It has long bothered me that the genre of Fantasy has become essentially formula fiction. Most Fantasy can be defined by its setting and plot: in a medieval world of magic, an unlikely hero saves the world from an unspeakable evil. Elantris cannot be said to be a part of this "Tolkienesque" tradition. The single book epic differs from much of modern fantasy in that the setting has a unique feel that cannot be placed in any single Earth timeframe, and encompasses its own religions, cultures and history. And the plot cannot be described in ten words, which is always a plus.
The main characters are interesting and well drawn, to the point where you find yourself rooting for all three of them, despite the fact that the third seems to be working against the interest of the other two.
The magic system is not only creative and new, but it is flawed, adding an extra dimension to something that is usually just used as a gimmick.
The threat is truly felt by the focal characters and thus the readers, but it is not the world of darkness and slavery warned of by most fantasy authors. Instead it is the threat of the death of an ideology at the hands of a martial nation, converting its peaceful neighbour. At times the reader may wonder why the characters strive so much just to protect ideas, but wouldn't you die for what you believe in? Elantris strives to preserve the truth, to protect the victims of a curse instead of persecuting them, and to overcome a mighty threat to their way of life. That way of life is flawed to begin with, so our heroes must fight not only to stop the invading force, but also to bring around change. An incredible read.