Brandon Sanderson
Elantris Cover



This is the first high fantasy book I've read that I actually enjoyed since ASoIaF. It's odd. I've never liked high fantasy much, but this was one case where I couldn't help but enjoy the ride as the nobles squabbled.

Elantris was the home of the gods, beautiful, radiant beings with the power of the Dor at their fingertips. The stranger part? Every Elantrian was once a regular person, before the Shaod took them, transforming them. But then, the magic failed. Elantris began to crumble, the people became sad mockeries of their former selves, and the Shaod became a death sentence. Ten years later, the city of Kae lies in the shadow of Elantris, and Princess Sarene of Teod is on her way to marry the Crown Prince Raoden, a political marriage with the promise of love. But when Sarene arrives, she finds out Raoden has died, and she is nevertheless considered his widow. As she settles into her new roll in the Arelish court, she comes face to face with the Gyorn Hrathen, a priest of Shu-Dereth determined to convert the entire nation of Arelon by any means necessary. Determined to prevent the gyorn from converting her adopted people, Sarene begins to move against him. And all the while Prince Raoden, struck by the Shaod and secretly exiled to Elantris, struggles to bring the city back to life, and with it, the magic.

Sanderson's very first published book, and the last book on my Cosmere backlist to read. After my experience with Warbreaker, I was a bit hesitant about reading this. It's clear that the further back into Sanderson's backlist you go, the less epic and more high his fantasy tales become. Which places Elantris solidly in veritable no-man's land for me. I definitely didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did.

I love how Sanderson manipulates the tropes in here. A city of the Gods that has lost it's divinity. An extremely intelligent princess that isn't also considered a rare beauty or anything. Quite the opposite, in fact. A priest that has no actual faith in his religion. Princess Sarene in particular is a new favorite character for me. The main characters in general were a compelling group of folks. I enjoyed getting under their skin, seeing what makes them tick, reading their reactions to the schemes of others, following their plans as they prepared to one up each other. A fun battle of wits that at times really lacked gravity, to be honest. I'm not sure I'd have enjoyed this nearly as much if it had taken itself more seriously.

Sanderson was definitely a good writer by this point. It was easy to envision the characters and settings come to life around me, the muck of Elantris and the scents of Kiin's kitchen. However, he hadn't quite mastered tension as yet; like I said, it lacks gravity, and I was also able to literally put the book down flush in the middle of the climax to go watch Let's Be Cops. It wasn't very tense, but it was extremely engaging; it took me about two months to read this, and I did that mainly in sittings devouring large chunks before forcing myself to put it down for extended periods. It's the last Sanderson for now, after all. I wanted to stretch it out, savour it. Especially after I realized how much I was enjoying it.

As far as the settings go, I'm not overly impressed. There are a few unique elements to it, such as the city of Elantris, but generally the setting is as generic as they come. AonDor is a neat magic system, but compared to it's later stuff it's not bad. I kept having to remind myself that this was very early Sanderson; given the drastic up step in imagination if you consider his books in publication order, it's almost as if he's been holding his best ideas back until he felt confident that he had the skill to make perfect use of them. Even his older stuff tends to be more imaginative than most of the other epic fantasy published at the time, I'd bet.

All in all, I loved Elantris. I enjoyed the character dynamics, even though I wasn't very impressed with the setting or the magic. But I expected at the very least that last part, based on my experience with Warbreaker. It's not quite standard Sanderson, it has a great ending but not the plot twisting ones I've come to love from him, there's a lot of stuff going on in the end that you know was bound to happen. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it as I never expected to. If you're a fan of his later stuff but haven't read this yet, it's definitely going to be a fun ride.