I’m a die-hard Brandon Sanderson fan (see reviews of The Way of Kings, Elantris, Warbreaker etc.), so of course I pre-ordered The Emperor’s Soul as soon as I heard about it, and of course I read it the day I got it, and of course I loved it.
The Emperor’s Soul is set on Sel, the same world as Elantris (but in an empire far away and unrelated to those events.) Shai is a master of the art of Forging – mutating an object’s history to change its appearance in the present. However, she’s been caught trying to steal the nation’s most famous relic, and now she awaits execution… unless she can forge the emperor a new soul in just over three months. An impossible task, but Shai will take any chance she gets.
Brandon Sanderson is in top form as usual, despite the shortness of this novella. Shai is a thief and has no compunctions about being opportunistic, but her driving force is her pride in her art. She’s proud and tenacious – almost to a fault. I wouldn’t exactly say she’s lovable, but who doesn’t love a good noble thief? The supporting characters, with the exception of Gaotona and Emperor Ashravan, don’t really have enough time to be developed, but that’s understandable for a book less than 170 pages long.
I loved the examination of identity in this book. In order for Shai to be such a good Forger, she has to be extremely good at observing both people and objects – the little things that influence them, their motivations, how they can be manipulated. She needs to be able to produce her desired changes with the minimum of effort required for it to appear natural (think about the complexity of planting an idea via a dream in Inception – it’s the same concept.) Shai does this instinctively, and it greatly adds to the complexity of the plot and the world building. Of course, she also does it deliberately, and how she pieced together Ashravan’s life from notes and interviews is fascinating.
I was slightly dissatisfied at the end because it was over too quickly and I wanted more! More of the characters, more plot, more of the world. I can’t really complain about that, though – this is a novella, and I knew that going into it, and Sanderson does a great job with it. The only thing that felt rushed was Shai’s task [SPOILER WARNING] – she said it would ordinarily take her two years at least, but she manages to complete it in three months – why was she able to do it so much faster? I would’ve liked some sort of explanation. [END SPOILERS]
I hope Sanderson writes more books featuring Shai and the Empire – perhaps even coming into contact with characters from Elantris.