Shai is a Forger, an artist who can flawlessly copy and re-create any item by rewriting its history with skillful magic. Condemned to death after trying to steal the emperor’s scepter, she is given one opportunity to save herself: though her skill as a Forger is considered an abomination by her captors, Shai must attempt to forge a new soul for the comatose emperor. Her only possible ally is one who is truly loyal to the emperor, but councilor Gaotona must overcome his prejudices to understand that Shai’s forgery is as much artistry as it is deception. Brimming with magic and political intrigue, this deftly woven fantasy delves into the essence of a living spirit.
I love that the magic system–reviled though it may be in the culture of the story–is actually a form of art (in our world, specifically based on the seals used as signatures in East Asian countries, which are used frequently on works of art). By creating elaborate seals which she then stamps onto an object, Shai creates works of art. A table may really be just a worn, discarded piece of furniture with the finish worn off and a cracked leg, but with a seal, the table can become what it could have been had it been lovingly cared for: a glossy surface, solid yet intricately carved legs, not a scratch or mar upon it. It’s only a forgery, so somewhere on that gorgeous table you’ll find the forger’s stamp, and if you break the table, it will be the broken pieces of an old, worn table, not the beauty seen before you now. But that doesn’t mean the forgery lacks value.
It’s rare that I give a novella 5 stars–they’re so short, and so often the story would be better served to be longer and more developed. But while I would love to have more time with Shai, this story is beautifully balanced. It’s thrilling. It’s poignant. It’s a countdown to an execution, a heist story, and an essay on art. It’s both character-driven and plot-driven. Though it has ties to a specific novel and is part of a broad collection of related series, it stands completely on its own. Everything is packed perfectly into one small space.
A 5-star fantasy novella!
(Set in the same world as Elantris, and part of the Cosmere Collection which includes the Mistborn novels, Warbreaker, White Sand graphic novels, the Stormlight Archive, and assorted short stories.)