I found this author's writing style to be a
little weak, especially at the beginning of the book. Combine this with
a whole lot of foreign terms, unique to this world, and the first half
of the book was a bit of a struggle. However, the book is worth sticking
with all the way through, because the characters are persistent and
always seek to overcome the challenges the author puts in their way. And
there are a lot of challenges, so many that I wondered if the author
would have them triumph or not!
This book is a struggle of
philosophies. There are three main characters, and they all act to the
best of their knowledge, with the tools they have available. Sarene,
Raoden and Hrathen are all very determined people, strong-willed and do
not take failures lightly. Each of them fails in this book, but they
always find a way to come back, and they do so stronger than before.
I think the most interesting was
Hrathen, the gyorn (high priest?) of the Fjorden empire. He came to
Arelon to convert them from their religion to his own, in the face of an
invasion from his people. He has just come from overthrowing another
republic, and does not want to see the bloodshed he caused there to
enter this land. This time, he wants to have as peaceful a transition as
possible. His religion is not based on violence, but sometimes that
violence is necessary to convert the people. He justifies the use of
everything he and his religion detest, in the name of converting the
people within his three month deadline. In doing so, he starts losing
more and more faith. He figures his soul is worth the exchange of the
souls of an entire nation. His apprentice, the arteth Dilaf, tries time and
again to usurp his power, and Hrathen is jealous that the man has more
religious fervor than he does. But Hrathen is logical, and has to reason
everything out, and cannot connect with Dilaf.
finds a worthy opponent in Sarene, who has come from the neighboring
kingdom of Teod for a political marriage to the prince of Arelon -who
she is informed has died the previous day, though her marriage is still
considered valid. Sarene immediately recognizes Hrathen as a threat, and
finds simple ways to counter him, which were amusing and always
interesting. When he casts the fallen realm of Elantris as a city of
demons, she goes inside to give them food and humanize them.
also works against the king of Arelon, a man who took power through
commerce when Elantris fell and was destroyed. He is a great
businessman, but a terrible king, which is why Arelon's political system
was dying. His son Raoden was popular with the people, but since he is
gone, she tries to take his place. It's amazing how everything she does
increases her popularity, but also disconnects her from the people, and
eventually backfires. She was a pleasure to watch in action, though.
Most of the cringe-worthy
moments, however, also come during Sarene's parts of the story. The life
at court is shown through docile women, in whom Sarene stirs up their
passion, eventually. The conversations that were supposed to show wit
and humor, especially at the dinner table and among sparring partners,
was at least quick to pass through, but it was distracting and not
relevant, even to show the characters' traits.
through Raoden that we see the city of Elantris. In the first chapter,
he is taken by the Sheod, the disease that used to turn people into the
shining and wonderful Elantrians, the people who could use magic to do
any number of things. Now, they are heinous, ever-hungry, and
devastated people. They prey upon one another, and especially the
newcomers, the people who should have been turned into gods, but instead
were turned into a pitiable people. In his first day, he converts the
pessimistic Galladon, a foreigner whose father ended up being an Elantrian before
the fall. Raoden's optimism is contagious, and he gains converts, either
stealing newcomers to the city from the rival gangs, or converting the
gang leaders one-by-one. Some of the Elantrians start to get better with
something to do, rather than being driven by their unending pain, and
they form a core group around Raoden.
Things come to a head when Sarene
is attacked while giving food inside Elantris. She blackmails the king
into not attacking the city (after she bailed him out of financial
ruin), then catches him worshiping an offshoot of the rival religion,
which sends him to the brig, where he commits suicide. One of Hrathen's
converts plans to take the throne, but Sarene agrees to another
political marriage so that one of the fair barons can become king instead. But Hrathen infects her with a
poison that makes her look like an Elantrian, so she is thrown into the city, where she is taken in by
Raoden, still maintaining his secret personality of Spirit. Except that
it proved to be very dramatic later, like Galladon, I don't understand
why Raoden decided to keep his true identity secret after that.
chance conversations, Raoden discovers the secrets to most of the failed
Elantrian magic, which is tied to the land around it. Apparently a
natural disaster caused a chasm to form near Elantris, altering the
landscape, causing the Elantrian runes (AonDor) to fail. They all need
to be rewritten with the chasm within them.
is able to create illusions, he disguises himself and Galladon and they
leave the city, gathering the people they trusted to move against the
king, and to move against the new king (a lazy Duke who would run the
country further into the ground). Raoden eventually reveals himself,
when his old friends begin a split amongst the group. His return sparks
his ascension to king, and marriage to Sarene, but that, too, falls
apart as Dilaf destroys his illusions. Dilaf is revealed as a member of
the Derethi church even higher than Hrathen, and he has brought his
minions to destroy Arelon, instead of converting it.
Hrathen eventually turns into the
hero, as he cannot bear to see another slaughter. Dilaf left Raoden for
dead, but his disembodied soul figures out how to fix Elantris,
returning in time to activate its full magic. Hrathen attacks Dilaf
before he can kill Sarene, and the two fight to their mutual death.
The book ends with the crisis averted, but lots of questions unanswered.
How can the Fjordens disintegrate the Elantrian Aons? With Teod and
Arelon safe for now, what happens to the rest of the world, which is
apparently occupied by their enemies? Will Raoden maintain the image
that Elantrians were gods, or more likely will he make the people a full
part of the government?
The one real item that I believe
was missing, especially when Sarene was suspicious of Raoden's death,
was that she never searched for his Seon. She must have assumed that it
was passed to somebody else, but never did she ask her own Seon Ashe to
go and find it and ask what happened to her fiancÚ. Sure, he wouldn't
have been able to find Ien, but it should have been tried, and maybe
Ashe would have recognized the tainted Seon in Elantris, too (but that
would have revealed Raoden too early, of course). Similarly, I wonder if
Raoden's Seon recovered, joining him as advisor to the king.
I would have liked more magic in this book, but it
eventually came back into being, only as Raoden discovered the rules of
how they were to be written. I assume that all the light-switch runes
needed to be recarved in order to work, too, because of the chasm. What
a way to lose magic, by an altered landscape. It was very interesting
how the magic is tied to the land around it, and I would welcome more.