Rating: 4/5 stars
Re-discovering Brandon Sanderson was one of my best decisions this year.
Elantris is undoubtedly a wonderful debut, paving the path for marvelous fantasy adventures. And even though it's probably Sanderson's weakest work, you can't help but feel awed before his ingenuity and the masterful way he navigates politics and intrigue! In case it is not clear, I plead fangirl!
❝ Dream on, Elantris. Remember what you used to be and try to hide your sins beneath the blanket of darkness. Tomorrow the sun will rise and all will be revealed once more.❞
Elantris used to be the city of Gods, of glorious beings of extraordinary powers. Until the Reod, the Punishment happened, and Elantris fell. What was once beautiful and pure, now is tainted and filthy; Elantris is the land of eternal misery and perdition, and its inhabitants monstrocities that are exiled from the civilized societies. Right after the fall of Elantris, king Iadon took the reigns of the kingdom of Arelon, establishing a government system based on money. People that were once prosperous, now have barely enough to eat. As Arelon's collapsing, reeking of poverty and corruption, the Fjordell Empire gathers its forces and prepares to strike in order to convert the heretic Arelon to the true faith, Shu-Dereth. And this is where the fates of three individuals collide. Raoden, the beloved prince of Arelon, suddenly disappears, presumed dead. Nobody knows that the Shaod took him, and turned him into an Elantrian. Sarene, the Teoish princess that was supposed to marry Raoden, arrives to Arelon only to find out that she is a widow before she had the chance to meet her husband. Now she must manipulate, outsmart her enemies and make alliances if she wants Arelon to survive the instability that has brought it to its knees. Hrathen, a high priest of Shu-Dereth, is sent to Arelon with one mission: convert the infidels in the span of three months, or else they will be drowned in blood. Raoden, Sarene, Hrathen, they will cancel each other's plans, they will make kingdoms tremble, but in the end, everything depends on the cursed city and the secrets hiding in her stained buildings, whose light has been extinguished.
❝ Truth can never be defeated, Sarene. Even if people do forget about it occassionally.❞
There is something about Elantris, something that seizes your attention from the first page and captivates you in its snare. It's the combination of a cursed mystical city, religious zealotry, mind games and court intrigue that sucks you in the slime-covered streets of Elantris, in garish balls and the palace of a paranoid king who has brought his country to the brink of conquest and massacre. As per usual, Brandon Sanderson never fails to deliver intricate religious systems that play an integral part in the plot, and quick-witted (and occasionally sharp-tongued) characters; the dialogues are infused with mirth, friendly banters and battles of wit, and they are always enjoyable. That being said, it is obvious that Elantris is Sanderson's first published work, and not his best. What I always admire is his fascinating and well-structured magic systems, but in this one the AonDor could use some improvement. The concept of the Dor and the power behind Aons were a tad muddy, hence confusing; it felt like the explanations and the principles related to them were lacking, thus I found myself struggling to understand the magic of Elantris, and that's one of the reasons I was more invested in the politics and the back-stabbing court of Kae.
❝ The problem with being clever, Serene thought with a sigh, is that everyone assumes you're always planning something.❞
The characters were pure gold. The plot of Elantris did not revolve around the battle between Good and Evil, and that's why I neved knew who to root for, considering that, in the end, they all shared the same goal: avoid a bloodbath. The means they used, though, and their motivations were different, and the actions of one negated the efforts of the other, in an elaborate dance of schemes and plots. Watching Sarene, the lanky princess of Teod outmaneuvering seasoned nobles and eloquent preachers was definitely one of the book's hightlights for me. While Sarene could be overwhelming at times, her spirit and her innate distrust made her an excellent political opponent, and I loved her dynamics with the group of nobles and merchants who wanted to change the system for a better future. The entire set of side characters that accompanied her, from Ashe the Seon to hilarious Luke, heartbreaker Shuden and stern Roial, they were all perfect in their own way. My favorite character, though, was Raoden. His kindness, his optimism (his dialogues with Galladon were simply precious) and his need to help his people, to uncover the secrets of Elantris and restore Arelon to its former glory made me want to protect him at all costs. Hrathen, on the other hand, was more complex. At first I regarded him as the enemy, but as he faced obstacles in his journey and began to question his faith, his purpose and everything that made him the person he was, I began to warm towards him, and accept that not everything is either black or white, and for me, this is Sanderson's greatest achievement with Elantris.
Elantris is a wonderful book, but if you wish to explore the magnitude of Sanderson's sheer talent, you should probably start with Warbreaker or, better yet, The Final Empire!