“A person was like a dense forest thicket, overgrown with a twisting mess of vines, weeds, shrubs, saplings, and flowers. No person was one single emotion; no person had only one desire. They had many, and usually those desires conflicted with one another like two rosebushes fighting for the same patch of ground.”
So what’s the book about?
Shai is a forger. With the help of her abilities, she is able to change the soul of things by rewriting their past with a seal. Forgers painstakingly create soul stamps to change the being of things. To do this, the forger must know the past, the material and the history of the thing. Souls of people can also be changed. This is basically illegal and punishable by death, although some branches of this kind of magic are tolerated. Now, unfortunately, after a failed assassination attempt, the emperor is no longer the same, for a severe head injury has rendered him soulless. And suddenly faces the task of a lifetime: she is to forge the king’s soul.
Why I wanted to read this standalone?
To my shame, I had never read a Brandon Sanderson book before. To finally change that, I thought I should start with a story of his that is a standalone, to first find out if I like his way of storytelling. In my search for the right book by this author, I came across two standalones that really appealed to me. One was Warbreaker and the other was The Emperor’s Soul. At the same time, I wanted to listen to a shorter audiobook for cooking or cleaning up, so I thought The Emperor’s Soul would be just right and decided to listen to it as an audiobook. As it turned out at the end, I couldn’t tidy up while listening, because the book was just too beautifully narrated.
These aspects attracted me the most while reading.
- The conversations between Shai and Gaotona were the highlight of this book. It was not only about the work on the soul stamp, but also about philosophical issues. The depth of the conversations also made me think for myself, and the thoughts stayed there even after finishing the audiobook. It was now more than superficial banter, but conversations with sense and understanding. The relationship between these two actors was also very nice to listen, because with Gaotona you had a grandfatherly feeling.
- The magic in this book was very thoughtful and unique. That you can change the souls of things, or even people, through soul stamps seemed more than a great idea. This kind of magic requires a lot of time, as you have to deal with the things you want to change the history of. Thus, it is a kind of art to give the characters a new or changed soul. And it is not just about copying art, but about creating your own art.
- Since the audiobook is only about 3 1/2 hours and the book is about 170 pages, I liked that most of the story took place in one room. This allowed the focus to be more on the magic and philosophical themes rather than describing new areas. This room felt to me like a small living room where you listen to the conversations of your guests. And this tightly focused story leaves room for further thought in relation to the human condition, but you don’t have to question the story or the plot lines.
- I also liked that despite the shortness of the book, you also learn something about the main character Shai. She seems to have a very interesting personality, which only becomes apparent after a certain amount of time. Because at first you think of Shai as some kind of thief or criminal, which is why she ended up in prison, but as the story progresses you realise that she is quite different. Because there is much more to her crime than a typical thief story, but you realise that there is a woman with a heart and a mind in that room.
- The whole story is rather slow and leaves little room for action. The book contains a conversation that takes place over several weeks. It also doesn’t contain much story, as this can be gleaned from the book description and not much more plot is added. But the book doesn’t need this, because it lives from the great conversations and also from the inner monologues. At the end, however, it gets a bit more action-packed and you don’t stay stuck in this one room forever.
So what are my final thoughts about it?
Who would have thought that such a short story could take you away like that? I’m usually a fan of less action and more interpersonal interaction and that’s exactly what the book gave me. Because on the one hand it was very interesting to learn about this exciting kind of magic, and on the other hand to hear these profound conversations. I liked to hear that a human being is not only made up of his many different characteristics, but it is how these characteristics interact with each other that makes a person. Shai became more and more sympathetic to me towards the end of the story, because maybe she is not just a copyist of art, but creates her own art. And the ending was just perfect for me. I had goosebumps and enjoyed listening to the whole story until the very end. Sanderson could have stretched this story over 600 pages, because I found this aspect of magic so interesting and Shai is also a great protagonist. In conclusion, I can say that my first Brandon Sanderson book was a highlight and I am very much looking forward to more.
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