Thursday, October 14, 2010

If magic breaks, what happens to its users?

What happens when the city of the gods becomes the city of fallen gods?  Are the people that the gods bless now cursed?  What happens to the city itself?  How about the kingdom that surrounds it?  That’s the premise of Brandon Sanderson’s debut novel Elantris.

In the world of Elantris, people were randomly chosen to join the city of Elantris, and given the powers of the gods.  They shine with an inner light, are able to draw power from drawing sigils, and are known throughout the world as a peaceful city full of healing and beauty.

One day, everything changes.  The sigils don’t work, and the Elantrians become sick.  Their white, glowing skin becomes dark and mottled, as if from a flesh-eating disease.  The shining buildings accumulate a black sludge that seems to seem from the stone itself.  The worst part, though, is that any injury, no matter how small, that an Elantrian receives never heals, and never stops hurting.  That doesn’t sound like much, but every scrape, every burn, every stubbed toe aches like the second that it happens, forever.  And the Elantrians never die, either.  So no matter how damaged a person gets, they’re doomed to suffer, for an eternity, it seems.

Out of fear, Arelon closes the gates to Elantris, and posts guards along the top of the wall, to keep the Elantrians in.  If someone shows the sign of becoming an Elantrian, they are dressed in funeral garb, given a token offering of grain, and shoved through the gates.  From then on, their families simply see them as dead.

We explore this world through the eyes of Raoden and Sarene.  Raoden is the heir apparent to the realm that surrounds Elantris.  Mere days before his wedding to Sarene, he wakes up one morning with all the signs of being an Elantrian.  Being a prince doesn’t excuse you from exile, so he’s sent into Elantris and considered dead.

Sarene shows up a little bit ahead of the wedding, to get to know her future husband.  When she gets to Arelon, however, she’s told that Raoden died, and had already been buried.  Due to a clause in the wedding contract, once she became engaged to Raoden, she is unable to marry anyone else, but because she never married, she can’t inherit the kingdom.

To say very much more would be to start revealing some of the twists and turns of this artfully plotted novel.  Sanderson really understands how people think, and how hard it is to lead a group of people.  Especially as a first novel, it’s an impressive story, and I look forward to what comes next from him.

Highs:  Characterization, plotting

Lows:  Occasionally the pacing is off, and there are a few points that drag

Verdict:  A masterful debut that makes me hopeful for his next books

Further Reading:  Mistborn, The Wheel of Time

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