2005; 615 pages. New Author? : No. Genre : Epic Fantasy. Overall Rating : 9*/10.
Alas, Elantris! Once upon a time, it was truly a golden city. Magic flowed freely within its limits, and among all of its citizens, who were held to be gods, and revered for their healing touch. If you lived elsewhere, and were very fortunate, the Shaod (the “Transformation”) would fall upon you and you’d be instantly transported to Elantris to live a new and glorious life as one of them.
But something happened ten years ago. The Shaod no longer exists. Now, if you are very unfortunate, the Reod (“the Punishment”) will fall upon you and you’ll be banished to live within the black, grimy , death-filled gates of Elantris. There is no cure for the Reod, nor any protection against it. It strikes instantly, without warning, and without distinction. Anyone might wake up one morning with hair falling out, and black splotches covering his or her skin.
Even a royal prince.
What’s To Like...
There are three main characters in Elantris: Prince Raoden of Arelon, Princess Sarene of Teod, and the Derethi high priest Hrathen. For most of the book, the chapters rotate among the POV’s of this trio, and each has a different “slant”. The Raoden chapters are mostly Action-oriented. The Sarene chapters focus on courtly Intrigue. The Hrathen chapters give some keen insight on the squabblings of Religion. All three are expertly penned, and the varying themes keep the storytelling from bogging down.
There are a slew of supporting characters, all phenomenally developed; and a bunch of secondary storylines to keep you on your toes. I found the theological debates between Hrathen and Sarene fascinating; and Harthen’s protégé, Dilaf, is a kewl study of “zealous evangelism”. There is also a lot of wit and humor, such as Sarene’s (lack of) artistic talent.
I liked the magic system, which is centered around glyph-like “Aons”, and which reminded me of my Mandarin Chinese classes from years ago. Stroke order and perfect sizing of the glyphs are important, and there’s a handy glossary in the back of the book, giving a bunch of the basic Aon patterns.
The world-building is somewhat limited, considering this is a 600-page Epic Fantasy opus. For most of the story, our protagonists are confined to the titular city of Elantris, and its adjoining city, Kae. The scene then shifts to Sarene’s home kingdom, Teod, for an exciting climax. The last hundred pages or so are constant action, but overall, I found Elantris to be a character-driven tale, and superbly done in that respect. I did end up caring about what happened to our three protagonists.
Kewlest New Word. . .
Caliginous (adj.) : misty; dim; obscure; dark.
Others : Revertiss (n., and a word Sanderson invented).
Raoden shook his head. “Galladon, that is just a tiny part of it. No one accomplishes anything in Elantris – they’re all either too busy squabbling over food or contemplating their misery. The city needs a sense of purpose.”
“We’re dead, sule,” Galladon said. “What purpose can we have besides suffering?”
“That’s exactly the problem. Everyone’s convinced that their lives are over just because their hearts stopped beating.”
“That’s usually a pretty good indication, sule,” Galladon said dryly. (pg. 123)
Roial chuckled, and Sarene followed his gaze. Shuden and Torena spun near the center of the dance floor, completely captivated by one another.
“What are you laughing about?” Sarene asked, watching the fire-haired girl and the young Jindo.
“It is one of the great joys of my old age to see young men proven hypocrites,” Roial said with an evil smile. “After all those years swearing that he would never let himself be caught – after endless balls spent complaining when women fawned over him – his heart, and his mind, have turned to mush as surely as any other man’s.”
“You’re a mean old man, Your Grace.”
"And that is the way it should be,” Roial informed. “Mean young men are trivial, and kindly old men boring. Here, let me get us something to drink.” (pg. 398)
Prince Raoden of Arelon awoke early that morning, completely unaware that he had been damned for all eternity. (pg. 1, and the opening line in the book.)
The quibbles are minor. The key to removing the curse from Elantris seemed a bit less-than-epic, but at least it wasn’t the banal “find the Ultimate Artifact and deliver/destroy it” solution. I felt like there was a continuity issue with one of the Elantrian gang leaders, Shaor. She is identified as being Lord Telrii’s daughter on page 309, yet that never factors into the storyline. Did the author change his mind as to how to resolve her?
My biggest quibble is with the number of loose threads the Brandon Sanderson never ties up. Galladon’s hidden past remains …well… hidden. The military threat to the kingdom of Arelon is still there, not in the least bit diminished. Kiin and Eventeo have some interpersonal issues to overcome And the question of which sect - the Korathi or the Derethi – are blessed with the theologically-correct interpretation of god, is definitely open for further debate and bloodshed.
All these loose ends scream to be resolved in a sequel, and according to Wikipedia, Brandon Sanderson has promised one. However, he followed up Elantris with the fabulous Mistborn trilogy (reviewed here, here, and here), and then got the task of finishing up the late Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. So he has been rather busy of late.
Still, one can only hope that the sequel to Elantris will eventually be written.
9 Stars. Subtract ½ star if you were hoping for a hack-&-slash story. It’s there, but you have to wait a while for it. It is worth the wait.