started talking about how he was reading Sanderson’s Mistborn series. I decided to read Elantris, mostly because it wasn’t part of a series.

I liked Elantris a lot. It has a really original, well-developed plot and interesting, complex characters. One of the main characters is a woman – never a given for fantasy/sci fi! Sarene is a strong, integral character for most of the book. She’s the princess of Teod, and is set to marry Raoden, the prince of Arelon. When Sarene arrives in Arelon, she finds out that Raoden is dead. He’s really not – he’s just become an Elantrian – but that’s akin to being dead in Arelon. Elantrians are immortal beings who live in the city of Elantris. This city used to be a shining, beautiful city, and the Elantrians used to be revered, immortal healers. But after a mysterious event called the Shaod, Elantrians don’t have the healing powers they used to have and Elantris is now a shitthole for people who can’t die. Becoming a Elantrian (it happens randomly) is now basically a death sentence. Serene spends most of the book thinking Raoden is actually dead and figuring out how to reform Arelon’s political system and save it from being taken over by Fjordell. When she’s doing this, she’s great and compelling and dynamic. However, Sarene becomes more of a standard female love interest when she realizes Raoden is still alive. She becomes a way for Raoden to showcase his strengths. He saves her life and fulfills her need to be loved. She doesn’t really fulfill a corresponding need of his – she’s just a nice-to-have and by marrying her, Raoden cements his comeback from to the land of the living.

Here’s two examples of Sarene as a boring, traditional love interest:

Raoden is the perfect fantasy hero. He has some flaws, but they don’t even really count as flaws – they’re the really annoying flaws that are actually just positive characteristics (headstrong, stubborn, optimistic, etc). I thought Sarene was a great character and I don’t like how she ended up just playing into his strengths at the end and becoming a weak, traditionally feminine love interest. Elantris would have been a better book if this romance dimension wasn’t a part of it.