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Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

Elantris by Brandon Sanderson
Book Name: Elantris
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Publisher(s): Tor (USA), Gollancz (UK)
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audio Book / eBook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: April 21, 2005

Just the other day I was reviewing my workload and the collection of works I have submitted when something horrific dawned on me: that for someone who calls himself a contributor to, I have reviewed very few actual fantasy novels. My bookshelves (yes I’m using the plural) and Kindle are full to the brim with fantasy novels, and yet I’ve barely scratched the surface. What’s more, although some of my favorite themes to explore in my own writings include religion, theology, morality, love and mortality versus immortality, I have also yet to tackle a writer who explores those same issues.

And so with great pleasure do I bring to you a review that is many months in the making; Brandon Sanderson’s debut novel: Elantris.

Photo by Nihonjoe.

Elantris is the story of three characters (and to that effect, an entire country and possibly the world) whose fates are intertwined with that of the city to which the novel is named for: Elantris. Before the events of the novel, Elantris was once a glowing city of magic and might inhabited by denizens whose skin glowed with a metallic shine and heads were crowned with flowing white hair. These people were once anyone in the country of Arelon who were chosen at random by the strange energy known as the Shaod that would turn these people, be they prince or pauper, into an Elantrian. As Elantrians, they alone had control over a great rune-based magic. However, a disaster turned the city into a ruin and the Elantrians lost their magic and appearance, replaced with a zombie-esque (no I’m not reviewing another zombie novel! This just happened to be a coincidence!) body that does not age but does not heal and is always racked with hunger pains among others. With the loss of their mortal gods, Arelon fell into chaos and now anyone taken by the Shaod is considered dead and thrown into the decaying city with the other Elantrians, who have now succumbed to anarchy and the rule of gangs who steal food from the newcomers.

Enter into this picture Raoden, the crown prince of Arelon’s new government and latest victim to the Shaod. However, instead of being broken by his transformation and misfortune, the young prince keeps his signature resolve intact and seeks to improve the lives of Elantrians all while trying to discover exactly what caused their fall from grace and horrific transformations. Through Raoden we explore not only the once-proud metropolis but also the complex magic system, our first example of an area that people say Brandon Sanderson truly shines at when making his world.

Meanwhile out in the city, the princess Sarene, Raoden’s betrothed, comes to pay a surprise visit to her soon-to-be husband…only to find him now “dead” and that she is a widow before the wedding ever took place. A strong-willed and sharp-minded person, Sarene is not about to let things rest as she sees the people are in turmoil, the king has let his government rot, her husband’s death is a mystery, and another newcomer, the gyorn (high priest of another religion) Hrathen, has come to convert the masses to his religion. And so Sarene begins to set in motion her role in preserving the country that is now her home, as well as that of her homeland.

Hrathen is the third and final viewpoint character that we are introduced to. As a high priest to a dominating religion that has claimed most of the world, Hrathen has been sent as an emissary with three months to either convert the people to his faith or prepare them for destruction. Through his view, we see that he is more than just a dominating zealot, and we examine not only his methods for converting but also his fears for the people. In a world where religious characters are almost always written as straw men or purebred fanatics who align with the side of crazy, Hrathen is indeed a breath of fresh air, and you almost find yourself rooting for him. And no, Hrathen is not a villain. But there are plenty of villainous characters to be had.

The pacing of Elantris is spectacular, and the prodigious cast of characters is handled with a proficiency that must be lauded. Every character shines in their own regard, with everyone having at least one grand moment to shine. There are hints to people’s back-stories spread throughout the work, with only the strings we absolutely need to see, pulled at just the right moments.

Another thing that is very impressive is just how much worldbuilding is involved. The action takes place in only three locations (with the final location only being present as the third act), and while the characters in the book only practice two religions, other religions and countries are mentioned with enough detail to give us a sense of what those countries may be like. None of the dialogue about foreign places is stinted, and it feels like any natural conversation where people are talking about places they’ve been, with mentions of food or phrases they’ve picked up while traveling.

For being a debut novel, Elantris is an elegant piece that carries with it years of experience and provides a sense of wonder that few novels can achieve. The characters feel real, the setting has weight, and not one scene goes to waste. If you’ve never read a Brandon Sanderson novel but have always wanted to, I most highly recommend starting here. And with rumors of a sequel in the air, you can most definitely believe I will be picking that up when I get the chance.

And so that is Elantris, my friends and readers. I hope you stay with me, for next time I shall continue my exploration of Brandon Sanderson’s works by revisiting something that I had originally wanted to review but never found the words to do. It was the first time a novel had ever bested me, and to this day I do not know why.


Heroes – While the heroes may all be striving for the Greater Good (The Greater Good), they do so in a natural way. – 5/5

Villains – Eh, one of the “villains” really isn’t much of one, save for the fact he practices an occult religion (read to see what I mean). But the true villain really makes up for it. – 5/5

Narrative – Brandon Sanderson has a knack for just pulling readers into his work, long as they are. – 5/5

Plot – The three plots intertwine in a beautiful way, as all three viewpoint characters are all striving to improve the situations of those around them. – 5/5

World – The level of detail is above and beyond what you would expect in a stand-alone work that takes place in all of two (then three) cities. – 5/5

Magic – Brandon Sanderson really does come up with some great magic systems, and this is one of them. The appendix in the back provides a nice touch. – 5/5

Overall – 5/5



  1. Avatar Overlord says:

    Great Review Chris! I really enjoyed Elantris! I also hear that you are currently reading Warbreaker, personally, I think that is even better… certainly, Sanderson is one of the best in the business. 🙂

    • Avatar Not-So-Bloody-Nine says:

      I agree. “Warbreaker” is a terrific novel, one of Sanderson’s best, with probably the most unique magic system I’ve come across.

  2. Avatar Jess says:

    Great review 🙂 I’ve not yet got round to reading any Sanderson, but this has definitely redoubled my desire to do so! Sounds like a fantastic book!

  3. Avatar Khaldun says:

    Not sure I’d give the novel 100% on a review, but it is definitely my favourite Brandon Sanderson novel. Warbreaker was also pretty good. Wasn’t able to get through his most recent novel The Way of Kings. Maybe I’ve just been reading too much Abercrombie, Lynch, and GRRM since reading Elantris.

  4. Avatar Mark says:

    I had to put Elantris down halfway through. The writing is very YA, and I don’t much of a stomach for that.

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