Last one for a while, I swear. I’m already reading another book that’s not by Sanderson.
But hey, might as well go all the way back to his debut novel right? It’s fun to see how authors evolve and grow from book to book.
About ten years ago, Elantris was a beautiful city, ruled by gods among men. Individuals who could draw symbols of power in the air and make magic happen. Heal bones, create food, fly. But then, it all ended. The power faded, the Elantrians became husks of men, neither living nor dead, and the people feared and hated them for their fall. In the present day, a new kingdom has arisen right next to Elantris. Wealthy in theory, Arelon is plagued by an inequity between the ruling class and the peasant class. And a foreign power, ruled by a winner-take-all religion, has its sights set on taking over.
Prince Raoden of Arelon, is taken by the Elantrian disease (which strikes indiscriminately at anytime) and is thrown into Elantris’s grime covered walls to fend for himself amongst dangerous gangs and feral humans. His soon to be wife, Princess Sarene, arrives at Arelon early only to find that Raoden has mysteriously ‘died’. But her homeland needs the treaty that came with the marriage if they are to stop the spread of Shu-Dereth from taking over. Hrathen, a Shu-Dereth priest, arrives at exactly the same time and he has a timeline: three months to convert the city or the kingdom of Jaddeth will invade and kill everyone. A bloody revolution that he began in another city plagues his conscience. Maybe he can convert the entire city without any bloodshed. If only a stubborn princess will stop getting in his way.
I enjoyed a lot of this novel. It’s very accomplished for a first book and it’s quite obvious again why Sanderson is a successful author. Elantris is full of nuanced characters, plot intrigue, and great moments. The strongest of the three being the characters. Unlike other books, the focus of this novel is definitely less on action and more on manipulation. Talking your way through and around problems. Characters spend more time winning arguments than battles. Because of that the dialogue is long, intense, and satisfying.
As a one-off novel though, it’s clear that Sanderson is really only interested in answering the why the magic works in Elantris and not the how. Why? You draw symbols and they release power. How? Who knows? In his later series, Sanderson likes to explore the reasonings behind his worlds which satisfies the curiosity inside me.
A brief negative for me was this novel’s quick references that only marginally felt important to the plot, until they were revealed to be very important. If you hide your ex machina’s too well, it’s hard to see them as anything but that. They felt thrown in after a later chapter was written to make the plot smoother. I might not have noticed it if his later novels weren’t more accomplished.
But Elantris is still a great, if way less action heavy, fantasy novel.
3 out of 4 stars.