Author: Brandon Sanderson
Publisher: Tachyon Publications
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Series: Cosmere (Elantris World - Sel) Standalone
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It was boldness, it was contrast, it was subtlety
Shai is a master forger, a person who can rewrite the history of objects in the world of Sel. Getting caught stealing the moon scepter of the Rose Empire has landed Shai a death sentence, but she now has the chance to save her life. She must build a new soul for the Emperor Ashravan in ninety days.
It's been said that Brandon Sanderson writes fantasy that's miles wide but only inches deep. I've personally found myself saying that from time to time, especially outside of Cosmere, but sometimes within it, too. I think it's more than fair to say that The Emperor's Soul is the perfect rebuttal for that criticism. Sure this isn't a mind blowing philosophical text, and Sanderson will never match the prose of some of the fantasy genre's best writers, but he can tell a thought-provoking and emotionally engaging story when he has to.
Emperor Ashravan is the victim of an assassination attempt gone wrong and is now brain dead. Building a new soul for someone asks a lot of moral questions about the nature of Shai's work, alongside with questions about what makes a soul a soul. Sanderson treats Shai's work on building the emperor's new soul as a kind of commentary on the nature of creating works of art. She spends a lot of time debating Gaotona, one of the arbiters responsible for tasking Shai to build the emperor's soul. He has great respect for original works of art, but despises how Shai uses her obvious artistic talents to create forgeries of master paintings. It's these conversations that make this story not only interesting, but they conjure up some of the most emotional moments in Sanderson's entire writing career.
Despite all the talk about art, one of my favorite quotes from any of Sanderson's books, comes from this bit of introspection by Shai:
“There was rarely an obvious branching point in a person's life. People changed slowly, over time. You didn't take one step, then find yourself in a completely new location. You first took a little step off the path to avoid some rocks. For a while, you walked alongside the path, but then you wandered out a little way to step on softer soil. Then you stopped paying attention as you drifted farther and farther away. Finally, you found yourself in the wrong city, wondering why the signs on the roadway hadn't led you better.”
Story of my life right there. It's also the story of Shai's life, and at only 170 pages, I definitely wanted to see more of her by the end ... but wanting more at the end of a book can be a good thing, too. The Emperor's Soul has been my favorite Sanderson story, I couldn't recommend it highly enough.