The Emperor's Soul

Brandon Sanderson • 2013

My tweet-sized review of this book was “an interesting high-fantasy narrative about a distant dystopic empire in which multi-dimensional characterization is a misdemeanor and subtext is a crime punishable by death”, and I am guilty of compressing the things I liked about this book (“interesting”) so that I could be suitably glib about the things I disliked.

Because there were interesting parts! The heart of this book is really a discourse on what constitutes art and creation, and I am a fucking sucker for that shit. The magical system that largely revolves around tricking the world into believing something due to enough knowledge & plausibility is — while flimsy — very cool, and a good shell for a story or a series of stories.

The problem with this is that rather than treating that very clever and interesting concept with a light touch, Sanderson has to beat you over the head with it over and over again, ham-fistedly throwing the various meanings and implications into the words of the protagonist and her stereotypical elderly mentor/jailor.

(Which, to be clear — is perhaps my bigger issue with the book. I can handle books that live on the word and the word alone if the characters in those words are interesting. There was exactly one interesting character in this book: the bloodsealer who turns out to be a pretty pitiable figure.)

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