Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Soul of a Novella: Brandon Sanderson's The Emperor's Soul

The Emperor's Soul
The novella is a rather intriguing literary work: it is too long to be considered a "short story," and yet it is too short to be categorized as a novel. Many authors thrive at novella-length stories, but, alas, there are few markets for work of this length.

I've been quite fortunate to have worked on some extraordinary novellas, including: Turquoise Days by Alastair Reynolds, the first entry in Golden Gryphon Press's limited edition chapbook series, and later published by Ace Books as a hardcover double entitled Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days; Lucius Shepard's Louisiana Breakdown (out of print) won the 2004 International Horror Guild Award for best long fiction, and was a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award that same year; "The Concrete Jungle," included in Charles Stross's The Atrocity Archives, won the 2005 Hugo Award for best novella; and After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall by Nancy Kress, currently a finalist for the Nebula Award.

Which brings me to the subject of this blog post: novella The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson, published by Tachyon Publications (as is the previously mentioned Nancy Kress novella).

When I read this year's Nebula Awards nominees, I was surprised -- and disappointed -- that The Emperor's Soul wasn't on the list. When I worked on this book last year, copy editing the manuscript and then proof reading the final layout -- I was awestruck by the story's premise (courtesy of TOR.com):
When Shai is caught replacing the [Emperor's] 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 while trapped behind a door sealed in her own blood.

The Emperor's Soul is set in the same world as Sanderson's earlier novel Elantris, but the novella stands completely on its own. And the writing itself is brilliant.

Brandon Sanderson was the Author Guest of Honor at BayCon 2012, held annually here in Santa Clara, California. I participated on a panel with Brandon, entitled "The Top Ten Rookie Author Gaffes," at 10:00AM on Monday morning. I was impressed with Brandon's style and natural camaraderie with the audience. He possesses a great deal of knowledge and writing skill, and is quick to share this with the attendees. He is definitely "paying it forward," even meeting with attendees after the panel has ended in order to continue the discussion.

I realize it is too late for the Nebula Awards, but the Hugo Awards nominations are still open (at least for another 12 days), and voting for the World Fantasy Awards remains open until May 31, 2013. I ask that you consider Brandon Sanderson's The Emperor's Soul, in the novella category.

Tachyon Publications has reactions to the novella from Library Journal, TOR.com, and Fantasy Book Review, among others; and TOR.com has a review by Stefan Raets and an excerpt from the book itself: I will post the Prologue here, with a link at the bottom to the full excerpt on Tor.com.

But one more thing: If you have already purchased the book -- or plan to purchase the book -- the author will send you a free copy of the ebook. All you need to do is send him a scan or photograph of the receipt, or even a photograph of you holding the book to receive your free ebook. Details can be found on Brandon Sanderson's website.


Gaotona ran his fingers across the thick canvas, inspecting one of the greatest works of art he had ever seen. Unfortunately, it was a lie.

"The woman is a danger." Hissed voices came from behind him. "What she does is an abomination."

Gaotona tipped the canvas toward the hearth's orange-red light, squinting. In his old age, his eyes weren't what they had once been. Such precision, he thought, inspecting the brush strokes, feeling the layers of thick oils. Exactly like those in the original.

He would never have spotted the mistakes on his own. A blossom slightly out of position. A moon that was just a sliver too low in the sky. It had taken their experts days of detailed inspection to find the errors.

"She is one of the best Forgers alive." The voices belonged to Gaotona's fellow arbiters, the empire's most important bureaucrats. "She has a reputation as wide as the empire. We need to execute her as an example."

"No." Frava, leader of the arbiters, had a sharp, nasal voice. "She is a valuable tool. This woman can save us. We must use her."

Why? Gaotona thought again. Why would someone capable of this artistry, this majesty, turn to forgery? Why not create original paintings? Why not be a true artist?

I must understand.

"Yes," Frava continued, "the woman is a thief, and she practices a horrid art. But I can control her, and with her talents we can fix this mess we have found ourselves in."

The others murmured worried objections. The woman they spoke of, Wan ShaiLu, was more than a simple con artist. So much more. She could change the nature of reality itself. That raised another question. Why would she bother learning to paint? Wasn't ordinary art mundane compared to her mystical talents?

So many questions. Gaotona looked up from his seat beside the hearth. The others stood in a conspiratorial clump around Frava's desk, their long, colorful robes shimmering in the firelight. "I agree with Frava," Gaotona said.

The others glanced at him. Their scowls indicated they cared little for what he said, but their postures told a different tale. Their respect for him was buried deep, but it was remembered.

"Send for the Forger," Gaotona said, rising. "I would hear what she has to say. I suspect she will be more difficult to control than Frava claims, but we have no choice. We either use this woman's skill, or we give up control of the empire."

The murmurs ceased. How many years had it been since Frava and Gaotona had agreed on anything at all, let alone on something so divisive as making use of the Forger?

One by one, the other three arbiters nodded.

"Let it be done," Frava said softly.

Excerpt continued on TOR.com;
scroll down about one-quarter of the page to "Day Two."

The Emperor's Soul copyright © 2012 Dragonsteel Entertainment, LLC


  1. You are very right: The Emperor's Soul is a wonderful novella and I was surprised not to see it nominated for the Nebulas. It will certainly be on my Hugo ballot.

    I'd also like to point out that Mr. Sanderson announced that he will send an ebook copy of the novella to any Hugo voter that is willing to consider it for nomination: http://www.brandonsanderson.com/blog/1134/Hugo-Nomination-Season

  2. Hi, Odo,

    Thanks for your comment, and for the update regarding the free ebook of The Emperor's Soul directly from the author. I've posted the info as well on FB, G+, and Twitter. Thanks again. Hope all goes well.

    - marty

  3. My pleasure. I'd really love to see The Emperor's Soul among the nominees :)