Elantris

You may remember how much I loved Brandon Sanderson's books Mistborn and Well of Ascension. If so, it will come as no surprise that I snatched up his first novel Elantris recently. I absolutely loved it and passed it on to my sixteen year old, who read it in a day, forsaking all other responsibilities and delights. It's definitely a book you're going to want to read all in one go if you can. When I read it I was already having a small anxiety attack and worrying about the characters by page 21 (hardback version, I made a note of it).

In fact I said to Mr. Sanderson, who of course couldn't hear me as he's many miles away from my home, "I'm trusting you. Don't let anything too terrible happen to these people. I can't bear anything too grim this week." I was able to trust him because of the way he handled his characters in the two Mistborn books. They certainly went through their share of misfortune and some of them fared badly, but there is a balance and sense of fairness, if you see what I mean. I'm not sure if I've mentioned that I entirely stopped reading an author I'd read for decades because his heroine makes it through some terrible ordeals, is rescued/helps rescue herself, makes it home and is relaxing when someone comes to the door pretending to deliver flowers and shoots her in the face. And that's the end of the book. All that worrying and attachment to the character and for what? I'm never putting myself through that again if I can avoid it.

I'm sure you’re wondering what there is about Elantris that made me fret about the characters and what in particular made me so concerned so close to the beginning of the book. It's a brilliant setup, original, mysterious and terrifying. The city of Elantris has long been the home of ultra fabulous people who can cure disease, teleport and do any number of other miracles with just the wave of a hand. They practically glow and are rather angelic in appearance. Elantris, which is in the country of Arelon, is surrounded by four cities populated by more ordinary people who depend on the Elantrians.

One day a catastrophe strikes and Elantris and its inhabitants are devastated. The city loses its luster and begins to decay, covered in slime and grime. The Elantrians fare even more poorly. Their hair falls out and they're covered in black blotches. They have the properties of animated corpses but they still hunger and feel pain.

Elantris begins ten years after the disaster with Raoden, the crown prince, waking up to discover that he has become an Elantrian during the night. His family announces that he has died and banishes him to Elantris, wearing only a robe and bearing a tiny basket of ceremonial food. There he learns that the streets are ruled by three gangs and that life is brutal for the inhabitants of the ruined city. Raoden has never been one to stand by and watch bad things happen so he gets to work setting up his own gang with the goals of giving the Elantrians respite from their pain and despair.

Meanwhile a too tall, gawky, outspoken princess called Sarene is voyaging to fulfill her marriage contract to Raoden. She arrives to the news that her prince is dead but the contract is still valid and she's married to a dead man she's never met. She's concerned about the health of the country, whose economy is a mess and whose people are being enslaved, and decides to stay to implement change. The first step is getting the King, who despises women, to let her into the court so she can start making plans.

The third important character in the story is Hrathen, who is a Derethi gyorn, which is a high ranking and scary member of the Shu Dereth religion. He has come to Arelon ostensibly to take over the church but he has a secret. He has three months to convert the entire country to his religion. If he fails soldier monks will boil out of the monasteries and destroy Arelon's society, leaving devastation and mass death in their wake. He is driven not only by his own obsessive personality and his desire to see the country converted but by his need to avoid bloodshed.

That's a brilliant setup. We've got a scary antagonist who we kind of want to win (in order to avoid slaughter), we’ve got the clever princess, who is bound to go up against Hrathen, and we've got the prince who has gone from the very top of society to the very bottom. He's an intriguing character and we want to see how he's going to cope with his fall and his attempts to help the other doomed souls. There's also an element of thwarted love with a marriage torn asunder before it can really start, letting all that potential go to waste. A lesser writer wouldn’t have been able to live up the promises of this fantastic premise but Brandon manages handily, sustaining the excitement and intrigue through 200,000 words and delivering a satisfying ending. Here's a link to the Elantris portal where you can read some sample chapters and explore all sorts of goodies.

One-Paragraph Review
This week's one-paragraph review is from Mary Mary Quite Contrary who wrote to tell us about a popular novel called The Art of Racing in the Rain. She says, "This book made me laugh and cry. It's about a dog and how he tries to help his master through hard times. There is some stuff about race cars but not too much so even if you hate racing you can still enjoy the book." Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.