Review | The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson

I’ve not read many books by Brandon Sanderson that weigh in at less than several hundred pages, so when I saw the thin spine of The Emperor’s Soul sitting on the shelf at Weller Book Works next to Sanderson’s thicker novels, I was immediately curious.

From the back of the book:

When Shai is caught replacing the Moon Scepter with her nearly flawless forgery, she must bargain for her life. An assassin has left the Emperor Ashravan without consciousness, a circumstance concealed only by the death of his wife. If the emperor does not emerge after his hundred-day mourning period, the rule of the Heritage Faction will be forfeit and the empire will fall into chaos.

Shai is given an impossible task: to create—to Forge—a new soul for the emperor in less than one hundred days. But her soul-Forgery is considered an abomination by her captors. She is confined to a tiny, dirty chamber, guarded by a man who hates her, spied upon by politicians, and trapped behind a door sealed in her own blood. Shai’s only possible ally is the emperor’s most loyal councillor, Gaotona, who struggles to understand her true talent.

Time is running out for Shai. Forging, while deducing the motivations of her captors, she needs a perfect plan to escape . . .

Sanderson is rightly proud of what he’s produced in The Emperor’s Soul. I’ve heard, though I can’t recall where, that he wrote it in his “spare time,” between other commitments, and if that’s the case, he should be all the more proud. The story is tight, the characters are interesting, and the descriptions are colorful.  Sanderson divides the story into chapters  labelled for the days Shai passes in captivity, planning her escape and creating the emperor’s new soul.  It’s a simple trick, but it keeps the clock ticking, moving the story forward with a tension that matches the conflict.

Not a word is wasted. Sanderson is typically careful with language, but The Emperor’s Soul felt even more attentive to strict control.   Each word adds no more, and no less, than the story absolutely needs.  After finishing the more weighty A Memory of Light (co-authored by Sanderson), the product of two decades of work and a cast of characters sufficiently large to merit its own wiki, it was refreshing to indulge in Sanderson’s ability to spin a tale cut loose from the trappings that too much world building can add. Don’t get me wrong–epic fantasy done right is enjoyable. But The Emperor’s Soul focuses solely on the story, and the development of characters, that makes for good fiction.

Sanderson indicates that The Emperor’s Soul takes place in the same world as his debut novel, Elantris, and if you’ve read that and are attentive, you’ll see some of the similarities, though the magic system is not the same one as used in that novel.  It does, however, follow strict rules and guidelines, as Sanderson’s magic systems typically do.

If you’re looking for a quick read, want a taste of Brandon Sanderson, but aren’t ready to commitment to a full series (Sanderson’s The Way of Kings is the first in a ten novel series, and is over a thousand pages long) then The Emperor’s Soul might be the choice for you. With engaging and empathetic characters, a fantasy setting that transcends “swords and sorcery” tropes, and moral dilemmas that develop with the characters, it’s a worthy and enjoyable novel to read.

Overall rating4 of 5 stars false

Parent’s guide:

  • Sex: None
  • Violence: Very little. One scene against some animated skeleton’s near the end. Some blood drawing for magical purposes.
  • Language: None.


About Daniel

Daniel Burton lives in Salt Lake County, Utah, where he practices law by day and everything else by night. He reads about history, politics, and current events, as well as more serious genres such as science fiction and fantasy. You can also follow him on his blog where he muses on politics, the law, books and ideas.


  1. […] reading The Emperor’s Soul, though, I remembered Sanderon’s talent for world building and character, and I decided to […]