Review: Brandon Sanderson’s ‘The Emperor’s Soul’ [Spoiler-free]

The Emperor's Soul

THE EMPEROR’S SOUL won the Hugo Award for Best Novella in 2013 and contributes meaningfully to the existing Cosmere.

Be it a thousand-page installment of a 10,000 page epic or a hundred page novella centered on the introduction of a second magic system to an already-existing world, Brandon Sanderson writes better fantasy than anybody else going. The Emperor’s Soul, the 2013 Hugo Award winner for Best Novella, takes on the second of these tasks and through a simple, well-plotted structure and a dynamite conclusion that makes superb use of the newly-introduced Cosmere system of Forging, becomes as deep and engaging a contribution to Sanderson’s universe as any of the other 8 far-lengthier volumes of the series.

Set on the world of Sel of Elantris fame, this volume introduces Shai as a Forger–a person who can interact with an object or person’s ontological history and rewrite it. A old table can become a polished dining surface; an old wall can become a beautiful mural; a dead emperor can, perhaps, live again. This last challenge forms the crux of the novel’s plot as it follows Shai through the circumstances that bring her to the Rose Empire’s seat and make it necessary for her to undertake the most difficult Forging of her young life.

As always, Sanderson’s development of characters and ability to develop and control a plot with several threads remains the novella’s greatest strength. In just over 100 pages, Sanderson introduces another side of Sel we’ve not seen (though he drops a number of hints to assure us of our current position in the Cosmere), a heroine whose personal history becomes instantly intriguing thanks to an opening prison sequence reminiscent of Vasher’s first appearance in Warbreaker, and as always, sequences that make use of the magic system in ways that are as integral to the plot as they are exciting and interesting to read. Its conclusion certainly doesn’t have the emotional payoff that reading a novel from The Stormlight Archive, but that aspect is part of a novella’s nature, rather than a perceived weakness. The final two pages of The Emperor’s Soul carry as much impact as anything he’s written.

In the end, this novella does all of the impressive things that any of Sanderson’s novels do, at a length far more modest. We get a look at another fascinating and well-applied system of magic that absolutely MUST make another appearance, either in a sequel volume to this one or a book that merges these two aspects of Sel. Regardless, The Emperor’s Soul is another remarkable, memorable, distinct, and high-quality contribution to his Cosmere and another warrant to the argument that Sanderson is the best writer of fantasy to come along in decades.

As a novella, and as a Cosmere story that doesn’t inform anything else going on in the larger Shatter-verse at the present time, it’s not the kind of book that demands immediate attention, either on account of its length or its content.  It’s a beautifully written contribution to Sanderson’s body of work, however, and would fit in nicely between any of the lengthier volumes in his impressive collection.

– Vandal


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