Although this debut is inferior in comparison to his other Cosmere books, this doesn’t mean that it’s not great. Elantris has got to be one of the most unique and original fantasy books I ever read. The plot starts with the explanation of the city Elantris, the beautiful city of the gods full with magical abilities and dazzling architecture, which loses all its power and beauty 10 years ago. Then one of the three main characters, Raoden, inflicted with the same curse that ravaged Elantris were exiled to the city. The city of Elantris is pretty much a twist to the ‘zombie apocalypse’ genre and it contained really strong and eerie atmosphere.
90% of the plot in the book revolves heavily around politics and religious exploration, it’s really slow paced and there aren’t any ‘Good vs Evil’ theme going on here. It’s really scarce on actions, more or less 5% of the book, it’s only there during the climax and yet, conflicted with these circumstances, Elantris still managed to be remain captivating and engrossing because of how intricate and intriguing the politics and religious aspects are.
The story is told sequentially from 3 main POV, Raoden -> Sarene -> Hrathen, in that order from the beginning until the end and all the main characters possessed different narratives to each other. Raoden, the prince oozing with positive attitude (who in my opinion has the personality mixture of Kelsier from Mistborn and Hadrian from Riyria), Sarene, the strong and witty female MC and Hrathen, the fanatic high priest, all three characters never sounded the same in their narratives and they added a better experience to the plot.
Raoden casting AonDor
Two problems I have with the book are in its world-building and magic systems. The writing is good and immersive enough but clearly if you’ve read all other Sanderson’s Cosmere works, you’ll see just how inferior his writing is compared to them. This means Sanderson improved with each books he wrote but for this standalone, the scope of the world-building seems constricted. Taking place in two big cities of the world of Sel, with the exception of Elantris, there isn’t enough world building done to the settings which made them seemed really small. This holds true especially to the city of Kae, the details were given probably only to two or three mansions and the dock of the city.
Also, the magic systems, which are usually one of the strongest factors of Sanderson’s books is quite underwhelming. The magic of AonDor, ClayShan and Dakhor all made their appearance only in the last 60 pages of the book. AonDor have several intricate explanations on how it works but ClayShan and Dakhor were just there within the climax section of the book with very brief to zero explanation to what they actually are and how they operates. It felt like Sanderson tried to cram too much information into this standalone even though there aren’t enough pages left to do justice towards it.
“Remember, the past need not become our future as well.”
This quote summed up exactly what I think of Elantris's quality in comparison to all other Sanderson’s future works. While still great as a debut, it’s also his weakest book in his Cosmere universe. I really enjoyed reading it, it's different from his other book, lower in quality but it's one of the most original fantasy works I ever read. If you haven’t read any Sanderson’s adult fantasy books, Elantris or Mistborn is a great place to start. You can't go wrong with anyone of them, Elantris is pretty much just an appetizer to what’s in store for all his other phenomenal books. Recommended for any high fantasy fans who's into intricate politics and religious exploration story.