“Elantris” is the debut novel from Brandon Sanderson. Blurbs on the cover from Orson Scott Card and David Farland say this book is “the finest novel of fantasy to be written in many years” and “one of the finest debuts I’ve seen in years.” When I read a novel I generally do not pay attention to when it was written and I know that I haven’t read all of the debut fantasy novels which have come out in the past several years. I do know when I’ve read a very good book, however, and “Elantris” is certainly that.
The prologue to the novel was all of five paragraphs but it gave all of the information needed to understand the background of what the story would be. It tells of a beautiful city named Elantris which glowed like magic and where amazing magics were possible and commonplace. Elantris was populated by godlike beings who could wield these powers as I might use a pen. But these beings were once regular humans, soldiers and serfs, princes and beggers and merchants. When something called the Shaod came upon them they were transformed into Elantrians and into a newer, greater existence. But ten years ago something happened.
That something is that the blessing turned into a curse and Elantris and its population started to rot away. The city now abandoned except for the poor souls still called by the Shaod is covered in slime and muck and the Elantrians are the cursed, neither dead nor truly alive.
This was a beautiful set up and pulled me right in from the start. Sanderson introduces Raoden, a prince and heir to the throne of Arelon. The city of Kae lies in the shadow of Elantris and the glory of Arelon has fallen with Elantris. Raoden is a man who gives his people hope, but when he is called by the Shaod he is doomed. His father, the king, does not reveal what happened to Raoden, but rather holds a funeral for his not beloved son. Meanwhile, Sarene, a princess from another country has arrived to marry Raoden not knowing what has happened. Her marriage contract considers her married upon the betrothal and even continues after Raoden’s death, so she remains in Kae. But Raoden must find a way to survive, such as it is, in Elantris. Sarene is the only one who sees the coming doom from the religion of Darethi and an invasion from Fjordell.
Brandon Sanderson has done something remarkable here. He has created an incredibly original work and unlike so many other works of fantasy this novel is complete in itself. It is not, as I understand it, the first volume of a trilogy or larger series. It is an epic work of fantasy in one self contained novel. It’s one of the better fantasies that I have read. Sanderson does a good job in making all of the primary characters understandable, and sympathetic…even the “bad guys”. The motivations are explained well and the characters are well developed and revealed. Simply put, with one novel Sanderson has made a fan of me. I was surprised by just how good this book was. If Sanderson writes another, I will definitely read it.