This was my first Brandon Sanderson book, and in retrospect I’m very glad I read it first, not just because it’s a good fantasy standalone novel (for now, he keeps threatening a sequel but it’s years out) and thus a good gateway to his writing. I’m glad I read it first because now that I’ve read so many of his books (nearly all, still haven’t managed to read the Alcatraz books), including all of his epic fantasy, it’s very obvious this was his first published work. It’s extremely solid as a novel and a really good time as a read, but it’s not nearly as polished or ambitious as his later stuff gets.
Elantris was a famed city full of magical beings. Not even ten years before the events of this book, citizens of Arelon could be at any time gifted with the Shaod, a transformation that gave them magical gifts and a lengthened lifespan. Elantrians were practically worshipped and their city was a powerful beacon of light and progress, and one of the only things holding back a neighboring country from conquering Arelon. But ten years ago, and nobody knows why, all the Elantrians’ powers turned to curses. Their city rots, and their bodies cannot heal, but also cannot die. Now being taken by the Shaod is a death sentence. Elantrians are locked into their city and never heard from again.
We have three narrators here: Raoden, the prince of Arelon, who wakes up the morning he is supposed to meet his new bride face to face to find that he has been taken by the Shaod; Sarene, his bride, who arrives in her new country to find herself already a widow; and Hrathen, a priest from neighboring country Fjordell, the same country whose religious rule is attempting to conquer the world. Raoden’s storyline is still my favorite, just as it was the first time around. He’s Sanderson’s Orpheus, descending into hell. It’s still so satisfying to watch him help the Elantrians, who all suffer greatly, even as he begins to suffer, too. It’s also fun to watch him figure out the source of Elantrian power and what went wrong with it. Sarene and Hrathen have great arcs as well, but I was always more than a little disappointed to leave Raoden’s POV.
I would still recommend this one as a starting point into Sanderson’s work. It’s a clear indicator of the kinds of stories he’s interested in without being too long or complicated. The audio was pretty good, but I’ve heard the Graphic Audio version is better. I just don’t have that kind of money. Those audio productions are expensive.