About the Book
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Epic Fantasy, High Fantasy
Page Number: 638
Audible Listening Time: 27 hours and 30 mins
Goodreads Rating: 4.19/5
My Rating: 3.3/5
Elantris was once a magnificent city of mighty Gods with white hair and glowing skin. They wielded divine power and healing. The place was revered in Arelon and the citizens were worshipped. But the city fell to a curse known as Reod. The city which was once the place of decadence became a place full of pain and torture and the gorgeous city turned into hell. The Elantrians who were worshipped as Gods become decaying beings cast aside within the city limits and left to fend for themselves.
Rhaoden, the Prince of Arelon, wakes up one morning and finds himself decaying like Elantrian and succumbing to the process of transformation called Shaod. He was immediately dumped into Elantris. His promised bride Princess Sarene comes to Arelon to her husband 'dead' and is left to deal with the city politics. But all is not well in the Kingdom. Hrathen, a priest of Shu-Dereth who is working for Fjordell Empire to convert as many people as possible to Shu-Dereth by turning the people against the Elantrians. Will this anticipated religious war be the key to the solution that might help Elantris to return to its former glory?
The plot instantly captivated me and I was sure I will like this book after reading the blurb at the back of the book. And I was right. Brandon Sanderson does a great job building a compelling plot and a unique magic system. Elantris has all the right elements to make it interesting. Political intrigue, religious tension and gory description of the situation of people at their absolute bottom. These are some things I enjoyed a lot in Elantris.
Prince Rhaoden was my favourite character from Elantris. In many fantasy books, we see people say that someone is a great leader, but the author never shows them doing anything leader-like. But in Elantris, this is not true. Prince Rhaoden is dumped into the worst place possible in that world and yet managed to keep his calm in his decaying eternal life. He succumbs to the pain from time to time but never gives up.
He successfully led the people of Elantris who have turned into animals from starvation and whose only goal is to survive at all costs. He led the people who are most difficult to lead. The description of life in Elantris after Shaod is gut-wrenching. The details of their pain and starvation are heartbreaking to read. I love when the main protagonist goes through absolute hell and comes out victorious and Elantris has exactly that.
Princess Sarene is the promised bride of Prince Rhaoden. But after the 'death' of Rhaoden she becomes his wife because of a legal technicality despite not having a wedding. Now, all the covert political activities of Prince Rhaoden before his 'death' are left to her to deal with. She has to become a leader to his trusted people and earn their respect as a politician. Meanwhile, religious tension is rising in the city and people are starting to turn against the Elantrians because of a priest that is hell-bent on converting people to the religion of Shu-Dereth. Sarene has to stop him and manage the political climate with her sheer determination and intelligence.
I found Sarene's character as a lost opportunity. On paper, Ioved her arc but while reading it I felt she was not given enough time to show her growth as a character. She earns her respect mostly by talking and giving riveting speeches rather than doing something. I loved one scene with her when she was having a debate with Hrathen and completely demolishes his logic with her intelligence. I needed more scenes like that. But it was too few. Overall, her character could be far more interesting.
Hrathen was a great villain in Elantris. He was an absolute piece of shit yet I could understand his need to prove himself to the Fjorden Empire. His determination to do whatever was necessary to achieve his goal was great to read. I loved every chapter from his POV. His arc was phenomenal. The only gripe I had about his character is his change of heart at the end. I wanted him to be the final villain even after having a change of heart. The final villain was not someone I cared about much.
The worldbuilding was average in Elantris. The city of Arelon is not described well enough. I don't remember a single thing about Arelon after finishing the book. The same goes for other regions on the planet. Everything outside Elantris seems to be a box with a castle where the politics of the world is taking place. The Fjorden Empire was sounding interesting when they were discussed but never explored properly.
However, Elantris is described extremely well. The city description and location of important landmarks are clear. Brandon Sanderson put much thought into it and it shows. The gory depiction of feral Elantrians and the constant fight for survival is painful to read and imagine. I also loved the information given about Elantris during its glory days.
The magic system is called AonDor. Aon is the runes that are drawn in the air with illuminated lines. The light for the runes comes from Dor which is an energy and various people have different levels of it. After the fall of Elantris, Dor is mostly lost from the world which is why Aon runes don't work anymore. Some people have specks of Dor but that is not sufficient to do anything with. The magic is closely tied to the location of the Magic. There are different types of magic on the planet in other regions but they were not explored enough. Such as Forging.
I loved the magic system in Elantris. There is huge scope to build upon this magic system in future books if Brandon Sanderson wants to write a sequel. For now, this book is a standalone novel. Since this is a part of Cosmere, there are a lot of possibilities in future. The core of the magic system is coherent throughout Cosmere. The magic system of the Cosmere is explored most in The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance from The Stormlight Archive Series.
The pacing is inconsistent throughout the book. Elantris into the thick of the plot early in the book but the mid part drags a lot. There is a lot of info dumping Sarene's scenes. This slows down everything that is going around. I know info dumps are inevitable in a book with this much complexity in its magic system but I didn't mind the info dumping in Rhaoden's scenes. His scenes where he was learning about AonDor are some of my favourite scenes.
Overall, the pacing is average. I would not recommend this book to readers who are just beginning to read Brandon Sanderson. Other books by him are better suited to enter the expanse of Cosmere.
My enjoyment of the book was affected by the inconsistent pacing. I stopped reading it at the 30% mark because it was dragging a lot. Then I picked it up again and finished it. The climax of the book is worth the slow mid-section. It was entertaining and incredibly satisfying to read. I loved how things turned out at the end. This book will probably be at the top of my recommendation for people looking to read an amazing standalone fantasy.
Elantris is a great fantasy standalone. There are complex magic systems, expansive worlds and compelling characters. The writing sometimes becomes descriptive and verges on info dumping in a lot of scenes but in the end, it delivers a satisfying ending while keeping the scope of expansion in the future. The possibilities of expanding this world are endless yet it perfectly ties all loose ends as all standalone books should.
Since this is the first published book from Brandon Sanderson, his writing is not on par with the books in The Stormlight Archive Series, or Mistborn Series. But it is still amazing and mind-boggling because this is Brandon Sanderson we are talking about. The guy writes like crazy. His worst book is still better than 95% of other fantasy books.
“Do not dash if you only have the strength to walk, and do not waste your time pushing on the walls that will not give. More importantly, don't shove where a pat would be sufficient.”
“Definitely not—you optimists just can't understand that a depressed person doesn't want you to try and cheer them up. It makes us sick.”
“You will find that hate can unify people more quickly and more fervently than devotion ever could.”
“Is human nature to believe that other places and other times are better than the here and now.”
“The Shaod, it was called. The Transformation... When it came, the fortunate 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 worshipped for eternity. Eternity ended ten years ago.”
“It's nice to see that cannibalism has been so logically ruled out as an option," Raoden said dryly.”
“it had never occurred to her that having knowledge was entirely different from explaining that knowledge to others.”
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 suspects 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 welcoming new star in the constellation of fantasy.
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