by Brandon Sanderson
Elantris is a story told in thirds. Three characters, three goals, three stories.
Raoden was the prince, until he was struck by the reod (a magical transformation that makes your hair fall out, grays the skin and makes every injury stick, the pain never fading). He’s immediately befriended by another Elantrian,Galladon. Together, under Raoden’s insistence, they work to restore some of Elantris’ former glory by giving its zombie-like inhabitants a purpose.
Sarene is the princess of a neighboring nation Teod and Raoden’s bride-to-be. With Raoden’s “death” the marriage contract stipulates the marriage holds. Her storyline revolves around stabilizing the government and disrupting the plans of our last point-of-view.
Hrathen is a Derethi high priest and arrives in Arelon at the same time as Sarene. He has a mission to convert the country to the Derethi religion, Shu Dereth. If he doesn’t succeed in three months, the armies of his home will invade and eradicate the “heathens.” The most interesting of the bunch, Hrathen could’ve easily been nothing more than a fanatic; instead he is a layered character that is ruled by logic. Hrathen questions his own religion throughout and still genuinely wants to convert the people, believing it is the right thing to do.
While Raoden is busy restoring hope in the citizens of Elantris, Sarene and Hrathen are dancing a political battle. The chess match between the two of them is fun to watch and comprises the bulk of the novel as they each strive to outmaneuver the other. Personally, the scenes inside Elantris with Raoden were more enjoyable and I was usually in a rush to get to the next chapter in Elantris.
Elantris is Sanderson’s first published novels and it’s apparent in his writing. It lacks the subtlety of later books and instead relies on ham-handedly pointing out information that will become crucial to the plot in a couple short chapters.
For example, Sarene’s uncle Kiin had a falling out with her father, the King of Teod and the two refuse to speak about the other. Kiin is introduced as a renown sailer and traveler, and with mentions of a fierce pirate named Dreok Crushthroat that tried to usurp the Teoish throne as well as an intimidating battle-axe above Kiin’s mantle, it doesn’t take a genius to piece together an end-of-the-book reveal.
Elantris is wonderfully crafted, with unique worldbuilding, resonant characters and a climactic finish that has you pumping your fist in excitement. The failings it does have are nothing more than hallmarks of a debut novel that should not be held against such a great book.