Elantris: Book Review

Elantris by Brandon Sanderson is a standalone fantasy novel set in the kingdom of Arelon, where the magical city of Elantris once ruled. But ten years ago, Elantris fell when its powerful magic failed, and its occupants, the Elantrians, changed from god-like beings to living corpses.

Now, Arelon’s future is uncertain. King Iadon is leading the country to ruin, and High Priest Hrathen is determined for Arelon to be absorbed into the Fjordell empire by converting it to the empire’s religion. Meanwhile, crown prince Raoden’s transformation into an Elantrian leads to him being exiled to the fallen city shortly before his own wedding. Along with the rest of the world, his fiancee Sarene, princess of Arelon’s last ally against the Fjordell empire, is told he is dead. Still bound by her marriage contract, Sarene stays in Arelon rather than returning home, and picks up where Prince Raoden left off, working to improve Arelon’s system and secure its future, both against King Iadon and the Fjordell empire.

But of course, Raoden is not dead. He is busy helping the Elantrians find their long-lost hope and finding out what led Elantris to fall – and how it might be restored.

I had never heard of Elantris until ten minutes before I bought it; I had gone into the bookstore looking for the first Mistborn book, but upon finding it unavailable, I thought I’d try one of Brandon Sanderson’s other books instead – his debut, as it happens. And I’m really glad I did.

I found myself immediately hooked by the mystery of the story; I was curious as to what happened to Elantris, how Raoden was going to deal with his situation, and whether Sarene was going to find out what had really happened to Raoden. The majority of the book is pretty slow, and although this did make some of the setting up at the beginning a little boring, I found the story compelling and fascinating enough that I didn’t mind.

The slow pacing also allows the reader to easily keep up with the details of the story, and it allowed plenty of time to get to know the world and the characters, and to get attached to them too. I loved Sarene’s wily intelligence (and her abysmal painting skills!), Raoden’s optimism and determination, and Galladon’s skepticism and wit. By the time the tension started ramping up and the plot twists started hitting, I was thoroughly invested in them.

Many fantasy books, I find, are fast-paced and high action, often involving ancient prophecies, epic, world-spanning quests, and powerful, mysterious magics. While Elantris does involve magic, it’s actually quite a down-to-earth story, which I feel makes it more believable and relatable. Most of the book simply follows the characters’ daily struggles towards their goals, which makes for a peaceful, enjoyable read.

I also really liked the romantic subplot; some might say it’s a little “insta-love”-y, but since Raoden and Sarene wrote to each other during their engagement and longed to meet each other, I felt there was plenty of time for them to develop romantic feelings. I spent much of the book crossing my fingers for them to meet and rooting for their relationship.

To its merit, Elantris is also one of the few diverse high fantasy books I have come across; neither its world nor its characters are whitewashed. However, although the two diverse main characters – Galladon from Duladel, and Shuden from JinDo – play significant roles in the story, the fact there are few other characters with the same origins is a little tokenistic. I’d also have liked to know more about those countries’ cultures; we are given hints about Duladel’s and JinDo’s religions before both were forcibly converted to the Fjordell religion, among a few other aspects of the culture, such as the food, but I really wish any deeper development into these settings were more present in the book. I’m pleased to say, though, that this is pretty much the only area where Elantris disappointed me.

There is also rumour that Sanderson is, or will be, working on a sequel to Elantris. At first, this annoyed me slightly: I am more than happy with Elantris as a standalone, partially because the fantasy market is so saturated with trilogies and series that I’m frankly sick of it (a viewpoint that Sanderson himself supports in this blogpost). However, Sanderson has said that the sequels will follow side-characters, and that “when [he] do[es] write a sequel, [he] want[s] it to be right and work right, so [he’s] going to take [his] time on it”. This placates me somewhat: there’ll be no churning a book out for fans whether it’s actually any good or not, and there’ll be no unnecessary lengthening of Raoden’s, Sarene’s, and Hrathen’s stories simply for the sake of it. And although it’s set to focus on Fjorden, I’m definitely hoping we’ll get to discover more about Duladel and JinDo – this, I feel, is where the most potential for a sequel lies.

Overall, Elantris is quite different from many fantasy books, which I personally found rather refreshing, and I really loved it. Do I recommend it? If there’s nothing in this review that puts you off it, then yes, definitely!

Have you read Elantris? If so, what did you think of it? Let me know in the comments!

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You can find all my previous book reviews here.

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