Review: The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson

I wanted to read a Brandon Sanderson book to get a feel for his style before committing to something significantly longer like his Mistborn series. I have mixed feelings about this being my preliminary view of him, but overall it was an enjoyable book.

Without giving anything away, the novel is essentially about a world where it’s possible to Forge or transform something basic into something extraordinary. There are requirements, skills necessary for it, and some are better than others. The story starts with the Emperor brain dead after an attempted assassination, though his advisors are using his hundred days of mourning for his wife’s death in the incident to buy time.

A recently captured forger thief, Shai, is cut a deal: Forge a believable copy of the Emperor’s soul within the mourning period in exchange for her freedom. It’s considered a sin, but their desperation to remain in power is a strong motivator. For Shai, she knows she can’t finish a task that usually takes years within the timeframe given, but she is determined to find an escape from her latest prison.

For such a small novel, not even 200 pages, I was expecting something relatively basic and wasn’t surprised when it was. A lot of the details are stylized at a middle school level with light sentences meant to be easy to read. It leaves some blanks in visual details, indeed the physical descriptions of the main characters are nearly non-existent. Honestly, this is the type of book I would recommend for my younger brother who, despite being in high school, prefers to read mid-grade novels instead of young adult.

The redeeming feature for me is, if you’re willing to look closer, there are some deep philosophical discussions. At certain points, it reminded me of “Colors of the Wind” in Pocahontas with a young woman trying to explain to an older man how everything has a spirit. Forging is considered a sin by this nation, but the mass production of altering poorly designed items and changing them to be antique looking is encouraged. Shai makes a connection with one of her captors and explains to him how a true Forger communicates in a sense with the spirit of the object to make it believe in a changed history that makes it more impressive than it currently is. If you’re willing to spend a moment in thought, there are multiple moments that really spoke to mans relationship and respect for the world around him.

Altogether, I’d give it 3.5/5 stars. Since that’s not an option, I’ll mark it mentally as a young adult novel and give it 4/5. It sneaks in something deeper remarkably well and was worth a post-reading reflection which is truly unique. I was expecting something more complicated, but it is a novella so the score is more based on my preconceptions. My advice for other readers is to go in not paying attention to his awards, but willing to try a short story by a well-known author.

 

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