Hello all you dungeon dwellers out there, it’s me, Slick Dungeon back with a review of an absolutely amazing fantasy book by the always absolutely amazing Brandon Sanderson.
Elantris is the first book Sanderson ever had published and it’s easy to see why he has become such a popular author. I am going to give my review below. There will be some spoilers so if you have not read the book, seriously, you should, go and read it and then come back for the review. I will try to keep the spoilers minimal though, so if that sort of thing doesn’t bother you too much, I promise not to give everything away.
Elantris was the capital of Arelon: gigantic, beautiful, literally radiant, filled with benevolent beings who used their powerful magical abilities for the benefit of all. Yet each of these demigods was once an ordinary person until touched by the mysterious transforming power of the Shaod. Ten years ago, without warning, the magic failed. Elantrians became wizened, leper-like, powerless creatures, and Elantris itself dark, filthy, and crumbling.
Arelon’s new capital, Kae, crouches in the shadow of Elantris. Princess Sarene of Teod arrives for a marriage of state with Crown Prince Raoden, hoping — based on their correspondence — to also find love. She finds instead that Raoden has died and she is considered his widow. Both Teod and Arelon are under threat as the last remaining holdouts against the imperial ambitions of the ruthless religious fanatics of Fjordell. So Sarene decides to use her new status to counter the machinations of Hrathen, a Fjordell high priest who has come to Kae to convert Arelon and claim it for his emperor and his god.
But neither Sarene nor Hrathen suspect the truth about Prince Raoden. Stricken by the same curse that ruined Elantris, Raoden was secretly exiled by his father to the dark city. His struggle to help the wretches trapped there begins a series of events that will bring hope to Arelon, and perhaps reveal the secret of Elantris itself.
Elantris focuses on three main characters, Raoden, the prince of Arelon, Sarene, his intended wife from Teod and Hrathen a priest from Fjordell. The stories interweave with one another and we jump back and forth to all three characters points of view. Raoden awakens on the day of Sarene and Hrathen’s arrival to Arelon to find out that his body has changed. He has no heartbeat, his skin has turned gray and mottled with spots, and his hair has fallen out. This means only one thing, Raoden is no longer considered to be among the living and he is exiled to the fallen city of Elantris. Meanwhile, Hrathen is putting in place actions that will move a kingdom to worship his god. Sarene discovers that although her intended husband is dead (she does not know he has actually just been banished) her marriage contract is valid and she cannot marry again, or go home to Teod. She only has one thing to do, serve as best she can, the people of Arelon. She decides that the best way to do this, is to counter Hrathen at every move.
While I found all three of these characters utterly fascinating, I was blown away by Raoden’s portion of the story. In Elantris he discovers that people have given up hope, many of them have been driven mad by starvation or desperation, and in order to survive he is going to have to bring hope to a despondent city. Unlike a lot of cities in other fantasy books, Elantris really does have major problems to deal with. You see, once someone is turned into an Elantrian, they feel every cut, nick, scratch, bruise, stubbed toe, or any other kind of injury forever. The pain never subsides, so madness makes sense for a lot of the inhabitants of the city. Raoden immediately realizes that what he has to do, is cling to hope. He meets Galladon, a committed pessimist who knows more about Elantris than he should. Together they set out to change the world.
Mixed in with all of these characters are intricate politics on an epic and kingdom making and breaking scale. It’s a huge ensemble cast of characters but not a single one of them is wasted. A lot of fantasy novels have the habit of exceeding the word count needed for the story relentlessly but this one makes every sentence feel absolutely necessary.
As well as politics, romance, and hope, the book also has interesting takes on magic. Most people in the book have these floating orbs called Seons. They are a magical kind of servant that can transmit messages anywhere instantly, keep track of their masters, and even influence events in the background without anyone realizing it. It was a great answer to the problem some fantasy novels have of how to communicate between long distances in a short amount of time.
I will admit that there were times in reading the book that I was certain I knew where it was leading. Occasionally it did, but even then, the next event in the book totally changed what I thought previously.
To say that this book was a masterful debut would quite honestly be an understatement. It’s rare to find new things in fantasy and it’s utterly refreshing when it happens. Reading books like this one is the reason I love fantasy books. They can still surprise me.
I’m sure this comes as no surprise to anyone who has read the Mistborn series or any of his other works, but Sanderson knows how to tell a story and tell it well. I hadn’t gotten around to Elantris for far too long but I am so glad I picked it up. If you have not read this and you love fantasy books, put this on your reading list immediately.
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