Date: May, 2006
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Elantris was the capital of Arelon: gigantic, beautiful, literally radiant, filled with benevolent beings who used their powerful magical abilities for the benefit of all. Yet each of these demigods was once an ordinary person until touched by the mysterious transforming power of the Shaod. Ten years ago, without warning, the magic failed. Elantrians became wizened, leper-like, powerless creatures, and Elantris itself dark, filthy, and crumbling.
Arelon's new capital, Kae, crouches in the shadow of Elantris. Princess Sarene of Teod arrives for a marriage of state with Crown Prince Raoden, hoping -- based on their correspondence -- to also find love. She finds instead that Raoden has died and she is considered his widow. Both Teod and Arelon are under threat as the last remaining holdouts against the imperial ambitions of the ruthless religious fanatics of Fjordell. So Sarene decides to use her new status to counter the machinations of Hrathen, a Fjordell high priest who has come to Kae to convert Arelon and claim it for his emperor and his god.
But neither Sarene nor Hrathen suspect the truth about Prince Raoden. Stricken by the same curse that ruined Elantris, Raoden was secretly exiled by his father to the dark city. His struggle to help the wretches trapped there begins a series of events that will bring hope to Arelon, and perhaps reveal the secret of Elantris itself.
A rare epic fantasy that doesn't recycle the classics and that is a complete and satisfying story in one volume, Elantris is fleet and fun, full of surprises and characters to care about. It's also the wonderful debut of a welcome new star in the constellation of fantasy.
Brandon Sanderson’s cosmere universe is large and can seem intimidating from the outside. Many recommend Mistborn as a good starting place. Elantris gets my vote. Some practical reasons for this: Elantris is a stand-alone. Mistborn is a trilogy with each book on the long side. And while his Stormlight Archives are my absolute favorite, the learning curve on the world building is pretty high.
Elantris has all the most-loved themes in Sanderson’s stories (leadership, tolerance, protecting others), some inspiring characters, and an interesting plot. All in one book with no further commitment required.
At the start, the city of Elantris, has been suffering under a curse for a decade. Resting in it’s shadow is the new capital city of Kae. Prince Raoden, son of King Iadon of Arelon is overcome with the Shaod, a mystical transformation that once turned an ordinary human into a god-like Elantrian. Now, it too, is a curse which condemns one to immortal pain and deformity. All being’s turned by the Shaod are shut inside Elantris’ gates never to be seen again.
In his refusal to give into despair, Raoden quickly sets about trying to raise both Elantris and it’s citizens out of the mire in whatever way he can. Meanwhile, his betrothed, Princess Sarene, arrives in Kae only to be told that Raoden is dead. Sarene, an intelligent grown woman from a well-run neighboring country (unlike Arelon, which is a bit of a mess), likewise proceeds to invigorate the suppressed women of the court, undermine Arelon’s enemies, and support Raoden’s allies in creating the changes he dreamed of. In other words, they are a can-do royal couple that set lemons to lemonade everywhere they went. For a while they do this separately, until circumstances bring them together, even if one of them doesn’t recognize the other. I kept longing for them to finally meet! Their scenes run the gamut from sad to swoony to funny.
I loved the plot surrounding Raoden, Elantris, and the curse. Some things felt oddly timely -I was bemused to see the king that took over after Elantris’s fall was a rich merchant- but also in the protagonist’s ability to inspire hope and the idea of being one’s best self during times of darkness. Things in the outer world may have been at a low, but the emotional atmosphere was full of positive potential. The affect Raoden and Sarene had on the people around them, they also managed to have on me. Instead of worrying and feeling afraid, I was excited to see how they would win.