Book Review: Soulbinder by Sebastien de Castell
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Series: Book 4 of Spellslinger
Publisher: Orbit (December 4, 2018)
Length: 432 pages
In my review of the previous book, Charmcaster, I noted how certain patterns seemed to keep popping up repeatedly in the storytelling. However, as I was reading Soulbinder, all I could think of was how Sebastien de Castell must have had the same concerns as I did on the direction of this series, because it seemed he did everything he could in this one to shake things up and make the story as unpredictable as possible again, even going as far as to make light of some of the repetitive patterns from the previous novels.
Needless to say, this time the introduction did not parallel the opening chapters of the previous books, although once more, the novel opens upon a scene of our protagonist Kellen and the squirrel cat Reichis struggling to survive another attempt on their lives. Such is the life of an outlaw, after all. Still, instead of Ferius Parfax charging to the rescue with her bold tricks and fiery words, this time the Argosi adventurer is nowhere to be found. And instead of barely managing to thwart their attackers and get away, this time our heroes wind up beaten and broken, lying in the hot desert sands waiting for death to claim them.
But when Kellen wakes up next, his elation at having survived is short-lived. He finds he has been kidnapped by a cult of monks afflicted with the cursed Shadowblack, who have spirited him away to their Ebony Abbey hidden in the snowy mountains. Worse, when they took him, they also left Reichis behind, leaving our protagonist all alone in a strange place.
No Ferius. No Reichis. You’d think I wouldn’t have enjoyed this book as much, since our beloved trio has been split apart, but nothing could be further from the truth. I loved Soulbinder, which might be the best installment since the first one. This is the book where it is truly Kellen on his own against the world, where his resolve is fully tested. Without the support of his friends, he must rely on only his own wits and skills, applying all that he has learned since leaving home to figure a way out of his predicament. As much as I love Ferius and Reichis, even I must admit a story like this was a long time coming, because readers needed to know just how far our boy has come.
That’s not to say Kellen doesn’t find help from other sources, some of them quite unexpected. It turns out there is more to the Ebony Abbey followers who have stolen him away, and among them, he makes a few new friends and allies. What’s more, we get to learn a lot more about the Shadowblack, which our protagonists and his companions have been trying to find a cure for since the beginning of the series. But what if there was more to the condition? For the first time, Kellen is willing to consider the possibility that there might be something more to the so-called curse, which means we are also one step further along on his journey to self-acceptance.
It would be hard to read this book and not to feel proud of him, watching him confront his demons and decide his own future. Having grown up in a society of labels and where one’s place in the hierarchy is everything, Kellen coming to grips with his new life as an exile was a huge turning point. Now he’ll have another challenge before him as he determines once and for all how to deal with his own family, from the father who has given up on him to the sister he doesn’t know if he can trust. Without Ferius to guide him, or Reichis to fight with him, Kellan is forced to follow his instincts and place priorities on what matters most. In some ways, this makes Soulbinder the most telling and important books in the series thus far, revealing all of our protagonist’s inner feelings and conflicts.
And so, if you’ve been following along and enjoying the Spellslinger adventures, this fourth volume is not one to be missed. A great deal hangs in the balance in this book, not least of all are the lives of friends both new and old. Soulbinder is a powerful installment that sees a hero coming into his own, and it is filled with momentous revelations and pivotal actions that will surely make it one of the more memorable books in the series.