Author: Brandon Sanderson
Elantris is the debut fantasy novel by Brandon Sanderson, about a magical city inhabited by demi-gods who have succumbed to a mysterious curse, which was this months book club choice at Blue Sheep Books.
The book has three central characters, Prince Raoden, Princess Sarene and Gyorn Hrathen.
Prince Raoden is the prince of Kae, the city which is the closest neighbour to Elantris and he has just succumbed to the Reod, the condition that cursed the Elantrians and caused the city to fall 10 years earlier.
Prior to this, the Elantrians experienced the Shaod which gave them magical powers, however the Reod is the opposite. It makes their skin sallow and they cannot die, but they can experience pain with many people eventually succumbing to their madness once they reached their pain threshold. Raoden is thrown into Elantris with the others, where he meets a Dula, Galladon from a neighbouring city and the two form an alliance against the three warring factions in the city.
Meanwhile Princess Sarene has travelled from Teod, engaged to be wed to Raoden before he succumbed to the Shaod. The marriage was a political one to unite Arelon and Teod. Both countries have many enemies as they have succumbed to Shu-Dereth, an alternative religion that puts a mysterious figure named Wryn in charge, with Arelon and Teod being the only two still following Shu-Korath. She arrives in Arelon to find her husband dead and she strongly suspects a cover-up by her father in law, King Iaden.
Our final character, Hrathen is a Derethi Gyorn sent to Arelon by Wryn to convert the people to Shu-Dereth. He has been given three months before Wryn takes the country by force. He plans to turn the people of Kae against the Elantrians which have been locked into the city but is sent a mysterious and fanatical man named Dilaf to assist him.
Will Raoden find out what has cursed the city? Will Sarene be able to stop Hrathen and protect her adopted country? Will Hrathen be successful and what danger is Arelon and Teod in?
This is my first time reading a Brandon Sanderson book and I know he is massively popular amongst fans of the fantasy genre, although this book which is his debut is generally considered the worst of his books by his. Overall though I did enjoy the book and found it to be a rewarding experience by the time I reached it’s conclusion.
However I am going to start with the main problem that I had with this book which lies mainly in it’s structure in the first half of the book. The book at the beginning has a very rigid structure with a chapter focusing on each character before moving to the next one i.e. we have a Raoden chapter, then a Sarene one, then a Hrathen one.
Of the three stories I found Raoden’s the most interesting as we learn about a city in ruin and the horrific nature of the curse that effects the Elantrians. Also the warring factions and what caused it to happen is a very intriguing central mystery.
Whilst Sarene and Hrathen are enjoyable characters during this early part of the book I really wanted to focus on Raoden’s story as the other two contained a lot of political intrigue and dense world building which does take a lot of time to get through. Whilst I did enjoy the world Sanderson created and it does feel very much lived in, this rigid structure and the amount of world building did make the first half a bit of a slog to get through.
However, once the book reaches it’s second and third parts the book does lose this structure around the midpoint and the action also picks up which I found made the book far more interesting.
One critique which was raised in my book club many readers also have is the three central characters don’t have much complexity to them in comparison to Sanderson’s other books. I haven’t obviously read them to compare but overall I did like the three protagonists.
Raoden and Sarene are both optimists which does at times come across as naivety but it is clear both of them recognise that treating their people with respect is what will help Arelon, instead of how Iaden uses his monetary system to reward only the wealthy. Sarene also does have to contend with some sexism from the dukes of Arelon and has to frequently use her wits and political experience to rive the plot forward and it is interesting to have a female protagonist in a fantasy novel doing this.
Hrathen of the three probably has the biggest moral dilemma. He is a Gyorn but he is starting to have a crisis of faith, especially as his last mission led to a violent and bloody revolution in Duladel. He is definitely manipulative in a similar way to Sarene but his feelings of guilt and wanting to avoid what happened in Duladel does make him an intriguing character and his arc through the story is an interesting one.
I did enjoy the battle of wits between Hrathen and Sarene as it did give across a Game of Thrones type vibe as the two go to toe-to-toe over Arelon’s future. However the second half is when the book has more fantasy action and an epic battle which is definitely a page turner to get through and the book does manage to keep some surprises to the end which I didn’t see coming.
I also must mention a couple of standouts in this 10th edition book which was published in 2015. The book does have an appendix which explains the Aon’s (the magical runes which from the magic system in Elantris) and also contains some deleted chapters from the book which introduced a brother character for Raoden who was cut.
This is a really nice touch I haven’t seen before and I would love if authors did more of this as it helps you feel a bit more involved with the writing process and Sanderson also adds notes for how the book would have incorporated this character.
The book does also have a hidden chapter in this edition after the appendixes which I would also recommend ensuring you read. I did enjoy the book and may consider trying another Sanderson work in the future.