Elantris by Brandon Sanderson.
Tom Doherty Associates/TOR: NY, 2005.

Elantris, the city of legendary power and magnificence, full of god-like beings, captured me from the beginning, though the city is already abandoned and in decay. I wanted to see more of it and learn how it's destroyed. The city of Kae is nextdoor and has wrested control of the Arelon region. A merchant king commands the people, and as a result, life is in disarray. A mysterious affliction (hair falling out and skin blotches) marks the fallen citizens of Elantris and dooms them to a living death. As residents of Kae fall victim to the disease, they are banished to Elantris, with Kae assuming they are dead, not knowing or caring about their existence.

Raoden, the prince of Arelon, is afflicted. A burial ensues, and the calamity is hushed up. He loses the governing of one city to organize another in more need. His arranged marriage is disrupted by his death. His princess comes to live in Kae anyway and is embroiled in its politics.

Meanwhile, two religions (offshoots of the same one) are warring over the region. The gentle Shu-Korath which Princess Sarene tries to preserve and militaristic Shu-Dereth which seeks to take over the world. A high priest of Shu-Dereth appears in Kae, vying for the king's compliance and favor of the populace.

As Raoden works to make Elantris livable, the cataclysm precipitating the decline of the city is revealed, as well as the basis for the city's past power.

To me the story echoes events of this past decade. It is a study of what governing leaders ought to be and what they often are instead. The religious struggles also are reminiscent of reality. I enjoy the use of fantasy, in this case magical power controlled by Aons (somewhat like runes), to discuss psychology, philosophy and politics in the world. It never ceases to amaze me how real fantasy is.

Elantris is Brandon Sanderson's first published book. It was written as a stand alone book, though plenty of room has been left for future expansion. Sanderson is now considering a sequel due to readers' requests.

related-blessing and cursing, city and town life, princesses, princes, religious followers

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