So I think we were all here for my very late discovery of Booktube and Brandon Sanderson. And so far, I have clearly noticed that no matter how many fantasy booktubers I watch, they all have different opinions on how to approach the Cosmere. Which is, you know, to be expected on a 20+ book-universe spanning different series. But the one thing they all seem to agree on is that you should not start with Elantris.
The reasons vary, but most of all they seem to agree that it is not Sanderson’s best work. It has flaws, and issues, and it is apparently not quite up to snuff nor really that representative of his future work, I guess.
So I listened, and I went about it in a different way: so far I have read Warbreaker and Mistborn Era 1. And Audible was having a sale, so I bought Elantris and decided to read it (technically I got a bunch of his books on sale on audible, so technically I have, in order of purchase: The Way of Kings, Words of Radiance, Oathbringer, Elantris, The Rithmatist, Starsight, Warbreaker and The Original – but I am too terrified to start the Stormlight Archive so I thought I might as well read his “bad” book, Elantris. Can you tell I’m a bit of a Audible addict?).
Anyway, I fell in love with Elantris. I just couldn’t put it down. I read it in less than 3 days, in a mixture of audio and ebook, eschewing things like sleep and doing my actual job and in lieu surreptitiously reading from my strategically placed phone right next to my mouse while idly clicking through excel sheets.
And I don’t even know what made me love it so much, which is awkward.
I mean, I guess I know why people say Elantris is not quite representative of the Cosmere. Sanderson writes epic fantasy, and Elantris felt much more intimate than that. Let me try and give you a bit of the concept of the story without giving too much away. I almost want to quote the entire prologue, but I shall refrain.
Elantris is a city where people who were taken by a mystic force and became Gods moved to. There was no rhyme or reason as to who would be taken by the “Shaod”, which made it a great equalizer. Once there (and please allow me a little quote here), they could live in bliss, rule in wisdom and be worshipped for eternity.
And then he drops the bomb: Eternity ended ten years ago. (I promise to stop quoting now)
So we are following 3 characters, 10 years after the fall of Elantris.
The first one is Raoden – the son of the new king of Arelon, who gets taken by the Shaod in the first chapter. That’s the interesting part, just because Elantris fell, it doesn’t mean the transformations stopped. Only instead of being turned into a being of light and immortality, the Shaod now curses people into baldness, black splotches to their skin, and an eternity locked inside the walls of a decomposing city with unending pain and insatiable hunger.
The second one is Sarene – Raoden’s bride and now widow, who arrives in Arelon the day of the prince’s suspicious and untimely death, to find herself married by death due to the betrothal contract.
The third and final character is Hrathen, a gyorn (think bishop) of the Derethi religion, who has been given three months to convert the entire country.
Scheming ensues. From all parties.
Hrathen wants to convert an entire country without causing a bloody revolution (which he has in a different country), and is not above subterfuge to achieve his goals.
Sarene’s whole political reasons for marrying a stranger in a different country was to stop the domination of the Shu-Dereth religion which is spreading and has conquered all other countries, and she takes it upon herself to try and hamper all of Hrathen’s schemes. She is smart, and strong-willed and determined, and it’s a pleasure to be in her head.
Raoden is just a pure little snowflake and I love him. He’s a good man, if an eternal optimist, with a sharp mind, and who believes he can make things better, and will work for it.
I don’t want to say much more, because I went into it completely blind and it served me well. I wouldn’t say this is a book full of twists or surprises. I saw some things coming, but it did not make them any less enjoyable. I also know his prose got better over time, but I thoroughly enjoy his straightforward way of writing here (except the one time he randomly uses the word maladroit in such a weird way that I swear it took me out of the book for a minute, but he’s allowed one WTF moment in his word choices).
There are other things, of course. There is an issue with a character who shows some autistic traits that could definitely have been handled better. We have another couple of stereotypical side characters, and an conclusion to one of the side-characters’ side plots which came completely out of the left field to me (I am looking at you, King Iadon). The ending was not quite as engrossing as I found the rest of the book to be, but I definitely still loved it.
I have to give it at least 4.5 stars, but I’m rounding it up to 5.