When Shai is caught replacing the Moon Scepter with her nearly flawless forgery, she must bargain for her life. An assassin has left the Emperor Ashravan without consciousness, a circumstance concealed only by the death of his wife. If the emperor does not emerge after his hundred-day mourning period, the rule of the Heritage Faction will be forfeit and the empire will fall into chaos.
Shai is given an impossible task: to create—to Forge—a new soul for the emperor in less than one hundred days. But her soul-Forgery is considered an abomination by her captors. She is confined to a tiny, dirty chamber, guarded by a man who hates her, spied upon by politicians, and trapped behind a door sealed in her own blood. Shai’s only possible ally is the emperor’s most loyal councillor, Gaotona, who struggles to understand her true talent.
Time is running out for Shai. Forging, while deducing the motivations of her captors, she needs a perfect plan to escape…
Very often in life we hear the words “less is more”, I have now witnessed this first hand in the fantasy genre. Brandon Sanderson is known throughout the fantasy world as this mastermind of gigantic epics and amazing magic systems. While all of this is true, it was not until reading his first Cosmere novella did I realize how much of a genius Brandon Sanderson truly is. Published in 2012 and winner of the 2013 Hugo award for Best Novella, Brandon Sanderson really shows his strengths and why he is considered one of the best writers in this genre.
The Emperor’s Soul actually takes place in the same world as Elantris, but in a separate country. Shai is a master Forger and is being held in the imperial prison awaiting execution for trying to steal and replace the moon scepter. A failed assassination attempt on the Emperor has left him alive but unconscious and no memory. This fact is withheld from the public only by the death of the Emperor’s wife and a mourning period must be held for 100 days. The Emperor’s closet advisors decide to use Shai’s forging ability in order the create a new soul for the Emperor in order for his reign to continue and Shai is promised her freedom in return. This is where the fun begins!
The magic system of Forging is imprinting an image onto an object through a magical stamp in order to change the objects properties or to quote the author “make it a better version of itself”. The problem with soul stamping a human is that the properties of the human body are ever changing and the Forge has greater potential to fail. Shai must craft the stamp in a very specific way to accomplish her goal and she is given access to the Emperor’s journal. Through the journal, we get secret memories, desires, and a great amount of worldbuilding given that each chapter is relatively short. The Emperors advisors don’t trust her and consider Forging to be evil. The only advisor willing to try and understand Shai and her capabilities is Gaotona and he has his own agenda as well. Shai will need all the help she can find in order the escape this task and gain her freedom.
The story just flies as the pacing and plot are so engaging that I couldn’t put it down. Coming in at 144 pages, anyone could read this novella in a day and scream to Mr. Sanderson, “Please sir, I want some more” to quote Oliver Twist. We get to appreciate the more quiet and somber aspects of Sanderson’s writing as this novella is more of a personal struggle, with political power and some magic! If you have never read a story by Brandon Sanderson, then this is an excellent place to start and will send you off into the Cosmere on the highest of highs. Just make sure you have your seatbelt on!