Literature: Elantris

Discover where the magic began...

Elantris was the city of the gods. Elantrians were people who had been magically transformed by a strange effect that strikes people at random, turning them into near-immortals able to command powerful magics. Anyone the transformation took—beggar, peasant or nobleman—would leave their old, mundane lives behind and move to Elantris, to live in glory, wisdom, and splendor, worshiped by mere mortals for all eternity.

Eternity, as the introduction puts it, ended ten years ago. In a cataclysmic event that tore open the land, the magic suddenly failed, turning the Elantrians into grotesque zombie-like creatures stripped of their magic and their glory. The transformation still strikes at random, but now as a curse, condemned by all the religions of the world.

The story opens with Raoden, the beloved Crown Prince of Arelon, waking up to find it took him in his sleep. He's thrown into the now-ruined city of Elantris, which has transformed over the last ten years from a majestic City of the Gods into a crumbling, filth-covered insane asylum filled with cursed immortals whose bodies do not heal from even the slightest injuries. His fiance from a political marriage, Sarene, arrives from another kingdom to be told that he suddenly died during her journey, leaving her officially his widow under the terms of the contract. She immediately suspects assassination, but soon she finds far more pressing matters to worry about...

And then everything starts going wrong all at once. The kingdom of Arelon is unstable due to inept leadership, the most beloved man in the kingdom (who could have held things together) is "dead," and a high priest of the militaristic Dereth religion has just arrived in the capital city. He has three months to convert the people of Arelon, or they will all be wiped out by the Derethi in a holy war. And that's just the first couple of chapters. To say anything more would be to spoil things.

Elantris is the first published book by Brandon Sanderson, who went on to write the Mistborn books, Warbreaker, and The Stormlight Archive for his Verse, The Cosmere. He also later wrote the last three volumes of The Wheel of Time, and the YA Alcatraz Series.

Sanderson has also written The Emperor's Soul, a standalone novella set in the same world as Elantris, but in a distant Empire.

Not to be confused with the Hyundai Elantra.

Elantris provides examples of:

