The Emperor's Soul

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The Emperor's Soul
Cover of The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson, showing artwork by Alexander Nanitchkov.
Cover showing artwork by Alexander Nanitchkov.
Author Brandon Sanderson
Audio read by Angela Lin
Cover artist Alexander Nanitchkov
Country United States
Language English
Series The Cosmere
Genre Fantasy
Set in Sel (same world as Elantris)
Published 2012 (Tachyon Publications)
Media type Trade paperback
Pages 175
Awards Hugo Award for Best Novella (2013)
ISBN 978-1-61696-092-6
OCLC 793575540
Website The Emperor's Soul

The Emperor's Soul is a fantasy novella written by American author Brandon Sanderson. It was first published in November 2012 by Tachyon Publications. It won the 2013 Hugo Award for best novella.[1] The novella was also included in the 2016 Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection.


The first person protagonist of The Emperor's Soul is Shai, a genius practitioner of the form of magic known as Forging. At the start of the novel, Shai has been imprisoned by the Rose Empire for trying to steal a famous painting, and replace it with a fake, and is scheduled to be executed the next day. In addition, Forging is considered unholy and illegal in the Empire.

By coincidence, Emperor Ashravan has been rendered brain-dead by a failed assassination. The high-ranking officials called Arbiters have kept this a secret, since they will lose their positions if a new Emperor is selected. In desperation, the arbiters offer Shai her freedom if she can Forge a new soul for the Emperor, even though soul forging is considered illegal and unholy.

Shai accepts, execution being the only alternative. Though she estimates that the unprecedented Forging will take two years, if it is possible at all, she is only given 100 days. She knows that the corrupt arbiters will not uphold their deal to free her, and so plans to escape. To keep Shai imprisoned, a Bloodsealer creates a seal from her blood each day, which the Bloodsealer's undead skeletons can use to find her should she try to escape.

Forging works by knowing the history of an object, and then changing the object's history by applying a Forging stamp. For example, a table's history can be rewritten to always have been well maintained. As a master Forger, Shai is therefore a master researcher. To forge a new soul for the Emperor, which will take to his body, she must learn all she can about Emperor Ashravan's history. To create the stamp, she must have the help of somebody who knew the Emperor, and the arbiter Gaotona volunteers, in spite of his contempt for the art of Forging.

While working with Gaotona, Shai and Gaotona gradually develop a guarded respect for each other. Gaotona, who functioned as a mentor for the Emperor, turns out to be the only non-corrupt arbiter, to Shai's disbelief and surprise, as well as very intelligent. While Shai as a Forger is a master liar, she finds herself forced to deal in truth about herself, as Gaotona is too intelligent for lies. While Gaotona never completely stops considering Forgery as unholy, he gains a understanding of Forging.

As Shai creates the seal to give the Emperor a soul, especially by studing the Emperor's private journal, both she and Gaotona come to learn the Emperor's inner thoughts. Shai becomes obsessed with the work as her magnum opus, putting off escaping to finish it. When she finally escapes with the finished seal, Shai infiltrates the quarters of the brain-dead Emperor and secretly applies the seal, which works.

Before escaping the palace, Shai finds Gaotona, who gives Shai her Essence Marks, confiscated when she was imprisoned. Using an Essence Mark to give herself great fighting prowess, Shai defeats the Bloodsealer's undead monstrosities and escapes.

Gaotona marvels at the awakened Emperor, who easily fools everybody who do not know of the Forgery. Shai has given Gaotona her secret notes of the forgery, and Gaotona marvels at the artistry of the Forgery, the greatest work of art he has ever seen. Shai has secretly made modifications to the seal, which she thinks will make Emperor Ashravan become a greater Emperor, the Emperor Ashravan wanted to become as a young man. Fearing the consequences should the Forgery become known, Gaotona drops the secret notes into the fireplace.

Shai escapes into the wild to lay low, proud that her masterpiece Forgery of the Emperor's soul is "displayed" at the center of the Empire.


The Emperor's Soul is set in the Rose Empire, a nation on the shardworld of Sel. This is the same world in which Elantris was set, though few connections are made to that book within The Emperor's Soul. In the postscript, Sanderson explains that he was inspired to write this story after visiting the National Palace Museum in Taiwan and also by memories from the two years he spent in Korea as an LDS missionary.


An audiobook version of the book was released on November 2, 2012 by, read by narrator Angela Lin.[2]


The Emperor's Soul was well received by reviewers, winning the Hugo Award for best novella in 2013.[1] One reviewer commented, "Sanderson delivers a thoughtful yet exciting read that is difficult to put down and save for later."[3]


  1. ^ a b "2013 Hugo Winners". The Hugo Awards. 2 September 2013. 
  2. ^ "The Emperor's Soul [Unabridged] [Audible Audio Edition]". Retrieved 28 December 2013. 
  3. ^ Moser, A.O. (9 August 2013). "Review: The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson". Strange Horizons. 

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