An ambitious high fantasy, complete in one volume, which is one-third a cool story about a magical apocalypse narrated by a prince who gets cast into a city of zombies, one-third an irritating tale of political intrigue, narrated by the prince’s fiancée, in which virtually everyone involved is a total imbecile, and one-third a mostly dull account of religious fanaticism brightened by the fact that the priest who narrates is, by far, the smartest person in the book. Not that that’s saying much.

Once people were randomly hit by the Shoad, which transformed them into glowing mages with amazing powers. They would then move to Elantris, a wonderful glowing magic city. But ten years before the story begins, for no reason anyone knew, the Reod hit: a magical apocalypse which made the Elantrians become hideous zombies, physically dead but still sentient, suffering agonies of unending hunger and pain but unable to die. Elantris instantly rotted away, and though the Shoad continues, it now turns people into sentient zombies who are flung into Elantris, where they are locked in, not given any food, and are not allowed contact with the outside world. There are, however steps up the outside wall, which people regularly climb to gawk at the zombies.

Why no one ever tosses food down to their hungry loved ones is but one of the many, many, many, stupidities of this book. There’s also the sadly common stupidity in which people don’t tell each other why they’re doing what they’re doing, or who they are, and so forth, for no convincing reason. (This is especially aggravating because doing so not only would have made sense, but probably would have made the story more interesting, not less.) The king secretly hides the prince in the zombie city, figuring no one will recognize him, and tells everyone he died. This works only because the prince doesn’t tell anyone who he is for no reason that makes any sense, even when the king stupidly lets the fiancée princess into the city to distribute food.

There are the several scenes in which the princess plots against the king and discusses the stupidity of the king, IN COURT WHILE THE KING IS PRESENT, and gets away with it because she whispers and no one is bright enough to notice or eavesdrop. She eventually makes the king commit suicide by marching into his chambers and saying, “You suck and I’m going to tell everyone.” I pictured the scene in Airplane where the guy hangs himself rather than listen to his seatmate for one more second.

There are many, many moments in which someone thinks of or tries a rather obvious solution to a problem that has been ongoing for ten years, and are the very first person to do so. (My absolute favorite was that in ten years of slimy, starving existence in zombie city, it apparently never occurred to anyone to scrub off the slime or grow their own food until the prince suggested it.) The aura of Mary Sue, which floats about the main characters like their pet balls of light, isn’t helped by the unintentionally hilarious scene in which the princess tells one of the prince’s buddies that the prince sounds too perfect to be true, and the buddy responds, “No way! He has many flaws. For instance, he doesn’t care at all about money. All he’s interested in is making people happy. He even loses card games intentionally to make me happy!” The repeated references to the spunky princess as "liberated" didn't help either.

The solution to the mystery of the magical catastrophe is conceptually cool, but depends on no one having ever, either at the time of the catastrophe or in the intervening ten years, applied basic deductive reasoning to a set of clearly relevant facts which were widely known at the time of the apocalypse.

And then there are the terrible made-up words. The magic apocalypse is the Reod and a major city is called Teod, leading to several sentences like “Things haven’t been the same in Teod since the Reod.” Depressed zombies are Hoed, which I kept misreading as Hosed, which they certainly are. Talking balls of light are called Seons. A person named Shaor is afflicted by the Shoad. It’s like there was a vowel-sound shortage, along with a tax on syllables.

Also, this sentence is probably not supposed to be funny: The common people served the arteths and dorven, the arteths and dorven served the gradors, the gradors served the ragnats, the ragnats served the gyorns, the gyorns served Wyrn, and Wyrn served Jaddeth. Only the gragdets – leaders of the monasteries – weren’t directly in line.

Here’s what made me finish this book, and keeps me from labeling it “awesomely bad”: for all its ridiculous elements, the plotline about the prince in the zombie city is genuinely compelling storytelling – I really wanted to know what he’d do, why the apocalypse happened, and how he was going to undo it. The less-fanatical-than-meets-the-eye priest would have been a good character in a better storyline, but spends two-thirds of the book spouting exposition about gragdets, odivs, hrodens, and other ridiculous religious titles.

Has anyone read his other books? Are they better?



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