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 Emperors Soul, a standalone novella set in the same world as Elantris, but in a distant Empire.Not to be confused with the Hyundai Elantra.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. He 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.
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".
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.
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.
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.
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.
Mayfly-December Romance: It's not really addressed in the book, but it's implied that Raoden will far outlive Sarene.
Mission from God: Hrathen and Dilaf are both driven by their devotion, though Hrathen is much more reasonable about it.
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.
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's one major distinction between Elantrians and regular zombies: Elantrians don't spread their condition to anyone else.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Religion of Evil: Shu-Dereth is considered one by many. Hrathen, of course, thinks that it's perfectlylogical, 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.
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.
Word Of God: There are two Shards of Adonalsium on Sel; Devotion and Dominion but their holders (Aona and Skai) were killed by Odium's holder Rayse, who then splintered their Shards so they could not be used.
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.