Singer of Souls by Adam Stemple
Singer of Souls is simply a wonderful little fantasy novel. It’s especially impressive when you take into account that this is Adam Stemple‘s first adult novel (he previously collaborated with his mother, author Jane Yolen, on children’s music books).
The story follows Douglas, a Minneapolis street musician who is addicted to heroin. Trying to get clean, he decides to go to Scotland (where his grandmother lives) to try and make a fresh start. In Scotland, Douglas makes a living as a street performer. His street act involves improvising lyrics about passers-by — creating a song about them on the fly. When performing in Edinburgh, one of the fey folk approaches him, and so Douglas discovers that he has special powers.
I was very pleasantly surprised by this novel. It’s well-written, quirky, fast-moving, and never boring. At 240 pages, it’s short but surprisingly satisfying. Before reading it, I got a strong Steven Brust vibe from the book, based on the short plot summary. Oddly enough, I then discovered that Adam Stemple was actually the guitar player in Cats Laughing, a band also featuring Steven Brust and Emma Bull.
Word of warning: the ending of Singer of Souls is very controversial. Based on other reviews I’ve read, it seems like some people loved the book, and some people loved it up until the last 20 pages or so, and absolutely hated it afterwards. As far as I’m concerned, the ending is justified and makes perfect sense, based on what happened to the protagonist earlier. One reviewer on Amazon summarized it perfectly: “There are two things you should know about this novel. 1. It’s a faery tale. 2. It’s not a Disney faery tale.”
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