Author: Brandon Sanderson
Subgenre: High fantasy
2021 Bingo squares: Cat squasher, Debut author
You can take for granted that a Brandon Sanderson novel will have a unique, compelling magic system with the necessary depth of worldbuilding to support it, and his debut novel Elantris is no exception. From the Shaod to Aons to Seons, every bit of magic on the planet Sel is captivating, and the story of Elantris is just as compelling. The only complaint I have about the novel is its characterization of women, but even that isn’t enough to knock it down from a 5/5 rating, everything else about it is so good.
The premise of Elantris is that the Shaod, which once turned people into blessed Elantrians, able to perform miraculous works of magic, now instead curses them to an unending lifetime of pain and misery. Prince Raoden wakes up one morning to find the Shaod has taken him, and he’s deposited inside the city of Elantris to live out his fate in misery. But he’s not willing to accept his curse lightly.
Meanwhile, his fiance, Sarene, arrives in Arelon and discovers that she is now a widow, as the royal family has been disguising Raoden’s curse as a death, and their betrothal contained a clause sealing their marriage should either of them die before the wedding. Something seems suspicious about the circumstances of his death (it is), and she wants to figure out what’s going on.
And meanwhile, Hrathen has come to Arelon to convert the entire kingdom to the Derethi religion, to worship Holy Jaddeth. He knows that if he fails at accomplishing his goal peacefully, his empire will step in and see that the same result occurs one way or another. But he may be in over his head with Sarene opposing him from one direction and the overly-enthusiastic Dilaf from another.
The three points of view remain mostly separate for most of the novel, until they don’t, and in typical Sanderson fashion, the ending is explosive and satisfying. Every question you have will be answered (at least, within the scope of Elantris - no promises about the greater Cosmere), and everything fits together perfectly.
Really, my only complaint about the novel is that Sarene constantly disparages all of the other women she knows, with quotes like, “Sarene had hoped to instill a measure of political interest in these women, to encourage them to take an active role in the management of the country, but apparently that was too subtle an approach” being common. It’s left slightly unclear whether Sarene’s blanket dismissal of the women around her is a character flaw or a piece of deliberate worldbuilding, but either version is problematic. The first, because there isn’t sufficient evidence to refute it, meaning that interesting, relevant women characters are too lacking in the story accidentally; and the second is just not cool.
Either way, I can forgive this problem in Sanderson’s debut novel, especially since it’s not at all an issue in his later works - and everything else about Elantris is just wonderful.