As the image suggests, my first official book for the New Year was Brandon Sanderson’s debut novel, Elantris which was released in 2005. Aside from a short story, this is more-or-less a stand alone high fantasy story with more books possible in the future.
From the back of the book: Elantris was the city of the gods. What power could have cursed it?
Raoden, prince of Arelon, was loved by all, including the princess he’d never met. Where has he gone?
Hrathen, high priest of Fjordell, will convert the people of Arelon or kill them. How will he decide?
Sarene, princess of Teod, was a widow before she was ever married. Who can stand against her?
As you can see, it centers around three main characters; Prince Raoden (Lord Spirit), high priest Hratheon, and Princess Sarene. While written in third person, each chapter follows one of those three. A few times it switches to one of the minor characters, but that is more towards the final scenes. The chapters and scenes flow together beautifully and the imagery is amazing.
MINOR SPOILERS BUT NOT REALLY.
This book takes place in Kae, the capital of Arelon. Kae sits in the shadow of the once great city of Elantris, considered the city of the gods. Those who once inhabited the city, the Elantrians, could perform magic using certain symbols called Aons. While they are the only ones who were able to do this, anyone was able to become an Elantrian. The transformation (or Shaod) would strike whomever it wished, generally at night. The person would then lived in the blissful world of Elantris.
All of that ended though, ten years prior to the current events in the book. Now the Shaod still takes people, but it turns them into monstrosities. When it struck, the unlucky victim was forced into the squalor the majestic city had become, destined to live in a zombie-like state forever. No one is proud now when it strikes and feign some type of disease killed the victim as opposed to admitting the truth.
So of course the book opens with Raoden, prince and only heir waking up to find the Shaod had taken him. A week before his wedding too. So he gets sent to Elantris where he does not get a very warm welcome. The place is like the ghetto, or even a concentration camp really. But he plans on changing that and finding the reason behind the Shaod now being a curse.
Sarene of course shows up in Arelon a day or two after he ‘dies’. After a lousy greeting from the king who is inclined to be a misogynistic jerk, she picks up something is not right and subtly begins investigating Raoden’s ‘death’. She also notices Hrathen and becomes worried about Arelon and, in extension her own nation Teod. The reason she set up the marriage to Raoden was to create a strong front against the ever encroaching Fjordell Empire and, in turn, Shu-Derethi.
Hrathen is an imperial high priest of the Shu-Derethi religion. Coming to Arelon, his mission is to convert the whole nation so that the Fjordell Empire can expand it’s hold within a three month time period. If they do not convert after that time, an invasion will begin and thousands will be slaughtered. Six months prior he had done the same thing in another kingdom and this time wants to convert them with little bloodshed. Sarene however, combats him every step of the way and he has to deal with unseen problems in his own chulittle
Here is where I’ll admit that the characters are a little Mary Sue and Gary Stu. Well, Raoden and Sarene at least. I mean, I loved them don’t get me wrong, but a lot of the time they could come off as “I know everything and you are wrong.”. Granted, they had incredibly strong personalities but still. An example of this is when Sarene squeezes her way into secret meetings some nobles are holding to figure out how to oppose the king. Sarene was very much ” I know what I am talking about” and while she has the background to back it up, it was a very Mary Sue moment.
Hrathen on the other hand…he was just an amazingly well written character. He genuinely thinks he is doing what is best for the people and he gets knocked down a lot.
They all of course run into a multitude of problems. The book really is one huge problem that they all are trying to solve differently: How to save the country. Raoden starts off focusing more on saving and fixing Elantris but of course it extends into the rest of Arelon. His father has a very unsteady monarchy going. Power and titles is equal to wealth. If you lose your wealth, you lose your title, lands…everything. The now-common people are little more than slaves even though they remember the days of being free. Unrest and tension is palpable. All three characters know this and are trying to fix it.
As for favorite characters, aside from Hrathen who somehow grew on me, they mostly consisted of minor characters. Eondell, Kiin, Galladon, Lukel, Shuden, Roial…I enjoyed all these characters the most. They all had an amazing dynamic within their respectable parties and brought a lot more into the story. Oh and Ashe! He is a Seon, which are little creatures basically made up of light and are tied in with Elantris. They can also help people communicate over long distances.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book and if I talk much more I will be getting into major spoilers. It was a great stand alone and managed to not feel rushed or feel like too much information was being thrown at you. Veteran fantasy readers and those new to the genre I think will both enjoy this book. Sanderson is a great swordsmith.