Series: Elantris #1
Published: April 2005
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.
Brandon Sanderson crafts an intricate fantasy world in Elantris, dumping readers straight into a land teetering on the brink of ruin and war. Arelon is ruled by an inadequate king, is being subtly invaded by a destructive religion, and has just lost its crown prince—the only man the people believed could save them all. Prince Raoden is not dead, however. He has become an Elantrian and is standing on his own precipice, doomed to a life of eternal suffering that will eventually drive him insane. Unless he can find uncover the secrets of the once-beautiful Elantrian magic.
The stories of Prince Raoden, quarantined in the city of Elantris, and Arelon at large run parallel in Elantris. Princess Sarene, Raoden’s intended fiancée, attempts to take his place in the capital as the people’s savior, facing off against high priest Hrathen and Roaden’s father. The result is a complex web of politics, as alliances are made, secrets revealed, and murders committed. Elantris is billed as a fantasy, and it does feature magic, but it is just as much a book of political intrigue.
The characters, however, are just as complex as their plots. Raoden is a pretty straightforward hero, but the rest have multiple facets that will be a pleasure for readers to explore. Sarene is a strong-willed woman who does not always believe in herself. Hrathen is a passionate priest who does not always believe in his faith. Their allies have mysterious pasts. Everyone, eventually, learns from their mistakes and grows—sometimes ending on far different paths than they anticipated.
Meanwhile, Sanderon’s writing is superb, something I am beginning to expect after reading Elantris and Steelheart. Occasionally his characters (particularly Raoden) explain a little too much, as if the readers are not smart enough to draw conclusions and put together plot events on their own. However, the structure of the story is tight and the writing intelligent. In the end, everything comes back to the beginning and is beautifully tied up. Elantris is truly a pleasure just to look at.
I would recommend this book to readers who like smart fantasy with fair helpings of both magic and politics. One of my favorite reads of 2013.