A few days before meeting his betrothed, Prince Raoden wakens with splotches on his skin and his hair falling out, a transformation that marks him as an Elantrian. Raoden is unceremoniously thrown into the dark, slime-covered, crumbling city of Elantris and declared dead. Princess Sarene of Teod arrives in Arelon for her marriage to Raoden, only to find she is a widow. Sarene fast involves herself in courtly affairs, intrigued by the sudden death of her husband, and also finding a worthy opponent in Hrathen, a Fjordell high priest who seeks to convert the last remaining holdouts of his ruthless religion.
Sanderson’s magical system is delightful, and the destroyed Elantrian city is my favorite plot thread. The city of Elantris was once a beautiful place, filled with powerful magical gods (regular people chosen by the Shaod) who provided food and medical care for everyone. Ten years ago, the magic failed, and Elantris and its people became powerless, atrophied creatures of pure suffering. But Raoden does not give up so easy. He uses his leadership skills to forge a small clan of Elantrians, encouraging his people to utilize skills from their previous life, and also begins an investigation of the Shaod in a very believable way — he collects and reads books.
The three-perspective story includes Prince Raoden, Princess Sarene, and Hrathen, and these characters are another strength in this novel. Sarene is a smart, blunt, spunky woman, forced to grieve for a man she never met in person, and living in a country whose King believes women are decoration. Underneath her outgoing, decisive nature is a woman who needs affirmation, both personally and from her kingdom, which stems from men largely rejecting her rough personality and lanky form. Hrathen, though, is the star. The priest is a calculating, cunning man, struggling to balance duty to his position and salvation of others, who will do whatever it takes to save the poor innocent souls. He’s a villian who’s sympathetic but utterly evil in his deeds.
The pace is slow to start, but picks up in Part Two. And while the magical system is imaginative and new, a lot of questions are left unanswered. With that said, Elantris is a rare epic fantasy that feels thoroughly original. Combine that with a satisfying story that is complete in one book, and you have a fun and imaginative standalone fantasy.
Recommended for fans of epic, character-driven fantasy!
“The Shaod, it was called. The Transformation… When it came, the fortuante 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 worshiped for eternity.
Eternity ended ten years ago.”