  • Action Girl:
    • Not Sarene's forte, as she's more of a political type, but she does fence regularly for sport and is good enough to hold her own against the most physically powerful character in the novel, Dilaf.
    • Karata is a more typical example.
  • Action Survivor: Pretty much any Elantrian who isn't Ax-Crazy or past the Despair Event Horizon.
  • Affably Evil: Invoked by Sarene. She has heard that Elantris is a barbarous place ruled by cruel warlords. When she meets Spirit, she quickly figures out that he's got a lot more power than the "simple advisor" guise he introduces himself as. When he proves to be friendly and genial, she figures he's probably an example of this trope.
  • After the End: Sort of. Elantris is not a pleasant place to live in anymore, though the world outside its walls continues as normal.
  • All There in the Manual: The planet on which Elantris takes place is named Sel. This fact was first mentioned in the annotations for Warbreaker, and in print in another book set in the Mistborn setting, in an appendix that compares Allomancy with Aons.
  • Alone Among the Couples: Sarene finds it painful.
  • Always Someone Better: Duke Roial always seems to be one step ahead of his business rival and friend Ahan. This eventually leads to Ahan's betrayal of the group so he can finally get the better of Roial.
  • Anti-Magic: Dilaf's is immune to Aonic magic, even able to destroy Aons from a distance.
  • Anti-Villain: Hrathen, as a Type III. His primary motivation in coming to Arelon isn't because he believes the Arelene to be wrong (though he does), it's that he wants to save them from a terrible fate, namely genocide at the hands of Wyrn's forces. The one time he had to convert a population through bloodshed, it weighed heavily on his conscience, and continues to do so even to the present time of the story.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: Lord Spirit calls Sarene on this when she says that AonDor was "just a heathen legend."
    Spirit: So it's all right for [Elantrians] to be cursed with bodies that won't die, but it's not possible for our ancient magic to work? Didn't I see you with a Seon?
  • Armor-Piercing Question: To Hrathen from Omin: "What happened to your faith?"
  • Ax-Crazy: Dilaf.
  • Badass Preacher: Derethi priests look like this, in large part because their typical garb consists of a suit of ornamental, ceremonial armor. Hrathen, on the other hand, is this; that armor he wears constantly? Totally real.
  • Bad Boss: A major reason Hrathen left the monastery was when he saw its leader make one of his subordinates sacrifice himself to provide energy to teleport a distance he could easily have travelled conventionally.
  • Best Served Cold: Dilaf's revenge is planned as this type... Gone very very far over the edge.
  • Body Horror: Some not-quite-dead Elantrians. The bone manipulation used by the Dakhor monks, including making them seem like different ethnicities, are gruesome.
  • Broken Pedestal: Downplayed Trope with Sarene's opinion of her father. They love each other, but eventually she is incredibly disappointed that he's willing to convert in order to protect his kingdom, and finds out that he probably usurped the throne from her favorite uncle.
  • Cape Swish: Hrathen does this. When she first sees him, Sarene hopes he'll trip on it.
  • The Cavalry: The rest of the newly-empowered Elantrians teleporting to Raoden's rescue and unleashing a massive battery of attack magic on the Derethi monks.
  • Chekhov's Armoury: Plenty of seemingly minor details turn out to be significant later on, and only the most important one was obvious enough to identify as a Chekhov's Gun beforehand.
  • The Chessmaster: Sarene and Hrathen. Also Dilaf.
  • Church Militant: The Shu-Dereth religion views combat as an expression of one's loyalty to God and Wyrn, and all of its priests are expected to be at least competent warriors. Hrathen's vestments actually include armor, though that's supposed to be ceremonial. It isn't.
  • Corrupt Church: It's very heavily implied that Wyrn, the priest-emperor of the Derethi, cares more about power on earth than righteousness before God. This is subverted with the two main Derethi characters, however—Hrathen is genuinely devout, and Dilaf's belief is crazy but sincere.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: An entire aristocracy full of them, (the king set up his system of nobility and titles specifically based on the ownership and production of wealth), but Telrii and the King are by far the worst.
  • Cult: "The Mysteries."
  • Despair Event Horizon: Elantrians who cross it turn catatonic and spend all day whispering Madness Mantras to themselves.
  • Disproportionate Retribution:
    • So the Elantrians were benevolent semi-divine beings who ruled over a genuine utopia... and then they were all made into hideous zombie-like creatures because they earned the wrath of God (according to Shu-Dereth). Seems more than a little unfair.
    • Not to mention that Dilaf had planned for the extermination of everyone in Arelon and Teod to make sure no Elantrians exist ever again as far as he can tell over the (accidental!) cursing and death of his wife.
  • Dragon with an Agenda: Dilaf. Eventually he reveals himself to be a Dragon-in-Chief.
