‘The Emperor’s Soul’ by Brandon Sanderson is a novella set in the same ‘verse as Elantris, perhaps short at only 175 pages but completely satisfying while making you wish there was a whole novel set around Shia, one of our new favourite characters.
Shia is a Forger, someone who can use magic to recreate or edit any item or person as long as she knows its history. Using it on humans though is strictly forbidden, something she only does on herself usually… but when she’s captured while trying to steal the emperor’s sceptre, they offer her another option rather than death. She is to create a new soul for the emperor who, after an attack, is very close to death.
She only has one year – the most amount of time they can keep him from the public, stating he is in mourning for his wife who was killed in the attack. Such a feat would take Shia years normally, but with the only other option being her death, Shia takes on the challenge, learning of the Emperor as much as she can from his journal, those who know him well, and those who knew him from afar, building up all thoughts and opinions so she is hopefully able to recreate him in such a way that no one could ever know he is simply a copy of his previous self.
Though her skill as a Forger is considered an abomination by her captors, they give her everything she needs in order to achieve the end result, even taking her notes and copying them as a failsafe – just in case – or so they say. Shia soon guesses they plan to kill her and have someone else complete her work, so now she not only has to finish a massive task within a third of the time it would normally take her, she also has to try to make it impossible for anyone but her to succeed.
Along the way she almost gains an ally, one of Emperor Ashravan’s truly loyal councillors known as Gaotona, who despises what Shia does but begins to see what an art form it truly is, if only she would use it for design rather than forgery.
Brandon Sanderson wins the readers adoration once more with these characters, showing them in such depth even though the novella is so short. Emperor Ashravan in particular has very limited page time, and yet he’s so defined – and not only just from what we see in his journal. Shia too, has weight to her, and her witty lines are some of the best. She has a history, you come to understand why she did what she has, and of course we see her change as the story progresses, despite the short amount of time she has to do so.
The plot is well begun and ended, wrapping up neatly as though this could be a standalone or part of a full novel, and it moves forward rapidly without being confusing or lacking for detail. The detail is deliciously detailed, with the complicated form of magic easy to understand and visualise. Some may feel the lack of science behind the magic, yet I found it believable and simple to comprehend, able to enjoy it simply for what it was.
Religion, as is usual in Sanderson’s work, is varied and explained well, with the reader able to understand why it is so.
In summary, it had all we know and love of Brandon Sanderson’s style and creation, and I strongly recommend it. It’s easily one of my favourite books of the year.