Saturday, December 22, 2012

Novella Review: The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson

This is the first instance I review a novella in this blog, however, I'm grouping it with book reviews. A novella, for those who don't know, is much shorter than a novel, but longer than a short story. The exact definition or word count depend on who you ask, but a novel (according to NaNoWriMo) is at least 50,000 words, so a novella may be 20-40k long.

Regardless, this is a short book and can be quickly read in a maner of days, though I took it easy while reading. Given the length, I'm formatting my review differently as well, just talking about my impression rather than the usual character-plot-setting breakdown I use.

So, to read my brief review of Brandon Sanderson's The Emperor's Soul, read on after the jump.

The Emperor's Soul is a story following Wan ShaiLu (aka Shai), a Forger that has been captured by the Empire. Given the format of the novella, we do not have a good feel for who she is, who the Empire is, or even what Forging is at the beginning. However, as the story develops we get to learn more and more about all these things. By the end, we are fully immersed in the world and cheer her on. While other characters make an appearance, the short nature of the story means we focus almost entirely on Shai.

Like a typical Sanderson novel, this story has a unique and creative magic system: Forging. It is very difficult to see how useful this can be at first, though the author is known to make even the most mundane-sounding magic systems truly awesome. The idea behind Forging is that you take something, apply a soulstamp, and turn it into something else. The trick is that the Forged object must be familiar to the original and that you must really understand the history of the original to make a perfect copy.
This facet of similarity-based magic is something I've seen before, for example the sympathy magic in Patrick Rothfuss's Kingkiller Chronicle or Kevin J. Anderson's Terra Incognita series. Sanderson takes it in a completely different direction by having the magic transform the similar item into something else by rewriting its history. For example, taking an ordinary, worn-down table, and rewriting its past so that it was polished, carved, and taken care of will transform the old, boring table into a much fancy, nice-looking one.

Forging, however, can be extended to people as well. This is the basis for the story: the emperor has fallen ill and while his body was healed, his mind is broken. Shai has been captured and forced to create a soul for the emperor's body. She has limited time and the Forgery of another's soul, something that has not been attempted before, must be perfect. Even if she succeeds, will they let her leave with the secrets she'll have? This short novella will sweep you into the story as you follow the amazing work of a master Forger.

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