Friday, December 7, 2012

Book Review: The Emperor's Soul

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.

By now its pretty obvious I'm a Sanderson fangirl.  He ranks in my top 5 favorite authors and is an insta-I'll even pay full cover price for the hardcover buy.  This isn't to say I think everything he writes is perfect (I had some issues with The Alloy of Law for instance), but by golly his writing makes me excited to read every time.

This is his second stand alone novella of the year (after the contemporary mystery/urban fantasy Legion, which I have yet to review) and I think this one fared better then Legion.  Not because its longer (they're about the same length), but because it played more on his strengths.  The magic system here was as intricate as they come--in about 140pages he conveys a system just as detailed as anything in Warbreaker or The Way of Kings.  Unfortunately unlike his longer epics the information is more or less explained to us instead of organically weaving itself into the plot.

That's okay though, this is a much shorter work so I expected that.  This is loosely tied in with Elantris (as in, set in the same world, but not the same characters, setting, magic system or tone at all) and for his eager fans that bloody trickster that runs throughout all his books (tied in with the Cosmere at least) gets his due here as well.  Sanderson approaches this magic system from a more philosophical bent.

Forging is, in essence, re-writing something (or in this case someone's) history.  Shai uses it for theft and amusement, but she's highly skilled at the little details other people seem to miss.  She's a perfectionist.  She doesn't just Forge a broken table into a sturdier model, she Forges it into something it can be proud of, something that speaks to its 'soul' and sense of being.

By contrast Gaotona, and the whole Empire Shai is being blackmailed into saving (kind of), view Forging the same way people view reproductions of artwork or sculptures.  Its there to please the eye, nothing more.  The debates the two get into are intriguing.  Shai's people believe everything has a soul and its important to respect that.  Gaotona's internal debates on whether or not what they're asking her to do--that is save Ashravan by Forging his soul--is ethical is what makes up the meat of this book.

I won't say what the end result is.  Its unexpected in many ways and yet suits the story.  Though many of the other characters are thinly written, and the world isn't as well fleshed out as his previous works, this is still a solid reading experience.  This may in fact be a good book to hand to a Sanderson newbie--its short enough that they won't feel intimidated, but gives a good accounting of his writing style to lure them into his longer works.

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