  • Dramatic Unmask: Raoden, in the home of his conspirator friend, to the usurper King Telrii. He was even Crazy-Prepared about it, making it look like his disguise was mundane when it was really the product of The Magic Comes Back.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending
  • Elephant in the Living Room:
    • Nobody at court wants to discuss Prince Raoden's death, which annoys Sarene to no end.
    • Elantris itself is also this for the Arelenes after the Reod.
  • The Empire: Fjordell.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Hrathen is practically defined by this, to contrast from Dilaf.
  • Everything's Better With Princesses And Princes: Sarene and Raoden are the most competent politicians in the book, making them Royals Who Actually Do Something to boot.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Appliance: The Seons have many functions that make them like sentient, floating versions of a personal computer.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The Derethi/Fjordell empire is a combination of the Romans and the Norse, per Word of God. Jindo is loosely based on China, and Teod is remniscent of Britain in that it's a tiny island that is nonetheless a world power due to its incredibly formidable navy.
  • Fantasy World Map: Of Arelon. It's also an important clue as to what caused the Reod.
  • Fate Worse Than Death: Elantrians' fate post-Reod.
  • Faux Death: Played with. Hrathen commissions a poison that shows the physical appearance changes of an Elantrians without the hunger or pains. He uses it on himself, then on Sarene.
  • Femininity Failure: Sarene tries to be traditionally feminine, but isn't exactly good at it. This leads to her having trouble fitting in with the court.
  • Foe Romance Subtext: Hrathen toward Sarene, especially near the end.
  • The Force: The Dor, which different groups access in different ways, but has no known direct darker counterpart force.
  • Functional/Geometric Magic:
    • AonDor, the magic of the Elantrians, is based on a set of special runes that must be traced exactly the right way in the air, with an endless variety of effects generated using special modifiers and varied line lengths. What bit them in the ass ten years ago was the fact that the geometry was in turn geography-based. When the geography changed...
    • Jindo's ChayShan, which apparently works by tracing patterns though special movements, sort of like a Supernatural Martial Arts. Shuden cuts down a superpowered monk with his eyes closed.
    • The Dakhor have also discovered a way to "channel the Dor", using chanting to cause their bones to painfully grow and reshape into ancient runes that grant them special powers.
  • The Fundamentalist: Dilaf.
  • God Before Dogma: Hrathen eventually comes to this view after his Heel-Face Turn, saying "My problem is with Wyrn, not with Jaddeth."
  • Good Republic, Evil Empire: Averted; all the nations involved on both sides are monarchies and Hrathen was able to topple the Duladen Republic in favour of a Fjorden-backed monarchy in part because he was able to exploit the fact that the Duladen were ruled by an oligarchic out-of-touch ruling class, known simply as "the republicans".
  • Götterdämmerung: Elantris was known as the City of the Gods until all the magic went sour.
  • Guile Hero: Sarene, certainly, and Prince Raoden, to a lesser extent.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Hrathen first has a Heel-Face Turn to save Sarene and is nearly killed by Fjon, then dies after killing Dilaf and taking another wound in the process.
  • Honor Before Reason: When Hrathen uses his special poison to make Sarene appear to be an Elantrian, then exacts a promise from Eventeo to convert if Jaddeth can "heal" his daughter, Eventeo follows through on it, even after he finds out it was all a trick, because he gave his word. However, it's also made clear that he was likely going to convert anyway in the hopes of saving saving his kingdom and this gave him a way to save face.
  • Human Sacrifice: The cult of the Mysteries is known for this. Iadon takes to it out of desperation. On a similar, but more functional note, the Dakhor use this to power some of their magics.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Lord Ahan decides this after Sarene declares that she plans to go into Elantris.
  • Ironic Echo: At the beginning of the novel, Hrathen is convinced that eventually, the people of the city will see him as their savior. Well... yeah, but not exactly the way he intended.
  • It's the Only Way to Be Sure: Invoked by Dilaf, acting on Wyrn's orders. He is willing to commit genocide, wiping out the entire Aonic race, to ensure that no more Elantrians can be created.
  • Karma Houdini: Wyrn gets away untouched, with just his recent plotting thwarted. Sanderson hopes to write a sequel someday and intended to preserve Wyrn as Big Bad of the setting.
  • Kill It with Fire: Failed Elantrians are very flammable, and many people are more than happy to help out.
  • King Incognito: Raoden, sort of, several times. When he's first sent to Elantris, he doesn't give his real name. People unusually smart and/or close to him figure out who he is in the end, but most people come to follow him simply because he's leading by example and getting things done. When Sarene accidentally subverts his efforts to help Elantrians by giving them handouts, he doesn't admit to being in charge and lets her think the former gang leaders are still running things. And later, he leaves the city disguised as a Jive Turkey, because he's still trying to figure out how to fix the magic.
