The Emperor’s Soul (NOVELLA REVIEW)

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Brandon Sanderson’s writing habits are wonderfully strange. For one, he authors and manages a handful of series simultaneously, ranging from children’s books to 1000 page epic fantasy doorstoppers. And he generally releases 2-3 novels a year. But what’s more astounding to me is his lack of short fiction. In fact, for a writer as prolific as he is, Sanderson is unique in that he’s written more unpublished full-length novels than he has short stories, and of the work he has published, less than a handful are novellas or shorter. And when you consider the stories he likes to tell and a bit of his history, it does make sense. He was raised on Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, a series that seemingly doesn’t have an end (until Sanderson gave it one).

So it’s a relief to find that his novella, The Emperor’s Soul, is such a well-knit short adventure. It still feels very much like the imaginative and fantastical Sanderson that you’re accustomed to reading, but this story ties up all its loose ends! Well. Mostly. There were several moments during the course of my read where I paused to reflect on the fact that this story could have been taken in the usual Sanderson route by being turned into a trilogy of trilogies, with multiple POV’s, and the like… but the fact that Sanderson chose to keep it simple, one point of view, one narrative with only small branches that meet at the end, is something I give the guy props for.

And the story pays off accordingly. One thing to note about the nature of short stories (or novellas) vs books in series, is that short stories generally tend to lean towards teaching their characters a single moral or lesson over the course of their arc. That idea isn’t lost with The Emperor’s Soul.

We follow Shai, a young woman who happens to be one of the best Forgers in the world, meaning she can use Soulstamping – an ability that allows her to rewrite the history of objects to change their present shape or function. Forgers like herself are generally outlaws, and she gets caught in the process of leaving behind a replica painting she created. She is brought in for questioning, and is tasked with the impossible task of Forging the emperor’s soul, as the emperor had been dealt permanent brain damage. She must complete the task in a fraction of the time she actually needs, or else her life and the entire Empire may crumble.

One excellent feature to note for fans of Brandon Sanderson’s work is that most of his stories actually take place in the same universe, known as the Cosmere. This includes, but isn’t limited to, the Stormlight Archive series, The Mistborn series, Elantris, and Warbreaker. Though these books and series don’t always share the same world as each other, they often share similar logic in terms of magic systems and plains of existence. We learn in The Emperor’s Soul (which niftily takes place on the same world as Elantris) that the three plains are the Physical, the Cognitive, and the Spiritual. This is better explored in The Stormlight Archive, but it’s interesting to see how the people of another world within a shared universe make use of this logic.

The Emperor’s Soul is a delightful read, which ends in a more-or-less predictable bang. Although I love that this is a close-ended tale, I wish I could spend more time with the character’s. In a way, the work of art Shai creates reminds me of the intricately polished and endlessly thought-out universe that Sanderson is slowly unfolding. I know that wasn’t his plan in writing this short piece, but it’s oddly fitting. I hope you get to read this, fan of his work or no.

Grab this Hugo Award Winning Novella in Paperback | eBook 

Geekritique Is Taking a Brief Hiatus

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Don’t worry, I love this blog far too much to leave for long. I’ll be back around the end of the month/beginning of April. I might have a review or two coming up in the next few days, but no promises. As many of my followers know, I’m getting married. Very soon actually. In 6 days I’ll marry my best friend and the love of my life. I posted some pictures of my engagement, where I surprised her by coming to Paris in secret at the end of her trip. In light of my absence for the next few weeks, here’s some footage of my proposal which took place just in front of the Louvre at the Jardin des Tuileries. 

For some clarity, my voice gets a bit lost in the audio. I told her “so that surprise wasn’t a puppy.” A terrible first line in any proposal situation, but I was very nervous. She knew I had a surprise coming, and she thought it might be a puppy for her return to the States. Nope. This was back in August of last year.

And now we’re getting married on Saturday, March 14. Going on a road trip in Ireland for our honeymoon, which I’m ecstatic about. Might post some pictures up.

This hiatus also includes my work on Tales from Atelinor, my writing blog where I share short stories that take place in the same fantasy universe. I have some really cool ideas on where to take the stories. Big things ahead!

I have several projects lined up that I wish to start here on Geekritique. Nothing I’m willing to share just yet, but you’ll see soon enough.

My friends over at The 52 Now! podcast gave me a shoutout which was pretty awesome of them. They’re a new comic book/pop culture-based show that delivers an excellent array of intelligent banter and commentary on news and the shape of the industry as a whole, including movie and television discussion. Be sure to check them out and follow their blog! Hopefully we can collaborate on a new movie release or something other in the future.

Thanks for following Geekritique, for liking my posts and commenting when you have something to offer. Really wouldn’t still be blogging if it weren’t for my frequent visitors. Have a great March. I’ll do my best to do the same!

The Riyria Chronicles, #1: The Crown Tower (BOOK REVIEW)

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Michael J. Sullivan’s books are a strange sort of success. His characters are very troubled, and on occasion very dark. Royce, particularly, seems almost a hopeless case by the start of this novel. But as a team, Royce and Hadrian become more than the sum of their parts, and so too they push the book affectionately along to a place where you end up loving it more than you realized you probably should have. This notion, of a book being altogether better than it actually is because you learn to love and enjoy the character dynamics and relationships, is served best in The Crown Tower. As it’s the first in a potential 6-book prequel saga to the original Riyria Revelations series, this makes sense.

One of MJS’s best qualities as a writer, seems to also be one of his biggest issues when reading his books individually. He, in miraculous fashion, wrote all 6 of the Riyria Revelations books before publishing any. This takes incredible determination. And patience. But, although the books can be read as one-off adventures, they sometimes feel like large pieces to a jigsaw puzzle you haven’t seen the actual cover of before beginning. It was only until the very last book in which you get any serious ‘revelations.’

As this is the first prequel story, and origin of Riyria if you will, the actual tale told is very odd. Not much actually gets done that would generally make for an excellent fantasy read. Sure there are battles fought, and feats of strength attempted. But the book is actually about a feat of strength, and then repeating that feat with a different variable thrown into the mix.

It’s an interesting route to take and, within the confines of this singular novel, makes little sense. Although this is as good a jumping on point to the series as the first Riyria book was, I would suggest you start with Riyria Revelations before Riyria Chronicles (the prequel books). As an older reader of the series, I will say that I enjoyed its odd structure far better because I understood where the plot was headed, and why this quest was so essential to the overall story. But for new readers, this does work as an entry point – just be wary it may seem a bit strange without the foreknowledge that Revelations delivers.

Although the Riyria books are no stranger to multiple POV characters, I really loved the addition of Gwen as a focal point for this novel. Half the book chronicles her journey and how she essentially, potentially, saves the lives of a handful of whores treated poorly, and how she started up her own business. Eventually this would bring the Riyria duo and her (a very pivotal character in later books) together. Gwen, for me, never really clicked as a character in the Riyria Revelations, despite her huge role. With the Crown Tower she’s been bumped up a tier and is now one of my favorite characters.

Among some of Sullivan’s best writing contributions to the genre are his ability to make cities and towns feel truly alive; believable. He just makes them breathe in a way many writers simply cannot. Also his ability to make you like characters that, in the hands of other writers, would be very dislikable is something truly extraordinary. I love Royce and Hadrian. And they’re thieving murderers!

As a proper origin story, The Crown Tower really does an excellent job of bringing both Royce and Hadrian’s characters together. Realistically the two would never get along (and for much of the novel they truly hate each other), so it was imperative they were brought together in… such a fashion as they were. I won’t say more in an effort not to ruin the plot. This is a very very fun read, and I can’t wait to dive into the next one.

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