Author: Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
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.
This definitely felt like a Sanderson book, but a watered down one where he still didn't quite know how to create characters as rich as his worlds. I liked it, but it was just so pale in comparison to the other cosmere books I've read.
One of the big things that struck me was how...flat all the characters were. Raoden is a noble young man who wants to help others despite growing up in a privileged position: a pretty stereotypical protagonist for a fantasy novel. Sarene is quick-witted and sharp-tongued, but there's not much more to her than her witty tongue. I kept on comparing her to Shallan, a much more nuanced character, from the Stormlight series. It's almost like Shallan is what Sarene could have been if Sanderson had been better at characterization earlier on in his writing career. And Teod, the religious fanatic who wants to take over the world, was also pretty flat. It's almost like Sanderson had one of those writing checklists that went: defining characteristic, check. Motivation, check. Character flaw, check.
The worldbuilding was stellar as usual, which is unsurprising given how complex and nuanced most cosmere worlds are. I really liked the solution to why Elantris began to decay and turned from the city of the gods to the city of lepers. It was also interesting to see how different countries evolved their own interpretations of what happened to Elantris and what it means for their own well-being and future.
Overall, I'd say not to read this if you're new to Sanderson, because it's definitely not his best work. It's still unique and interesting, but it's more fun to see how far Sanderson has come in terms of writing than it is to actually get through this book :)