A heretic thief is the empire’s only hope in this fascinating tale that inhabits the same world as the popular novel, Elantris.
Shai is a Forger, a foreigner who can flawlessly copy and re-create any item by rewriting its history with skillful magic. Condemned to death after trying to steal the emperor’s scepter, she is given one opportunity to save herself. Though her skill as a Forger is considered an abomination by her captors, Shai will attempt to create a new soul for the emperor, who is almost dead.
I was expecting a lot from The Emperor’s Soul – after all, it’s won a Hugo award. And in general too, I’ve heard a lot about how this is one of Sanderson’s better works. And it mostly delivered.
The story is set in the same world as Elantris, but it has almost no connections to that book – a separate setting, a new magic system and a different cast of characters. While the setting is a pretty standard large scale empire, the latter two are the real highlights of the book.
The magic system is pretty unique – instead of flashy spells or powerful wizards, we have forgers, who can alter the past of an object with seals. It’s really weird when you first encounter it, but over the course of the book Sanderson does a great job of making it make sense – especially given the relatively small length.
In fact, that’s what makes the book stand out. It’s short, but it doesn’t feel like a short story. It’s got a nuanced magic system, and well developed characters. The two main ones are Shai, the forger, and Gaotona, one of the kinda-dead emperor’s advisers. Shai’s fierce pride in her skill, and Gaotona’s refusal to see it as nothing but wasted talent, lead to some pretty interesting debates between the two.
There’s not much action – Shai is a skilled craftsman, not a warrior, after all – but it isn’t missed at all.
All said, it’s a really great read.