PRINCE Raoden of Arelon awoke early that morning, completely unaware that he had been damned for all eternity.

Cover of ‘Elantris’ by Brandon Sanderson.

What a way to start a novel.

As a reader, I don’t think about the first words of a book when I first dive in. Ultimately, they’re not that important. It’s just a starting point. But, Brandon Sanderson nailed the opening sentence in Elantris.

I’ve told myself that I’m dubbing 2019 as The Year of Fantasy. In reality, it’s starting to become The Year of Brandon Sanderson. No matter what I’ve read from him, I am in complete awe of his imagination. There are certainly better storytellers out there but few can hold a candle to Sanderson’s creativity.

I’m way late on getting this review written. I’ve been sitting on an early draft of it since July 2nd. I’m now in the middle of reading a third book since I put this one down. Only two out of the three are by Sanderson.

Elantris was Sanderson’s first published novel in 2005. I’ve mostly read his later work, so I wanted to know what he was doing early on. Like most writers, he’s improved with time, but the thing that makes him special, his imagination, has been there all along. There were times early in the book that it was apparent he wasn’t quite as good at the craft as he is today. However, the story and world were so unique and interesting that I had to continue reading.

Elantris is a political fantasy with underpinnings of religion. Ultimately, it’s about human nature.

From the opening moments of the novel, we learn that Prince Raoden of Arelon has been cursed by the Shoad. The Shoad strikes those who are rich or poor, young or old. The cursed are placed in the walled city of Elantris. The Shoad used to be a blessing, bestowing god-like powers and near immortality on those it struck. Elantris was the city of the gods. But, something happened 10 years prior that changed things. The people who were struck by the Shoad became lepers, their skin graying with dark splotches. The king had no choice but to place his son into the city.

Princess Sarene of Teod was to wed Raoden. It was a purely political marriage to strengthen their alliance. As she comes ashore, she quickly learns that her fiancé is dead, or so she’s told. However, her marriage contract extends beyond death.

Side note: Sanderson writes some of the most enjoyable female characters in fiction. Most of them are bad-ass in their own ways. Independent. Strong. Believable. Sarene is no different.

Gyorn Hrathen is a high-ranking priest of the Derethi religion. He comes to Arelon around the same time. He has been given three months to convert the people or the people will be wiped out. What made Hrathen’s character so interesting is the parallel with some of the political movements happening in the world today (and in times past). He understands that “the first step in taking control of a nation” is to “find someone to hate.”. That group in this book is the Elantrians.

Like most of his novels, Sanderson brings a unique magic system into play. In Elantris, this comes in the form of Aons, a type of writing magic. However, the Aons have been useless since the Shaod first struck. The former god-like Elantrians could no longer produce wonders with the wave of a hand.

Uncovering the mystery behind what happened 10 years ago to the Elantrians while political and religious firestorms rage makes for an enjoyable read.

If I’d read Elantris in 2005 before beginning something like Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive, I probably would’ve rated this a solid 5 stars. Given how much Sanderson has improved as a writer, the book just doesn’t hold up quite as well to his later works. However, it’s as good as anything else you’ll find by other fantasy writers.

⭐⭐⭐⭐/5 stars