Elantris is a (mostly) standalone piece of epic fantasy by Brandon Sanderson. In the book, Elantris, once a city of wonder and magic, has fallen into decay, and those people who become Elantrians are locked up in Elantris and considered dead. The novel tells the story of three interconnected people living in this world: Raoden (a recent Elantrian), Sarene (Raoden’s wife-to-be and now widower), and Hrathen (a missionary of the Shu Dereth religion attempting to convert Sarene’s city).
Despite this being the first work of epic fantasy that Sanderson published, this is not the first such novel that I have read from from him. Having that perspective on this novel, then, I can’t help but notice that this being his first novel is clear from the book itself. This is not to say that the book is bad (in fact, it’s a really great book), but just that almost everything that Sanderson does well here, he does better in his later works.
This can best be seen in the magic system and the plot in the novel. The magic system is as original as one would expect from a Sanderson novel, but it is clear that it is not quite as fully thought out (particularly in relation to what the magic can and cannot do) as those in his later works. A similar point can be said about the plot of the novel: the plot twists found here are as mind-blowing as they always are with Sanderson, but some of the revelations that lead to these twists are delivered in a rather disappointing manner; in one instance, a major revelation to Raoden is simply told to him by Sarene.
The writing and the characters, however, are perfectly on point in this novel. In terms of the writing, Sanderson is, as always, impressively clear with his prose. In terms of the characters, while Raoden and Sarene are perfectly good characters that are fun to read about, Hrathen is where this book truly shines. It is an absolute pleasure to read his point of view scenes, and Sanderson is fantastically good about portraying both Hrathen’s political maneuvering, and his faith.
Elantris is, then, a great book. While Sanderson has clearly honed his craft since publishing this book, some elements of the book are as good as he has written in since. Thus, if you are either looking to try out one of Sanderson’s books, or have already read and loved Sanderson’s other epic fantasy books, then I would heartily recommend you read Elantris. If, however, you’ve already read Sanderson’s other books and didn’t really like them, I don’t think that you’re going to like this book any better.