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.
“To live is to have worries and uncertainties. Keep them inside, and they will destroy you for certain–leaving behind a person so callused that emotion can find no root in his heart.”
Where does one even begin to review something like this? This is a very good ending that has a very slow start. I think if I had read Elantris before I had read other works in the Cosmere, I probably would have rated it higher. As it stands, I can see how this was a much less refined work.
This had the slowest start of any Sanderson work I’ve read to date. It really wasn’t until 50% into the book that I started to connect to the story at all. I connected with Raoden right away, but I imprint on the first character that makes a presence at all and grip on to them tightly. As always with Sanderson though, I find the story getting ripped away from Raoden every time it was starting to get good, and I’d have to deal with another character I really just did not care about. Over and over and over again. It made for angry cake.
The build up to the ending was great. I got more and more excited at every 10% past the 50% mark. The ending itself was a bit disappointing. I was expecting a bit more than we got. It was a lot of buildup for about 20 minutes of action. I still love the outcome, though. I was just hoping for more. Again, this is probably an outcome of having read other bits of the cosmere before this. The characters also feel like prototypes of characters he is writing in other series.
Raoden (or Raobae as I like to call him) is the best character. He is a natural leader thrown into a terrible situation, but determined to make it better for himself, but most importantly for the people around him. I really liked his story the best, and I turned into a raging she-beast every time the story decided to move away from him. I loved Raoden’s trying to make the best of things for everyone, despite it not doing so well for him. Raoden’s storyline is all about creating a society from a bunch of down on their luck people.
Sarene, I liked much, much less. In fact, I actively disliked her. I actually call her Shallan-lite and cannot even remember her name – I have to look it up every time I use it. I thought her story took up much more time than it needed to. It felt so unnecessary to go to her half the times we went to her I grew frustrated. In the end, her story came together, and her interactions with Raoden were great. It was just getting to that point that was increasingly frustrating. Sarene is a rather annoyingly smug character who is deeply rooted in hating herself. Sarene’s storyline is all about the political side of the spectrum, court intrigue, and just what is a good ruler anyway.
Hrathen’s point of view is funny, mostly because it has Dilaf in it. Dilaf has an uncanny ability to cock up every plan Hrathen makes. It is hilarious. I love it. Hrathen’s storyline deals with religion and what it means to be religious, and what it means to convert others to your side. Hrathen actively is trying to convert people to his way of thinking, and he is on a deadline. After a previous plan has been a win for him, but left the city he converted on the brink of collapse, Hrathen is having second thoughts about the way he is conducting things. Hrathen’s storyline is interesting and I like it much better than Sarene’s, but I really would just like Raoden.
The world building, as always from Sanderson, was solid. I loved trying to unravel the mystery of Elantris. Elantris grabbed me instantly of the mystery of what happened to the city of Elantris. I wanted to know what they were going to do to fix Elantris. Well, what Raoden was going to do, at least, because the others were unnecessary for that. Sanderson has a solid hook into this book that takes a while to even get around to. Other than Elantris, the court intrigue was kind of boring, which made me dislike Sarene even more. However, the whole Fjordell part was interesting, and I’m sort of disappointed we didn’t get to see inside the country into what was really going on.
Sanderson pays special attention to religion in this book. The entire story is coated in it. They’re pretty interesting, too. I like how he likes to point out “they’re all the same religion, anyway” quite a few times in the book. It makes the whole fight seem not worth it, and everyone knows it. Everyone knows that the religions are all the same at their core, but they still fight over it anyway. Amazing.
The romance is actually pretty adorable. This is not something I have ever really said about a Sanderson book I have read before (though as of writing this I have only read Stormlight Archive and Warbreaker). I have to get over my annoyance that Sarene spends so much time lamenting the fact that no one at all likes her, even as a friend. After that, though, I really like how the romance plays out. I was fearing it never would when I started the book, and I’d have to put up with all that whining for nothing. Glad to be proven wrong.
Overall, Elantris is the weakest of the Cosmere, but still a good book. As Sanderson put it in the postscript, this is “an outlandish, stand-alone book inspired by the idea of a prison city for zombie lepers.” It is an amazing idea, that I really did love the result of, even if I didn’t think it was the best thing he had ever written. Elantris could really use a sequel, in all honesty. I felt like the world was unfinished at the end, even if the story was.
To read more reviews for this series, check out the Cosmere series page!