62 pages 2 hours read

Brandon Sanderson


Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2005

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Summary and Study Guide


Elantris, first published by the fantasy imprint Tor in 2005, is the debut novel by New York Times bestselling author Brandon Sanderson and is now considered a classic of the fantasy genre. In the novel, the formerly powerful inhabitants of Elantris, granted near-divine status by a mysterious transformation, have been trapped in a decaying city, deprived of their powers. When Prince Raoden of Arelon becomes one of them, he attempts to rescue the others from their unending torment while his betrothed, Princess Sarene of Teod, fights to keep Arelon from being overthrown by a rival high priest.

This guide uses the 10th anniversary edition released by Tor in 2015, which, in addition to the original text, includes maps, scenes deleted from early drafts, a list of Aons—the magical symbols that feature in the book—and a bonus scene that links the world of Elantris with the Cosmere, the connected universe in which other Sanderson novels are set.

Plot Summary

Raoden, crown prince of Arelon, wakes to find he has suffered the Shaod, a transformation that formerly granted people mystical abilities and earned them residence in the revered city of Elantris. The Elantrians were once powerful, bright-skinned, white-haired beings who lived in a glowing city and produced food, healing, and other magic with magical symbols called Aons. Ten years ago, after an event called the Reod, Elantris lost its magic. While the Shaod continues to target people, now its victims become weak and hideous, tormented by endless pain and hunger, but unable to die. In the now filthy, ruined city of Elantris, some residents have gone mindless with pain and suffering, while others have become beasts that prey on the fallen and fight one another for food. Raoden vows he will not give in to despair. He makes friends with a man called Galloden who has retained his intellect and humanity.

When she arrives in the capital city of Kae for her arranged wedding to Prince Raoden, Princess Sarene of Teod is told that her betrothed has died. Sarene decides to stay in Arelon as Raoden’s widow to uphold the treaty her marriage seals between Teod and Arelon. However, King Iadon of Arelon is weak and lacking principle, and while his nobles are wealthy, the people of Arelon suffer poverty and near-enslavement. Sarene joins a group that had been previously plotting with Raoden to improve matters in Arelon. She also works to thwart the plans of the high priest Hrathen, a representative of King Wyrn of Fjorden, who wants to make Arelon and Teod part of his empire and requires their conversion to his state religion of Shu-Dereth to do so.

Inside Elantris, Raoden makes peace among rival gangs and sets up a community he calls New Elantris, where residents share food and find respite from their pain by doing useful work. He studies the practice of AonDor, which uses Aons to harness and direct the Dor, a powerful energy. Raoden worries that his efforts will be undercut when Sarene starts delivering food, clothing, and other items to the Elantrians, trying to show they are not the demons that Hrathen has made them out to be in his sermons. Raoden is drawn to the princess, this woman who was to be his bride, but keeps his identity secret from her.

Sarene’s aid to the Elantrians ends when her group is attacked by the pain-mad members of a rival gang, people Raoden has not managed to win over. Hrathen, finding his efforts undercut by a rival priest named Dilaf, pretends to undergo the Shaod and then be healed by his god. Arelon falls into turmoil when Sarene discovers that King Iadon, who is desperate to cling to power, has been participating in violent, primitive rituals that involve human sacrifice. Iadon kills himself and the throne is seized by Duke Telrii, who refuses to be Hrathen’s pawn.

When Sarene makes her own bid for power, Hrathen poisons Sarene with a potion that replicates the Shaod, and she is shut in Elantris. There she is struck by wonder at the peaceful community that the man they call Lord Spirit (Raoden) has built. When Sarene’s poison-induced transformation wears off, Raoden asks her to go back to stabilize the country.

Raoden discovers the secret to making the Aons channel the Dor and, disguising himself with an illusion, assumes a fake identity and goes to help Sarene. When Telrii is overthrown in a violent coup, Raoden reveals his identity and takes the throne. Just then, Dilaf unleashes his army of disfigured warrior monks, determined to wipe out Arelon and Teod so that the armies of Wyrn can rule the world and the god of Shu-Dereth reign supreme.

As Dilaf tries to kill him, Raoden solves the remaining puzzle of how to unleash the Dor. Elantris itself is a huge Aon, and when Raoden makes the last necessary modification, its power surges back. Raoden uses the power of the Aons to rescue Sarene. Hrathen sacrifices his life to defeat Dilaf. With Elantris restored, Arelon and Teod are safe from the armies of Wyrn. Sarene and Raoden marry and begin their rule recognizing those, like Hrathen, who fought to build a New Elantris.