Brandon Sanderson is the master of the unique fantasy world, complete with unique magic systems, and he doesn’t fail to deliver in this novella. In an Asian style setting, the people of this place have mastered a magic called ‘Forging’ – imprint an object with a seal (like a Chinese chop) that ‘tells’ the object what it would be if its past were rewritten – and it changes.

The closer the Seal is to the actual object in terms of probability, the easier it is to make it work. So restoring a worn desk to its former glory is relatively easy – it only supposes that someone didn’t stop caring for it. If there is absolutely no conceivable way the object you are working on could ever have been what you want it to be, the Seal fails. If a Seal is removed, because it remains as a physical seal that can be prised off, the object returns to its original form.

Shai is a Forger – the kind who dabbles in the forbidden, daring to Forge people’s souls, and even her own. Though she is reviled, when the Emperor suffers a terrible accident and has no memory of who he is, the political leaders turn to her in a desperate bid to reforge the Emperor’s Soul and return him to the man he was. The Emperor will remain in mourning for one hundred days, and this is the impossible timeframe Shai must work within.

But she knows that even if she succeeds, they dare not allow her to live…

Shai faces multiple challenges – Forging a soul is a complex task, one that is nigh impossible to do within a hundred days, and a task that requires her to intimately understand who the Emperor really is. Not just who he presents himself as, but his true self, a truth that may be lost with the Emperor’s memories. At the same time, she must plot an escape plan to get her beyond reach of her enemies. 

One of her captors, Gaotana, and close friend of the Emperor, makes himself available to her in this quest to learn the nature of the Emperor. As she probes the deepest motives of the Emperor, Gaotana finds himself questioning his beliefs about the evil nature of Forging. 

When Shai discovers that the Emperor lost his idealism, and his potential to be a great man, will she risk everything in a bid to restore to him the possibility of what he might have been?

Like all of Sanderson’s stories, this one captured me easily, even though it’s only short. It’s one of his most alien, though, and I found myself questioning this system of Forging and Seals more than I might question another magic system. Still, as the complexity of it revealed itself, I found myself more willing to suspend disbelief, particularly my scepticism that it would be possibly to replicate the almost infinite complexity that makes up a person to any kind of believable degree. Yet the evident level of complexity that went into Forging a Soul was sufficiently high to be believable.

An excellent fast read, highly recommended for readers looking for unique story worlds and magic systems. It won the 2013 Hugo Award for a Novella, and that really says it all.

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