Series: Kingdom of Souls #1
Publisher : HarperTeen
Genre : Young Adult | Fantasy
Page Count: 496
Synopsis : THERE’S MAGIC IN HER BLOOD.
Arrah is a young woman from a long line of the most powerful witch doctors in the land. But she fails at magic, fails to call upon the ancestors and can’t even cast the simplest curse.
Shame and disappointment dog her.
When strange premonitions befall her family and children in the kingdom begin to disappear, Arrah undergoes the dangerous and scorned process of selling years of her life for magic. This borrowed power reveals a nightmarish betrayal and a danger beyond what she could have imagined. Now Arrah must find a way to master magic, or at least buy it, in order to save herself and everything she holds dear.
An explosive fantasy set in a world of magic and legend with a twist you will never see coming. (from Goodreads)
*I received an arc of this book from the publisher in exchange of an honest review*
CW: Abusive mother, mind control, self-harm, sexual assault imagery, mass murder, child sacrifice, possession, poisoning, death.
At this point, many years into my reviewing career, you must know that if you say “ownvoices African fantasy” I do not need to hear more, I WILL come running. No ifs, ands or buts. So it only makes sense that this review of Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron, which is a West African fantasy, eventually shows up on my blog. And eventhough I had a couple issues with it, my experience reading it was overall very enjoyable and I’m looking forward to what comes next. The details of this last statement are as follow:
The writing is beautiful and lyrical in ways that sucked me inside the story in no time and made me feel the atmosphere of every single chapter and every single scene. The descriptions are so vivid that you can’t help but be transported to whatever it is you’re reading, and that’s always major plus for me whenever I’m reading fantasy. That being said, in some places, it didn’t not flow as easily as in the rest of the novel, some parts were overly descriptive and the worldbuilding was done awkwardly, it wasn’t weaved into the narrative as well as in the rest of the novel and it took me out of the story.
That being said, the worldbuilding at its core is masterful. Nothing is left to chance or to the reader’s guessing. Barron goes all out and details it all, different regions and tribes with their distinct features, religions, politics, culture, customs, etc… The very rich history of this world was one of my favourite things about the story. The more I learnt, the more interested I got and the more I wanted to know. And the author made sure not to leave me wanting for long, introducing new information and new notions just as I started getting comfortable with what she layed before.
My favourite part was hands down the way the gods were portrayed. Arrah’s people, from the tribes, are monotheists and worship Heka, meanwhile where she lives, in the city (?) people worship the Orishas. And I really loved how both faiths were given the space to exist and be explored in depth without one really invalidating the other and seaming better than the other at any point. And the best part? They are extremely flawed, they are selfish, vengeful and have very human emotions that can get the best of them too and they have weaknesses. They’re not these all powerful beings that are untouchable and I loved that. It kept me engaged and reading even when not much was happening and I started getting bored.
Kingdom of Souls takes a little while to get going, the plot was slow moving up until around the 100 pages mark when it finally picked up. But even after then the pacing didn’t quite find its footing for the rest of the book, it kept being uneven with some part. The action is great when it’s happening, breathtaking and keeps you turning the pages until it’s done and you’re sure things have settled for at least a few pages. The only thing about the plot that was a bit jarring, is that a couple things were a little too heavily foreshadowed so their reveal fell flat.
But then in the down parts, things got…boring? uninteresting? I had trouble keeping myself in the story and not getting distracted by literally everything around me. This got especially worse when what was supposed to keep me interested is the romance which is something I didn’t care for at all and think the book would’ve done better without. Sometimes your story just doesn’t need romance, you know?
When those parts got introspective, when they were more focused on Arrah. The MC’s internal struggles of morality, right and wrong, and relationships with her family and loved ones, then that’s when Kingdom of Souls drew my focus back in. The relationships were portrayed in depth and with a lot of complexity, especially her relationship with her mother. Through it was explored the cycle of abuse and trauma and how it can be past down through generations, as well as how hard it can be for it to break especially when the abuser isn’t conscious of what they’re doing because they didn’t have the tools to unlearn it. It showed abuse as more than the very black and white situation it is more often than not portrayed as. To balance it out, she also have a very strong and tender relationship with her father who could have done anything for her.
Arrah, as a main character, is very interesting, at point infuriating but that’s understandable when it comes to a teenagers who has so much responsibility thrown at her and does her best to make the right decisions with the tools available to her. She’s an outlier, looked down at by her people because she is a girl of two tribes so she never feels like she fully belongs to either of them. But most importantly, Arrah is the granddaughter of a chieftain and the daughter of two of the most powerful witchdoctors, and yet doesn’t have an ounce of magic of her own, so she’s mocked and not taken seriously because of it. But she’s extremely caring, strong willed and doesn’t give up no matter how hard things get. And that’s the kind of main character you can’t help but root for.
Kingdom of Souls doesn’t stop and this and gets ambitious in the themes it explores, which it explores well. It explores abuse in more ways than between the mother and the daughter, it does so when the sister is introduced as well as from a few other characters, which meant there was never one cleancut villain, there were many villainous characters, for many different reasons. Some you even end up rooting for. Then there’s heavy sexual assault imagery, never anything explicit but enough for us to make the comparisons and draw our own conclusions. And the last one that drew my attention is the morality of murder, how even in battle when murder is justified, does that make it right? Or any easier? This is just to cite a few, but the story does have few more tricks up its sleeve.
I am really looking forward to the sequel and to see the direction the author will take with the story especially with how things left off in this one. A few layers were added to the story and I’m curious to see how they will be weaved into the pre-existing story.
Do I recommend?
I do! Especially if you’re looking for a non-western fantasy that will transport you into a worlds of gods and magic and curses.
That’s it until next time.
Did you read Kingdom of Souls? If so, what did you think?
Hope you enjoyed, write to you soon.