Good thing that Brandon Sanderson's debut novel, Elantris, is a complete fantasy novel in itself. In Sanderson's novel, we meet three characters -- Raoden, Hrathen, and Sarene -- in a place called Arelon. The vast land of Arelon is divided into the cities of Kae, Fjorden, and Elantris, which are so unlike one another in terms of beliefs and political system. The current unofficial capital of Arelon is Kae, which is a kingdom ruled by merchants. Fjorden is a bit far off, with the people being devout to a religion called Shu-Dereth and is ruled by Derethi priests. Elantris is cursed. There was a time when Elantrians were considered gods: they had power, they glowed. But 10 years ago, the chasm happened, causing Elantris to decay and its people to appear diseased. Now, Elantrians are in a state of being half dead and half alive. Their hunger cannot be assuaged and their wounds do not heal.
So let's go back to the three protagonists. Raoden, the prince of Arelon, is visited one day by the Shaod, causing him to become one of the cursed Elantrians. He is thrown into the city and is considered dead by the people of Kae. The woman he is engaged to, Sarene, who is a feisty woman from the faraway kingdom of Teod, doesn't know of what happened to Raoden. But because of the political arrangement of their marriage, she is destined to become the widowed princess of Kae. Hrathen arrives at Kae, hoping to convert its people to Shu-Dereth.
Sanderson's world-building talent is so promising in this first novel that Elantris doesn't have the feel of debut fiction at all. When he depicts Kae as a place of corruption, you can almost sense the stench of the dirty dealings of the ruling class. Likewise, the dirt and slime that covers Elantris is something that you can almost see and smell. The fictional world that Sanderson conjures is equal parts fascinating and repulsive.
However, Sanderson tends to repeat himself with what transpired from the previous chapter. Often, the events of one chapter are discussed in detail by the characters in the next. (Thank goodness that Elantris isn't a doorstop.) Lots of dialogue permeate the text; hence, Elantris isn't as action packed as I would like it to be. Nevertheless, the narrative is still fast paced enough to make you read through the night (which I did by the way).
I think Elantris made me a fan of Brandon Sanderson. I'm now on the lookout for his acclaimed Mistborn series. I do believe that the estate of Robert Jordan, who wrote the series The Wheel of Time, entrusted Sanderson to finish the long overdrawn fantasy epic. Fans of TWOT need not worry, for I think the series is in good hands with Sanderson.
Read this book if:
- Fantasy novels are your thing.
- You have no patience to read fantasy novels that constitute a series.
- You're curious about Sanderson's work.