The Emperor's Soul
By: Brandon Sanderson

Quick-take: Engineers will enjoy this book.

Dan's Review

Shai has been captured and sentenced to death unless she agrees to use her skills of magical forgery to aid the politicians that control her fate.

Brandon Sanderson has a way of designing neat sci-fi mechanics and putting them into a nice story. This book is no exception, and I enjoyed world building. Much of the magic system used here was inspired by the full-length book Elantris, which I did not know at the time I was reading this novella. If you enjoyed the magic system, you'd probably enjoy Elantris.

At first glance, there does not seem to be much in this book beyond the high-stakes forgery, but I saw it differently, and I was struck in a few critical ways.

This book is a gift to any experienced engineer.

Attempting an impossible task

What Shai was asked to do simply cannot be done. However, through probing and gathering more information, she found a workable solution. The original goal cannot be solved, but she made something that still impresses. She delivered what they actually wanted despite the requirements.

Pride in her work

This idea is best shown in the film The Bridge on the River Kwai. Despite working for her captives, Shai cannot allow herself to perform shoddy work. Even though she could've-maybe gotten out of it, her obsession with the challenge made her keep at it until the end.

Design for security

Something that only comes from experience: Shai intentionally closed all backdoors into the product. It is very tempting to leave an opening "just in case". It can really save troubleshooting effort. I have personally been challenged by this. Experience now brings me joy in telling customers that I, despite having personally coded the project, am completely blocked from the system. If they don't have a username and password to give me, there is nothing I can do for recovery.

Score: 5/5. The plot is a bit predictable. However, I enjoy the book because of how well executed it is.

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