Elantris combines a daring concept with political fantasy. Review by S.K. Slevinski
Brandon Sanderson's debut novel, Elantris, changes up the fantasy form to give fans of political fantasy a plotline that combats genre cliché.
As the story opens, Prince Raoden, heir to the throne and well-loved by his people, has quite literally woken up one day to find himself stricken by the Shaod, a random and spontaneous magical transformation that at one time destined the inheritor for a life of beauty, strength and immortality in the city of Elantris. It has, however, been ten years since the city of Elantris underwent a mysterious corruption. The Shaod now turns its stricken into walking corpses, unable to die or to heal, destined to suffer an eternity of any injury they incur. Raoden finds himself torn from his home and his position, declared dead by his father and locked up in the grime-ridden city of Elantris. Meanwhile, the fiancée he never met is en route from a neighboring kingdom, intent on solidifying an alliance between their kings by marrying Raoden. When she arrives, however, she discovers that Raoden has suddenly died—or so his family claims. Moreover, according to the marriage contract, she is considered at once married and widowed to the prince, despite the unforeseen tragedy. Sarene decides to uphold the legal marriage and alliance in the hopes of securing peace between her new home and her father's kingdom. The more she gets involved in court life, however, the more she discovers tell-tale signs of corruption underneath its surface.
The list of Sanderson's gutsy and successful choices in this novel is a solid one. For one, its rarity as a standalone fantasy is a most welcome respite from the bloated epics that crowd fantasy shelves. A particularly daring choice is that Sanderson sequesters his hero in a virtual cesspit and removes his every scrap of handsomeness from the first page. The potential to alienate the day-dreaming teenage female audience aside, I initially questioned the choice of locking his main character into such an objectionable milieu. How much interesting can happen to a character in prison? Well, it is a city-sized prison, and Sanderson takes good advantage of its potential. For the most part, this novel is a grand success. I have only a few regrets amid his fresh plotting and due attention to character development. Sanderson doesn't give us a terribly fresh spin on the "strong" fantasy heroine. She's not in herself clichéd, but the subplot of her influence within the castle takes unsurprising turns. Furthermore, he sets up his cast and concepts for a largely predictable ending.
This novel is, overall, a great success, and fantasy fans should find much to enjoy. This story is an excellent mix of fresh fantasy concept and character-driven storytelling.