Elantris feels legendary and magical for more than one reason. First of all, this is the debut fantasy stand-alone novel that unleashed the beast that is Brandon Sanderson. The story behind the author is fantastical enough in itself; a struggling writer for many years with dozens of unpublished novels and hundreds of potential ideas until… Elantris. Besides bringing about the birth of a master, Sanderson’s first novel also took the fantasy world by storm with its originality, characters and the introduction of the Cosmere. For Sanderson fans, this novel marks the beginning of an immense series of interconnected stories set in extraordinary worlds.

And it all started on the planet Sel, in the cities of Kae and Elantris.

Elantris used to be the home of the gods, a city of light, splendor and magic. Ordinary citizens were chosen and immediately transformed into almighty gods. Thousands flocked to the city to be healed, blessed and to venerate the Elantrians. That is… until an inexplicable cataclysm set into motion a chain of events that saw the city fall and its magical inhabitants turn into wretched souls.

In the nearby city of Kae, Prince Raoden, son of Iadon, is the heir to a fragile kingdom established after the fall of Elantris. His father, in a now godless world, has created a monarchy based on ambition, success and financial power, but worst of all, he has condemned the surviving Elantrians to their city, which has become a prison for the dying. The rulers and citizens of Kae live in the shadow of Elantris without understanding its power, until Raoden, crown-prince, is transformed into an Elantrian and imprisoned in the doomed city. He, however, does not intend to stay there for long…

Sailing from across the Sea of Fjorden, the princess Sarene has come to wed a man she has never met in order to seal an alliance with the kingdom of Arelon. She arrives too late, discovering that Prince Raoden has died and that she is already a widow. However, the laws state that the marriage still stands and so she must stay in Kae. Little by little, she begins to discover the plots and secrets that lurk behind King Iadon’s reign. Is her prince truly dead? And what lies behind the immense walls of Elantris, city of shadow? Meanwhile, another threat comes from the east, a threat she means to deal with…

Hrathen, high-priest of the one true faith, has come to convert the people of Arelon to the fanatical sect of Shu-Dereth. The ruler of Fjorden has entrusted Hrathen with this task after the high-priest’s success in converting the neighboring nations to their religion. However, despite Hrathen’s convictions, he is reluctant to cause more bloodshed in the name of Shu-Dereth and wishes the conversion of Arelon to be as pacific as possible. But when fanaticism joins the fray, his own faith is challenged…

 

THE FIVE.

1. Opening Elantris is like diving deep down into the Mariana Trench and seeing creatures no living being has ever imagined before. Brandon Sanderson is now well-known for his innate capacity to bring waves of utter refreshment into the deep-rooted fantasy genre. Though he maintains the traditional tropes of kingdoms, princes, princesses and gods, Sanderson also turns each and every one of these tropes on its head while keeping the reader firmly comfortable with their usual habits. With the worldbuilding, the entertaining magic system and the intricate backstories of the characters as well as the city of Elantris, every fantasy reader is in for something new.

2. The pacing in Elantris is arguably the main reason it all ties together, from the worldbuilding to the magic systems. Readers discovered Sanderson in 2005, but since his claim to fame, his consistent worldbuilding, magic systems and pacing have become hallmarks for all of his novels. He flits from character to character, interesting scene to gripping scene, and plot twist to plot twist, leaving the reader to follow a trail of delicious chocolate-covered crumbs. Chapters are short and concise, the prose is efficient and decidedly non-purple, and the story simply moves along word after word.

3. Though the novelty of Elantris may feel stale twelve years later and after the flood of “original and unique fantasy” that followed in Sanderson’s wake, one must remember the power this novel had at the time. Very few established authors had dared to step outside the pseudo-medieval setting and Elantris truly grips the alien atmosphere most fantasy readers are looking for. The city of Elantris and its inhabitants are the central aspects of the novel, as they rightfully should be. The city, once a golden beacon of light and pantheon to living gods, is now a slime-covered ruin haunted by gangs of ghosts. Men and women suffer eternally in a grimy hell where pain and hunger never relent. What caused the fall? How could gods have become such miserable monsters? And will the magic ever return?

4. While Prince Raoden seeks to uncover the mysteries of Elantris, the rest of the world is still embroiled in politics and foreign threats of all sorts. Through the eyes of Sarene and Hrathen, the reader is captivated by a give-and-take of political intrigues, coups and plots that never seem to end. Kings, nobles and priests struggle for power and prosperity, but beneath it all, dark sects are manipulating those who matter. Gradually, as the fate of a single kingdom becomes inevitable, the menace from the east encompasses an entire world.

5. The three-act plot is something Brandon Sanderson might actually despise. Though Elantris is cut into three major parts, the story continually rises and falls in a series of climaxes. Small side-plots, overarching plots, inner doubts and grand-scale conflicts, all are masterfully set-up before being consistently resolved. The trail of breadcrumbs is complex enough to keep the reader guessing, hoping, almost wishing for the ending and the answers. As Sanderson says in most of his writing classes; “The ending must be inevitable yet unexpected.”  

THE TWO.

1. The matter of religion is extremely important in Elantris, given that a great section of the story focuses on Hrathen’s attempt to convert the people of Arelon. Through the author’s worldbuilding and exposition, the reader rapidly grasps the different aspects of the world’s religion, Shu-Kereg. There are two main branches of the faith; one a peaceful vision of Kereg’s teachings; the other a violent, proselytising sect, though there are other minor sects (to reveal them would be spoiling, no, no). However, the simplification of an entire continent’s religion into two segments; one good and one evil, takes some of the amazement away. Are all people who follow one aspect of the faith good and the others evil? The stark contrast between pacifism and violence feels too basic to be enjoyable. Hrathen’s struggles and goals are lessened by the fact that he is supposed to be preaching the “evil” facet of a single religion.

2. Following on the previous point, despite the extensive worldbuilding and intricate magic system, something is lacking in Elantris to make it feel like a true epic fantasy. Sanderson placed enough scope in his story and characters, but in the end, nothing feels epic. There are warring nations, vast continents, dark, long histories… but once again, the remaining feeling is the simplicity of its epicness (probably not a word…). This may be due to the fact that Elantris was conceived as a stand-alone, but turning too many tropes around for the sake of originality takes away from the genre’s nature. Many epic fantasy readers appreciate great, mustering armies, journeys to exotic lands or interesting creatures. Here, the majority of the action takes place in a single city, and the characters never feel genuinely threatened or awed by the immensity of the world around them. Gods, kings, marching armies… Nothing profoundly rocks the day-to-day life of the princess, a group of wretched Elantrians and the high-priest.

Final Note:

For budding writers, Brandon Sanderson generously publishes a masterclass in fantasy writing (though it can apply to writing in general) on YouTube. The classes are exceptionally well-structured, interesting, insightful and to top it all off, Mr. Sanderson is an amazing lecturer full of wit and insider stories on the industry. Highly recommended for any aspiring writer. The class is separated into twelve one-hour parts.

The Link :

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