Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Beautiful and Gritty: Feast of Souls

           C.S. Friedman is one of the most talented authors to grace the fiction world. Her stories are- without exception- unique, addictive, and fascinating. Feast of Souls is her eighth novel and the first in a series of three but, trust me, I wouldn't sign you up for two thousand pages of fantasy if it wasn't well worth the time. Friedman parallels the award winning game designer Richard Garriot in that she designs every new story from scratch, every time. When asked the key to his success with the Ultima series Garriot said that he threw the old code into the ocean and re-wrote it from the ground up every time a new Ultima was released. This placed him head and shoulders above the competition.
           So what is different about Feast of Souls, what elements are born when you forget all you knew, or think you knew, and start over fresh? The magic is incredible, and haunting. The heart of every fantasy novel is its magic, it is what defines the genre, and Friedman creates a device that chills and enchants. Using magic in her world requires an inborn ability, just like in every other book, but unlike the mainstream novel her story requires that the character feed the magic with their soul. The power that runs her magic is life force and it is eaten away every time a witch uses her gift.
           Introducing a dose of feminism she creates a female character, Kamala, who is tough enough to try and break into the old boys club of the Magisters- the only people in the world who can use their gifts without dying. It is rumored, in fact, that the Magisters are immortal. The only threat to their power is another of their kind. They reign supreme, attaching themselves to a King, Queen, or other noble and providing their services in exchange for lives of luxury and intrigue.
           Kamala is cold enough to make it through the final stages of apprenticeship and learn the truth, Magisters use the same fuel as everyone else. The only difference is that a Magister is trained to steal it from someone else, stealing the soul of the person they latch on to. The final test occurs when the apprentice drains themselves completely and is forced to find another source for their continued existence. Kamala chooses life, and becomes something terrible.
           Strangely enough the Magisters are not the all encompassing threat that drives the plotline. Instead a race of dragon like beings called the Souleaters are the antagonists, and the Magisters are cast into the unlikely role of hero as they gather to fight against their return. The story wends its way across several kingdoms and through the realistic and three dimensional lives of its people. The prose is outstanding, the plot gripping, and the devices unique. Feast of Souls will make you question right and wrong, good and evil, and will enchant you even as it forces you to think.

Editor's Note:
Mythological References:
PP 2-10,16-17,27-28,36-40,44-49.422-425,514-517.538-549

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