Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

My Brandon Sanderson-athon has been continuing, and I’ve been enjoying myself immensely. While I was a third of the way through rereading ‘the Way of Kings’ I decided I would start ‘Elantris’ (mainly so I could read the soon-to-be-read-and-reviewed ‘The Emperor’s Soul’). It’s taken me two false-starts and a long two weeks to get there, but here I am finally having completed one of the most critically acclaimed and financially successful fantasy books of the past few decades.

I’ve been wanting to read Elantris for some time now, but every time I tried I just felt un-captivated by the story as it started. This false-start behaviour left me with weird assumptions as to what the book was going to be, which in turn kept me from returning to the book, and pushing on.

This time, however, I was determined to push on, despite the introductory slow nature of the book. I want to take some time one day to explore the idea that stand-alone stories require a bit of a different start, compared to books in a series, but that is a task for another day.

For me, Elantris is a slow book to get into. The world is – as always, with Brandon Sanderson books – infinitely complex, brilliant, methodical, and beautifully created. The slow hints as to the magic and political intricacies of the world in which our characters inhabit are inherently captivating. That being said, however, the build-up and introduction of characters is a little too plodding for my liking, forcing the reader to be captivated in the world and where the characters might end up than in the story being told at the moment.

Let me promise you though, once you get past the initial stage of introduction, the characters and the story have created in you a need to finish, a desire to see them succeed, love, and survive, that draws you further and further into the book. I was again and again shocked, surprised, pleased, delighted, and saddened, by the twists and turns the story takes. Late nights followed one another as I couldn’t pull myself away from the gripping story the book had evolved into. Maybe because of the work I had to put in to get past the slow start I was all the more invested in the characters, their lives, their heartbreaks, and more desirous for their success and survival.

Which makes the various deaths of, admittedly handy two-dimensional characters we were intended to love or hate, but no more, all the more real to the reader, all the more devastating to the characters we ourselves have grown to love.

The conclusion of the story suffered a change in storytelling which I suspect a more nuanced and experienced Brandon Sanderson might look back on with a desire to fix. Gone was the style of character chapters which had preceded, replaced with a necessary frantic swapping back and forth as the climax of the story built, exploded, built again, and finally receded quickly. No happily ever after explanations, just an end to a story.

Reading Elantris after reading the pinnacle-reaching books Sanderson has gone on to write is a bit tricky, and ultimately unfair on Elantris. Elantris is, for all intents and purposes, a brilliant book, beautifully capturing what a stand-alone novel should be, entwined with Sanderson’s characteristic flair for world building. Comparing it to what comes afterwards, however, sees it fade a little, the gloss wearing off under the bright lights of such stories as The Way of Kings and the ‘Mistborn’ trilogy of books.

For anyone who hasn’t yet stepped into the world of Brandon Sanderson, do yourself a favour and pick up Elantris, post-haste. If you have read other Sanderson books and have not yet managed to get to Elantris, I warn you that it will be a bit of a slog, but the outcome is well worth the effort – even if it doesn’t necessarily compare to other works by Sanderson.
Joshua S Hill, 8/10


I must have been one of the few that missed that Brandon Sanderson explosion onto the market a few years ago, at the time I had completely lost faith in fantasy as it seemed every new fantasy novel I picked up lacked creativity, originality, and that sense of wonder and awe that typically defines every great fantasy story. Having discovered that there was a whole entire world of great fiction outside of fantasy I rarely ventured further than the Crime and Thriller aisle (probably because it was closer to the front door), and so it wasn't until about 18 months ago when I started getting back into fantasy that I saw a copy of The Gathering Storm in the book store penned by some guy named Brandon Sanderson. It was six months ago when I saw Josh's review of The Final Empire that I actually bought my first Brandon Sanderson book, and it was five days later, having just read the last 300 pages of The Final Empire in one sitting, that I found my faith in the future of fantasy writing had been restored and that I must read everything written by this guy named Brandon Sanderson.

Elantris, published by Tor in 2005, was the first published novel for Sanderson and has fast become one of my favourites. Elantris was a great shining city, populated by people who had been blessed by the Shaod, a powerful magic that turned people into "gods". That was until 10 years before the present day when a cataclysmic event caused the magic of Elantris to fail, turning its god-like citizens into undead creatures unable to perform even the most basic of magic that once sustained both themselves and the city. Elantris now resembles a ruined wasteland, a prison / mental asylum for the people cursed by the Shaod isolated from the rest of the world.

