ARC provided by the publisher—Orbit—in exchange for an honest review.
Soulkeeper captivated my attention with its seductive storytelling. My inner bookworm is gratified to find another fantasy author’s backlog to go through; I can’t say the same for my bank account.
David Dalglish is not an unfamiliar name to me. For the past two years, I’ve occasionally seen his Shadowdance and Seraphim series being reviewed with positive ratings on bookish social media. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get around to any of his work despite being interested in them—especially Shadowdance. Soulkeeper, the first book in The Keepers trilogy, is my first experience reading Dalglish’s work; I loved it, so I know it definitely won’t be the last.
Devin Eveson is a Soulkeeper, a priest and a healer who travels through remote villages. When a mysterious and deadly black water appears and washes over the land of Cradle, the veil between worlds is torn, causing a return of ancient magic and forgotten races. The story revolves around Devin and his unlikely new companions as they try their best to adapt and survive the changes caused by all the new unprecedented dangers and situations. Here’s the good news I’m sure you want to hear: the execution of the story is even better than the premise. From the first chapter, I was immediately pulled into the solemn, melancholy, and dark mood of this world. The narrative has a voice that’s so compelling and addictive, imbued with resonating topics such as the nature of humanity, death, afterlife, and faith; all of these elements combined in a way that made it difficult for me to put the book down.
“I have studied history extensively, Tommy. Any force for good, if capable of evil, will inevitably be used for evil. It’s just the nature of humanity.”
Dalgish’s characterizations in this book were terrific. The first ten chapters were all told from Devin’s POV; chapter eleven and the rest of the story changes the narrative to multi-POV style. The characters were the biggest reason why I highly enjoyed this book; Devin, Adria, Tommy, Jacaranca, Janus, Puffy, and Tesmarie were well-developed characters with distinctive voices and personalities. With minimum background revelations, Dalglish was able to make me care about these characters; the internal conflicts that they faced and the relationships they built were written superbly. The characters’ thoughts and actions in welcoming the arrival of awesome power and unknown threats also felt realistic and genuine. I really have to praise Dalglish on his creation of Puffy and Janus. Puffy is a firekin, a sentient fire elemental who’s incapable of speech but he ended up becoming one of my favorite characters from the book. He’s kind, endearing, loyal, and even though he doesn’t have any dialogue, his personality was fleshed out through his actions and behaviors. On the other hand, Janus is a fascinatingly malicious villain. Janus’s palpable hatred towards humanity was frightening and intense to read. Acting as a messenger of death and employing bigotry towards humanity as his fuel for destructive actions, every single one of Janus’s appearances pulled me in and pushed me to read; I was always intrigued to find out what he would do next and how the main characters would fight this savage predator of blood and gore.
“This world is much too hard and cruel to endure alone. From the first day the Sisters gave us life, we were meant to love and support one another. Sadly that basic tenet of our existence is also the hardest to keep.”
I must also say that I’m impressed with Dalglish’s action scenes. The first half of the book was more fast-paced than the second half but I found the mix of great characterizations, exciting action scenes, and the gradual world-building inclusion to be incredibly entertaining so that even though there’s a slight lull after the interlude in the halfway point of the book, I remained thoroughly immersed. The swords battles, gunshots, magic-harnessing, spellcasting, and the battles with both humans and monsters were clearly imagined. I also loved how gradually the history and magic of the world—and how they’re related to each other—were delivered; there wasn’t any info dumping that hindered the pacing. I don’t think it’s too rash of me to assume that there’s still so much more in store for the rest of the trilogy. There have been usages of elemental spells, healing magic, and a bit of time-magic in this novel. Virtuous and evil creatures of different sizes—one being a literal moving mountain—have also appeared, but after finishing this book, I can’t help but feel that everything that happened within this installment was merely the calm before the storm.
Told in third-person narrative and focusing on several characters’ perspectives, the writing was accessible, evocative, vivid, and well-written; Dalglish’s prose was utterly engaging and delightful for me to read. As I mentioned before, Dalglish had already released a lot of books before Soulkeeper, and I have no doubt that this accumulation of writing experience played a huge part on how well-polished his prose was in this book. The prose never gets in the way of the story and there weren’t any instances where the writing felt too simple or too purple. There were, however, a few things in the prose that felt distracting to read for me. The curses (f words, shits, and all that jazz) somehow felt very out of place for the story and the tone of the book. I can’t really explain why, especially since I have always love curses in fantasy books; I enjoyed The Gentleman Bastards and many other fantasy series that use real-life curse words, but this was one of the extremely few fantasy books where it didn’t work for me. I also found the word ‘tremendous’ and ‘tremendously’ being used too often as a magnifier. Every time these words showed up in the book, my immersion was slightly distracted. However, do know that these are just my minor gripes and I doubt a lot of future readers will feel the same as me about it.
Engaging story, empathizing characters, steady pacing, wonderful prose, intricate world-building, and attention-grabbing action sequences; Soulkeeper has it all. Since the beginning of the creeping doom that started from the flood of deadly black water, my soul has been stolen and kept by this immensely enthralling first installment. The calm before the storm has ended, and I can’t wait to read the chaos that will be summoned in the next installment, Ravencaller.
Read the acknowledgment section. This book is dedicated to Devin. The author named the main character of the book after someone he knew, a kid named Devin who has passed away. I’d like to offer my condolences and dedicate this review for him. Devin, may you rest in peace.
Official release date: March 21st, 2019 (UK) and March 19th, 2019 (US)