‘The Emperor’s Soul’ is a brilliant, quick novella, telling a complete and enticing story in just over 100 pages. It takes place in the same world as Elantris, but contains none of the same characters, focusing on a very different country on the same planet. Novellas can be very hit-or-miss for me, but this is a perfect example of how they can be done well.
Wan ShaiLu – known as Shai – is a master forger, a woman who can rewrite the history of objects to persuade them that they are, in fact, something else. However, her latest job has gone wrong, and she’s found herself captured and imprisoned. Only one thing can buy her freedom – creating a forgery of the soul of the Emperor himself, who has been rendered permanently comatose by an attack. Shai must break all the rules of forgery and create something more convincing than she’s ever made in her life, or both her life and the Empire will be forfeit.
Shai is a great protagonist – quick witted and immensely proud of her talent, she’s not only a master forger but a master manipulator in general. She prides herself in being able to see several steps ahead of everyone else. Shai’s desire to escape battles with the immensity of the task she’s been given and her desire to complete something which has never been done before. She trusts no-one – sometimes not even herself.
The magic system of Forgery – unique to this novella – is one of the best parts of this novella. Like most of Sanderson’s magic systems, it’s simple yet clever, with clear rules and limitations. Forgery requires an extensive knowledge of an object’s past, and then the creativity of altering this past slightly so that the object could plausibly be something else. It has almost unlimited applications – as proven by the challenge of Forging a soul – but is so complicated that its usefulness is limited. It’s one of my favourite magic systems within the Cosmere, and I really hope it pops up again – perhaps in the upcoming sequels to Elantris.
Overall, ‘The Emperor’s Soul’ is a clever an intriguing addition to the Cosmere that highlights the versatility and breadth of Sanderson’s universe. It makes a brilliant quick read for fans of clever magic systems, devious women, and themes of betrayal and Empire.
Originally published in the US October 11th 2012
UK Publication March 21st 2013