Elantris was once the city of the gods. The people that lived there possessed great magical powers and beautiful silver skin. The Elantrians healed people and fed them, and the world was good. But no longer. Ten years ago everything changed, and the power that turned people into gods now curses them instead. Those unfortunate souls that are tainted by the Shaod find that their bodies decay and do not heal, but they are unable to die. They live a life of pain and suffering, separated from their loved ones. Elantris is no longer magnificent but instead a broken city, a tomb for the living dead.
The plot of Elantris is intricate and complicated, told through the intertwining stories of three different characters. Raoden, beloved prince of Arelon, is afflicted with the Shaod and banished to Elantris. Sarene is the princess of Teod and travels to Arelon to marry Raoden, unaware of his plight until she arrives. Hrathen is a Derethi gyorn, a high priest of the Fjordell religion, and arrives in Arelon with the intention of converting its people before his god destroys them entirely. Though their motives and circumstances are different, the actions of these three characters change their world incredibly and irrevocably.
More than anything, Elantris is a story about questioning one’s beliefs and challenging the status quo. Raoden, like every other citizen of Arelon, believed that the Shaod was a curse and that exile into Elantris was worse than a death sentence. Once he experiences it, however, his opinion quickly changes, and he strives to make a difference in the lives of those around him. Before his transformation, Raoden worked closely with a group of nobles to overthrow the unfair aristocracy his father instituted. His widow, Sarene, sees the oppression of this system and continues her husband’s work to institute a new government in Arelon. Hrathen seeks to bring his harsh religion to the people of Arelon, using his faith as a guise to conquer one of the last free kingdoms in the known world. Certain events force Hrathen to question not only the methods of his god, but also his very faith and allegiance to his people.
Elantris is excellent, especially for being Brandon Sanderson’s first novel. It is a tale of prejudice and corruption, of war and political upheaval, of gods and men. Elantris poses moral, philosophical, and religious questions in the context of fantasy literature. It should be absorbed and digested with a critical mind, and is by no means to be considered “light” reading. Fans of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and Orson Scott Card’s Ender Quintet will be very pleased with Elantris, and will find themselves intellectually stimulated and entertained.