This book was awesome. The end.
Okay, okay. But really! Awesome! I was drawn in from the first line of the first chapter (not counting the prologue, because that was whatever): “Prince Raoden of Arelon awoke early that morning, completely unaware that he had been damned for all eternity.”
Indeed. Raoden has been taken by the Shaod, which used to turn random people of Arelon into the supposed gods of Elantris, but which stopped doing that ten years previous and now turns its victims into perpetually decaying (but never dying) hulks of flesh. Raoden finds himself thrown into Elantris, now little more than a prison where gangs fight over the ritual food newcomers bring (everyone is very hungry, though they don’t technically have to eat) and every injury, no matter how slight, lasts forever. Instead of becoming crazy like many Elantrians, however, Raoden chooses to make a better life for those inside and see if he can’t find out what caused the death of Elantris in the first place.
Meanwhile, Raoden’s betrothed, Sarene, arrives in Arelon a week before her wedding, but only just in time for the prince’s funeral. Oops. Sarene, whose political marriage is still valid due to a fancy clause in the contract, decides she’s still going to do what she set out to do, which is keep Arelon and her home of Teod protected from those who would destroy them.
Also meanwhile, those who would destroy Arelon and Teod send out a priest called Hrathen to pave the way for the conquerors — those of the religion of Shu-Dereth. Hrathen is to convert the Arelenes within three months or the people will face death. His carefully laid plans start to unravel, though, with the influence of Sarene, Raoden, and a religious zealot called Dilaf who is out to destroy Elantris.
So there’s a lot of story here. But it’s all really well told and all of the pieces Sanderson gets you curious about tie together at the end quite spectacularly. There were a few things I found extraneous and rather deus ex, but I will forgive those because everything else was so, well, awesome.