So, this is an old story by now, but I picked up Elantris to read after Brandon Sanderson was named as the author of the Wheel of Time’s concluding volumes. Well, and also after being told that people like his books pretty well. And hey, good news, this is a pretty damn good book. A strong female protagonist, a holy war, a symbol-based magic system, a pretty horrific curse, and a thoughtfully drawn adversary are only some of the upsides. Plus, rumor has it that his Mistborn trilogy is even better.
The book is pretty hard to describe, though. There’s this city, Elantris, and it used to be the envy of the world. People would randomly ascend to a higher state of being, move to Elantris, do their cool magic, and everyone in the country had a pretty great life because of the free foods being distributed from the ascended magic people, and yeah. Pretty much utopian communism at its finest. Sure, there are religious differences out in the rest of the world, with a holy warrior / proselytizing empire ranged against a fairly low-key, love-based religion that most of the world’s other countries embrace. This would probably spell a recipe for disaster, except for Elantris. And then, ten years ago, its ascended, magical residents are all inexplicably struck down: their bodies waste away, their magic has failed, their city is a rotten, crumbling ruin. And worst of all, people continue to randomly ascend, just as they always had, only now they “ascend” into pain, misery, and forced exile in that once proud city.
These facts combine to form the setting for a story about three characters: Prince Raoden of Arelon (Elantris’ country), brought down by the Elantrian curse in the book’s opening sentence; Princess Sarene of Teod, who would have married Raoden a week later under better circumstances as part of a politically-motivated alliance, and Hrathen of Fjondell, the priest who has most recently converted the country to the south of Arelon by fire and is determined to not make the same mistakes with Arelon and Teod, the last countries not to have fallen under his empire’s sway. Add several interesting supporting characters, many of whom have backstories too large for this one book, stir, and watch the results, about which I can say no more. That issue, a few elements of the plot or the characters lacking enough explanation to really make sense, was my only problem with it. But these didn’t get in the way of an excellent story, and, like I said, people say his current books are better. That’s a decent achievement already, as much as I did like this one.