Re-posting my review from Un:Bound
Elantris was the city of the Gods. A magisterial city of unparalleled magic and a populace of silver-skinned, radiant beings capable of channeling mystical energies to do whatever they commanded: heal the sick, grow food out of garbage, appear anywhere seemingly instantaneously.
Then, ten years ago, something happened. The Reod. Elantris began to crumble and rot away. The blessed denizens of the city similarly crumbled and rotted within their souls. No longer living and not dead, they are cursed, as are those who undergo the transformation of the Sheod, which is where the novel Elantris begins, as Prince Raoden of Arelon wakes up one morning to find he has been afflicted with the Sheod, and must by law be banished behind the gates of Elantris, where no one has stepped foot for the last ten years.
The debut novel by Brandon Sanderson, picked as the one to complete the late Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series, is a solid stand-alone fantasy novel, a rarity in these days of never-ending sagas and almost requisite trilogies. Its stand-alone, one-volume uniqueness allows the complete, engrossing story to unfold without having to worry about waiting 2 years to find out what happens, but it also has the pitfall of rushing a few things, so the ending comes up on you in a big "whoosh" and then just stops.
Review promise: that will be the last instance of onomatopoeia for the month of December.
Focusing on three main characters and using the chapters to divide their narratives, Sanderson creates a vivid world ruled by merchants and religion in equal measure. And although one could argue that the main story lies in Raoden's challenge of surviving in Elantris and figuring out what caused the cursed Reod and how to reverse its effects, Elantris places equal emphasis on its supporting stories: Sarene, the Toed princess bound by marriage to Raoden even though he "died" before she ever got a chance to meet him, is faced with stopping the crushing "conversion" of the Arelon people to the Derenthi religion, where a war-like devotion to God means that those who do not convert are decimated. And in Hrathen, the Derenthi gyorn, or high priest, whose mission it is to convert Arelon before the Derenthi soldiers wipe the country off the face of the planet, Sanderson presents us with an engaging, fleshed out antagonist, and the one character who really undergoes a change throughout the course of the novel. Hrathen's passion for his faith, coupled with his desire to have everyone convert is at odds with the faith's doctrine of killing all those who will not submit, and his choices made in the novel bring a weight and morality that is much more realized than with Elantris's other characters.
This is a really solid debut, given bonus points for telling a complete story in one volume. Sanderson just completed his Mistborn trilogy (sigh), and is currently working on the Wheel of Time series. Definitely a writer to watch as he matures and comes into his own.