SoulWoven by Jeff Seymour has been a big hit on the indie scene – having garnered more than half a million readerviews on the popular social site, Wattpad and is the product of a kickstarter project. So when Jeff approached me to read/review this book – as this was hitting the bookstands on Feb 20th – plus the mention of a vengeful god in the form of a dragon (oh wait, did you say a dragon? Hell yeah! And look at the menacing cover!!), I was nodding my head and scrambling to read the same.
SoulWoven brings alive a beautifully created world – empires in conflict, enchanting myths, ancient races, shape-shifting wildlings and a wonderfully intricate system of magic – while touching upon a myriad of topics like religion, brotherhood and societal pariah. It’s an ancient tale steeped in magic and tells of the awakening of a great evil that can subsume the world and how a rag tag band of misfits try and avert this disaster. It is definitely an opener to an ambitious saga of blood and magic as is evident by the ending of book one and we eagerly await the next instalment that would come in late 2014.
So the tale follows the fate of two brothers Litnig and Cole – ordinary farmer folks whose life is overturned by a dream. The elder brother Litnig, a big hulking simpleton dreams that the dragon Sherduan awakens from the dark and then his whole world is being razed down. For myth has it that when Sherduan, an ancient God on a vindictive mood, arises, the world will end. This chilling dream has far-reaching consequences. All around the world, different sets of people have realized the same in different manners. A prince, an acolyte training in a temple and an Aleani (a race different from men – darker and shorter) The same night within Eldan – the Temple where Ryse, a childhood friend of the two brothers is training to be a soulweaver, two necromancers go on a slaughtering spree in a bid to destroy two of the heart dragons (statues of the dragon)– the destruction of all four statues in this world would precipitate the unchaining of Sherduan.
Quay – the prince of Eldan, a conflicted empire preparing to defend itself from its neighbouring states – is determined to get help and in this process, stop this catastrophe. To do this, he must undertake an epic journey. To protect the rest of the heart dragons spread across the world – and that’s how he forms this fellowship of the heart-dragon (if you will); a rag-tag bunch of misfits with unknown talents thrown together in a desperate last ditch attempt to save the world. The book follows the group through their adventures as they discover the wonders of this beautiful yet dangerous world and in that process, themselves.
Now – an epic journey of a band of misfits towards the ends of the world to save it from a prophesied evil is a fantasy trope done and cooked till burnt and black – from since the times of Tolkien. But Jeff’s treatment of his characters and his absolutely gorgeous prose is what elevates this book from sinking into obscurity and been there done that cauldron. This stew is perhaps old food but cooked with some new “masala” in a refreshingly original manner. The world-building is top notch – myths and histories, ancient races and magic – oh my god – the magic. It just blew me away. To come up with this intricate entirely original magic system in today’s genre crowded and bursting with so much talent is a brilliant achievement. The magic known as “soul weaving” that involves manipulation of souls of the dead around us to do one’s bidding – be it healing or an exploding ball of fire used for offensive action – has been portrayed pretty well and forms a crucial part of the entire plot.
For the journey to be interesting, there needs to be conflicts – crackling interaction between the characters and growth or evolution in each of the individual’s story arc or plot. With a maniacal single minded focus, the leader of the group Prince Quay becomes the least interesting of the lot. Apart from him, the lot is actually a pretty colourful bunch. Each with his/her own crackling backstory and baggage. The blurb of the book doesn’t actually do justice – Apart from the Jin brothers, we have a lot of interesting characters in this book. Take Ryse – an orphan who was adopted by the Temple to learn the secrets of soulweaving – with her past coming alive to confront her, Ryse is struggling to maintain her sanity and also use her powers to protect the group against the dangers of their journey. An Aleani who’s got his own demons to deal with, Len is perhaps the only non-human of the group. But his was the story that was the most poignant and actually grabs you by the neck to slam you against the walls to watch unfurl. Dil, a girl with her own big secrets actually is my favourite of the group – her interactions with Cole make for some of the most tender moments of this book that is otherwise pretty chock-a-block with some cool slam-bam action. What about the brothers you say?
I am in two minds there. I am on the wall about Cole. But Litnig blew me away. A conflicted elder brother with no magical powers – actually with absolutely nothing special about him – who decides to come on the journey simply because he has an unspoken duty towards his brother and an unrequited love. His tormented soul goes through a lot. Not to mention his body ( that is pummelled and beaten black and blue !) but wait for the final revelation which, trust me, will blow you away.
That being said, the novel is a slow burn. Especially the first half of the journey. A lot of fat that could definitely need with trimming. The only thing that kept me going was Jeff’s gorgeous prose. Analogies that are simply too clever and knock you out with its simplicity. Atmospheric and evocative, the world that Litnig and his group explores comes alive in his words and paints a picture where details sparkle so bright. But stick around. Trust me, come for the magic and the dragon. But stay for the beautiful world and some torn conflicted characters who would steal your heart. And the action. While it takes its time to get to more dangerous territories, once the narrative plunges into it - the swords sing and axes fly - there is no looking back.
This book is a comfort read. A world inspired by the medieval ages perhaps – castles, farm boys, magic and an ancient evil. For us having grown up on traditional high fantasy, it’s sort of coming back to the centre of our worlds. But the verdict is, that Jeff can spin an alluring tale of magic and dragons. And spin it so well that we’re willing to let the tropes lie by the roadside while we enjoy this old-fashioned tale thoroughly. And be hungry for more.