Previously on Elantris: a prince is cursed, a dead man named Galladon is too perky, and gross things are gross.
I think I forgot to mention last week that Raoden lives in the city built right outside and around Elantris. It becomes relevant later.
This week we get to meet Sarene, the second of three rotating perspectives in this novel. I really like the female characters Sanderson writes, mostly because there’s very little of that weird sexualization you see with fantasy authors who don’t understand a woman’s internal monologue. And Sarene is better than Shallan from the Stormlight Archive — fight me!
Sarene stepped off the ship to discover that she was a widow.
I just love this sentence. It perfectly conveys that she doesn’t feel completely attached to her arranged marriage with Raoden, and to me, it immediately makes her likable as a character.
Sarene and Raoden were only engaged when she set sail for Arelon (she’s from a country called Teod), and she’s never even officially met Raoden. But a clause in their marriage contract stipulated that if either party died suddenly during the betrothal, it would become legally binding (i.e. an actual marriage). This is politically savvy but socially super weird.
Sarene has a seon too — BFF balls of light unite! This one’s name is Ashe — who is not impressed with this clause. Sarene explains to Ashe that this is quite common, though she’s never seen the clause invoked.
The guy dealing with her luggage was the only one sent by King Iadon to greet her at the docks, and she muses that he spoke very dispassionately of the death of his prince. She also feels like the royal family should be showing a bit more care for the arrival of their new daughter, but I feel like if Raoden were actually dead, it’d be kind of shitty of Sarene to expect all the formalities to be observed.
As well, Ashe points out that they arrived several days ahead of the wedding party, surprising everyone. So Sarene should doubly stop whining about her lack of a greeting party. She was originally hoping to spend a few days with Raoden before they got married, but we all know that she probably wanted to bang him. That’s cool, I feel that.
As getting to know and/or banging Raoden is no longer possible, Sarene asks the disinterested attendant if she can see the funeral tent set up for the public. Once there, she finds herself surprised by how crowded the service is. Ashe says that the prince was very well liked, and she spends some time staring at people and sensing true grief. Eventually she thinks, “Oh, it’s true, the people did love him.” Yeah, Sarene. Why are you so surprised? I get that’s she’s never met him in person, but surely a princess of Teod would learn the political climate of her new home. I find her observations oddly condescending.
Sarene asks to see the prince, but the priest tells her that his death was too disfiguring to allow for such a thing. As a non-idiot, Sarene wonders how a young man of “vigor” (dear god) could drop dead of the coughing shivers with any likelihood, and as she observes the tent some more, she suddenly finds the whole thing suspicious. To be fair, King Iadon is holding court like it’s just another day, so it’s not like he’s a great liar.
On a carriage ride up to the palace, we get inside Sarene’s head a little, and she’s not even thinking about her boobs. How boring. Instead she’s feeling inferior and awkward, and she’s super mad at Raoden for dying on her and leaving her all alone to navigate this new country. And while I appreciate that Sanderson isn’t declaring Sarene past her prime at the ripe age of 20, or something (she’s 25), I’m still going to roll my eyes as a 28 year old. Raoden was NOT your last chance, Sarene. And being lanky is not a death sentence.
SO LANKY AND AWKWARD YOU GUYS.
We get a tour of the city, which does not reflect the economic lull Arelon is supposedly suffering. I’m 90% sure Sarene actually sees someone being escorted to Elantris by Korathi priests, but doesn’t understand what she’s seeing. Fun! She also wonders why anyone would want to live in the shadow of Elantris. Ashe says it’s because the city has access to a good port. Ooooh, yeah, tell me more.
Sarene thinks about seons for a sec, too, and we learn that they were ancient creations of Elantrian magic; she squints at Ashe, trying to see something called an Aon at his center. Basically, the magic in Elantris was based on a writing system that reminds me of Chinese hanzi or Japanese kanji, hiragana, and katakana. This is important later and I swear that I’ll explain it better. For now, that’s the gist.
Apparently Sarene’s home of Teod needs the treaty with Arelon because another country called Fjorden is expanding its influence at an alarming rate. Also, they’re religious extremists, which is always fun. Sarene’s father neglected to form stronger ties with Arelon ten years ago because everyone was worried that what had happened to Elantris would spread. These politics are way less ridiculous than America right now and I appreciate that.
