Elantris by Brandon Sanderson


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.

A rare epic fantasy that doesn’t recycle the classics and that is a complete and satisfying story in one volume, Elantris is fleet and fun, full of surprises and characters to care about. It’s also the wonderful debut of a welcome new star in the constellation of fantasy. 

My Review

4/5 stars
I read a paperback copy of the tenth anniversary edition.

Elantris is a wonderfully original story with great, well-described characters.

Hrathen and Sarene

I loved feisty Sarene, the princess from Teod who arrives in Kae expecting to marry Prince Raoden, only to be told he died during her journey over. She is tall with big feet and since her personality is very assertive and she does not consider herself very marriage-worthy, she had arranged her own marriage for political reasons and is heartily disappointed by the reported death of her betrothed. She is especially irked since the marriage contract stipulates that in the event of Raoden’s death the marriage is binding, and that she may never remarry without nullifying the political contract.

Raoden (the undead prince) was also a favourite character. A gentlemanly hero and a born leader who is eternally optimistic, even while within Elantris. He is not prepared to give up, even when everyone around him clearly has done so, and he strives to educate himself about the Aon magic of Elantris in order to try and figure out what went wrong ten years ago and to try to fix it.

Hrathen was an interesting character. He is a blood-red armour wearing gyorn of the Derethi religion (!!) who was struggling with a lapse in his faith while trying to convert the entire country of Arelon in three weeks in order to save them from certain annihilation.

Dilaf is a nasty piece of work who reveals himself to be monstrous, but I don’t want to give anything away here.

There are many other great characters in this story who we gradually get to know and discover more details about as the story progresses.

Elantris and Kae are neighbouring cities in the country of Arelon, and we are also introduced to the other countries of Teod, Duladell, JinDo and Svorden, by meeting characters from these realms and learning of their national characteristics as the story progresses.

Map of Elantris and Kae taken from http://www.brandonsanderson.com

The main premise of this novel is that there was a city called Elantris inhabited by godlike people who could use magic (Aons) and had silvery skin and beautiful white hair. Then ten years ago something terrible, known as the Raod, happened and they lost their powers and became zombie-like beings with no heartbeat. They were no longer able to heal from pain and their hair fell out and their skin became grey and blotchy and gradually decayed. This process known as the Shaod would happen overnight to randomly selected people from the neighboring city of Kae, and other neighbouring lands, and the following day they would be thrown into Elantris – never to escape (supposedly). So Elantris has gone from being a shining example of a perfect civilization to a kind of walled prison full of zombies.

The beginning of the book is quite tough since there are so many peculiar yet similar words to get used to: Shaod, Raod, Hoed to name but a few. There are also three religions and lots of peculiar names of people and places to figure out. I was glad to be part of a readalong group hosted on discord by @Bensblurb for this book as I might have given up in the early chapters otherwise. I’m very glad I didn’t give up. At one point I compared getting to know this universe to learning a language without a dictionary. There were also some chapters which dumped a lot of historical and political info on the reader which was not great all at once. However this was Sanderson’s debut novel and I think it is a good place to start in order to read more of his books (which I plan to do). His world building is excellent and his characters are fleshed out and believable.

There were plenty of surprises in the story which hit really hard and made it impossible to put this book down a lot of the time. A book full of heroes and villains, intrigue, poison, magic and a touch of romance. Bring on the Mistborn trilogy!!

About the Author

Brandon Sanderson was born in 1975 in Lincoln, Nebraska. As a child Brandon enjoyed reading, but he lost interest in the types of titles often suggested to him, and by junior high he never cracked a book if he could help it. This changed when an eighth grade teacher gave him Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly.

Brandon was working on his thirteenth novel when Moshe Feder at Tor Books bought the sixth he had written. Tor has published Elantris, the Mistborn trilogy and its followup The Alloy of Law,Warbreaker, and The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance, the first two in the planned ten-volume series The Stormlight Archive. He was chosen to complete Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series; 2009’s The Gathering Storm and 2010’s Towers of Midnight were followed by the final book in the series, A Memory of Light, in January 2013. Four books in his middle-grade Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians series have been released in new editions by Starscape, and his novella Infinity Blade Awakening was an ebook bestseller for Epic Games accompanying their acclaimed Infinity Blade iOS video game series. Two more novellas, Legion and The Emperor’s Soul, were released by Subterranean Press and Tachyon Publications in 2012, and 2013 brought two young adult novels, The Rithmatist from Tor and Steelheart from Delacorte.

The only author to make the short list for the David Gemmell Legend Award six times in four years, Brandon won that award in 2011 for The Way of KingsThe Emperor’s Soul won the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Novella. He has appeared on the New York Times Best-Seller List multiple times, with five novels hitting the #1 spot.

Currently living in Utah with his wife and children, Brandon teaches creative writing at Brigham Young University.

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