I won’t go into any details on what the plot is, it’s only 100 pages, try to jump into this one without knowing anything about the story like I did. The plot dances upon several themes such as human’s personality and about what makes an art truly an art. There’s a lot of beautiful philosophical contemplation to be found here and the story is really well paced. The book also doesn’t waste any time getting into the plot, there’s no info dump, the magic system and worldbuilding are all introduced gradually with the plot and character development. Have I mentioned that the main character Wan ShaiLu (or Shai in short) is a really great and strong heroine?
Everything about this book is really great but the best part for me will have to be the Asian influence in its fantastic magic system and worldbuilding aspects. As an Asian myself, I find it a unique experience to read a great high fantasy story with high amount of detail to Asian culture and even though this is a short book, Forgery and Bloodsealing, the magic systems, are imbued with intricate explanation and imaginative, as Sanderson’s usual strength. Forgery that relied on Soulstamp (Sanderson’s version of Chinese Seals), settings that reminded me of an older Asian palace, the clothes, everything is highly influenced by Asian culture. The reason for this is that The Emperor’s Soul is a novella created based on Sanderson’s experience in Taiwan, thus the reason for all the Asian influence in the book.
I need to also mention that although the setting of the world is in Sel, the same world where Elantris (Sanderson’s debut novel) took place in, you can read this novella without any knowledge of it. There’s only two or three terms from Elantris mentioned in the story and they provide close to zero influence on the story, you probably won’t even realize this book is related to it. Plus, in my opinion, this 100 pages novella is so much better than Elantris 600 pages novel.
The Emperor’s Soul is a phenomenal novella, it won a Hugo Award for Best Novella category in 2013 for a perfect reason. The quality of this short story has surpassed a lot of other fantasy novels in the market, it’s impressive, it’s unique, the plot is well paced and the writing is vivid and immersive. I absolutely recommend this novella to anyone who’s looking for a great unique experience in high fantasy. Doesn’t matter if you’re a Cosmere fans or not, you don’t want to miss this reading this one. I’ll leave Sanderson’s quote from the Emperor’s Soul postscript of Arcanum Unbounded as the closing of my review.
“You can’t always write what you know—not exactly what you know. You can, however, write what you see.” –Brandon Sanderson
And that’s exactly what he did, with brilliance.
Side note: If you’re wondering the identity of one of the character in the book, The Imperial Fool. Read this deleted prologue posted by Brandon Sanderson himself and why he decided to exclude it. Only read it after you FINISHED the book.