This Fantasy novella is a treat for anyone who loves character based fiction.
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.
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Source: I purchased this book myself from Audible.
The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson, read by Angela Lin, published by Recorded Books (2012) / Length: 3 hrs 55 min
This is a standalone novella. (It takes place on the same world as Elantris, which is part of Sanderson's larger Cosmere, but is unconnected.)
If you are someone who prefers books with lots of action, then this probably isn't for you. The only action is fairly brief, and doesn't come until towards the end. I, however, loved it for the way it explored both character and (non-romantic) relationships.
My question in the title has a double meaning. It stands both for Shai's profession as an art/soul forger and for forging in the sense of "making or shaping." One of the underlying themes of the story has to do with how the Emperor's soul developed the way it did the first time, and how the littlest decisions can put you on a path.
I have added the Diversity tag since, like many of Sanderson's other works, this has fantasy versions of Asian characters and cultures. (He spent two years in Korea as a young man.)
Shai: I always struggle with protagonists who are criminals. I don't believe that crime should be portrayed as fun, harmless or even just acceptable. This book doesn't really go into that; it is more about what constitutes art and the ethics of that.
The aspect of Shai I found most interesting was the way she (beyond temporarily changing her own soul magically, or even just using a typical con artists ability to play a role) would reframe her own reactions by mentally chosing to become someone who was capable of dealing with her current situation calmly.
Gaotana: I love his complexity. He just wants to do what is best, but is also judgemental.
I usually include a section on the romantic relationship in this section. There isn't one here, but relation- ships are nevertheless a central theme. Gaotana is the hub around which things turn. His relationship with Shai, and with Ashravan. There is also a subtle message about the way we see people vs the way they are.
Allthough he is the next thing to dead from before the book starts, Ashravan, remains a central character. I like that, Emperor or not, he actually loved his wife.
As usual, Sanderson builds a unique magic system with internally consistent rules and natural drawbacks. I love the discussion as to whether there is less merit to a work of art created using magic than to one created with actual paints. I'm sure this parallels arguments that digital artists deal with.
The novella takes place almost entirely within the palace, and mostly within a single room, and yet there is a feeling of a whole world behind it. And Shai's talent gives a natural opportunity to explore the objects in the room and what she can do with them.
I am not a big reader of short fiction. This novella was the perfect length for me though. The beginning sucks you in as everyone is afraid of something. It then takes its time to explore the themes, before ending with a perfect blend of action and emotion.
HIGHLIGHTS / CAUTIONS:
- Shai & Gaotana's last moments together
- The very end with Gaotana alone
I COULD HAVE DONE WITHOUT: a bit of fantasy language swearing (and the explanation of the word's meaning) / the concept of the blood magic *shudder*
Character voices differentiated = Yes / Opposite sex voices acceptable = Yes, I especially enjoyed Gaotana's voice which really captured the essence of his character / Phrasing, Pacing & Pronunciation = Good, I think I heard 2 small mispronunciations / Emoting = Good / Speed = listened on 1.25, my usual.
Talk to Me (pretty please)
- I don't read a lot of short fiction, what is your favorite standalone novella?
- Does it bother you when the "hero" of a story is a criminal?
- If you are a first time visitor, how did you discover my blog?
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