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Trying to remember a fantasy novel published since 2005 in English. The setting is low fantasy, vaguely Oriental. The main fantasy element (possibly the only one) is a type of magic that allows a skilled practitioner to carve a seal that will turn something into something else very similar. The protagonist is hired (possibly forced) to attempt to "overwrite" the catatonic emperor after a stroke (I think?) with something more like his normal self. This relies on understanding his life which she attempts by interviewing people who knew him. While she works (over months) she uses her skills to improve the furniture in her room/cell (the desk, chair, bed...). Someone tries to either murder or frame her towards the end but she escapes. In one scene the magic is illustrated with a crude clay pot that is turned into a copy of a valuable vase.

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  • You could improve this question by going through the checklists here and editing in any relevant info you can think to add.
    – Valorum
    Jul 20, 2020 at 20:22
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    If she was any sort of 'emperor repairer' she would have made a sort of sucking noise between her teeth and said "Well, I can get the parts in but it's probably cheaper for you to buy a new emperor"
    – Valorum
    Jul 20, 2020 at 21:26
  • While definitely not the story in question, the plot is reminiscent of Double Star by Heinlein.
    – blahdiblah
    Jul 22, 2020 at 17:39

1 Answer 1

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Just found it. It's The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson.

Shai is a thief and practitioner of magical forgery who has been arrested and sentenced to death. The Emperor's corrupt advisors offer to free her if she agrees to forge a new soul for the Emperor, who has been left brain dead by an assassination attempt. She agrees, but plans to escape. She is given 100 days to forge the soul, given only official histories, the Emperor's diary, and Gaotona, the only non-corrupt advisor, a task even she deems impossible. As the two research the Emperor's past together, Gaotona learns more about forgery, a generally detested practice, and the two develop a grudging respect for each other. During this task, Shai realizes the Emperor had once been idealistic, but a life of leisure resulted in his recent indulgence, and resolves to create and tweak the soul as her masterpiece, setting him on a better path. Though many opportunities present themselves, Shai puts off escaping until the work is done, whereupon Gaotona helps her win her freedom against his colleagues' treachery. The Emperor, with the forged soul, resumes his rule.

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    Genuinely stuck until I posted this. It's odd how forming a story-id post helps you find it yourself.
    – tardigrade
    Jul 20, 2020 at 20:26
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    Fav Sanderson work that I have read to date.
    – Lexible
    Jul 21, 2020 at 4:16
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    @tardigrade see also rubber-ducking :-)
    – Joe
    Jul 21, 2020 at 9:08

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