  • Knight Templar: Hrathen, though a combination of Character Development and Sympathetic P.O.V. soon make it clear he is far less fanatical than he seems, and Dilaf.
  • Love Before First Sight: Both Raoden and Sarene began to fall in love with one another when they could only speak over Seon and via letters, but hadn't met face to face.
  • Made of Magic: The Elantrians. Aon Shao (as in Shaod) means "transform"/"change". After reading about a failed healing and what it did to the patient, Raoden figures out that they are not cursed, just incomplete, stuck in limbo until the transformation finishes.
  • Madness Mantra: Each Hoed, an Elantrian who has been driven into a catatonic state by the injury, has their own.
  • Magic A Is Magic A: As Sanderson is known for. If you want a slightly different effect, you'll need to use Magic A'. It is heavily implied that the old Elantrians had to learn all this over long time, in universities.
    • Word of God is that all magic on Sel is essentially "programming," building desired effects by creating symbols with very specific meanings.
  • The Magic Comes Back: All it needed to function again was to add one line: the Chasm.
  • Mayfly-December Romance: It's not really addressed in the book, but it's implied that Raoden will far outlive Sarene.
  • Meaningful Echo: When Saolin goes Hoed, his Madness Mantra is "I have failed my Lord Spirit." When Raoden does, his is "Failed my love."
  • Meaningful Name: Plenty, most of which are only revealed by checking the Aonic glossary in the back.
  • Mission from God: Hrathen and Dilaf are both driven by their devotion, though Hrathen is much more reasonable about it.
  • Mood Whiplash: When Roial dies in a very touching scene, right as Spirit reveals himself as Prince Raoden. Immediately afterwards, Sarene's shock upon realizing that she's married to this guy is almost palpable.
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: The pirate Dreok Crushthroat. For bonus points, "Reo" means "Vengeance" in Aonic. Fortunately, he was defeated before the story begins. It's actually Dreok Crushedthroat, but that's not much better.
  • No Cure for Evil: Dilaf notes that there is no healing mechanism in Dakhor, though there is for Elantris.
  • No Zombie Cannibals: Justified. The Elantrians' flesh tastes so horrible that even the perpetually-ravenous Elantrians can't bring themselves to eat each other.
  • Noble Demon:
    • Hrathen, ironically considering he is a priest.
    • Karata, especially compared to the other gang leaders.
  • Nonindicative Name: Iadon, see character sheet for details.
  • Non-Human Sidekick: The Seons. Also Skaze.
  • Not Using the Zed Word: The Elantrians—no bleeding, no heartbeat, no healing, unable to die unless beheaded or purged with fire, accumulating unfading pain with every minor injury, and constantly ravenous. Almost all Elantrians are reduced to moaning, immobile heaps within a year of transformation even if they avoid going insane from pain and hunger before then. Sanderson plays up those who've managed to keep their sanity as victims of something like zombie apartheid. Though there are two major distinctions between Elantrians and regular zombies: Elantrians don't spread their condition to anyone else. And the way they experience pain arguably makes them easier to injure and incapacitate than them humans.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Sarene's very good at this. So is Dilaf.
  • Only One Name: Everyone in the book has only one name, aside from titles or nicknames, with Aonic names including an Aon. The fact that Dilaf's name does not include such an Aon is a clue that he is not truly from Arelon at all.
  • Only Sane Man: Raoden only meets one person who's managed to retain both his wits and his humanity after becoming an Elantrian, Galladon. At first.
  • Our Demons Are Different: Hrathen tries to undermine Elantris by calling Elantrians demons. Dakhor monks are explicitly connected to demons, but are human.
  • Perfectly Arranged Marriage: Raoden and Sarene politically arranged marriage. Justified, as they arranged it themselves, and only after getting to know each other through letters and magic telephone.
  • Phosphor-Essence: Before being reduced to twisted wrinkled pseudo-zombies, Elantrians glowed faintly. After the problem that removed their powers is fixed, they start glowing again.
  • Planet of Hats:
    • Subverted with the Dulas. They're supposed to be an entire culture of optimistic, lazy, rather silly airheads, but the main Dula character, Galladon, is a pessimistic, cynical Deadpan Snarker who has the most common sense of anyone in Elantris. This is frequently remarked on by other characters, to his annoyance, and we don't ever really see a "typical" Dula in the book.