Sarene meets her new father, Iadon, and observes that he doesn’t seem to be grieving his son. Also, Iadon is a sexist dick:
“Take this one to her rooms and see that she has plenty of things to keep her occupied. Embroidery or whatever else it is that entertains you women.”
I doubt this is going to go well for him.
On the other hand, Sarene is SUPER judgmental of the queen, who is the woman assigned to carting her off to a room full of needles and thread or whatever. Queen Eshen is talking about how the windows are too big and what color flowers she likes, never spending too much time on one subject before bouncing to the next, and Sarene dismisses her as saying nothing at all. It sounds to me like the queen has a lot to say, but no one will listen to her, so maybe get your shit together, Sarene. She does briefly think that the god of their religion, Domi, teaches that all personalities are gifts to be enjoyed, so hope isn’t lost.
Oh yeah, and then Sarene is like, “OH MY GOD SHE DOESN’T CARE ABOUT HER DEAD SON EITHER” and I’m like, yeah, we get it, it’s all very suspicious. But also, Eshen wasn’t Raoden’s real mother so……..
Literally right after these thoughts, too, Sarene has the gall to be annoyed that she has to wear black because it’s not one of her favorite colors. YOU’RE IN MOURNING. And you’re so suspicious of everyone else for not caring. Make up your mind.
Ashe returns from an investigative trip into the city, but he has little to report. Sarene thinks that the prince was MURDERED dun dun dun.
Seons can be used for instant communication, and Sarene uses Ashe to contact her father. It’s kind of funny imagery because Ashe essentially morphs from a ball of light into a glowing replica of her father’s head, and a seon on her father’s end has done the same with Sarene’s head.
Sarene’s father calls her ‘Ene and I don’t understand why and I’m only going to call her that when she annoys me. She reports Raoden’s death, and her dad seems more sad than anyone in Arelon, because he knows how into Raoden Sarene actually was. I think the signals here are pretty mixed — she’s complaining that no one seems sad while simultaneously acting rather detached from the situation, only for us to find out that she’d been communicating with Raoden via seon and letters for a long time and that she was actually kind of ready to fall in love with him.
She felt more than alone; she felt rejected — again. Unwanted. She had waited all these years, suffered by a patient father who didn’t know how the men of her homeland avoided her, how they were frightened by her forward, even arrogant personality. At last she had found a man who was willing to have her, and Domi had snatched him away at the last moment.
Aw, Sarene, I’m sorry I was annoyed with you. I’m sad with you now, girl.
Her father asks if she wants to come home, but she says no because they need the alliance. I guess by their religious customs, Iadon is technically her father now? So it would be unseemly for her to even go back home. That’s a super weird custom but probably not unprecedented.
The chapter ends with Sarene’s father telling her to go easy on the politicians in her new home. They have a warm moment where they joke about her killing off poor Raoden already. Dark humoooooooorrrrrrrrrrr.
And Here’s Matt with the Gay Perspective:
Oh, I will for sure fight you, Rebecca. Shallan is one of my favorite characters from the Stormlight Archive and her development is amazing. I’ll tie one hand behind my back in our fight, however, because Sarene is my favorite character in Elantris.
I’m also older than Rebecca, so anyone saying 25 is nearly past prime can die a gruesome death. I love you, Sanderson, but just shut the hell up. I get it, I get it, it’s supposed to be a different time, with different expectations. But still die, Sanderson.
On to my more serious hot take of the 2nd chapter. We start fleshing out the world a little more, especially the politics of the land post “magic plague,” but the magic is barely touched on in this chapter. I want more! It’s what I came here for, not the terrible internal dialogue:
How dare you die on me, prince of Arelon! Sarene thought indignantly.
Superb flat and clunky writing that you could easily find in a high school student’s fan fiction. Sanderson has some truly atrocious dialogue early on in his career, but it improves in leaps in bounds pretty quickly.
On to more adventures next time, and my flat attempts to be witty! What do you guys think? Discuss below!