ELANTRISA novel by Brandon Sanderson
(2005, TOR Books)
The prince of the land is transformed into a deformed Elantrian, where he tries to bring order to the doomed city, and his widowed bride attempts to bring stability to the land, while a foreign priest tries to convert it.
-- First reading (ebook)
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!Spoiler review:
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.
Hrathen 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.
Sarene 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.
It is 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.
Through 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.
When he 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.
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