Happy early Friday, and welcome to a new blog feature!
Every Friday I’ll be recapping fantasy books that I like (or even don’t like), chapter by chapter. I was partly inspired by an AMAZING blog called Bad Books, Good Times that I’ve followed for a couple years now. Read all of it forever. Matthew and Ariel are awesome.
For my own adventure, I decided to start with Elantris by Brandon Sanderson. It’s an impressive debut novel that I enjoyed, in some ways, better than some of his later work. In these posts, we’ll not only be recapping the plot of the book with full spoilers, but we’ll be talking about good writing moments, bad writing moments, my own failures and successes as an author, Sanderson’s next-level world building ability…and much, much more. And I won’t be alone! Joining me every week is my ex co-worker Matt, for a little gimmick we’ll call “And Here’s Matt with the Gay Perspective.” As a person with opinions on things, especially fantasy books, Matt was excited when I suggested we collaborate. It literally has nothing to do with his sexuality, but he laughed out loud at my title, and that made me feel warm, so we’re doing it.
And so, without further ado—Elantris, Prologue and Chapter 1.
Look, Elantris does sound pretty dope. It shines like a beacon in the night and it was called the city of the gods. The inhabitants basically got the best version of the plague ever, where they became beautiful, white-haired, and silvery-skinned, with powers like healing, insight, strength, etc. Also, Elantrians are immortal, so it’s like becoming a vampire minus the blood sucking. Even better, it’s like the modern, palatable, Twilight kind of vampire. I’m basing this strictly on the shiny skin. Hopefully this skin is always shiny and not just when it’s convenient to the plot.
Anyway, people from all across the land came to Elantris for help with stuff. And literally anyone could become an Elantrian via a transformation called the Shaod, so it’s all very egalitarian. Unfortunately, things have not been going so well lately. Our pretty vampires are stuck living eternally, but all the cool powers from Elantris vanished ten years ago.
Prince Raoden of Arelon awoke early that morning, completely unaware that he had been damned for all eternity.
That sounds concerning, Raoden.
He’s thinking about how much the fall of Elantris sucks, and then he gets out of bed without feeling cold, and although he’s normally not a breakfast person, this morning he’s ravenous. He calls for his seon, Ien (seons are essentially balls of light that are people’s BFFs), but Ien doesn’t answer. The servant arrives with breakfast, but when Raoden answers the door, the servant drops the tray. Can you guess why?
Yeah, the Shaod. Raoden is gross looking now. Since the fall of power in Elantris, the Shaod means that his hair has turned a limp gray, and his skin is covered in black patches. But his blue eyes are the same! Thank god.
We make a scene jump only to find out that King Iadon, Raoden’s father, ordered his son thrown into Elantris, and he’s going to pretend like the prince is dead. Elantrians, once gods, are now considered sickly monstrosities, so the king is saving face here. Elantris itself is basically a tomb for those afflicted by the Shaod, only their bodies don’t know how to die anymore.
Our protagonist Raoden isn’t going to take this lying down, though. He’s determined not to let the change break his mind. I enjoy protagonists with inner strength as much as the next person, so I’m down.
What I don’t enjoy is how viscerally I feel the griminess of Elantris. This description:
Every surface — from the walls of the buildings to the numerous cracks in the paving stones — was covered with a patina of grime. The slick, oily substance had an equalizing effect on Elantris’s colors, blending them all into a single, depressing hue — a color that mixed the pessimism of black with the polluted greens and browns of sewage.
Makes me so uncomfortable.
Raoden discovers that most of the inhabitants of the city are moaning in pain. They’re all wearing burial clothes, like him, but his aren’t quite as soiled yet. He’s worried he’s going to be sad and moaning in a few weeks.
Some Elantrians are watching him from the shadows. He’s carrying a basket with a bit of food in it, which is probably what they want. Raoden moves to the east side of the courtyard, and presumably, no one follows him. There are more visceral descriptions of how gross the city is. Good job, Sanderson.
Raoden passes a young boy who begs for food with barely enough energy to raise his arm, and Raoden gives him the bread he’s carrying. Like three seconds later, the kid is assaulted by some dudes who eat the bread. Raoden runs, and they chase him for that sweet, sweet basket of goodies. He ditches it eventually, falls into a pile of wood, and watches as they eat the food like feral animals. One of them discovers the wine and the danger passes as the men run away to fight over it.
Another Elantrian was watching this whole scene and addresses Raoden once it’s over. Raoden observes that the man is not from Arelon, as his skin is a deep brown where not pocked by black patches. The man also uses fun words like “sule” and “kolo.” I enjoy Sanderson’s invention of other languages and cultures in the Cosmere. It always ends up being fun, and he really does insist on diversity in a way that doesn’t feel shoehorned in.
The new guy’s name is Galladon. He has a very good attitude for someone’s who’s dead and exiled:
“I’m Galladon, from the sovereign realm of Duladel. I’m most recently from Elantris, land of sludge, insanity, and eternal perdition. Nice to meet you.”
Raoden is like, “The Shaod only affects people from Arelon!” And Galladon goes, “Nah, bro, I got some mixed blood.”
It turns out that our fallen prince is hurt, and he complains about the pain not going away. Galladon explains that this is the nature of being Elantrian now:
“Every pain, sule,” Galladon whispered. “Every cut, every nick, every bruise, and every ache — they will stay with you until you go mad from the suffering. As I said, welcome to Elantris.”
Raoden is upset by this and goes back to the boy who got shanked. He’s still alive, but…not really. His neck has been crushed and there’s really no coming back from that. Galladon says he’ll suffer forever, although maybe they could burn him — Elantrian bodies seem to respond to being burned. However, there’s a philosophical debate regarding whether that really takes away the pain.
Raoden is not impressed and also realizes he doesn’t have a heartbeat. Galladon, bless him, is like, “Yeah, man, I keep telling you you’re dead.”
They decide that they do not have the religious authority to burn the boy in case he doesn’t have a soul and just stops existing. Galladon wanders off, but Raoden decides to follow him because he trusts him. He pulls out some dried meat to offer Galladon because he knows everyone is as hungry as he is. Galladon accepts the offering, and they agree to spend thirty days together where Galladon shows Raoden the ropes of Elantris.
Galladon asks for his name, but Raoden won’t give it, as he thinks it would be best if people didn’t know he was royalty. He’s probably right? I’m not sure, because everyone’s families disown Elantrians, so it’s not like he could do much with his status.
And with that, Chapter 1 is over! Go team!
And Here’s Matt with the Gay Perspective:
Rebecca is super wrong, it has everything to do with my sexuality. Clearly being inflicted with the Shaod and shunned from society is a metaphor for being gay.
So, using his pride like a shield against despair, dejection and—most importantly—self-pity, Raoden raised his head to stare damnation in the eyes.
That is so on the nose for how I feel on Grindr. I would be suspicious of Sanderson’s sexuality if I didn’t already know that he’s happily married to a woman.
On a more serious note, my actual thoughts: As with all of Sanderson’s work, we’re already immersed in an enticing world ready for exploration. I find myself wanting to know more at every step. Also as per most of Sanderson’s work, though, the prose is lacking where the world-building shines; it is especially weak in his earlier works, like Elantris. His description of the city is barely a step up from “It was like so icky, you guys.” Maybe I’m too harsh, but I’m a big ol’ slut for good prose.
I’m still excited to delve more into the story and see where it takes us! Maybe next week, when Rebecca isn’t so loquacious, I can actually write more. Jesus.
What do you think about our first steps into Elantris? Discuss below!