Have you ever finished a book or a movie and just had to sit back and exhale slowly, thinking “no wonder this won an award!”? If so, has it happened every time you revisited that piece of entertainment? That is what it’s like for me, every time I finish reading The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson. Oh yes, we’re finally touching on the man with a million plans.
So let’s talk about Sanderson for a bit first. The first time I became aware of his name was when they announced him as the author to help complete Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. I don’t read the books myself, as I’ve said, but my dad’s followed along from the beginning, so he was happy to hear they would be completed. I didn’t think too much more after that. Some years later I opted to check out Mistborn: The Final Empire from the library on a whim. Which then had me rushing back as soon as it opened the day after I finished reading that book, intending to secure the rest of the trilogy for my reading pleasure. From that point on, Sanderson’s name was added to a mental list of authors whose work I’m willing to pick up when available. Mind, I’m not actively seeking out absolutely everything bearing his name, simply taking advantage of what the world throws my way.
I forget how I found out about The Emperor’s Soul, but on reflection I suspect it came up in an amazon search of Brandon Sanderson, looked interesting, and was dropped on my wishlist for a future purchase or gift. I may have heard it recommended, since it did win a Hugo award. Still, I had no real preconceptions when the book arrived one day.
I tell you, this story is a masterpiece of short-form, just as much as the item Wan ShaiLu, our protagonist, spends most of the story creating. At cons, I’ve heard about the difficulties inherent with the Hugos today (we are totally overlooking Sad Puppies); namely that there is so much science fiction and fantasy being released every year that it’s impossible to keep up and choose the best releases. Not only that, it’s difficult to actually read every piece of writing that ends up on the ballot. I’m not sure if you realize, but the people who vote for the Hugos are ordinary people like you and me. They are the people who attend the World Science Fiction convention with voting memberships. I personally haven’t been to a Worldcon yet (I was still too new to cons to invest the time and money for Chicon 7), but I hope Chicago wins the bid for 2022 so I can go without buying plane tickets.
The story of The Emperor’s Soul is simple. Shai is in jail, scheduled to be executed, when she’s suddenly brought up before the five most powerful people in the Empire, after the Emperor himself. The Emperor was injured in an assassination attempt that did kill his Empress. The best healers in the Empire attended him, but his mind is gone. Shai is a SoulForger, a person who can create copies of anything from almost anything else. And they are asking her, as a criminal, to do the forbidden and reprehensible: to rewrite the soul of the Emperor himself.
The task is fascinating, in no small part because of Shai’s explanations for how her craft works throughout the book. I have long suspected that Sanderson’s forte is creating magic systems – the more complex, the better – and then writing worlds to use them. If you’ve ever been to his website, you will see the massive list of current and future projects, most of which have nothing in common with any other save the author himself. And you figure that all of those has some kind of magic system (“magic” being used fairly loosely here as Sanderson has a more scientific approach in many cases). I know that some authors are more prolific than others, like Lackey who routinely puts out at least two or three books every year and sometimes many more, but Sanderson puts just about every other author I read to shame with the scope of his projects. Sure, in this year of 2017 he’s devoting most of his attention to the third Stormlight Archive brick, but if those weren’t 1200 page doorstops he’d likely be writing just as many pages scattered throughout several other projects. The man is a machine, it seems.
More to the point, thus far I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by him. Again, I haven’t gone out and picked up absolutely every book with his name on the cover, but I’ve covered a variety. In addition to the bricks and Mistborn, I’ve read Elantris, Warbreaker and the short story “Shadows For Silence in the Forests of Hell.” Each is very different from the others, but still good, with a unique magic system.
Regardless, I will always savor The Emperor’s Soul every time I read it. Unlike many of Sanderson’s books, most notably the bricks, it’s a nice and quick read.