Author: Will Wight
Length: 298 Pages/ 8 hours, 14 Minutes (Audio)
Publisher: Hidden Gnome Publishing
Release Date: June 13, 2016/ August 27, 2018
Narrator: Travis Baldree
Series: Cradle, Book 1
Genre: Asian Fantasy/ Coming of Age
I discovered Will Wight's writing with his debut novel, House of Blades, and thought he was a truly creative fantasy writer, playing against traditional tropes. With Unsouled, he goes in a completely new direction, this time crossing genres a bit and adding a distinctly non-European flavor to the story, all while creating an engaging story with fantastic characters.
In a world much like medieval Asia, everyone has certain gifts. Gifts that make them better warrior, leaders, carpenters, what have you. They are all tested as children, and given a metal token showing the power of their soul, a token they exchange for a different metal token as they progress. Everyone has a soul power. That is, except Lindon. He has no power, no soul, and is given a wooden token to denote this. He is unable to learn any of the soul arts his clan knows, and as a young adult. stuck in menial jobs since he has no soul gift, he still has his wooden token. Its not until a tragic event happens that Linden is free to pursue his own path.
That path includes attending a school to develop his soul, something that is supposed to be impossible. Passing the entrance test through creative application of the rules, he goes on to discover just what his unsouled condition means, and still manages to progress a bit. He does learn to fight though, and after a series of events, is forced on the run, where he meets a strange being, who knows far too much about his condition. She tells him there is a true danger to his world, a world which is not what it seems, but also tells him the manner in which it can be stopped, and in which he can gain a soul. That will take trials and feats no one else in his clan could have attempted, especially because Lindon will have to travel to amazing places to find new skills that will allow him to stop the threat. The problem is, he only has a limited time to learn the skills. If anyone can, though, it may be the desperate young man who will do whatever it takes to prove his doubters wrong.
The thing that attracted me to this story was that is was a character driven story set in a non traditional setting. its even crossed genres a bit, with a bit of portal fantasy thrown in. Lindon is an excellent character, not willing to settle for the drudgery his life is, and working to prove the impossible, him being able to work a gift without a soul, is possible. He takes any opportunity he can to improve, and is more decisive than I would have expected. It was a pleasant surprise. The secondary characters are fleshed out nicely, especially Lindon's sister. Their motivations are realistic, especially considering they basically exist in a caste system based on their soul gifts. The setting is a sprawling, Asian flavored world, with a lot of trappings you'd find in various Asian countries, including some cultural and physical details, such as physical structures, weapons, fighting styles and other cultural references, all while making the world his own. The action is fast paced, and you discover this world is part of a larger whole the inhabitants are unaware of, leaving room for exploration and growth in later books.
The narration is handled by the fantastic Travis Baldree. A talented writer in his own right, he understands story flow, and his narrative pacing is excellent. His voice work for the various characters really adds a new dimension to the story, as you feel as though each character is brought to a life of their own. I have listened to several other titles e has worked on, and they are all excellent quality. You can tell he takes pride in making a quality production. Definitely one of my top 5 narrators.
I can definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a fantasy story just a bit off the regular Tolkienesque quest fantasy, or anyone just looking for a quality fantasy story. It is an ongoing series, with the sixth book set to release not to long after this reviews publication. Get in on the action today.