The main point to understand about Elantris is that it is an epic fantasy tale wrapped up in under a thousand pages. It covers the gambit as far as epic fantasy goes. There is the hero, the villain, the princess, a story, and most of all, the fantastical world.
Elantris, located in the nation of Arelon, is more than the title of the book, it is the name of a magical city that ten years prior stopped being magical. Outside of Elantris is the smaller, non-magical city of Kae, newly revitalized in the wake of the downfall of Elantris and now the center of Arelon’s monarchy.
Elantris serves as a prison, housing those unfortunate enough to be afflicted by the magic that once made the city and the Elantrians great. The book begins as Raoden, the prince of Arelon, becomes afflicted with this magic and is cast into the crumbling city of Elantris. The story excels from that point forwad. Every chapter spent in Elantris is well worth the reader’s time.
Outside of Elantris, two other points of view are followed: Raoden’s widowed-before-the-wedding wife, Sarene, and Hrathen, priest sent to convert the non-believers of Arelon. While Raoden struggles within Elantris, Sarene and Hrathen battle politically in the city of Kae.
I thoroughly enjoyed the chapters involving Raoden and the overall story line of the book. However, the chapters involving Sarene and Hrathen take a while to become enjoyable. Sarene is just too much of a stereotypical feminist, while Hrathen is the obvious conflicted bad guy. I did enjoy Hrathen overall, but the most interesting aspect of Hrathen was his back-story which I would not have minded more of.
Fortunately, towards the end of the book, the three characters become entwined together in the chapters and the pace picks up significantly. The plot spins down quickly and an expected, but well-executed, ending unfolds.
Overall, the book serves its purpose as a one-book epic fantasy tale. More back story on Hrathen would have been nice and the pacing could have been smoother. It was refreshing to read a book without having to worry about the next book in the series. Elantris tells a great story that begins and ends within a thousand pages. Quite a feat in an otherwise bloated fantasy genre, especially for an author tagged with the responsibility to conclude one of the most bloated epic fantasy series out there.