The Elantris of the title was once a glorious city full of luminous beings with astounding powers that drew devotees and dependents alike. But the prologue tells us that Elantris abruptly fell, its power vanishing and its residents transforming from near gods to withered and powerless outcasts. The book picks up ten years after this disaster. The ensuing political upheaval and civil war has settled into a precarious peace and wobbly feudal system.
The Shaod, the blight that struck Elantris, still occasionally and suddenly afflicts normal humans living in the shadow of the city’s shell, and when it strikes the crown prince of the neighboring land on the eve of his political marriage, it starts a cascade of events and counter-actions. Aside from internal upheaval, Fjorden, the rising theocracy a few countries over, has also set its sights on seizing control, adding a mostly unseen threat.
To sum up the reading experience of Elantris, all I’m really left with was, “Well, that was definitely a Sanderson book.” And frankly, as his first book and the one that laid the groundwork for the Cosmere universe, that makes sense. This is, of course, not to say that this is a bad thing. There is unfailingly a vaguely historical setting with mixed cultures and various tangled politics, magic within set rules that are revealed along the way, nuanced male and female characters, peril, and relief. I stood in my hallway still with my coat on, powering through the tense climax for half an hour on a night I really should have gone to bed early. There were twists I didn’t see coming and fun little connections to other parts of the Cosmere.
All of this leaves me at a loss to explain why I came away with more of a shrug than anything. I almost feel guilty for my own reaction because I don’t think the book deserved it. I thoroughly enjoyed it when I read it and admired its creativity, and then I brushed it off and carried on. Maybe I’ve just been too immersed in Sanderson’s voice and style for now, and stepping away into another author’s worlds would let me come back to him with a renewed appreciation. In spite of all this, I would recommend Elantris wholeheartedly for those who might be looking for some creative takes on a more conventional fantasy framework. (But I would also remind them to vary their literary diet from time to time.)