Elantris by Brandon Sanderson—Goodreads Book Review

Originally posted on Goodreads.com.

Brandon Sanderson’s debut, Elantris follows betrothed deuteragonists Prince Raoden of Arelon and Princess Sarene of Teod as, in their respective spheres into which each was unexpectedly thrown, they try to deduce the reasons for the curse of Elantris and prevent revolution in Arelon.

The story opens with Raoden enduring the Reod, which turns him into an Elantrian, a walking corpse unable to heal and unable to die; he is subsequently cast into the once great but now ruined city of Elantris that stands adjacent to Arelon’s capital. Meanwhile, his betrothed Sarene arrives by ship to discover he is, for all intents and purposes, dead—and, yet, the marriage contract will not allow her to annul the union that never happened. The story progresses from there, with both characters making their way through familiar fantasy subplots, which Sanderson nonetheless uses excellently and in new ways to form a great story.

While Sanderson is never polemical about his book’s perspective (the narrator’s focus is always clearly on the characters and their own assumptions, and on telling a great story), Elantris is an example of great plotlines coming from tried and true but, now, rarely seen viewpoints—here, those of the aristocracy against the revolutionary mob, as well as of the reformer who knows that charity is not always helpful, nor compassionate. The former perspective, shown in the political back-and-forths between Princess Sarene and Derethi priest Hrathen, who despite his position regrets previously taking part in a revolution that destroyed a country, lends nuance to what might otherwise be a simplistic revolution/reformation narrative; the book’s overarching plot of restoring the Elantrian monarchy, which has been wrongly denounced by history, also plays into this theme. Similarly, Raoden’s attempts to raise the half-dead denizens of Elantris above their misery by encouraging them to seek purposeful work and to build a community at times clashes with the charity of Sarene, who does not know Raoden is her lost betrothed.

I am normally ambivalent about fantasy, but with its well and steadily developed world, its incorporation of dynamic characters who are excellently fleshed out, and its reinvigoration of the restoration plot and other tropes, Elantris became a fantasy I’d very much recommend. Very much reminded me of other fantasies I enjoyed, like Tigana or The Wayfarer Redemption.

Author: dustinllovell

Writing professor, literature and US history tutor, previous ESL instructor, and would-be novelist who enjoys/specializes in Shakespeare, 19th century lit, and philosophy (whether in print or via audiobook). Author of the novel Sacred Shadows and Latent Light (Wipf and Stock, Resources Imprint). Member of Heterodox Academy. Columnist for The Mallard.

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