The Shadow Soul came in first place of the 30 books that our Fantasy Literature team of reviewers read for Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO), in which 300 self-published science fiction and fantasy novels have been read and evaluated by ten blogs. The winner of the very first round, it managed to survive and prevail over all of the rest of the novels in our later rounds. A round of virtual but heartfelt applause to The Shadow Soul and its author, Kaitlyn Davis!
As the story begins, Jinji is a sixteen year old girl preparing for her formal joining in marriage to Maniuk, a future leader of their small Arpapajo tribe, along with Jinji herself. Jinji has the magical ability to see the elemental spirits of the land, which appear to her as brightly colored strands of thread weaving through the air, and to weave them into illusions. Jinji’s happiness is marred only by her longing for her twin brother, Janu, who was killed by a bear some time ago, and by a dream of a dark shadow with bright white eyes that attacks her in her dreams. But too soon, Jinji has a truly devastating tragedy to deal with, one in which the shadow plays a role, bringing the white, empty eyes and unspeakable violence.
Jinji nearly gives up in despair at her loss, until she is found by Whylrhen, or Rhen, a younger son of the king of their country. Several generations ago, the Arpapajo’s land was invaded by Whyl the Conqueror, and his Whyl-named descendants have ruled the kingdom, which they renamed Whylkin, ever since. Rhen, discontented with his life as a spare prince, is secretly traveling through the kingdom in disguise, investigating the dangers that threaten it from the neighboring kingdom of Ourthuro. Jinji joins him in his adventures, though she uses the spirit threads to disguise herself as a boy, taking on the appearance of her dead twin, hiding her sex and her magical talents from Rhen. Rhen has secrets of his own ― in addition to being a prince, he also has the ability to absorb fire into his body and remain unharmed ― but he doesn’t know that Jinji can see the red flame threads circling around him. As Rhen seeks answers to his concerns about foreign invaders and Jinji seeks to avenge her people against the terrifying shadow, their friendship grows. But unexpected dangers, both within the kingdom and without, will try both their friendship and their souls.
The Shadow Soul is an engaging story with appealing main characters. Both Jinji and Rhen have good depth and complexity in their characters. They’re admirable characters but troubled, and unwilling to trust others quickly. Their friendship develops long before there’s any hint of romance ― understandably so, since Rhen views Jinji as a younger brother. Rhen begins to realize what a disservice his kingdom has done to Jinji’s people, isolating them and prohibiting them from speaking their native language. Rhen’s life in the royal family also turns out to be far more complicated than I expected, which helps to shed a somewhat different light on the conflicts that arise later in the story.
The pacing of the plot is smooth and moves along quickly. An unexpectedly perilous voyage to Ourthuro, the Golden Isles, which are literally built on gold and other metals, is a nice change of pace along the way, and some new characters are introduced who may become significant later. Some of the elements of the story, such as Jinji’s dreams and the nature of the ominous shadow, are never really explained, and the story ends on a cliffhanger. This is the first book in a trilogy, so readers will need to continue with the series to get all of the answers and the complete story.
The Shadow Soul, although it’s unusually well-written for a self-published book, still suffers somewhat from a lack of professional editing. There are occasional misspellings (such as “vile” for “vial”) and grammatical errors, and a few inconsistencies. For example, at one point men who are threatening Rhen are described as having eyes that are “vacant, open, but unaware;” a couple of pages later, however, “intelligence [is] reflected in their eyes. It’s also occasionally formulaic, but there’s enough of a difference here to make this novel enjoyable to most YA fantasy fans, even if it doesn’t push the boundaries of the genre.
Kaitlyn Davis has made the ebook version of The Shadow Soul available for free, and it’s worth checking out if you enjoy young adult fantasies. The Shadow Soul will now face off against the nine other winners chosen by these blogs, and we wish it the best of luck!