Hiyo, everyone! Today, I plan on talking about one of my favorite novellas (and one of my favorite pieces of written fiction) to this date, The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson. Before I begin, I’ll note that this post isn’t quite like the ones I’ve made reviewing other books. I’ve read The Emperor’s Soul three or four times now, and I freely admit I will be posting about it in fangirl mode. I’ve still listed this post as a review, because I will score the novella at the end, but I’m telling you up front that I really, really like it and will be basically gushing. =p
I will avoid spoilers as best I can, although as always, I’ll share the premise of this work. This time, I’ll also talk a bit about what I perceive one of its themes to be.
The protagonist of The Emperor’s Soul is a woman named Wan ShaiLu, renowned for her skill as a Forger – and a con artist. As a Forger, she is able to change the nature of objects – she can turn a ruined chair into a pristine and decorated version of itself, for example. After a heist gone wrong, she finds herself imprisoned by the Rose Empire, who have sentenced her to death for trying to rob the empire. Fortunately for Shai, the faction currently wielding the most influence in the Rose Empire has found itself in a bit of a predicament – one that they cannot fix, but that Shai may be able to.
Following a failed assassination attempt on Emperor Ashravan, the Heritage Faction’s servants were able to completely repair the emperor’s body. But his mind was damaged beyond repair, leaving Ashravan still alive but completely devoid of personality and unable to think on his own.
That’s where Shai comes in. The empire employs people capable of mimicking priceless works of art, as Shai does, but to them, it is completely taboo to Forge a person’s soul. Shai operates under no such restrictions. Therefore, in exchange for her life and the return of certain possessions of great value to her, Shai is tasked with completely creating Emperor Ashravan’s soul from scratch – and it must be all but indistinguishable from the original. She must replace Ashravan with a fake. Such a task would normally take her years, but she has only ninety-eight days to accomplish it, for once the hundred day mourning for the emperor’s wife (who died in the attack) has ended, Ashravan will be forced to make a public appearance. If he were revealed to be all but dead, the Heritage Faction would then be stripped of much of its power.
After agreeing to take on the job despite not knowing whether she’s capable, Shai is whisked off to a small room in which to work. There, she is closely guarded, and that is where the majority of the novella takes place. In order to have any chance of success, Shai will need all the information about the emperor that she can get, and also the assistance of someone who knew him very well. That’s where Gaotona, an old advisor of Ashravan’s, finds the bulk of his role.
Gaotona is an utterly earnest man on whom Shai will have to test her seals (the magical objects she plans to use to impart Ashravan’s recreated soul) despite the fact that Gaotona views what she does as abominable and thinks her talent is wasted on Forging. Only with his help can she complete her project – or find a way to escape before the other advisors decide she has outlived her usefulness.
Throughout the novella, the two come to better understand each other despite their radically different outlooks, and bit by bit, Gaotona is led to understand how every little action can influence one’s life and personality. He is constantly surprised by what Shai is about to do with her Forging – how she is able to convince objects that their pasts were different and, by doing so, turn them into what she feels they were meant to be.
This leads to one of the story’s central themes – one I find myself totally enamored by. What Shai does challenges reality as others see it. She takes pleasure in replacing original works of art with copies she created herself, and with having everyone admire them as the genuine artifacts. She also believes all things have souls. Her seals are only able to stick for more than a short while if the object she changes itself accepts the changes she would make. If they do, she effectively replaces their pasts with different ones that lead them to become new versions of themselves.
If I may digress a little, what she does is essentially use a story embedded in a stamp to change reality. That brings the nature of reality itself into question. What makes something real? Can a lie become the truth? If so, how does that happen? The Emperor’s Soul offers some insight into those questions, and it does so elegantly, succinctly, and in a way that leaves the reader thinking. I think that is what I love most about this novella. The characters are excellent, the setting engaging, and the plot strong, but that theme is what forever caught my attention.
I don’t wish to ramble on for too long, so without further ado, let’s get to the score. I rate The Emperor’s Soul… 5/5. Surprised? Probably not. =p
Have any of you read this novella, or any of Sanderson’s other work? If so, what did you think? If not, I highly encourage you to check out some of his writing – he’s one of my favorite fantasy authors. Let me know what you think of my review and whether you feel I can do anything better in the comments below. I’m eager to hear from you! Buh-bye!