First impressions: It's about zombies.
Second impressions: It was really hard for me to get into this book. As I mentioned earlier, I was recovering from a pretty serious book hangover. The writing didn't help anything. The sentences were pretty simple, and I am not really accustomed to that. The comparison in my brain is "The Fall of the House of Usher" vs. "Dick and Jane". If you're not familiar with "The Fall of the House of Usher", here is the first sentence:
During the whole of a dull, dark and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung
oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary
tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of evening drew on, within view of the
melancholy House of Usher.
Though the writing was simple, the plot, characters, world, and economics of the book were far from simple. Let's take a moment to look at each of these:
Plot - Whenever I consider The Song of Ice & Fire series (also known as Game of Thrones), I wonder how on Earth George RR Martin is planning to tie up all those loose ends. Seriously. There are so many threads that have to come together before the larger tapestry can be completed. "Elantris" is a stand alone novel, and it also had many threads to it. I found myself wondering how he was going to wrap it all up. Surprise of surprises, he did!... kinda. I'll get to that later.
Characters - The characters were well written, and they each had their secrets. They were not very subtle, though I think they were meant to be. I'll be honest, there weren't many characters that I really liked. I liked a lot of them, but I didn't really like them. I had a problem with the main character, Sarene. Maybe it's that Brandon Sanderson hasn't really captured the female voice. I'm not sure, but there are a couple really good characters, they just didn't get a big role in the book. I feel like I'm not being clear about the characters. Some characters are excellent and complex, but they don't have a big role in the books. They also have secrets that maybe make them more interesting. The main characters are pretty obvious and not subtle.
The World - The world, I think it is safe to say, is based off our world. The different people of the world reflect different cultures in ours. For example, the Fjordells (even the spelling of the name) resemble a Norse culture with fair hair and fair skin. The Jindo resemble an Asian culture with dark hair and martial arts. It was fun to try to figure out the different cultures and who they could represent.
Economics - If I enjoyed economics more, I would have adored this book. For my economics minded friends, I would recommend this book. That aspect of it, however, did not appeal to me at all. I appreciate that he wrote about it and thought it out and put a lot of effort into it. I just didn't enjoy that part of it.
Now let's get to the part that I mentioned earlier about wrapping things up. I am not giving any spoilers here. At the end of the book, all the loose ends come together and you finally get some answers (not all the answers). I wish he would have just stopped there. He didn't. He spends the next couple pages asking a ton of new questions, which would be totally fine if this was a series, but it's not. It is a stand alone novel. I wish I could unread those questions. It ruined the ending for me. It's not that I don't like being asked questions like that, but I want to ask myself those questions. I want to want to think about the characters and where they go from there. I don't want the author to ask me those questions because then I feel like the author owes me some answers.
Would I recommend this book to others? Sure. Maybe not wholeheartedly. I enjoyed it. If they're interested in economics and fantasy books, probably. I don't know if I would read an entire series if they were like this book, but it was a good book to break the hangover from the Kingkiller Chronicles.
Update 11/16/13: I forgot to mention this in the original text, but I really like it when authors emphasize the power of words. This book did a really good job of it, and I wanted to give credit where credit is due.