Please note that this review may contain spoilers for Soulwoven. You can read my review of this novel [here].
Soulwoven: Exile was written by Jeff Seymour and first published in 2014. It is the sequel to Soulwoven (2014) and continues where the first book left off, with the party retracing their steps to warn of Sherduan’s return. The novel ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, though at the time of writing no third instalment has been announced.
Sherduan has been freed and all is lost. Now the fate of the world lies in the balance. The only hope rests with Tsu’min and his Sh’ma allies, who are trying valiantly to recall how they once summoned the black dragon’s counterpart. Until they succeed, Quay’s party has no choice but to split up and warn others that the monster will soon descend on their cities.
The Jin brothers separate as Litnig wrestles with his heritage as a Duennin. Cole and Dil head onwards to Nutharion City to spread their warning, though Dil is troubled by a prophecy that seems to spell doom for her. Quay’s homecoming is halted as he is targeted by those who want to claim his throne. Ryse and Leramis both find themselves met with unexpected hostilities as their people refuse to listen to their words of warning.
All the while Sherduan moves closer, razing cities and casting his shadow in the hearts of men. The world is changing, growing darker. If the dragon cannot be stopped, it will not be long until the entire world is reduced to ash…
Before I begin, a word of warning. While Soulwoven: Exile is not an especially graphic novel, it still contains some things that readers may find disturbing. It’s a much darker novel than its prequel, really leaning towards being adult rather than YA. Violence, torture and rape all do feature in this story, though most of it mercifully occurs off page. If you’re sensitive to any of these things, I’d advise giving this one a miss.
I think I’ll start by being honest with you. I didn’t enjoy this novel. I am certain that there is a kind of reader that this book will appeal to (especially if the reviews on Goodreads are anything to go by) but unfortunately, that reader is not me. Yet this is my blog and I can only review things based on my own experience. If anything about this novel does sound intriguing to you, please click the link at the bottom of this post to check it out.
When I reviewed Soulwoven, I found it to be a bit of a mixed bag. While it contained some excellent characters, I found its setting to be rather clichéd. One thing I did note, however, was that there were a few too many narrative voices and that Seymour seemed to struggle balancing the perspectives of such a large primary cast. Unfortunately, this problem was magnified in Soulwoven: Exile. While it’s clear that Seymour does know how to write, I felt that he was just too ambitious in the scope of his novel.
While Soulwoven had seven distinct narrative voices, I actually lost count of how many appeared in Soulwoven: Exile. There were at least eleven of them in total, some reoccurring regularly throughout the story while others only providing perspective for a single chapter. Sometimes, the narrator even flipped mid-chapter which made it difficult to tell which character was the focus of the scene. This caused the story to feel really fragmented, almost as though it was being spread too thin. I frequently found myself confused as to what had happened to characters as cliffhangers that left the protagonists in peril were often not resolved for many chapters.
The pacing of the story moved in fits and starts. As Sherduan was released at the end of the previous novel, I was expecting Soulwoven: Exile to be faster paced. However, the dragon’s impact was not felt on the world until over two hundred pages had passed. Up until this point, I wasn’t even sure where the dragon actually was. It seemed in Soulwoven that his danger was pressing yet it takes him a hundred and seventeen days to turn his attention on the first human city. What Seymour offers instead is a novel that is heavy on exposition but light on action. While this may appeal to fans of typical high fantasy stories that draw heavily from the tropes of the genre, it didn’t really offer anything innovative to keep my attention.
We learn a lot about things that happen to characters (past, present and sometimes future) but rarely see the impact that these experiences have upon them. The first book took its time in developing the characters but this time they felt far shallower. Frankly, there just wasn’t enough space in a three hundred page novel to develop such a huge cast of protagonists. Threads are raised early in the story, such as Litnig’s development as a Duennin and the “friendship” between Zahayr and Raest, but are then abandoned to make way for new story arcs in the final act. This was also a problem I had with the previous story but this time the larger cast makes it far more problematic.
The leaps between chapters this time were vast, crossing the world and spanning days. Litnig’s training goes unseen, Ryse recovers from serious injuries between chapters and entire cities are vaporised while characters sleep. Sometimes, events that are vital to the story occur out of sight and have to be exposited to the cast later and finer details become muddied and forgotten as I struggled to remember who was with who and where.
There are a lot of examples that I can use to illustrate this but I think I’ll talk about Ryse as she has the darkest story to tell. While I can’t reveal the depths of it here due to spoilers, I will say that the abuse that she undergoes in the story is unimaginable. I’ve spoken in other reviews about how risky it is to use rape as a plot device. More than risky. I’m a believer that the subject shouldn’t be tackled unless you intend for your story to focus on the effects that the rape has on a character and how they overcome them.
That’s not what happens here. In the back of the eBook, Seymour exposits at length about his decision to show that, no matter how strong a character is, sometimes the unspeakable happens. For me, this misses the point. The abuse of Ryse wasn’t my biggest problem. It was the way the character seemed to shrug this off. After the rape, Ryse barely thinks of what happens again. She first tries to convince herself that it didn’t happen and then turns her mind back to the “pressing” matter of warning the city about Sherduan. Conversely, in Tsu’min’s chapters, we see how his tragic past shaped his present self. Everything he does is warped by his loss, affecting his every movement and decision. I was left most unsettled by how little Ryse’s tragedy seemed to affect her.
I think I’ve probably said enough. If you’re a fan of high fantasy novels that are heavy in the usual genre tropes, perhaps you’ll get more enjoyment out of this story than I did. At the very least, you could take a look at Soulwoven (though be aware that it’s a far lighter read than this novel). Unfortunately, the story didn’t speak to me and I’m not in any hurry to read any future instalments of this series.
Soulwoven: Exile can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook from Amazon.co.uk