Book Review: The Emperor’s Soul

by Samuel Willis

Emperor's Soul

The Emperor’s Soul, a fantasy book by Brandon Sanderson, won 2013’s Hugo Award for best novella. It is an indirect sequel to Sanderson’s book Elantris. It is indirect in that, though it takes place in the same world as his previous book, Sanderson’s novella is unrelated in story. Sanderson recently visited East Asia, and was inspired by the different structures there. As a result, this world and its narrative are heavily influenced by East Asian culture.

The Emperor’s Soul is a story about a woman named Shai, who is imprisoned for the thievery of a priceless historical artifact. Shai is a forger, someone who is capable of changing the past of objects through the use of inscribed seals. Furthermore, she is a forging prodigy, capable of temporarily altering even herself through forgery of a temporary soul. Despite her talent, she now faces certain execution for her crime. However, everything changes when Emperor Ashravan is attacked by an assassin. He survives the attack, but only just, suffering significant brain trauma. If the loss of the emperor were to be found out, the country would surely fall into chaos. Seeking to prevent this, the court comes up with a story to keep the emperor sealed in his room for one hundred days. Shai is ordered to forge a new soul for the emperor within that time – an impossible task – in exchange for her freedom. Her forgery is despised by her captors, and her every movement is watched as she works. Time is running out. Shai must find a way to escape her captivity before the impossibility of her task is found out.

I borrowed The Emperor’s Soul from a family member for a quick read on a long trip. I’ve read several of Sanderson’s books, and so I had experience with this author’s writing style. In this book, Sanderson puts together a convincing, immersive world with a unique twist in the form of forgery. The forgery within it is based off of stamps and artwork within Asian culture. In order to forge something, you must understand its history in detail. This has resulted in Sanderson’s novella bringing together not only the strong points of a unique world, but also deep characters with fascinating backgrounds.

The majority of the feedback that I could give this book is positive, but the book is, like all things, imperfect. Because of the focus on Shai and the events going on around her, much of the immersive world is ignored or unexplained. Furthermore, plot points are generally loose, with only 3 or 4 of the characters having significantly defined personalities and certain endings. Overall, the majority of the issues that The Emperor’s Soul suffers from are caused by the shorter length of the novella, which though standalone easily feels like it could have a sequel.

I would recommend The Emperor’s Soul for those who enjoy large, immersive fantasy worlds. In addition, I would recommend it to those who enjoy emphases on the thought patterns and histories of characters. Finally, I would recommend it to those who enjoy detail in their stories, but are put off by long novels – as this book packs a lot of detail into a small space.

I would not recommend The Emperor’s Soul to those who dislike fantasy (as this is undoubtedly fantasy), cliffhangers, or otherwise somewhat unresolved endings.

Also, if you happen to enjoy this book, then I would recommend viewing Sanderson’s other books, including The Mistborn series and standalone Elantris.

You may like this if you liked:

  • Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series

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