When she attemps to steal the Emperor’s scepter by replacing it with a fake, Shai is caught and sentenced to death until her captors decide to make use of her abominable skill as a Forger in exchange for her freedom. Shai can magically copy and create any item by recreating its history. Though Forgery is primarily used on objects, Shai’s task is to create a new soul for Emperor Ashravan, recently brain-dead after a failed assassination attempt, in only one hundred days. As she delves into Ashravan’s life and true nature, Shai’s escape plans are put on hold as she decides how to exploit her situation and those both loyal and disloyal to the emperor.
The Emperor’s Soul is a short and sweet stand-alone novella set in the Elantris universe with a developed plot (and semi-developed characters) that makes great use of Shai’s magical abilities in the climax. The pace is helpfully managed by the chapters titles, which count down the number of days Shai has left to complete her task. The magical system of writing glyphs and creating stamps is unique and interesting, if not completely explained, and I love the poetry of Chinese-style logograms to re-write a concept or memory of an object’s soul! Shai herself is an overlooked badass, small in stature with glasses, observant and thoughtful, as well as a liar and a thief, but her fellow characters aren’t nearly as interesting.
Imitation is the highest form of flattery, and what makes this novella so intriguing is the constant moral debate about Forgery. In order to Forge, Shai must deeply explore every aspect of an object, and in her subsequent understanding of its true nature, she comes to love and appreciate both the object itself and its original maker, helping an object to become “a better version of itself”. Through her story, the reader learns of Shai’s motivations, which is great fodder for moral discussions of forgery as artistry or deception. Shai herself doesn’t make profit from her work, but her ego definitely enjoys the deception.
Recommended as an easy read for fans of epic high fantasy looking for something short, as well as for anyone interested in the forgery debate.
“Control yourself, she told herself forcibly. Become someone who can deal with this. She took a deep breath and let herself become someone else. An imitation of herself who was calm, even in a situation like this. It was a crude forgery, just a trick of the mind, but it worked.”