The Shaod, it was called. The Transformation. It struck randomly—usually at night, during the mysterious hours when life slowed to a rest. The Shaod could take beggar, craftsman, nobleman, or warrior. When it came, the fortunate person’s life ended and began anew; he would discard his old, mundane existence, and move to Elantris. Elantris, where he could live in bliss, rule in wisdom, and be worshipped for eternity.
Eternity ended ten years ago.”
A lot has changed in the decade since Elantris fell: the Shaod transformation has become a curse; a militant religion called Shu-Dereth has risen in Arelon’s theocratic neighboring country, Fjorden; and almost every nation has fallen to the Fjordell Empire. Now only Arelon and Teod stand free.
Prince Raoden of Arelon betroths himself to Sarene, the princess of Teod, hoping to create an alliance against Fjorden. But his plans change, suddenly, when the Shaod descends on him and his parents, the king and queen of Arelon, secretly exile him to the rotting city of Elantris.
A short time later, Princess Sarene steps off her ship from Teod into Arelon’s capital city of Kae, only to find herself a “widow” to the “deceased” prince Raoden. However, never one to waste an opportunity, she uses her new station and powerful personality to begin digging into the diseased heart of the crumbling kingdom, searching for strength necessary to keep her new home safe from Fjordell.
Meanwhile, Hrathen, a Derethi priest from Fjordell, plots domination of Arelon as he also arrives in Kae—and his plotting involves the Elantrians. Elantris is adult Fantasy authored by Brandon Sanderson and published 2005 by Tor.
It took about two seconds for the mystery of Elantris to grab me. Who were the Elantrians? What happened to them? Could their sickness be cured? The characters work to answer these questions in different ways.
In fact, the three main narrators maintain a continuous duel of wits, throughout most of the book, hoping to reach their own ends before the others can stop them. It’s difficult to express just how fun a conniving dance of a novel like this can be, but let’s start with the cursed Prince Raodan.
Raoden makes it his goal to discover the secret behind the Elantrian curse. It’s almost like an Undercover Boss moment, for him, when he realizes how the city next door has been suffering during his parents’ reign. I loved following him around Elantris as he brought small, but clever changes that made all the difference to the Elantrian standard of living. Raoden uses his curse to solve problems constantly, and it’s just so much fun to read! For example, at one point he needs to escape the guarded walls of Elantris. He knows of a river that runs under the city to Kae, so he takes advantage of the fact that he can’t die: he holds his breath and lets the river drag him, underwater, to freedom.
Now is that clever or what? And all this while plotting to thwart Sarene’s and Hrathen’s plans for the city of Elantris and keep his old identity a secret from everyone around him.
Sarene comes up with equally clever plans to destroy the power of a certain Derethi priest from Fjordell (hrm hrm, Hrathen). If Hrathen wants the people to hate the Elantrians, Shallan will start a food drive for those poor souls. If he wants a certain noble sympathizer to topple the king, no problem, she’ll marry someone else to give her own sympathizer a step up over the competition.
I seriously love this chick.
These characters pull the best tricks on each other, but Gyorn Hrathen might be the most conniving of the three. To him
Elantrians represented the ultimate flaw of human arrogance: they had set themselves up as gods. Their hubris had earned their fate. In another situation, Hrathen would have been content in leaving them to their punishment
However, he happened to need them.”
All three really came alive, for me, with their clear motivations and proactivity. Occasionally Sanderson would “tell” a character’s feelings, instead of showing them, but even in the “telling,” their motivations felt so truthful.
While I did enjoy the setup of all these tensions, the pacing does drag, at times. I think the biggest reason for this drag has to do with the questions about Elantris. We wonder about the Elantrians from page one, but it takes a long time to start getting answers. I raced through the pages when Raoden made a discovery, or a big plot twist happened. But other times, I was just plugging along to get on to the good stuff. A few other, smaller things contribute to this. For example…it’s a little maddening that Raoden won’t just tell Sarene his identity! Also, it took me some time to get into Hrathen’s POV, although he really came alive before the end.
My only other beefs with this book have to do with the ending, which feels a little rushed. First of all, Raoden’s mother sort of disappears. [Highlight to view SPOILER: What about her heroic death? Why isn’t she buried with honor near the king and Hrathen?? Did Sanderson just forget about her or something?] But Queen Eshen feels slightly shell-like, to me, anyway. I mean, what mother wouldn’t tear down even the walls of Elantris to reach her sick son?!? Other than that, I just have a few unanswered questions that I’m hoping might find answers in book II or Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection. [Highlight to view SPOILER: What “possesses” Hrathen, near the end? And where do the Fjordens get their power? Through a corruption of the Dor?]
Fantastic debut. Absorbing mystery, compelling characters and a world that I would love to explore in further books.
Recommended To :
Anyone who already loves Brandon Sanderson will enjoy Elantris. It’s also a great place to start with him, being a standalone, although I would recommend other works (*ahem* The Way of Kings *ahem*) as even better starting places, since they’re more polished than Elantris. Anyone looking for a really original fantasy with fleshed-out characters, cultures and religions will enjoy this novel.
Truth can never be defeated, Sarene. Even if people do forget about it occasionally.”