- C.S. Friedman is known for somewhat dark fantasy stories, and in that Friedman delivers another such story in her latest work. Set in a typical medieval fantasy setting, Friedman is approaching her world in, typical of her, slightly different ways. The two prime distinctions would be Friedman’s magic and her focus on female protagonists. In Feast of Souls those capable of works of witchery pay a great price. The power used for such acts is consumed from their own living soul. As a result, practitioners use up their own life force, aging quickly and dying empty. There are a small set of magic users that are exempt from this quick aging and death, and they wield great power and influence. But the Magisters guard their secret very closely, as the truth to their immortality and seemingly limitless power would set the entire world against them. The magisters consume the life force of others to perform their sorcery. They are in fact parasites.
At first, there are two primary parts to this story. A young prince, Andovan, third son of the most powerful and influential king in the region, has been afflicted with a terrible wasting disease. This disease is actually the result of being soulfire source for some magister. The court magister calls others of his kind to a conference to help determine a course of action because this one victim of one of their, the magisters, kind could lead to the unraveling of their greatest secret.
The Second story line follows a young, world-hardened woman, Kamala, seeking a different way. Magisters are all men, always have been, and it is a well held fact that it is impossible for a woman to become one. Kamala isn’t one for letting something like history keep her down. Kamala finds a magister to train her in an attempt to become something that no woman has ever become.
The story branches out from these points into various encounters and events. Andovan isn’t willing to die peacefully in his bed, wasted away, and decides to find answers. Kamala, a survivor, is determined to make her mark in a world that doesn’t have much of a place for any woman. These two stories play out in the midst of several minor threads that are actually building the primary thrust of what will be a series, the reawakening of an ancient enemy to mankind, and the possible end of life.
For as much as I have enjoyed many of Friedman’s past works, I found Feast of Souls to be somewhat disappointing. The first 220 pages of the book are almost completely forgettable. The writing is lazy. The characterization is uneven and often contradictory. Andovan is a typical enough fantasy character, and he works well in the story. Kamala is something of a shambles when it comes to characterization. From page to page it seems that Friedman has changed aspects of her personality. The base result is a character, the prime character, that is not only somewhat forgettable but not in the least compelling.
Now, Friedman does manage to lift the story to interesting and gripping places after those first 200 some pages. The back history of the world, past struggles and wars, the politics of the magisters, the court intrigue away from the main characters… all of this starts to bring together a compelling story. The other two primary characters, a witch queen and a magister, are actually interesting, and rather well crafted. By the end of the novel, readers will be flipping pages just as quickly as they can.
Sadly, the story falls apart again in the last 20 pages. I am willing to admit that the ending might just be a weakness in my eyes rather than a true shortcoming, rather unlike the plodding start to the story. The ending seemed a little too forced, forced to end some storylines in time to finish the book, and came over as something of a wasted effort.
Should you read Feast of Souls? Good question. Overall, the book is a better than average. The best thing going for it is that the conflict that has slow boiled through the entire first novel looks set to explode in the successive volume. Friedman is a talented author, and I rather think that she will take the series to rather entertaining places. It’s just my opinion that she gets of to something of a wobbly first step here.
Feast of Souls by C.S. Friedman.