“The Emperor’s Soul,” a novella by Utah author Brandon Sanderson, is full of fantasy, magic and ancient Asian influence.
Shai is considered a Forger — someone who can copy, re-create or manipulate an item by rewriting its history with skillful magic and a soulstamp.
She’s been arrested for trying to steal the Moon Scepter, which belongs to the emperor, and forging a copy of a valuable painting and stealing the original among other things.
When she is brought to face her crimes and possible death as punishment, the five arbiters who make up the Rose Empire’s governing council need her unique skills.
Emperor Ashravan received a head injury from assassins from a rival faction, who also killed his wife. Although surgeons were able to do a Flesh Forgery or reseal the wound, there was significant brain damage. The arbiters need Shai to re-create Emperor Ashravan’s personality, attributes and memories — to re-forge his soul — and do it in less than 100 days.
Although she doesn’t know if she can do it or if it even can be done, she accepts and gets to work. It’s not just reforging the emperor’s soul she has to worry about as she navigates the politics of the arbiters, some of whom wish to exploit the forgery, but the motivations of those who guard her and making sure that she has an escape route of her own. Her only ally is Gatona, who is truly loyal to the emperor but is repulsed by the work of the Forgers.
Sanderson has set this novella of “The Emperor’s Soul” in the same world as “Elantris,” although it’s not necessary to have read it to understand “The Emperor’s Soul.”
Sanderson skillfully explains how the soulstamps and forgeries work as Shai continues to work on the project that will hopefully grant her freedom, while not bogging down the story line with long narrative explanation.
As Shai looks back through the emperor’s life through the histories and journals and tries to piece together his personality, nature and memories, she sees where little decisions have changed his course in life just enough to alter his destination. She also contemplates a few small changes, too.
It’s an interesting tale that thoughtfully looks at what a person is made of and how little changes can have a larger impact.
While the language is clean, there is some darker magic employed during the story that may be disturbing to younger readers.