The Emperor's Soul by author Brandson Sanderson. Right off the bat, let me just say that I give this piece my highest marks. Talk about a crisp narrative with amazing attention to detail and completeness of story! The book is part of Sanderson's world of Elantris, not in that it is a sequel or prequel or even refers to anything in that story, but in that it takes place in the same world, albeit in a very different location. Sanderson has stated that there are similarities in the some aspects of the system of magic. However, it really is a stand-alone work.
This book tells the story of a master forger named Wan ShaiLu ("Shai") who has been captured after breaking into the palace and attempting to steal the moon scepter, the kingdom's most revered relic. Shai is a forger, but her skill lies light years beyond someone who can simply reproduce another's signature on an official document. Shai is capable of rewriting the pasts of objects in order to change their present condition. It is almost as if she can reprogram the DNA of matter. Shai is thrown into the royal prisons and her execution date is set. However, the emperor's inner circle of councilors comes to her with a deal to save her life. The emperor has been greviously wounded in an assassination attempt that has left him alive but essentially brain dead. The council, fearing that they will lose their position if the condition of their emperor is found out, has tasked Shai with providing an expert forge for the emperor's soul, something that has never been attempted. Shai is not certain that she can even begin to pull this off, as she can only create the forgery if she understands the memories, attitudes, and relationships of the emperor in minute detail. Something like this could take years and years to produce even a poor facsimile, however Shai has only 100 days before the emperor must make a public appearance.
The council is made up of unscrupulous types who value their wealth and power more than the people that they preside over. Even though they each view Shai's abilities as evil and against natural law, and even though they would put to death all of those of her skills that they could round up, they turn to her as their only hope for salvation. However, Shai is much more than any of these elders had bargained for. She is clever, skilled, and learns to be genuine. I love how she comes to understand and ultimately respect the emperor, even though he is an enemy of her people, and even though she never gets to meet the real man. Just a great story from start to finish.