Thursday, April 17, 2014

Book Review: The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson

From Goodreads:
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. 

Probing deeply into his life, she discovers Emperor Ashravan’s truest nature—and the opportunity to exploit it. Her only possible ally is one who is truly loyal to the emperor, but councilor Gaotona must overcome his prejudices to understand that Shai’s forgery is as much artistry as it is deception. 

Brimming with magic and political intrigue, this deftly woven fantasy delves into the essence of a living spirit.
This, like every other Brandon Sanderson book, has been part of our library collection since the day it was released.  If you were unaware, and I'm not sure how you could be, Luke has a major book crush on Sanderson.  We get all of his books, usually signed first editions, and occasionally in multiple formats.  I like Sanderson fine, but Luke is devoted.  And I have no complaints.  Any book is welcome, obviously.  Except for ones with egregiously hideous SFF covers - those have a "special" shelf in Luke's office.

Anyway, Luke's been after me to read this since he got it, and I've been resisting because I always had something else lined up to read next.  He must have realized things were looking hopeless, so he traded me laundry duty for reading the book.  I'm going to go ahead and say I won that one, since I got to lay around and read a book rather than doing the laundry.

Writing
As much as I love short stories, I am, unfortunately, a short form snob.  I don't typically like anything but literary short fiction.  I particularly avoid short form genre fiction.  It's just not a good medium for what I'm looking for in genre fiction because of the obviously limited space for characterization and plot development.

This is the second novella I've tried by Sanderson (the first, Legion, was unimpressive).  I think this was definitely a better effort in terms of quality of writing.  There weren't as many characters, which allowed for more opportunity to get to know the protagonist.  I also think Sanderson did a better job in this one of sticking to a single storyline, rather than exploring subplots that he didn't have time to flesh out.

Entertainment Value
Again, I think this is an improvement over Legion.  I felt like the story was contained and complete, despite the fact that it's only a bit over 150 pages.  I was sucked into the story and cared about the characters.  I also really appreciated the ending and the feeling of completeness.  Whereas Legion felt like it ended abruptly and awkwardly, I thought that The Emperor's Soul was paced well and ended in a believable and satisfying spot.

Overall
I think it's a good choice for fans of Sanderson, although I still maintain that the place to start is with his full-length fiction.  If you insist on starting with his novellas, this is a good place to begin.  And if you're a devoted follower, you'll definitely want to add this to your list.

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