A Short Journey Back to Elantris

A short journey back to one of my favorite Sanderson novels. I want more!

The Hope of Elantris is the second story in Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection by Brandon Sanderson. The story takes place and contains major spoilers for the novel Elantris. You can also read the story for free on Brandon Sanderson’s official website.

Here is the synopsis from Goodreads (which is a note from Sanderson himself):

The following is a short story I wrote in the Elantris world back in January of 2006. At that point, Elantris had only been out in stores for about seven or eight months, but I actually hadn’t written anything new on the story or world since 2000, when I’d finished the first draft of the original book. This story was originally posted for sale on Amazon.com; once the contract with them ran out, I posted it on my website.

There were always a few holes in the manuscript where I decided not to include viewpoints or sections of explanation in the name of streamlining, particularly at the end. In the back of my mind, I knew what happened. This story talks about one of those holes; it is meant to be read after you’ve finished the novel and takes place during the events of the climax. In the annotation, I’ve written a further explanation of why I wrote this piece. Some of you may find it interesting to read this ahead of time; I put it in the annotation, however, as I know others would rather enjoy the story without bias beforehand, then read my thoughts afterward. 

Either way, if you haven’t read the novel 
Elantris, this contains major spoilers. Might I suggest reading the book first? This story won’t work at all for you if you haven’t.

As always, thanks for reading!

How terrifying it must be to live life when your wounds never heal.

Now this is the Elantris I remember! The Hope of Elantris is a brief look into life inside Elantris, instead of the larger country of Arleon, which Elantris is a part of. More specifically, it tells the story of the night when magic is restored to Elantris after the novel’s protagonists succeed in their mission.

Elantris used to be a magical place, where its people could create and cure things with the wave of a hand. Then the place was cursed after a cataclysmic event, which stripped Elantrians of their healing magic.

Moreover, the curse rendered Elantrians unable to heal from their wounds. Even a series of small wounds like sprains and scratches could transform Elantrians into Hoed, comatose from the accumulated unending pain.

Despite the curse, Elantrians continue to hope the curse will be lifted and their healing magic returned to them. They managed to form a community of relative safety within the all the chaos happening around them.

The Hope of Elantris focuses on Matisse, an Elantrian tasked with the duty of caring for Elantrian children. Her children had just gone to sleep one night when a group of soldiers bent on eliminating the Elantrian people begin attacking their community.

The story was very short and sweet. It didn’t add much lore to the lore of Elantris as a whole, but it didn’t need to.

I was very satisfied with the story of Matisse protecting the children under her care, and the story of Dashe protecting his own child. In the postscript, Brandon Sanderson explains the interesting inspiration behind this story, which I’ll leave you to discover on your own.

Others may find this short story insignificant, but I enjoy reading about things that happen in the periphery of larger events, of ordinary people working in the background, their actions and sacrifices unnoticed in the grander scheme of things.

Matisse may not be a member of the royal family, a commander of soldiers, or a powerful hero. She’s just an ordinary woman with no fighting skills or magic abilities, yet she does her part in protecting the children. And that’s just as important as ruling a kingdom, leading an army, or defeating mighty foes.

Everyone has a role to play. Every one matters.

Arcanun Unbounded by Brandon Sanderson
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Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

Imagine hundreds of these carvings combined into one master carving to forge a human soul.

The Emperor’s Soul is the first story in Brandon Sanderson’s Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection.  It won the Hugo Award for best novella in 2011.

The novella is set in the world of Elantris, the novel that introduced me to Brandon Sanderson and his writing. I’ve been craving for a new Elantris book for years, so I was really excited to read The Emperor’s Soul.

Here is the novella’s synopsis from Goodreads:

A heretic thief is the empire’s only hope in this fascinating tale that inhabits the same world as the popular novel, Elantris.

Shai is a Forger, a foreigner 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 will attempt to create a new soul for the emperor, who is almost dead.

Probing deeply into his life, she discovers Emperor Ashravan’s truest nature—and the opportunity to exploit it. 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 imagine the novella would look magnificent in an animated or live action movie.

Okay, so this is not the Elantris I remember. It may be set in the same world, but the The Emperor’s Soul is 100% a standalone story. And I love it!

Why? Firstly, the magic system. The seal carvings Shai uses to create her forgeries is familiar to me, as it reminds me of the seals they sell in China and other Asian countries. For a small fee, artists can carve the Chinese characters of your name onto a seal that you can use or keep as a souvenir.

In a sense, the artist carves your essence onto the seal.  That is essentially the magic of carvings in the novella: the magic of forgery. A wonderful thing to use for the preservation and appreciation of the arts, but an abomination when used for nefarious purposes like theft.

I imagine the transformation of old, dilapidated objects into works of art would look magnificent in reality. Broken floorboards into intricately carved wood, shattered glass into stained glass masterpieces. I shiver just thinking about it.

Arcanun Unbounded by Brandon Sanderson

Secondly, the character of Shai is very likeable. She has to reconcile her need to escape vis-a-vis her desire to create the greatest forgery of all time–a forgery of the emperor’s soul. In the novella, Shai is offered chances to take the easy way out. Insert a backdoor for a politician to control the emperor’s actions. Add a desire in the emperor to keep Shai alive.  Even escaping early without ever completing the emperor’s soul.

However, Shai is an artist who takes pride in her work. Forgery is simply her medium. So she sets out to create her greatest masterpiece–a soul containing Emperor Ashravan’s truest nature. Unlike most artists, Shai’s goal isn’t to get her name known, her work into the possession of collectors, galleries, and museums. Her purpose is to remain in the shadows, while fooling the whole kingdom into thinking her forgeries are real.

With great skill and study, Shai recreates the emperor’s soul. But in discovering the emperor’s truest self, Shai may have gone one step further. She may have created the purest and best version of the emperor that could have been, instead of the flawed and ultimately doomed leader the emperor was becoming.

One step further or one step too far? Read The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson and decide for yourself.

Arcanun Unbounded by Brandon Sanderson
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