Elantris and I have been looking forward to diving into this one for some time. Firstly because I am a big fan of his plot lines, his characters, and his technique. Secondly because I wanted to see his growth as a fantasy writer given that I have read more of his recent works. Elantris is the story of a fabled city whose inhabitants were once ordinary men and women from the surrounding areas who without rhyme or reason went through the Shaod, a sudden transformation that rendered them into godlike beings with special powers and abilities. Their pasts may have been noblemen or farmers, but those lucky enough to be affected immediately became citizens of Elantris, set apart and hallowed. However, one day something changed with the magic of the Shaod. The selected few who began the Shaod didn't emerge as expected, but instead morphed into hideous, lifeless mutants. The citizens of the surrounding towns in their fear and their long-held jealousies of living among the chosen, rose up and wiped out the Elantrians. The once beautiful, gleaming city became a rotting cesspool and was sealed off from the surrounding world. The few people in the land taken by the Shaod were thrown into Elantris to fend for themselves.
Ten years after the overthrow of Elantris, the seat of power of the land resides in the nearby city of Kae. In Kae, rank and prestige are based on wealth. The system is set up so that the king remains in power by oppressing and taxing his citizens to ensure his treasuries and storehouses are fuller than his nobles. The king's son, Raoden, is wise and well-respected in the land, and publicly opposes his father's rule. The king is only too pleased when his son is suddenly taken by the Shaod and quietly banished into the walled city. Shortly afterward Raoden's fiancée Sarene from a nearby kingdom arrives meet her future husband, only to learn that her betrothed has died from a sudden illness. The story follows the paths of Raoden and Sarene as these two clever and honorable souls rise up to lead and protect their people.
The story was an interesting one that kept me locked in with the problems and battles inside both Elantris and Kae. Raoden as the mutant ultimately meets his bride Sarene when she visits Elantris, but he does not tell her who he is or who he was. However, ultimately Sarene falls in love with him not knowing, and the fact that she sees through his ugly exterior to his beautiful heart is touching. The transformation of their relationship from something harsh and ugly into something wonderous is reflected in the transformation of Elantris back into its grandeur due to their efforts. The novel does not quite earn my highest marks because the climax of the story was written in a notably choppy and prosaic manner that stood in sharp contrast to the rest of the well-developed and imaginative narrative. Still, I would rate this book as a worthwhile and enjoyable read.