Game of Souls by Terry C. Simpson
Series: The Quintessence Cycle #1
Published by Golden Arm Press on March 1, 2013
Genres: Fantasy, Military
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Your soul is your magic. The nobility will stop at nothing to steal it.
Keedar Giorin still remembers the night soldiers killed his mother. The Night of Blades. He was three, but the memories are written in his mind in blood, flames, scales, and his mother’s mad cackles.
Assigned by his father to save two young noblemen or risk a repeat of the massacre on his home in the Smear, Kasandar's most lawless district, Keedar dives headlong into the mission. He uses his most secret skill, a magic that could bring the King's Blades hunting him, a magic that could be a death sentence if reported to the wrong ears.
But even that risk is part of his father's calculated plan. A plot to determine who was behind his mother’s death, while securing a new ally for their guild, and seeing their people rise from squalor and oppression to strive for the identity and power they have all but forgotten.
Plans, however, do not always follow the path drawn out. What will Keedar do when a count takes interest in his magic? Where will he run to when the hunt begins? Can a young man now growing into his power find a way to defeat the most ruthless of assassins?
As he watches the accursed Day of Accolades take away more children from the Smear, Keedar promises that one day he’ll stop the nobles’ exploitation of the under classes. On the same day, he encounters Winslow, a noble risking the Smear to win a chance to train with the King’s Blades. Together they become caught in a dangerous game of power, the Game of Souls.
The world the author has created in Game of Souls is fairly well sketched out. In the continent in which the story takes place there are several racial groups or kingdoms that are either at war or uneasily at peace. Our story is set mainly in the city of Kasandar in the kingdom, Kasinia. A map is thoughtfully included for the times when place names and races become a little confusing.
The author has focused on Kasinia and has managed to provide quite a bit of detail about the people, the politics and the magic system. It’s quite impressive that so much has been imparted to the reader about this culture without resorting to the infamous info dumps sometimes employed by authors. As I progressed, I found that I understood the parasitic ruling class and those who would oppose it.
The magic system doesn’t initially seem fleshed out and at times it felt like the author was just adding a detail to get himself out of trouble. However, there is a small summary of “soul magic” at the end of the book and reading this gave me confidence that the author had fully realised the magic system in advance and had applied it logically throughout the storyline.
The plot is a very involved one, steeped in intrigue. The ruling houses of Kasandar move ever toward the next Succession Day, a bloodbath signaling the climax of Far’an Senjin (Game of Souls), a devious and ruthless game of power.
Although I wouldn’t necessarily call the story gritty, it is quite dark. The machinations and power plays and the bystanders caught in the crossfire almost always makes for an interesting tale, and this story is no exception. There were a couple of times I felt thrown. The arch ‘frenemy’ of the king, Count Cardiff, makes a pretty big jump to a different area of the continent, which didn’t really ring true to me – neither his absence from the city, nor the apparent lack of awareness of his departure. It was also difficult to get an impression of how much time passed which added to the disjointedness. Additionally, once Cardiff’s plans came to fruition, some of his scheming remained a little opaque to me. It gave me less of a pay-off than I would have liked.
Although I’ve only ever watched Game of Thrones on television, I think this story shares more than just a similarity in titles. There is something about the nature of the Game of Souls that reminds me of the power struggles in the other, and the Dracodar bear more than a passing resemblance to the “dragon lords” of Martin’s work. That’s not to say that this novel is derivative – it definitely has its own direction. It just seems to give one or two nods to its almost namesake.
Protagonist duties in the story are shared between two adolescents, Keedar and Winslow. Keedar is the son of a guild member living in the Smear, basically the home of the under classes. Winslow is the son of a Count, one of the most powerful families in the realm. The two boys are paired by luck and the machinations of Keedar’s father and we see their lopsided relationship develop throughout the story.
Keedar is a strong character, talented in soul magic, pragmatic, determined and with an unshakable loyalty to his father. Winslow is not quite as strong but is filled with pride and the determination to develop his soul magic for the service of his kingdom. Given the class disparities the two don’t enjoy an immediate bond, but I was happy to see how quickly they put these aside to work together. A story full of wounded pride and temperamental tiffs would have grated.
The other character that is reasonably well developed is Count Cardiff, Winslow’s father. He is the antagonist and his devious plans are what drives most of the story. His selfish need for power is absolute. The only sympathetic element to his character is his love for his long dead wife; everyone else is disposable – even his son.
There are some other characters of interest: Keedar’s father and his uncle, a few warriors and an assassin. They are not developed deeply but they definitely add interest and twists to the story. Some of them look like they will be fleshed out further in future books.
I didn’t encounter any real problems with the prose. The writing is neither too simplistic nor too sophisticated. I can’t recall any major errors or clunkiness in expression. There might have been a typo here and there, but nothing that stayed in my memory. Basically, I found the writing to be of publishable quality.
Game of Souls is set to be a trilogy and, in my opinion, it’s going to be a good one. The ending delivered a couple of twists and left the story where my interest was definitely piqued. The only problem is that this is an author with quite a few projects on the go. So the second and third books don’t seem to have any guaranteed release dates at this stage.
If you’re the kind of reader that doesn’t like to wait too long for your fix, this might be an issue and it might pay to wait at least until the second book is released. However, if you like a fairly dark and intelligent fantasy and you don’t mind delayed gratification, I would recommend this book. The story is told smoothly overall and the world and premise are well constructed.
Reviewer: Caleb Blake, Papyrus Independent Author Reviews
Caleb Blake, founder of Papyrus Independent Author Reviews, is an avid reader and reviewer of small press and self-published books. Caleb’s thoughtful and wide-ranging reviews have been priceless in assisting self-published and small press authors locate their audiences.