I almost don’t have anything to say about this, because it just is. I’m taking away my former 4.5 star rating, and this is now just a straight five. It is a perfect fantasy novella.
This takes place in Sanderson’s Cosmere (a shared universe for all his adult fantasy), but can be read completely on its own, and would also be a good introduction to both Sanderson’s work, and to high fantasy in general.
Our main character is Shai, a Forger, who has just been captured by the Emperor’s authorities for her crimes. But while Shai can do ordinary forging without magic, her true talents lie in the art of soul-stamping, a magic that can be used to rewrite an object, animal, plant, or person’s history, and thus change who and what they are in the present. Shai makes a fool’s bargain with the Emperor’s advisor to do an almost impossible task in exchange for her freedom, which she knows is a trap. But she can’t resist the challenge of forging the soul of the Emperor, the ultimate showcase for her work.
There’s so much in here about art and what makes people who they are, and Sanderson even manages in the short page count to pack an impressive amount of character growth not just for Shai, but for her counterpart, Gaotona, the Emperor’s advisor.
Highly, highly recommend this one.