Elantris by Brandon Sanderson begins with Crown Prince Raoden suddenly being stricken with the transforming power of the Shaod. Being mysteriously touched by the Shaod used to mean god-like transformation into a person who had magical abilities used to benefit all society. All of these bright white transformed people lived in the great city Elantris. But, ten years prior the magic went bad and no one could explain why a blessing had turned to a curse.
Princess Sarene, believes her future marriage to be one of importance uniting two kingdoms under pressure from an extreme religious group seeking to control and rule the world. Upon her arrival, hoping for love beyond the arranged marriage, she is dismayed to learn of the Crown Prince’s death. Vowing to make a fresh start for herself she winds up embroiled in the high stakes of politics and religion only to find her Crown Prince to have been secretly imprisoned within the once great city of Elantris.
Three Reasons Why You Should Read Elantris
1. Writing tension- a master at work
One of the marks of great writers is their ability to create believable tension in a book. There are many tools a writer could employ and Brandon Sanderson uses tension and specifically withholding to great effect. Throughout the entire book we are let in on secrets known to our beloved Raoden and Sarene as individuals yet to each other these secrets are kept just that- a secret.
For starters, we know Raoden has been imprisoned in Elantris but Sarene is told he is dead. We scream internally wanting the truth to be told. The tension builds each chapter as Brandon draws their circles closer and closer.
Later in the book, Princess Sarene believes she is doing those imprisoned in Elantris a favor by marching in with food accompanied by local officials. Unbeknownst to her, Raoden is alive and has been teaching the Elantrian’s how to build a society of growing food not depending on scavenged food. They meet and Sarene is drawn to Raoden (named Spirit), without knowing why. Of course we know why and read on and on to reach the magical catharsis! Brandon ever the master withholds from us until the precise moment we just couldn’t stand it anymore.
2. Again, the craft of writing is a joy to read
What I loved about Elantris was the flow of the story which begins with Raoden. We are firmly planted in and become invested in his life before ever being told about Sarene until she shows up in the city of Kae. At this point we become firmly invested in her life. The story unfolds in this back and forth which becomes a delight and are never in either of their worlds too long. There is also a balance of dialogue in one chapter with internal thoughts in the next. There is action then introspection. It works.
3. The Plot Twist(s)
Elantris begins with a plot twist and there are several sprinkled through the book. One twist has Sarene about to marry a man for convenience just as Raoden is about to find her. As a reader, I was on the edge of my seat the whole book and I never, absolutely, never predicted the plot twists toward the end of the book.
What’s not to like about Elantris?
At 657 pages this book feels like an investment. And it is -but a good one. You will definitely feel satisfied reading until the end and if you are like me, will yearn for a part 2.
I did find myself skimming over some parts. Mainly the friendly conversation between Sarene and her Uncle’s family. There are several times when this happens, conveying a sense of normal family life among royals but I found it boring and unnecessary toward the furthering of the plot.
Lastly, since this is fantasy there is a whole world we need to learn and Elantris is very complex. I didn’t find it necessary to distinguish between all the subtleties in names given to the different religions. Nor did I feel like I wanted to study them or become on aficionado. Just understanding enough about the Elantris world to stay in tune with the plot and characters without being overly burdened to understand the world completely worked for me.
Why did I give Elantris 5 Stars?
This book is extremely well written, has an unbelievably good premise, and several interesting plot twists. The cover art is unusual and I found myself turning to it on several occasions trying to figure it out in context of the story. If epic fantasy (with a romance sub-plot) are genres you enjoy, I recommend reading this book. With his first novel, Elantris proves Brandon Sanderson is a master writer. He has since written many books but sadly no part 2!
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