the Little Red Reviewer

The Emperor’s Soul, by Brandon Sanderson

Posted on: October 2, 2012

The Emperor’s Soul, by Brandon Sanderson

published November 2012

where I got it: received ARC from the publisher

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The story is interesting, the magic is thrilling, but it’s the characterization that turns this simple tale into a glowing story and had me asking myself who is Brandon Sanderson, and why aren’t I reading more of him?

Caught stealing in the palace, Shai is scheduled for execution.  You see, it’s perfectly fine for the licensed palace artists to forge and reforge ancient artwork that will beautify the palace. But what Shai does is illegal.  Beyond being guilty of changing her own soul and practicing pagan arts, she’s unlicensed.  But before they rid themselves of one more filthy forger who insists on using pagan magics, the powers that be will use her to their benefit.  I’m just as uppity as the Imperial Councillors in the story, for having preconceived notions about her, for misunderstanding how and why she does what she does.

To earn her life back, Shai is given an impossible task.  She’s to re-forge the soul of the Emperor, who has been in a coma since an attack on the palace. The Emperor is expected to be in seclusion for one hundred days to mourn the death of his wife.  If the Emperor fails to appear after that time period, if Shai isn’t successful in her task, the Empire will fall.  Well, maybe not the Empire, but at least the ruling faction.   Her skills are seen as an abomination by the ruling faction, but she’s just become their key to staying in power.

Forging isn’t as easy as you’d think, and this isn’t a magic that just happens because some powerful wizard wills it to.    The forger isn’t just making a painting, or a vase, or an ornamented table, they are convincing the materials to remember a different history, a more beautiful history. To turn an old, scratched up table into something beautiful, the wood itself must be convinced that it was cut from a healthy tree, was carefully carved and then polished and oiled weekly. Using uniquely carved soul stamps, a forger isn’t making a copy, or a fake, they are changing the soul of the item to believe it was always that way.  And if forging a painting or sculpture is that complicated, just imagine how complicated it would be to forge the soul of a person.

I quickly found myself incredibly engrossed in Shai’s struggle and fascinated by the magic system of this world. She’s an artist, and has been given the ultimate challenge – to put her own creation in the mind of the man on throne.  I  sympathised with her hunger for knowledge and her  obsession with observing every person around her. I found myself hoping she survives the story, just so I could hope to apprentice with her. Didn’t hurt that I fell in love with the magic system as well.

I admit that at first I thought the plot sounded contrived. Thief is caught and must help her jailors even though she is sure they will kill her afterwards.  And then I found myself on the  same exact journey of imperial councillor Gaotana, from not much caring about the complexities of Shai’s skill to being utterly fascinated by it.  Yes, we all “journey” with characters we read about, but rarely have I felt such clarity or this close of a parallel.  There’s far more going on here that simply changing an ugly vase into a perfect copy of a piece of ancient artwork, and Emperors are not born, they are made.   Well played Sanderson, well played.

I’ve been known to avoid super-long fantasy series, but The Emperor’s Soul makes clear to me that Sanderson is an author I should to be reading more of.

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18 Responses to "The Emperor’s Soul, by Brandon Sanderson"

I’ve just recently been converted to Sanderson by the Mistborn series (just got No.3 left to read). Carl loves the Way of Kings so that probably needs to go on the list. And now this one – which sounds amazing and right up my street. Can’t wait.
Thanks for that great review.
Lynn :D

>had me asking myself who is Brandon Sanderson, and why aren’t I reading more of him

I’m a long term Sanderson fan and I still find myself asking that. I can’t wait to get my copy!

I love Sanderson’s world building, especially as it relates to magic. I really need to read more of his stuff. I also really love the cover art of this book, amazing.

Why aren’t you reading Sanderson is an excellent question, and you should fix it right nao :D I’m a huge fan, and have always found that even his longer books are fast reads because they are simply so compelling. I just finished Elantris and loved it! I accidentally stayed up way too late though since the last 100 pages are can’t-put-down type of stuff ;-)

Yes. Definitely read more Sanderson. I’m a shameless fangirl, and can’t wait until this one comes out so I can read it!

Join us! No, really, read more Sanderson. If you’d like to avoid the uber-long series for a bit longer, my gateway book was Elantris. There’s also Warbreaker, which was a bit more forgettable, but definitely fun.

Let me cast another vote for the awesomeness of Elantris! So good. And the husband is loving Sanderson’s work on the Wheel of Time series. Someday I will get around to reading more of his work. :)

Thanks for that review. I look forward to reading this latest addition to the Sanderson works.

My man and I last year discovered Sanderson with The Way of Kings. Truthfully, I had been letting his work pass on by because I didn’t particularly care for The Wheel of Time series. But I am now a total Sanderson fangirl. His stuff is well worth the time investment.

I read Elantris a while back and loved it…but the author’s name never stuck in my head so I never thought to look for other novels by him. Thanks for reminding me of what a great author he is!

Never heard of the book or the author, but just the premise alone has got me hooked. I’m going to go find this one. Thanks for the recommendation.

it’s a wonderful little read, if you see a copy you should definitely grab it. and the best part is, this is a novella, so it’s a perfect introduction to Sanderson’s writing style. I’d heard of him before, but never read him, so it was a first for me too! :D thanks for visiting! :D

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Thank you for recommending this. I absolutely adored it. I am definitely a Sanderson fangirl – there’s very little he’s written that I didn’t just love (though I found his first YA novel interesting in concept, I wasn’t as in love with his characters there as in some places). But I truly loved this short story. It was incredible how intense and sprawling it seemed, despite taking place in a single room. So great.

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About this redhead, etc.

Redhead is a snarky, non-politically correct 30-something who reviews mostly science fiction and fantasy and talks about all sorts of other fun scifi and fantasy geekery. She once wrote a haiku that included the word triskaidekaphobia.

This blog contains adult language and strong opinions. The best way to contact her outside of this blog is twitter, where she is @redhead5318 .

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