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Whilst I tend to read fantasy more than any other genre these days, my first love has always been the horror genre. So when an author promises me a fantasy novel with a dark twist, then I am always likely to be interested.
"Feast of Souls" certainly offered this, with a couple of dark twists to the traditional fantasy themes. Prince Andovan is dying of a disease known as "the Wasting" and a large group of Magisters have been called together to try and find a cure. However, they alone know that the cause of this illness is their particular form of magic, which drains the life force of other beings to allow them to create spells. This means that one of their number must be killing the Prince.
In another part of the world, completely unknown to all the others, a woman called Kamala is going through her own preparations to become a Magister. This is unheard of in Magister circles, as none of their number has ever been a woman before. Combined with all this is the return of an ancient foe known as the ikati or soul eaters, a deadly enemy which existed before the Magisters ever came into being and who no-one alive knows how to defeat.
Even before the story really got started, I was intrigued by the idea of Magisters draining life source from others to perform their magic and witches having to drain their own life source to cast spells. The thought that to perform magic you either had to kill yourself or someone else was certainly different and reduced the chances of magic being a solution to every problem going, which happens a lot in the field of fantasy. There is even some time given over to the psychological implications of this as part of Kamala's teaching, which I found particularly interesting.
Even allowing for this, the story had enough variation to keep me interested. We get to follow Prince Andovan's attempts to find the Magister who was the cause of his illness and Kamala's first tentative steps in using her power. There is also the greater evil of the ikati and we find out more about them and how they have the power to terrify even a Magister. The whole book is deliciously dark, filled with soul stealing, death and madness to appeal to the horror fan in me, although with enough magic to appeal to the fantasy fan that I also am.
Although the story itself was riveting and enough to keep me reading, there were a couple of aspects of the book that didn't work quite so well for me. Whilst Friedman has come up with some wonderful ideas, her writing isn't quite as descriptive as someone like Fiona McIntosh, so I found it hard to visualise many of the characters in detail, which many of them sharing a hazy kind of outline in my mind. Whilst this may not be essential for many readers, I do like to picture people and places in my head and I simply wasn't able to do that as effectively as I would have liked here. Visualising the ikati was particularly troublesome and I ended up picturing them as being like the "reapers" from a Doctor Who episode from some years ago.
The other issue I had with the writing was that the pace wasn't always consistent throughout the story. There were parts where a lot seemed to be happening and a lot where less was going on and the story didn't seem to be advancing. This reminded me a little of Kate Elliott's writing, although there were fewer major characters than in her novels and I did feel that there were parts that could have been removed without losing anything from the story.
The other issue I found was that Friedman didn't include any maps of her world, which made it difficult to judge distances. There were references to towns and lands on opposite sides of the world and in the "far North", but no sphere of reference to know exactly who far away these lands are and how long it might take to get there and back. This was only a minor annoyance this time around, but it could become more important later in the series.
These concerns aside, however, I did very much enjoy "Feast of Souls". It's not the most descriptively written story, but it was a reasonably engrossing read and I did particularly enjoy the darker nature of many of the ideas. It does sit very well as the opening part of a trilogy as well, being self contained enough that you can read it in isolation, but hinting at some exciting future events to ensure you don't want to. I wouldn't say that the rest of the trilogy would be essential reading for me, but I am more than willing to give it a try.
For a book that isn't likely to appeal on repeated readings, however, this may be one to borrow rather than to buy. Should you feel it would appeal enough to want to keep and to read along with the others in the series, a cheapest price of £1.24 can be found at the Amazon Marketplace. This seems to me like a fair amount to pay, although other prices such as the £4.99 from eBay or £5.99 from Amazon or Play are asking too much.
This is a slightly amended version of a review previously published under my name at www.thebookbag.co.uk