I recently make a return to Elantris – the first published work by Brandon Sanderson. Elantris is also the name of the great city of immortals where all the trouble begins and ends. What a great story.
Sanderson would have to be one of my favourite living writers. He manages to combine great storytelling with inventive worldbuilding of an outstanding scope.
My memories of Elantris centred around the core mystery of the book – how the virtually immortal godlike Elantrians lost their power (don’t worry, that’s no spoiler, you find out on page 1), and the PoV of the prince Raoden who is cursed at the onset and thrown into the fallen city in secret while his royal father declares him dead to the world at large.
When I re-read the novel I realised it held so much more. I had forgotten about the two other major PoV characters for a start: Sarene, Raoden’s bride-to-be who becomes stranded in Arelon, a widow despite the fact that the political marriage never went ahead (thanks to the strange marriage contract), and the warrior-priest Hrathen, who is on a mission to convert the entire country to his militant faith before the theocracy that sent him descends on Arelon in a not-so-holy crusade of destruction and domination.
The twists and turn of the plot, and the intrigue are highly developed, and Sarene and Hrathren become opponents on opposite sides of the political divide, slowly winning each other’s respect. The book has a strong romantic arc, with Raoden and Sarene making a slow dance toward each other and eventually uniting in common cause at the conclusion. The depth of characterisation is definitely a plus for the book, as is the wide range of secondary characters, which all enhance the plot.
There is so much more in this book than I remembered. The development of so many themes through the storyline and characters, from politics and different political models, to the credible, and chilling, tactic of using hatred to unify an political faction. The exploration of different leadership models, the strange mix of mercantile meritocracy and feudal system used in modern Arelon, the democracy of a now vanished republic (destroyed by the theocratic empire of Hrathen’s people), and the benign leadership of the old godlike Elantrians before their magic failed.
The worldbuilding is so extensive, and solid, the setting so convincing, I can hardly believe the book is a standalone. I was left wondering if the additional character arcs and complexity was lost on me the first time, or if I had just forgotten it.
If you like fantasy, and have never read Sanderson’s first novel, it’s well worth the read!