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Originally posted at FanLit.
Shai is a forger, able to magically change any item by rewriting its history. For example, she can turn a battered piece of furniture into the beautiful object it could have been by bonding with it, understanding its past and how it sees itself, and then altering the past enough to change the furniture’s destiny. Unfortunately, forgery is despised by the empire because forgers often use their skills to counterfeit famous artists’ work. In fact, Shai is currently in prison for doing just this — she was caught trying to steal the emperor’s scepter so she could replace it with her own forgery.
Usually in a case like this Shai would be executed, but the emperor’s closest advisors decide they need her forbidden skills instead. The emperor has recently survived an assassination attempt, but his doctors were only able to save him by giving him a new brain. Now he lives, but his brain is empty — his memories and personality are gone. His arbiters, whose positions and livelihoods are dependent on this emperor’s reign, want Shai to do something illegal; they want her to recreate the emperor by forging his soul.
Of course Shai must take this job, or she’ll be executed, but she knows that despite the arbiters’ promises, she’ll be killed when she’s done because they don’t want anyone knowing the truth about the emperor. Shai works diligently to do the job they want, but she also plans for escape. Yet as she continues to progress, her artist’s pride begins to enjoy the challenge. Does she have the skill to produce the ultimate forgery? And does she really want to, or should she use this opportunity to remodel the emperor?
I’ve come to expect a lot from Brandon Sanderson: unique and fascinating detailed magic systems, interesting settings, likeable characters, and the perfect amount of truly funny humor. Sanderson’s new novella, The Emperor’s Soul, partially meets my expectations. Shai is likeable enough, though she’s not especially memorable. I missed Sanderson’s sense of humor in this novella, not because I think every story needs to have some humor, but because I particularly like Brandon Sanderson’s sense of humor and look forward to that element in his work.
Sanderson’s magic system is inventive and intriguing and allows us the opportunity to think about some ideas that I find really interesting, such as how personalities are formed. However, Shai’s detailed explanations of her craft and all its rules tend to dominate and bog down the plot and, because this book is so short, it feels unbalanced. Furthermore, unlike Sanderson’s previous magic systems, I can’t say that I truly believed in this one. For one thing, if Shai is forging objects by changing their histories or their construction, won’t this have other far-reaching effects on the world and not just the object being forged? If the battered piece of furniture is altered so that it thinks it was loved and cared for, or so it was made from different materials, then not only its history is changed, but there are people or objects involved whose histories are now perceived as different, too. Sanderson addresses this with rules (e.g., the forgery won’t take if it’s too far from reality) but I wasn’t completely convinced.
Even more problematic, though, is trying to forge a personality. In order to do so, Shai must understand the emperor. She makes clear that this is difficult and takes a lot of time and research because people’s motives and desires are intricate and conflicting, but it’s really so much more than that. Not only can we not understand our own motives and desires, we don’t really even know what they are and they’re dependent on too many factors — our genes, our prenatal environment, our upbringing, and so many factors that we can’t possibly identify. We wouldn’t be able to do this for ourselves, much less someone who we can only know from reading histories and a diary. Especially if that person had a brand new brain that was wiped clean of all the factors that built the personality in the first place. It just doesn’t work.
But still, if we can put aside our doubts, Sanderson’s story is enjoyable and makes a great thought exercise. For example, Sanderson made me wonder what makes art beautiful. Why is an original work of art so much more appealing than a perfect copy? It’s got to be more than just the way it looks. Also it was interesting to consider how people’s personalities are gradually changed over time by outside influences and how in some cases that’s a good thing and in others it’s not.
I’m being a little tough on The Emperor’s Soul, but that’s partly because my expectations are so high for Brandon Sanderson’s work. The man writes great fantasy and it’s exciting to see him trying new things, including two shorter stand-alone works this year. More newness is expected for next year and those books are already on my TBR list, as is everything Sanderson writes.
I listened to Angela Lin’s pleasant performance in Recorded Books’ audio version of The Emperor’s Soul which I can heartily recommend for those who want to read Sanderson’s latest novella.
Very pleasant to listen to!
As is with many of Sanderson's works, this book leaves you wanting more. I loved this book. It was an out of the box concept and very well written. It takes a lot for me to be draw into a book but this one had my attention from the start and held it.The end did not disappoint. Loved it!
The story had a lot of depth to it, despite being fairly short. Sanderson has really matured as an author (comparing to the first Mistborn book), and it's great to read almost anything by him.
