(I read this in Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection)
Absolutely incredible novella. Apparently, 105 pages are sufficient for Sanderson to craft a fantastic story with a strong beginning, wonderful characterizations, memorable climax scene, and a satisfying conclusion. The Emperor’s Soul has become my favorite novella of all time; it has qualities that surpassed a lot of other fantasy novels I’ve read.
I won’t go into any details on what the plot is, it’s only 100 pages long, try to jump into this story without knowing anything about it as I did. The plot dances upon several themes such as the nature of humanity and what truly defines art. There was a lot of beautiful philosophical contemplation to be found here and the novella was utterly well-paced. The Emperor’s Soul doesn’t waste any time getting into the plot; there’s no info dump, the magic system and world building were introduced gradually together with the plot and character development. Have I mentioned that the main character Wan ShaiLu (or Shai in short) is a lovable and intelligent heroine?
“There was rarely an obvious branching point in a person’s life. People changed slowly, over time. You didn’t take on step, then find yourself in a completely new location. You first took a little step off a 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.”
Everything about this book was stunning but the best part for me was definitely the Asian influences that can be found in the fantastic magic system and world-building. As an Asian myself, it’s always a joy to read a fantasy book that implements Asian culture with justice. Even though this is a short book, the magic systems—Forgery and Bloodsealing—were imaginative and intricately explained. as Sanderson’s usual strength. Sanderson has mentioned that The Emperor’s Soul was created based on his experience in Taiwan; Forgery that relied on Soulstamp (Sanderson’s version of Chinese Seals), settings that reminded me of an older Asian palace, the clothes; the Asian influences were evident in every aspect of the novella.
Picture: The Emperor’s Soul by breath-art
Lastly, although the setting of the world is in Sel, the same world where Elantris—Sanderson’s debut novel—took place in, you can read this novella without reading Elantris. There were only two or three terms from Elantris mentioned in the story and they served close to zero influence on the plot; you probably won’t even realize this book is related to it. Plus, in my opinion, this 100 pages novella significantly triumphed over the 600 pages in Elantris.
Impressive storytelling, unique premise, vivid and immersive prose made The Emperor’s Soul a phenomenal novella that won the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Novella category justifiably. I totally recommend this book to anyone who’s looking for a short and superb reading experience. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Cosmere fan or not, you don’t want to miss this reading this gem.
“You can’t always write what you know—not exactly what you know. You can, however, write what you see.”–Brandon Sanderson
That’s precisely what he did, with brilliance.
Side note: The identity of The Imperial Fool can be found in this deleted prologue posted by Brandon Sanderson himself. Please read it only after you finished the book.
You can order the book from: Book Depository (Free shipping)
Review originally written on March 17th, 2017 and posted on Booknest.eu