I read this book without knowing anything about it other than the fact that it takes place on the same planet as Elantris, Part 1 of 3. I didn’t have the book description as I got it from the Sanderson Humble Bundle and often their ebooks are missing metadata. I’m glad I didn’t know anything about it, because that made the plot, as it unfurled, even more amazing. I was expecting the book to revolve around the magic of the Dor or something related to Elantris, but it was completely separate outside of mentioning a couple cities/regions from Elantris (the book, not the place). In fact, the most recent reading order from the Cosmere subreddit has this book taking place before Elantris. If you want to have as much fun as I did, stop reading this review now and go read the novella.
The postscript has Sanderson explaining where he came up with the idea for SoulStamps – a trip to a Taiwanese museum. But the entire book seemed to me to read as a metaphor for his work as an author. The crafting of the Emperor’s soul and the mechanics behind the magic of the soulstamps seemed to be a commentary on the creation of characters and worlds. The novels I enjoy best have characters that seem real and worlds that seem lived in. This can only happen if the author creates entire histories and backstories that we never know or see, but that influence all the actions and decisions of the characters we’re reading and the world they live in. The conversation between Shai and Gaotana about whether the artist who hired her had a right to have his art destroyed (assuming Shai was being truthful), serves as a great metaphor about the relationship between an author, his artwork, and the audience. Once art is released, who does it belong to? This is the source of the tension between both sides of the Star Wars special release edits and Spielberg’s ET edits – do they have a right to do that? Or do we have a right to the originals? The ones that changed our culture through their consumption by the audience.
I haven’t 100% figured out what this was meant to communicate, but I did love how Shai slowly, slowly made her room into one of the best rooms in the palace.
Additionally, it was a very fun book and I really enjoy cerebral books where characters have to reason their way through the plot. In this case, Shai trying to figure her way out of captivity before her death.