Raoden, the Prince of Arelon, has been cursed by the Shaod and thrown into Elantris. He wants to know what caused the magic to fail so that he can reclaim his life and restore Elantris to its former beauty. Sarene, the Princess of Teod, is engaged to Raoden though they have never met. She has just arrived in Arelon to be told that her fiancée is dead and that a Derethi Gyorn is setting up a church. She wants to find out what really happened to Raoden while also trying to stop the Gyorn in his mission to convert Arelon. Hrathen, a Gyorn of the Derethi religion, is renowned for converting entire nations to Shu-Dereth by any means necessary. He has arrived in Arelon with a deadline; he has just three months to achieve a peaceful conversion of the Arelon people. Perhaps he can use Arelon's fear of Elantris to his advantage.

Elantris is a great example of how to create characters and stories that are strong enough to stand up on their own in a massively complex and wondrous world. With so many religions, nations and locations, each with their own rich history and complications, it can be daunting trying to understand everything and this puts the story at risk of being lost in a sea of data overload. There is a pretty steep learning curve at the start of the book and for the first 50-100 pages I found it hard to become fully immersed, however,  once I had been given all the necessary information the story really comes into and you find yourself being drawn in deep trying to solve mysteries of the world. This is a book that works of the idea that everyone has a secret and Sanderson uses this idea to make sure that the plot remains the central focal point, giving each character clearly defined and relatable goals while allowing the reader to discover all the complex background information at the same time as the characters do.

The three main characters and the entire supporting cast are all written superbly, each with their own rich history that gives them a unique outlook on life. They are complex people with their own strengths and weaknesses put into unfamiliar situations that are designed to severely test their resolve. What I like most is that Sanderson has created a bunch of characters that I have come to care about, I want to get to know them, I want them to succeed, I want them to be happy. They are real people with real problems, defined by their actions and the way in which they deal with the consequences of these actions. The people are the real story of Elantris, watching how these characters grow as they are forced overcome every obstacle placed in their way is very satisfying ..     

The story is told by rotating the viewpoint at the end of each chapter from Raoden to Sarene to Hrathen and then back to Raoden. These viewpoints are grouped in three's, referred to by Sanderson on his website as "triads", with each viewpoint in the triad occurring at roughly the same time (or at least the same day). This gives you a look at the same problem from three different points of view which gives you a much greater understanding of the story but at the cost of pacing. Towards the end of the novel Sanderson starts messing with the triad system as he accelerates the pace of the story, upsetting 50 chapters worth of stability and replacing it with a sense of chaos that parallels the chaotic scenes in the story.

This a book that if you haven't read already, it should be high up on your list of books to read next. While the steep learning curve and the slow pacing can be a little frustrating at times, the compelling characters and the intriguing mysteries make it so hard to put this book down. At 11:30 pm reading chapter 50 I hit what is known as the "Brandon Avalanche"... I did not put the book down until I finished it at around 3:30 am. By taking a bunch of great characters and placing them in a wondrous and mysterious world, Sanderson has managed to create an original and powerful story that shows how being human can mean so many things to so many people.
Ryan Lawler, 9.6/10

9/10 11:30 pm reading chapter 50 I hit what is known as the Brandon Avalanche...

Reviews by and Ryan Lawler

4 positive reader review(s) for Elantris

Brandon Sanderson biography

Elantris reader reviews

from Uganda

Great read. very epic and very good. I would not consider the flow as an issue considering the fact that it was his first book. The level of Wheel of Time at which you expected him to be should be referenced to when talking about Words of Radiance and further books not Elantris. And considering that the sequel is coming out.let me run and read Dragon Steel.
7/10 ()

from USA

It was quite dramatic but good.
9/10 ()

