The Emperor’s Soul

April 21, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

soulThe Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson


I don’t need anyone else to tell me Sanderson is a good writer. Mistborn didn’t impress me as much as I expected (though it improved once it moved past Vin’s story), but The Rithmatist by itself showed me how good he is. Now, The Emperor’s Soul has showed me more.

Shai is a Forger, someone with the magical skill of rewriting the history of an object. In some ways, it’s a practical skill, as she can recreate a table or a window into something more ornate, but it’s also allowed her to recreate priceless works of art, like a painting, or a royal scepter. Forging the latter is what wound her up in the Emperor’s prison, but one day before her execution, she’s given an impossible task: Forge the soul of the Emperor himself, who has suffered a traumatic brain injury, in one hundred days.

The Emperor’s Soul is as close to a perfect story as you can get, in part because Sanderson thinks about the story comprehensively. Every part of the story is important, every character plays a role, and every piece of scenery or history plays into its conclusion. It’s a story that’s tightly woven, in part because Sanderson creates such a vivid character in Shai. She’s smart, cunning, and determined. Her closest confidant in her endeavor is Gaotona, one of the royal councilors, and the relationship Sanderson develops between them is surprisingly strong, especially when it is developed in such a subtle, effective way. You can’t go back through the story and find the moment where they bonded; it just happens naturally through the course of events.

The story itself is impressive, but what it has to say makes it even more impressive. In the same way that fiction tells us the truth by lying to us, Sanderson talks about the truth of art through a character whose sole talent is in copying it. Nearly all the other characters in the story see her as nothing but a thief, someone wasting their talents in imitation, when Shai herself sees herself as the true artist.

The Emperor’s Soul is brilliant. It’s a compelling story with fulfilling characters, with a strong message and even stronger characters. If you haven’t yet discovered how good a writer Sanderson is, this novella would be a great place to start.

(Before I go, I need to draw your attention to that cover. It’s perfect. It captures the character of Shai so well, and I’m not even talking about how she’s described in the book. It’s the expression that says she’ll play along, but she still has her own agenda.)

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