Soulwoven

Soulwoven

Soulwoven was written by Jeff Seymour and published in 2014. The novel actually has a rather interesting history as it began life as a serial story on Wattpad where it netted over half a million views. After this, a physical copy of the book was crowd funded by a very successful Kickstarter campaign. This novel forms the first part of a planned series and, although the second instalment is rumoured to be due for release at the end of this year, at the time of writing there has been no word of an exact date. Please bear in mind while reading this review that it is based on an advanced reader copy that I received from NetGalley and therefore may not be representative of the quality of the final novel.

The story focuses on the Jin brothers – Litnig and Cole – who live rather mundane lives as the sons of a trader. After both of them suffer from a terrible nightmare filled with darkness and the presence of an malevolent red-eyed being, the brothers head to a nearby temple to speak with their childhood friend – a soulweaver named Ryse – in order to determine its meaning.

On reaching the temple, they find themselves standing on a battlefield. Two necromancers have recently attacked, summoning the dead from their graves and slaughtering all of the soulweavers in the vicinity. When they discover that Ryse has survived, she reveals that this is not the worst of it. The necromancers have destroyed the heart dragons – a pair of artefacts that had been stored for centuries in the bowels of the temple. It is quickly revealed that the heart dragons form one part of a trio of magical objects and it has been prophesised that if all three are broken, an evil dragon named Sherduan will be released from his bonds to lay waste to the world.

Teaming up with Quay, the heir to the throne and Cole’s closest friend, and a mysterious but bad tempered Aleani called Len, they set off on an epic quest to protect the remaining heart dragons and uncover who it is that plans to unleash Sherduan. They know that if they fail, the world is almost certainly doomed.

While my feelings towards Soulwoven are very mixed, I think that it is fair to say that Seymour excels in writing complex and realistic characters. Like a lot of high fantasy stories, this novel contained a rather large central cast who came from all walks of life. Some are low born (Litnig, Cole, Dil), some are high born (Quay, Len) and others lead a more spiritual existence (Ryse, Leramis). All of the characters have noticeably different personalities and their actions make a great deal of sense as we come to learn more about their backgrounds.

Litnig both loves Ryse and is jealous of her as she has a power that he lacks. Quay is determined to succeed in his quest and therefore forces himself to develop a cold heart in order to make difficult decisions, even though it alienates him from his friends. Cole remains the soul of the party, bringing the compassion that Quay lacks. His concern for the safety of his friends gradually widens the rift between him and his former best friend, as Cole always prioritises life over perceived duty. There is no real main character in this story as every one of them are important and the narrative does well to show this, spending an equal amount of time with each of them in order for the reader to gain a full understanding of their motivations. Although I found the characterisation of the primary cast to be a little shallow at first, every protagonist received a steady character arc which ensured that they received full development by the end of the novel.

Unfortunately, the ability to write great characters is not the arrow that a writer needs in their quiver. Beyond these admittedly excellent protagonists was a fairly typical fantasy story, rife with many of the clichés of the genre. There is the prophecy that turns out to be true to the letter, ancient magical artefacts, portentous dreams, the threat of a dangerous dragon, the ordinary boy who turns out to possess untold power, the fellowship of man, elf and dwarf (as far as I could tell, the Sh’ma and Aleani were basically our stand-ins for these two fantasy staples as they were the ‘tall humans with pointed ears’ and ‘short, stocky humans’ respectively). Although there were a few aspects of the story that broke out of this mold, such as necromancers being socially misunderstood rather than outright evil, there was not a lot to Soulwoven that a fantasy reader will not have already seen elsewhere.

The flow of the novel was also somewhat uneven, particularly towards the beginning. As I previously noted, this story was original published as an online serial and it really does show. Chapters are short and episodic, generally focusing on the perspective of one character before flipping to the next. As some of these chapters were largely unrelated, it made the story feel slow to start and caused me to take a long time to warm to the characters and truly care about their predicament. While the cast were incredibly well realised, this also lead to a lot of exposition within the story as pages were dedicated to telling the reader about what each character was thinking, rather than inferring this by showing their actions.

The plot also at times seemed to have been over complicated for no real reason. There are a lot of threads that are woven into the story early on that really amount to nothing. I thought that the rather intense discussion that Ryse had with the soulweaver council would be significant within the story but it never really comes up again. Similarly, there was an early sense of political upheaval within Quay’s early chapters with different houses plotting to usurp the throne (à la A Song of Ice and Fire) but as soon as Quay left on his journey this element faded from the plot. There was also a sentient tree that appeared on two occasions (as it somehow possessed the spirit of a soulweaver), yet it never actually played an important role. It did not advance the story or provide character development for anyone, making it the novel’s primary Big Lipped Alligator Moment.

It felt to me that the author struggled to write for such a large cast as, for most of the story, every character was present at all times. Due to the novel’s heavy emphasis on character development, this meant that the author would often show the events from each protagonist’s perspective before the plot could advance further and therefore it meant that the novel had a habit of slowing to a halt. To compensate for this, a lot of action occurred off page and this unfortunately included some very important scenes that would have added dramatic tension if we saw them. It also made the novel a little difficult and confusing to read, as often characters were hurt or threatened but their fate was not made obvious to the reader for many pages afterwards.

Well, I think that sums up this novel nicely. Soulwoven provides an excellent character study of seven incredibly varied protagonists, but beyond that it feels somewhat lacking. Although the plot builds to a satisfying climax over the last fifty pages, it is slow moving and frequently hampered by chapters full of exposition. The novel also does not contain much that is new or original. Although it is well written, it lacks the kind of originality necessary to make it feel truly memorable.

Soulwoven can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Soulwoven: Exile | Arkham Reviews

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