from Durham, north England

Having read and enjoyed Sanderson's contributions to the Wheel of Time, it was only natural for me to seek out his own work. In A Gathering Storm and Towers of Midnight, Sanderson showed himself to be a more than capable author, in fact I rather thought that (meaning no disrespect to the late Robert Jordan), the series had actually improved under Sanderson, (something it continued to do in its final volume when I read it). One thing I however didn't take into account was the fact that Elantris was Sanderson's first novel. Many authors have first books that are in some way rocky or ill-fitting, and don't stand up against their later work, even authors who go on to write classics. In the case of Elantris, while I do think there is much to recommend the book, at the same time there are several rather major flaws in the work which for me at least, made it somewhat less than what I expected from Sanderson's Wheel of Time. Stylistically the book is on par with much of Robert Jordan's writing, a workmanlike, realistic style with enough detail to give a full impression of the world and setting, though rarely enough for something truly atmospheric beyond the context of its setting or characters. I do not find this form of modern, bald style to have much to recommend it in purely linguistic or poetic terms, however when applied to surreal or fantastical situations or complex characters, it produces a magical atmosphere by drawing that setting in plane and authentic detail, essentially giving the reader a straight forward account, rather than an artistic one. Thus, as in much of Sanderson's later work and in the Wheel of Time, the style is supported by the depth of the world's creation and the unique vision of the author, rather than standing on its own merits, and though I do very much miss the stylistic allusions or straight up beauty of someone like Robin Hobb or Tad Williams there is no denying that for the simple purpose of showing what is going on and what characters think the books style does the job. Elantris then as a setting does not disappoint. Central to that setting is the city of Elantris itself, a blighted and ruined wasteland where people shuffle through a zombie like existence facing all the trouble of possessing bodies that are immortal, but unable to repair themselves (I do rather wonder if Russell T Davies and the rest of the team who developed The Torchwood Miracle Day series had read Elantris, since they prominently explore the same idea). With its own factions, wars and a wonderful state of abandoned savagery, the city of Elantris has all the hallmarks of the best zombocalypse along side something of the longing for former glories seen in authors like Tolkien. The surrounding kingdom however did not quite for me at least live up to the city of Elantris in originality, being a pretty standard fantasy monarchy with various bickering nobles, though fortunately there were enough allusions to other nations, religions and similar digressions to stop the setting from feeling completely standardized, and Sanderson does deserve credit in the way he gives us glimpses of an entire world, with its own history, religion, fashions, culture and stereotypes, albeit that I do rather wish we could see more of it than we do. One virtue of The Wheel of Time is hearing about different parts of the world and then seeing them first hand, or having characters express their stereotyped ideas about different nations and then have those nations shown in detail. In Elantris we get the first of these, but not much of the second since the book is really only concerned with a hand full of countries and the setting doesn't stray far from the city of Elantris, which in many ways slightly belied the rich detail of the world we are given. Having a single setting did however let Sanderson explore his three principle characters in great detail, indeed it is with these three characters and their interactions, conflicts and interweaving stories that both primary strengths and also the major weaknesses of Elantris as a book can be found, so I'll discuss all three in detail. Prince Rioden. When I first started Elantris, Rioden's story was the one I most wanted to read, since it had by far the most interesting setting, the city of Elantris itself. Seeing Rioden grapple with his misfortune, investigate the logic of what happened and eventually through understanding turn a disadvantage to a major advantage was one of the most interesting and inspiring parts of the book. the problem however, is that Rioden feels very much a Garry Stew character, i.e. an author's wish fulfilment fantasy, an awesome male hero with infinite amounts of charisma and resourcefulness who is never discouraged. While the problems he has to deal with in the city of Elantris and how those problems progressively affect the world outside were a uniquely interesting tale, after the first few chapters when Rioden had recruited his loyal band of merry followers through general personal awesomeness, Rioden felt distinctly safe. Of course he has the obligatory "I can't save everyone" and "my faithful soldier friend has died for me" but these felt more genuflections in the direction of a standard character than real and genuine emotions. Just once I'd have liked to see Rioden snap at someone or express a little resentment. I also felt that throughout Rioden's portions of the book, the threat of Elantris became somewhat less threatening. With introducing the concept of becoming "howied" or of descending into a catatonic state, Sanderson seemed to completely sidestep all the interesting consequences of immortal, undying buddies and replace them with a more conventional and indeed somewhat sanitized form of death. Of course the unique setting and history of Elantris and the machinations of the various factions within and without the city kept Rioden's story interesting right through to the end, however from a characterisation perspective I do feel Rioden was a missed opportunity for all he is often entertaining. Princess Sarene. Sarene was also a character I really took to initially. The idea of a royal daughter involved in an arranged marriage who finds her proposed husband (who she's never seen), missing is a uniquely interesting one. I also liked the initial explanation as to why she was unmarried, that she had a somewhat awkward and forbidding manner. Mentally I pictured Sarene as a tall, somewhat gawky and ungraceful girl who radiated