Once when I visited Taiwan, I was fortunate enough to visit the National Palace Museum, with my editor Sherry Wang and translator Lucie Tuan along to play tour guides. A person can’t take in thousands of years of Chinese history in a matter of a few hours, but we did our best.
Seeds of a story started to grow in my mind from this visit. What stood out most to me were the stamps. We sometimes call them “chops” in English, but I’ve always called them by their Korean name of tojang. In Mandarin, they’re called yìnjiàn. These intricately carved stone stamps are used as signatures in many different Asian cultures.
During my visit to the museum, I noticed many of the familiar red stamps. Some were, of course, the stamps of the artists— but there were others. One piece of calligraphy was covered in them. Lucie and Sherry explained: Ancient Chinese scholars and nobility, if they liked a work of art, would sometimes stamp it with their stamp too. One emperor in particular loved to do this, and would take beautiful sculptures or pieces of jade— centuries old— and have his stamp and perhaps some lines of his poetry carved into them.
What a fascinating mindset. Imagine being a king, deciding that you particularly liked Michelangelo’s David, and so having your signature carved across the chest. That’s essentially what this was. The concept was so striking, I began playing with a stamp magic in my head. Soulstamps, capable of rewriting the nature of an object’s existence. I didn’t want to stray too close to Soulcasting from the Stormlight world, and so instead I used the inspiration of the museum—of history—to devise a magic that allowed rewriting an object’s past.