Elantris was the legendary capital of Arelon, populated with radiant, magical, nearly godlike beings, selected from all levels of society by a process known as the Shaod. If a person got selected by the Shaod, he or she would get the telltale silvery hair and skin of an Elantrian, and could pretty much live forever in prosperity and wealth. Yet ten years ago, disaster struck, and what used to be a blessing, is now a curse. Elantris is mostly abandoned, covered in slime and muck, the buildings are crumbling and all the magic is lost.
In Arelon's new capital, Kae, prince Raoden is deeply beloved by the people and trying to affect lasting social change against the wishes of his father. All his plans are ruined when he wakes up one morning, skin mottled with black spots, hair falling out, the Shaod having struck him in the night. As is the custom, the people are told that he is dead, and he is ushered into Elantris to be forgotten.
Princess Sarene arrives from neighbouring Teod, ready for her marriage to Raoden, only to find herself a widow before she even got to have a wedding. Due to the wording of the marriage treaty, the wedding is considered valid whether one party dies before the ceremony, so she is now part of the Arelon royal family. She quickly finds out that her new mother-in-law is a complete airhead, and her father-in-law clearly assumes and expects all women of his court to behave like her. Shrewd and highly intelligent, Sarene can tell that not everything is what it seems, and she is worried about the state of Arelon's political stability (they have no standing army), especially on the arrival of an agressive and highly militant preacher.
Hrathen is a high priest from another neighbouring nation, Fjordell, ruled by a very powerful God-Emperor. Hrathen's been given three months to convert Arelon or the country will be invaded by the armies of Fjordell. Sarene decides to use her position as part of the royal family to oppose Hrathen as much as possible, while also trying to find out what happened to prince Raoden, little realizing that he's still alive, and having to adapt to a new and frightening existence in the crumbling ruins of Elantris.
Elantris is a completely stand-alone fantasy novel, something quite rare in this day and age. The book follows the points of view of Raoden, Sarene and Hrathen, where Raoden tries to get the shambling inhabitants of Elantris to rise above their depressed states and form some sort of civilized society, Hrathen tries to convert as many people in Arelon as possible in a short period of time, and Sarene tries to oppose him in every way possible and mobilize the nobility against the threat of Fjordell invasion. As the book progresses, the three storylines meet up more and more, to converge towards the conclusion. It's not a flawless book by any means, but it's remarkable for a debut effort, and I enjoyed it a lot. In addition, I met Brandon Sanderson at a book signing here in Oslo, and he's super nice, and I feel that he deserves as wide a readership as he can get, for his own writing, rather than because he's finishing The Wheel of Time series for the now deceased Robert Jordan.