I think that Brandon Sanderson is the only author that I read who can make me tell myself after only the first chapter of his book, Elantris, “I gotta know what happens at the end of this book.”
Author’s Note: This book review will include spoilers for up to the middle of the book.
Now, full disclosure: I read many of Sanderson’s books. Reading Elantris never seemed like too pressing, but now I’m waiting for Stormlight 4, and there are still many others of his books that I didn’t read!
In any case, Brandon Sanderson is the king of magic systems, and I think overall, I was also curious to see what magic was used in this world.
So, without further adieu, let’s dive into reviewing the main characters and then the overall story!
The main idea of the book is that Elantris was once the city of the gods, but something happened — a cataclysmic event they named The Reod — and they lost their power. Some say Elantris was doomed, and others made religious excuses as to why this was happening.
Now, ten years after the Reod, Prince Raoden is transformed by the Shaod — a mysterious power that works in unknown ways — into an Elantrian. The first chapter in the book is about him waking up and discovering it.
In the glory days of Elantris, this would have been a joyous event, but instead, Raoden becomes like a leper. His wounds don’t heal, and his skin is saggy and old. He is Immortal, but at this state, it’s more of a curse than a blessing, especially when all Elantrians are locked away in Elantris and are considered dead.
What I loved the most about Prince Raoden’s thread in the story is that even though our first meeting with Raoden is after the Shaod transforms him, he still feels like a real person. His past shines through, and his personality is very much intact.
Raoden is curious and decides to understand what happened in Elantris. Through his journey, we illuminate the great city’s halls, books, and people.
By the middle of the book, he introduces himself to his now-widow who he never met before the Shaod: Sarene. She has no idea who he is.
I do not doubt that Sarene was a female character that Brandon heavily researched. I don’t know how female readers feel about her, but I thought she was very genuine.
Sarene is the daughter of the king of a neighboring kingdom called Teod. The state of the land forced the two nations to join their powers against a religious take over from the Derethi. The fall of Elantris was the only thing that allowed people even to consider such a takeover. Now, ten years after the Reod, people think the land around Elantris is cursed.
Sarene doesn’t care about all that. Sarene cares about marrying someone who she thought might be her equal. In her world, marrying at 25 was considered old. Now, her political contract dictated that if something were to happen to Prince Raoden before the official marriage date, the couple would be bonded in marriage anyway. She became his widow the moment she arrived in Arelon and learned of his death.
When Sarene comes to Kae, the current capital of Arelon, she is faced with more injustice than anything else. The king, Raoden’s father, treats her like a stupid girl, and she needs to find her place in court.
Eventually, she teams up with some nobles to oppose the king and also to oppose Gyorn Hrathen — the Derethi priest who wants to convert the country.
Sarene is such a compelling character, and she doesn’t even have magical powers. I loved reading her. Her relationship with her father is also charming — Daddy’s little girl.
When she arrives in Kae, she has no idea that her prince Raoden is just beyond the walls of Elantris. The king made his banishment hushed, and everyone thinks that Raoden was killed in an accident.
Sarene was not convinced.
Hrathen is a priest of the Derethi religion. He receives a mandate from his superior to come and convert all of Arelon to the Derethi religion. This mission will spell their god’s return — once all of the people in all corners of the world will convert. The line between religion and cult is pretty vague there.
The Derethi believe that conversion by force is also an option. Or, if you won’t convert, you can die. Then their god will return when all the people that oppose that god are either gone or turned.
It’s not hard to stop for a minute and think about a religion in our world that does the same. I’ll keep that up to you, the reader, to figure this one out.
In any case, Hrathen is a very complex character. He isn’t a zealot. On the contrary, he is logical and analytical. Hrathen’s mission is to convert all of Arelon in three months, or the armies will come and exterminate all of them.
But, something is not sitting well with Hrathen about all of this. And besides, the “stupid” princess, Sarene, is revealed to be a worthy foe in the politics and intrigue that he needs to win over in Arelon’s court.
Perhaps, she’s revealed to be more than that for Hrathen.
The Worldbuilding of Elantris
This world doesn’t feel like Brandon’s first. When reading through, I felt like I lived in Arelon.
It’s easy to connect to the world from the digestible descriptions. And Brandon is going a great job in making sure everything is clear. He doesn’t use fancy words to describe people, places, and even magic.
Elantris is also the first book in the Cosmere – Brandon’s fantasy universe. It’s interesting to see how everything fits together when Brandon will eventually write and publish Elantris’s sequel.
The Threads Are Coming Together
Brandon weaved the story together beautifully. In the beginning, each of these characters starts their journey separately, and it seems there is no connection whatsoever between them.
Raoden is inside Elantris and trying to survive, Sarene is at court, and Hrathen is in his church.
Each one of them gets accustomed to their new reality as the story progresses. And not only that! They illuminate with their interactions the world around them, and we get to know more about Elantris, Arelon, and the world as a result of that.
What I love about Sanderson’s writing is that these characters feel independent. They drive the story forward. They are the reason behind the turning points, up, and downs in the story.
These characters are what make me laugh, shed a tear, or hold my breath. And yes, all of these reactions happened in this one book.
So, overall this is a great book that I wholeheartedly recommend if you like fantasy with hard rules. They make for exceptional storytelling.
I loved it very much. If you read it, too, feel free to reach out and tell me what you liked!
Disclaimer: This post includes affiliate links. If you buy through those, I get a small commission with no extra cost to you.