Review of ELANTRIS by Brandon Sanderson (see his website)
Tor, May 2006
Prince Raoden has attempted to offset his father's misrule, but when he awakens to be found he's been transformed, he's dragged to the ruins of Elantris where he learns that his suffering has just begun. Weirdly enough, the magic signs that once formed the basis to Elantris's might still glow, signaling that the magic is still there--they just don't work. Raoden links up with other inhabitants of Elantris and attempts to build a "New Elantris" out of the ruins.
Princess Sarene had been Prince Raoden's fiancee. She arrives in Arelon just in time to see the last of the funeral for her husband-to-be. Under the terms of her marriage agreement, Sarene is Raoden's wife whether he lives or not--and the Arelon people treat him as dead not even telling Sarene he was transformed. Sarene tries to find her place in Arelon, joining the conspiracy to bring good government to replace misrule.
Gyorn (high-priest) Hrathen has been given a command by the Wyrn himself--convert the people of Arelon within three months, or they'll be invaded and put to the sword. Hrathen has already seen the effects of civil war in the last nation he converted. He's decided to convert Arelon peacefully, bringing its leaders first. But his efforts seem constantly to be negated by the annoying Princess Sarene and by the even more annoying efforts of Dilaf, his own overly-fanatical deputy.
Author Brandon Sanderson creates an intriguing world and magic system based on arcane symbols written on the air itself. The story itself moves quickly, as Hrathen manipulates the political system Raoden's father put in place and Sarene attempts to defeat his every effort. Sanderson's writing is capable and non-obtrusive. Of the three major characters, Hrathen is the most complex and interesting--but unfortunately we get the least time with him and the most with Sarene--who is just a little too precious to be sympathetic. Hrathen drives the story--attempting to bring the true faith to Arelon despite resistance from just about everyone (his own priests believe that Arelon's people are unworthy). In contrast, Raoden and Sarene seem to find things a little too easily.
ELANTRIS is truly impressive for a first novel and shows impressive talent. With a bit more work on his characters, Sanderson may well become a major force in the world of fantasy.
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