The book is pretty unique - but it did remind me a little of the Gentleman Bastard series by Scott Lynch - where they would create various personalities for use in their various schemes. In this story, this is done magically, but it had a slightly similar feel.
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I could not say. I have not read the print version.
Shai for sure. You don't have enough time with any other characters to get to develop a bond with them. This short story is based solely on Shai.
No strong reaction. I did admire the way Brandon Sanderson wrapped up such a good story in short format. I hope he develops this character more.
I love this book, the story is a favorite to both my family and myself. Mabey because I read the book first and have my own idea of how the main character is portrayed but I didn't care for the style of the narration. That aside though the story amazing and I'm still enjoying it despite the narrator's style.
I purchased this story immediately after listening to Elantris. I don't regret it at all, but for the life of me I can't find the tiniest shred of evidence that these stories take place in the same universe, let alone the same planet. Perhaps it's set thousands of years later when the names of all the places and empires have long since changed. The book doesn't make any of this clear.
There is a common narrative theme with Elantris, though. Both have a main character capable of genuine magic who is antagonized and labeled a heretic by an oppressive, religious empire.
The magic system here is creative and interesting, being based on the notion of all objects having souls. Properties of anything can be rewritten, limited only by plausibility. It's a fitting metaphor for the process of writing and editing a story as an author. Even a fantasy story must remain plausible after the initial deviations from reality have been explained to the reader, otherwise it will fall apart.
This is an unfair question when asking me; I always enjoy audio over printed when it comes to fiction, so yes.
The Protagonist, Shai, followed closely by Gaotona.Shai was the protagonist, so we get a lot of detail about her. I feel she was well written. I also feel I got a glimps into Brandon's mind while reading/listening to Shai. I feel like the Stamp Magic is a look into Brandon's character creation process. I can see him writing up characters, adding in little details to the character's histories, and then going back and changing details and getting a whole new character out of them, and eventually we end up with Kelsier and Vin. - After all, I read somewhere that Vin was originally a male, but of course Vin is female in Mistborn. It's like Brandon stamped Vin to rewrite her past so she was born female, and *poof*!So, I liked Shai. Though, its hard to not like the protagonist in the story, I'm told people even like Humbert Humbert (Though I've tried to read that book so many times and can't get past the first couple chapters. Not because of the topic of the book, but because of the fancy prose. I found myself lost in sentances that were beautiful, but then found I had lost the larger picture of the story. Its a bit like, I'm sure how you feel about my review right now. - I digress.)I also like Gaotona, though without calculating I think he appeared on page the most often besides Shai herself, and we get to know him a bit as well. That's the key, knowing the characters. Its something Brandon does well.
I'm GENERALLY not a big fan of female readers; Which is strange because I love listening to female singers over male singers. I especially don't like female readers doing male voices, which again is odd because male readers doing female voices doesn't USUALLY bother me. - I like to think of myself as an equal opportunity person, so I always give female readers a chance. A female reader for a female POV character has always made sense to me, but again... I'm not sure if its the pitch of female reader's voice (though I suspect it), or if its something else like inflection, breathing patterns, etc.I was not bothered by Angela Lin's reading, which can be considered high praise. I gave her five stars, because I found nothing wrong with her reading and feel she did a five star job. - Its too bad for me that any woman who does a four star job of reading, I probably can't listen to. - Its my own problem, and one I regret. - She did a good job, I would listen to more of her reading, as long as it was for female characters.I know what I just posted makes me sexist, but it is a comfort thing that have been trying to get over. I wan't uncomfortable listening to her, and she does a very good job.
This is not Brandon Sanderson's best work, but it is still a cut above most of the Fantasy books I've read.I didn't know this book was included in Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection. I recommend the collection over the single, but the signal is very good.
The beginning exposition was rather tedious because the story is too short to flesh out the world. The main character was very good, the main villain however could have been more fleshed out. Overall it was a good short story.
Although this book is short, Sanderson delivers a fully developed and masterful story. It's hard to believe a story about a brilliant and talented young woman doing research while imprisoned in a small dank room for a few months could be so good and so consuming but it is! I was very sad when it was over because I LOVED the lead character but I was also very satisfied and happy because Sanderson tied enough of the story lines in neat bows while leaving others loose, laying the foundation for my imagination to continue the story on in my own fantasy world. This is by far one my favorite short fantasy books I've read to date. Well done Brandon and thank you!