Book Review: The Emperor’s Soul

This week’s book review is of The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson.

Quick plot synopsis: Many will recognize Sanderson from his work on The Wheel of Time series, as well as his own works, including Elantris and Mistborn. Because working on The Wheel of Time has consumed much of his writing productivity, Sanderson has published several novellas (mini-novels) for his personal fans in the meantime. The Emperor’s Soul, one of these novellas, takes place in a far of country in the world of Elantris.

The protagonist, Shai, is a forger. She possess the ability to create exact copies of anything through magic and an deep understanding of the item’s history and its composition. She is working as an art thief when she is captured and sentenced to execution for her abominable talent. However, the ruling council of Arbiters are hiding a dark secret, and they are going to need Shai’s help.

What ensues is a game of cat and mouse, with Shai struggling to stay one step ahead of the Arbiters to complete the impossible mission she’s been given and make it out of her tenuous agreement alive.

My thoughts: Since this is a novella, The Emperor’s Soul is an incredibly quick read. Despite its short length, Sanderson does some of his best characterization with Shai. Overall, the plot feels exceptionally clever in many senses, and the mechanic of forgery is one of the best things I have ever read.  Between the forgery magic system, and the religion of the Empire, there are some fascinating discussions of morality and ethics that come into play and a weight to this narrative.

I personally loved the dynamic of the writing in this novella. My biggest problem with Sanderson’s novel, The Way of Kings, was the stiffness with which he wrote. Nothing felt consequential or emotive in that story, whereas Sanderson seems to tapped into a more fluid, personal style in The Emperor’s soul. In many ways, I think the shorter form might have helped Sanderson – the story only lasted as many pages as it need, unlike the typical fantasy troupe where a story goes on FAR too long with frivolous detail.

Anyone who enjoys the fantasy genre should consider picking up this novella. It’s one of the most enjoyable thing’s I’ve read in the last year.

– E.B.

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