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Authors: Brandon Sanderson
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Elantris was once a place of magic, and the immortal Elantrians were gods in the eyes of people, with the divine ability to create and heal with a mere wave of a hand. Anyone in Arelon had the potential to become an Elantrian through a magical transformation known as the Shaod. But ten years ago, a cataclysm known as the Reod somehow destroyed the magic of Elantris, the inhabitants of the city became “cursed,” and the city was sealed off from society. Anyone affected by the Shaod is now thrown into Elantris to stay there forever, still immortal, but cursed with unquenchable hunger and unhealable pain.
The book focuses on three principal characters whose stories intertwine. Much of the book occurs in groupings of three chapters, one for each of the three main characters. The majority of the story takes places within the country of Arelon.
There are three main point-of-view characters in the story:
Prince Raoden, the prince of Arelon, is transformed into an Elantrian at the beginning of the book. After the Reod, Elantrians were cursed with dark splotches on their skin and hair falling out. The cursed cannot die or be killed except by drastic measures, such as burning or beheading. A major part of the curse is that their bodies can not repair themselves, so they continue to feel the pain of a stubbed toe or bruise forever. Over time the minor injuries accumulate, eventually driving them all insane. Elantrians do not need to eat, but they feel torturous hunger when they don’t. Once Raoden is transformed, he is immediately sent to Elantris in secret while his father pretends he has suddenly died. Raoden’s storyline centers on his efforts to retain his sanity and improve the Elantrian way of life beyond the anarchy to which it succumbed when Elantris fell. He does this by displaying amazing skills as a leader and getting the Elantrians to focus on work, as opposed to their constant suffering. He also manages to calm and disperse or incorporate the gangs which were terrorizing new Elantrians upon their arrival.
Princess Sarene is the princess of Teod and would have been Raoden’s political bride had he not been cursed. Raoden has never personally met her, so it comes as a surprise to her when she discovers upon her arrival in Arelon that they are considered to have been married if either of them dies before the wedding. Widow of a supposedly dead prince and a new member of the mostly ill-suited Arelon nobility, she struggles to find out what exactly is going in all affairs concerning the nobility of Arelon, the downtrodden common people of Arelon and Elantris, and what exactly happened to her now deceased husband. Sarene’s storyline follows her attempts to stabilize and improve the monarchy and political system, which encouraged nobles to mistreat the peasants. While spending her time in Arelon, she learns of Gyorn Hrathen, and relies upon her knowledge and skills to prevent his religious revolution.
Gyorn Hrathen, a Derethi gyorn, otherwise known as a high-ranking priest, arrives in Arelon with a mandate to convert the country to the Derethi religion within three months’ time, or his religion’s supposed armies will come to destroy the entire nation of Arelon. He parades around the nation to spread propaganda with the intention to make Arelenes hate Elantris and Shu-Korath, and, in turn, convert to Derethi. He takes advantage of the corrupt nobility of the region in order to reach his end goal, often holding secret meetings with them that involve bribery. Hrathen’s storyline focuses on his efforts towards politically maneuvering the Arelene aristocracy, with the ultimate intention being to place a converted Derethi on the throne. The novel occasionally focuses on his inward struggles as he feels he must come to terms with the religion he is supposed to believe, for even he questions his work ethic at times.
These are central to the book’s plot. They are the means by which the Elantrians perform magic. Many characters’ names are variations on the Aons, as is customary in this fantasy world. The images of the many Aons can be found in the back of the book. Raoden rediscovers many of the Aons while in Elantris, preserved in scrolls that have not been consumed by the decay of the city. He learns to invoke the Aons, but finds they have lost their power, which is the ultimate cause of Elantris’ collapse. Near the end of the book, Sarene helps Raoden discover that the shapes of the Aons coincide with physical landmarks and natural features located around the country. A massive fissure in the earth that now cuts through the country ‘altered’ these landmarks, which in turn caused the Aons to lose their power. By ‘reconstructing’ the Aons to now incorporate the fissure in their design, Raoden restores the Aons’ power. After realizing that Elantris and its surrounding cities are just one big Aon, he draws a giant line to represent the fissure, which restores Elantris and the Elantrians to their former glory.
Back in the day (from 2006 onward), Sanderson was the king of fantasy in my eyes. Everything he was writing was resonating with me. His stories were what I wanted to read. Then I got married, life happened and I’ve changed albeit so slowly that it wasn’t really noticeable to me. Back in ’19, Matt did a review of Elantris and while it has taken me almost 2 years, I’ve gotten around to re-reading it myself.
My recent re-read of his Mistborn books showed me that yes indeed I had changed. This re-read of Elantris really cemented that. I’ve been complaining about how Sanderson has gone the young adult route with his books and how I lamented that choice. Well, after reading his older stuff, it does appear that he’s always BEEN young adult and I just didn’t notice because it fit me so well at the time. Now that I’ve changed, I notice the rubs. Arggggg! Sometimes growing up isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. I think Peter Pan would agree.
Overall, I did enjoy this re-read. Sanderson shows his ability to be creative with magic systems (something that nobody has surpassed him in yet, just copied in one way or another) and his propensity for wordiness and descriptive bloat are in full view. If you like having all that detail, then you won’t be disappointed. If that type of thing bothers you, then I’d recommend not reading Sanderson. He’s got the wordiness of Charles Dickens but without being “at that level”. He’s definitely way above the majority of most authors in the SFF arena, but he’s not a classic.
Sanderson wrote another series, Alcatraz versus ….., and it had been left in limbo due to publishing issues. He finished it up and I was planning on re-reading the previous books and then reading the final book. After this journey through Mistborn and Elantris, I think I’m going to wait a bit. I feel like I am in mourning for who I used to be.
This experience is one of the reasons I try to re-read books. They are yardsticks against which I can measure myself. Books don’t change, I do but they do allow me to see that change.