Set in the same world as Elantris, The Emperor’s Soul tells the story of a Forger named Shai who is called upon by the ranking bureaucrats of the Empire. The Emperor has suffered a traumatic brain injury in an assassination attempt, and rather than have him step down, which would mean a demotion in their own power, the Guardians decide that they will call on the power of a Forger, someone who can magically imprint upon objects a new identity with their magically carved seals, to forge the soul of the emperor. The penalty for failure will be Shai’s death. However, she knows that if she succeeds, she will be killed anyway because her talents are considered blasphemous, and no one can ever know what she has done.
This novella is the first experience I have had reading the work of Brandon Sanderson, and I can see now what all the fuss is about. Sanderson has a unique, well thought out magical system, thoughtful worldbuilding, and interesting characters. The interplay between Shai and the various Guardians and guards results in interesting discussions about the nature of reality, whether or not reality cares if you believe in it, and what makes a soul.
This is a difficult review to write for two reasons. First, it’s a novella, so I don’t want to write too much in case I give away something. Secondly, most of the action is psychological, which is difficult to discuss, other than to say I found this book thought-provoking while also being an enjoyable read. I would be interested in seeing if Sanderson brings Shai back as a character in other books. Sanderson has definitely joined my list of To Read authors (though I think it would take more than Sanderson’s skill to make me pick up the WHEEL OF TIME books again) and if you are not familiar with him, I think this novella would make a great starting place.