While I saw reason to buy every single Brandon Sanderson book, I have never actually read one. The long and unfinished series are kind of daunting at the moment so I thought I’d start with something short – a standalone novella set in the world of Elantris – and see if I liked it. And I did.
THE EMPEROR’S SOUL
by Brandon Sanderson
Published: Tachyon Publications, October 2012
My rating: 7,5/10
First sentence: Gaotona ran his fingers across the thick canvas, inspecting one of the greatest works of art he had ever seen. Unfortunately, it was a lie.
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. Probing deeply into his life, she discovers Emperor Ashravan’s truest nature—and the opportunity to exploit it. Her only possible ally is one who is truly loyal to the emperor, but councilor Gaotona must overcome his prejudices to understand that Shai’s forgery is as much artistry as it is deception.
Brimming with magic and political intrigue, this deftly woven fantasy delves into the essence of a living spirit.
Brandon Sanderson gets to the good bits very quickly. Shai, a master Forger, gets caught trying to steal the imperial scepter and offered only one way out of being executed. Within a hundred days, she needs to Forge a new soul for the emperor who has been grievously injured. It was pure pleasure reading about Shai’s preparations, the way her art works, the way this magic works – I could not get enough of it. What’s more: Sanderson made me stop at times. To think, to wrap my head around the magic system, and to make sense of it. This short novella offered my fantasy-savvy brain food for new thoughts. The truly wonderful thing is – he pulls it off. A magic system where every thing (as well as humans) has a soul whose history can be rewritten by those trained is just utterly intriguing.
Shai was a fascinating protagonist. We only get glimpses of her motive for doing what she does and for making certain decisions along the way. Her and Gaotona both grew on my within the first few pages and I found them to be consistent, believable characters whose fate I truly cared about. Side characters are sparse but equally convincing. After all, what does one expect from politicians but corruption and hunger for power?
I won’t say much about the plot and you don’t really need to know much. Just read the first few pages and you’ll be sucked into this adventure. It is the mark of a gifted author to make one character, spending 100 days in one room so captivating. Shai’s research into the emperor’s history, her preparation of the soul stamp, and her thoughts about her own escape, were enough to keep me going. There was no need for big action – and I honestly wasn’t sure until I finished how exactly this story would end.
Even though I’ve only read this 175 page-novella, I now understand why Sanderson is currently on top of everybody’s favorite fantasy writers lists. The man is gifted with words and I can’t wait to finally start one of his longer novels. Because as much as I enjoyed The Emperor’s Soul (I read it last night, in one sitting), there is potential for so much more and personally, I wouldn’t have minded learning more about Shai, her history, Gaotona and the political set-up of this world.
THE GOOD: Great characters, fantastic magic-system and – despite taking place almost exclusively in one room – a real page-turner plot.
THE BAD: There is nothing bad about this novella. Except that it was too short.
THE VERDICT: Brandon Sanderson has recruited a new fan. If, like me, you want a small taste before starting a huge series, pick this one up. This is some great fantasy writing!
RATING: 7,5/10 Very, very good