an aura of stiffness and uncertainty. The problem however is Sanderson instantly disabuses us of this notion, and Sarene quickly becomes a master political manipulator with a talent for disguise who is also of course pretty, indeed I quickly found myself wondering exactly why she hadn't personally located and manipulated herself a desirable husband if she wanted one, indeed it often felt that she was a realistic character who turned into a Mary Sue to match Rioden as the plot dictated. One of the major issues with Sarene's plot, apart from this absolute contradiction in personality I felt, is that even more than Rioden's there was a sense both of absolute safety, and of it serving little to no consequence. Just as he undermines her human flaws, almost the first thing Sanderson does for Sarene is undermine her sense of being a stranger in an unfriendly court by presenting her with a faithful old manly uncle as protector. Throughout the vast majority of her political dealings, I never felt that actual sense of danger, that any of these parlour discussions would ever actually bring Sarene herself harm or really affect her life in any way, indeed much of it felt like reading a book about a princess playing a long game of monopoly. even on the one occasion it seems Sarene is going to run into trouble, well her uncle's strong right arm is there to protect her. Just as with Jordan's writing, in Sarene, Sanderson seems to be subscribing to some distinct gender stereotypes of characterisation, not merely that in a fantasy world the roles of men and women will be seen in a certain way as dictated by that society’s beliefs about gender, but that female characters (at least represented by Sarene), are still in some senses both passive to events and in absolute need of male enablement to act. Thankfully this is a belief set that Sanderson does drop in his later work (Vin from Mistborn is anything but passive), however it does seem to badly affect much of Sarene's plot and mean that for me, her story was the least engaging of the three. The saving grace for Sarene however is Hrathen. Here, possibly because Hrathen was his own very well thought out character, her politics played a major role, had significance and indeed took on the aspect of a duel with moves and counter moves. It is also in her interactions with Hrathen that Sarene finally breaks that shell of protected safety, and is actually in danger of serious harm both to herself and to the kingdom as a whole. Hrathen was without a doubt my favourite of the three principle characters. Organized religions in fantasy literature don't tend to get much of a break. Oh, there might be a couple of friendly local priests or clerics, but in general they are at most corrupt, at worst actively evil. Hrathen is undoubtedly a high ranking official in his organization, (I estimate his rank of Gyorn as something similar to a Bishop), however he is in no sense a one dimensional character. Loyal to his Derethi church, but at the same time displaying compassion and a real sense of empathy, and later on a wonderfully adroit affection for Sarene as a worthy adversary, Hrathen is by far the most complex of the three principle characters. his story is perhaps the hardest at first to connect with, mostly because it relies on conveying information about the complexities of his Derethi church and its customs, yet the very level of detail shows how much attention Sanderson put into designing the world. My only real problem with Hrathen is that I personally would've appreciated knowing a little of what the actual theology or philosophy of the Derethi religion was. While we get an ample explanation of the church and its customs and ranks, it was a little hard to understand to what exactly Hrathen was giving his faith. Hrathen generally appeared far more a competent and motivated bureaucrat with a loyalty to his organization than a religious man. That being said, Hrathen's story is one of the most unique aspects of Elantris and thus highly worth understanding. Unlike Rioden or Sarene his character changes markedly throughout the book and he faces a number of personal conflicts, I particularly admire the way that Hrathen is represented not just as dedicated, but as actually an incredibly compassionate character who genuinely cares about those around him. I finished Elantris about a year and a half ago, and yet of the three principle characters it is Hrathen's journey that I find most sticks with me and if I reread the book it is Hrathen's chapters that I will be paying most attention to. All in all I enjoyed Elantris. The details of the world, (even if I would've liked to see more of it), the unique situation, the fact that the final solution to the plot was absolutely and entirely understandable according to the information we had (a good example of Sanderson's famous Laws of creating magic systems). However, the seemingly invincible Rioden, and the at times slightly damselesque and ineffective Sarene, along with the overall sense of character safety that pervaded much of the plot meant that I would not rank Elantris half as highly as I'd consider several of Sanderson's other works. Yes, it was good, but merely "good" is not what we expect from Sanderson, indeed it’s the very calibre of his other books and how his skills as an author have plainly grown that emphasize what Elantris is missing, for all that it’s still well worth reading.
6/10 ()

from Reading, England

Very well written book, great story, original, a must read. I thoroughly enjoyed Elantris, Brandon has created some captivating characters that you can really empathise with, I personally had issues putting the book down.
9/10 ()

from UK

An excellent book! Fast paced, interesting PoVs, set in a very original world... Elantris is just great. Its only (minor) drawback is that it feels a bit "compressed" and underdeveloped: a couple hundred pages more wouldn't have hurt (or even a sequel). Read this if you can, especially if you liked the Mistborn trilogy (which is clearly derived from this book).
9/10 ()

from Croatia

One of the best books I have read so far. Great characters and conversations, interesting story and magic system. After about 200 pages the story becomes so fast paced that you can't stop reading it. I am also looking forward to reading other Sanderson titles and would recommend this book to anyone who likes fantasy genre.
10/10 ()

8.4/10 from 7 reviews

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