    • Then played with further when, through AonDor and costuming, Raoden impersonates a Dula, playing every stereotype of them he knows to the hilt. The Arelene nobility don't know the difference between the impersonator and a genuine Dula, while the difference is perfectly clear (and also very annoying) to Galladon. Sarene becomes suspicious when she realizes just how much of a stereotype he is.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Iadon is extremely sexist.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: Dakhor magic supplements Geometric Magic with techniques that require sacrificing their own practitioners; one must die to cast a teleportation spell, while fifty were needed to grant Dilaf his Anti-Magic powers.
  • Power Glows:
    • All magic glows, the more the better. Elantrians and their very city all possessed a constant glow of power before the disaster struck.
    • Interestingly, the glowing was responsible for one of the problems that occurred after the Reod. The light attracted a fungus which fed on it. This was not a problem while the fungus was alive but once the magic went away so did the glow, and the fungus died and rotted coating the surfaces of Elantris in a thick oily slime.
  • Principles Zealot: Subverted by Hrathen, who is quite reasonable, all things considered. Played terrifyingly straight by Dilaf.
  • Rasputinian Death: Given how hard it is to kill an Elantrian, this comes up.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Sarene gives a nasty one to to Iadon that actually leaves the man as a blubbering wreck.
    Sarene: Defiance, Iadon? I think you'll feel differently when everyone knows the truth. You know they already think you a fool. They pretend to obey you, but you know-you know in that whispering part of your heart that they mock you with their obedience. You think they didn't hear about your lost ships? You think they weren't laughing to themselves at how their king would soon be as poor as a baron? Oh they knew. How will you face them, Iadon, when they learn how you really survived? When I show them how I rescued your income, how I gave you the contracts in Teod, how I saved your crown.
    You are a fool, Iadon. I know it, your nobles know it, and the world knows it. You have taken a great nation and squashed it in your greedy hands. You have enslaved the people and you have defiled Arelon's honor. And, despite it all, your country grows poorer. Even you, the king, are so destitute that only a gift from Teod lets you keep your crown.
    How will it look, Iadon? How will it feel to have the entire court know you are indebted to a woman? A foolish girl at that? You would be revealed. Everyone would know what you are. Nothing more than an insecure, trivial, incapable invalid.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Hrathen. Twice.
  • Religion of Evil: Shu-Dereth is considered one by many. Hrathen, of course, thinks that it's perfectly logical, even after he agrees that its current leader is evil.
  • Rule of Three: The story alternates between the perspectives of the three main characters, Raoden to Sarene to Hrathen and back to Raoden. Only for it to fall apart completely (mixing up the order and including perspectives from other minor characters) towards the end during the 'Sanderson Avalanche' as various plotlines reach fruition .
  • Sinister Minister: Subverted with Hrathen, who is both a priest and fairly sinister but really just wants to save everyone from being massacred by a holy war. Played completely straight with Dilaf and his followers, however.
  • Sins of Our Fathers
  • Smug Snake: Duke Telrii thinks he's a Magnificent Bastard. He is very, very wrong, and winds up a puppet to pretty much all of the more competent villains. King Iadon is a bit better, but he still falls squarely into this too.
  • Steven Ulysses Perhero: When Raoden gets asked his name in Elantris, he tells the guy to call him "Spirit," which is the meaning of the Aon (rune) Rao in his name. Galladon figures out his identity in part through this.
  • Super Soldier: The Dakhor.
  • Turn the Other Cheek: Played straight, averted, and subverted.
  • Vasquez Always Dies: Karata.
  • Villain Protagonist: Hrathen is somewhere between this and Anti-Hero in his own POV sections.
  • Warrior Monk: All the priests of Shu-Dereth, but especially Hrathen. It seems from Dilaf's reaction that the other priests don't make a practice of wearing real armor day in and day out.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Hrathen.
  • What Happened To Mommy: Adien is an Elantrian.
  • Wizards Live Longer: Elantrians and Dakhor both have longer-than-natural lifespans.
  • Worthy Opponent: Hrathen considers Sarene one of these, in a political sense. At their first real clash on the Elantris walls, he gives her a nod of respect when she outmaneuvers him, and later tells Dilaf that she was "magnificent."
  • Wound That Will Not Heal: When the cursed Elantrians suffer pain of any sort, it doesn't fade, remaining as strong forever as it was when they were first injured. Nobody's quite certain whether massive damage ends their suffering, or leaves them semi-conscious in their component bits, still in pain forever.
  • You! Exclamation: Hrathen, on realizing who Dilaf really is.
  • You Monster!: Hrathen declares Dilaf a monster for wanting the massacre of Teod and Arelon because he deems all of their citizens to be possible future Elantrians.
  • Zombie Advocate: Justified in a setting where no one calls them zombies and they aren't mindless.