Shai is a Forger. She creates stamps that tell the souls of objects a different past than they experienced, allowing them to become something more. When she is caught replacing the royal scepter with a Forgery she is offered a choice. The Emperor, wounded in a failed assassination attempt, is completely mindless. Shai must Forge the soul of the Emperor or face death for her crimes.
In order to Forge a soul one must understand that soul, completely and intimately, a stamp doesn’t take if it’s not very close to reality. Shai has only ninety days to get to know the Emperor’s soul so closely that she can recreate it in every detail.
When I finished this book I wanted to turn back to the front cover and read it again. I wanted to meet Shai for the first time and see her struggle to create the greatest artistic masterpiece ever created. I wanted to feel her exquisite drive to finish, no matter the cost.
But I couldn’t, because the first time is already past. I would just be reading it again, not living it.
The Emperor’s Soul is not a perfect book. The action scenes when they do come are jarringly out of place. The novel-like sensibilities of adding viewpoints at the end of the story — in the epilogue, if you will — should have been handled differently.
It is a clever piece of art. The kind you hang on the wall and study up close, squinting to see the detail of every brush stroke then step back to see the entirety all at once. Then it hits you. This is beautiful no matter how you look at it. The individual strokes are painstaking pieces of the greater whole. Like much of the best art is about so much more than the story it tells. This is a story about what makes art, what makes one belief better than another, and what makes us who we are.
Sanderson has shored up many of his weaknesses with this book and subverted many of his strengths in ways that created something more powerful than anything he has done before.
Shai has something to teach us about art and life and what makes both of them wonderful. Read this book and maybe you will learn what she has to say. Even if you don’t you will not regret the experience.