Elantris, by Brandon Sanderson

Article published on October 22, 2011.

Brandon Sanderson has won international acclaim with his Mistborn trilogy and taken on the task of finishing Robert Jordan’s epic Wheel of Time series with a deft touch. Gollancz have now reissued his debut novel, a standalone fantasy titled Elantris.

Elantris was the centre of Arelon, a place of magic, healing, and incredible wealth, and a home to people transformed by the magic they wielded into shining silver demigods, magicians of the Shaod. But everything changes, and now Elantris stands shut and decaying, home only to the desperate who have become infected by what once gifted them with powers beyond understanding. Raoden, prince of Arelon, waits to inherit a throne that now sits in a new capital, Kae, and waits, as well, for the woman he is meant to marry, the princess Sarene.

All does not go as expected, and when Sarene arrives for her wedding she is told that Raoden has died. Soon, she is battling to ensure that the treaty uniting Teod and Arelon against the Fjordell holds true, and finding a nemesis in Hrathen, a high priest sent to convert the people of Arelon, fighting Sarene for the respect and love of the people in her new home.

Arelon seethes with secrets, and Sarene, for all of her experience at negotiation and statecraft, struggles to find allies and help in a country that has quickly become home. Her clash with Hrathen, and their struggle for the loyalties of the people of Arelon, is fraught with more danger than she realizes, and the decaying capital, the once gorgeous Elantris, begins to draw the eyes of those who seek power, and hides more secrets than even they realize.

This is very much a debut novel, and doesn’t go into the sort of mesmerizing detail that mark Sanderson’s later works. As a standalone fantasy novel, it does its job and entertains, and there are marks of the sort of unique world building and ideas on what magic might be and how power might act that appear in Sanderson’s later novels. The characters are intriguing, and the magic found in the world is fascinating in its complexity. Sanderson also deals adeptly with the ideas and dangers inherent in a world where the very foundations have begun to rot. Elantris itself looms large in the story, a place where gods once roamed and which has been left to the condemned in the decade since its fall.

The abandoned city seemed darker than usual. Raoden stared at it for a moment, then glanced away. The huge Elantrian walls were impossible to ignore, but people of Kae tried very hard to do just that. It was painful to remember the city’s beauty, to wonder how ten years ago the blessing of the Shaod had become a curse instead.

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