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Review: Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron

Review: Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron

‘Born into a family of powerful witchdoctors, Arrah yearns for magic of her own. But each year she fails to call forth her ancestral powers, while her ambitious mother watches with growing disapproval.

There’s only one thing Arrah hasn’t tried, a deadly last resort: trading years of her own life for scraps of magic. Until the Kingdom’s children begin to disappear, and Arrah is desperate to find the culprit.

She uncovers something worse. The long-imprisoned Demon King is stirring. And if he rises, his hunger for souls will bring the world to its knees… unless Arrah pays the price for the magic to stop him.’

I absolutely loved Kingdom of Souls and read most it in one sitting because I just couldn’t put it down. The worldbuilding is excellent and immersive, painted in a rich and vivid manner that makes it easy to visualise both the world in which Arrah lives and the characters that inhabit it. I adored the magic system and that it, particularly for Arrah, is not always without consequence, especially as this is something that is increasingly rarely seen in fantasy and YA novels, where many protagonists seem to pay no price for powers they possess or embrace over the course of their journeys. That the magic is grounded primarily in the use of physical objects makes it all the more tangible and engaging. Both the broader subject matter involved and features of the magic itself make the story one that feels on the darker side of fantasy, for not all of it is an easy read, and at no point is it suggested that there are nothing but high stakes involves, even during the stretches of the narrative in which there is less going on than at other points, making for a tale full of tension and shifting power.

I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, so I will say that one of the things that kept me reading was Arrah’s relationship with her mother, which, much like Arrah herself, I could never quite figure out. I didn’t want to be lured into thinking that some of the elements of her behaviour were leading to a double cross and so was quite resistant to any suggestion that she is anything other than what she is initially painted as, despite the suffering she has endured. The antagonist(s) in Kingdom of Souls are no villain-monologuing cut outs, but there is a true impression of a depth of power that perhaps even they do not quite understand to its full extent, often wielded selfishly and with a dangerous sense of their own entitlement to do as they wish. Ultimately, I think Arrah’s relationships with both her mother and her father are some of the strongest threads of the narrative, contrasted as they are. Other than Arrah herself, her father is one of my favourite characters, mostly because he is depicted as a good and kind man who plainly loves his daughter as she is.

I would say the only thing that detracted from my reading was that I did catch on to one of the plot twists rather early in the narrative, whether this is a deliberate feature of that section of the story or otherwise, and so I wasn’t terribly shocked by one particular revelation. However, it is only a very small detraction, as I love the plot element itself (it’s one of my all-time favourite narrative devices) and look forward the most to seeing where it leads the story in future instalments.

All in all, Kingdom of Souls is a fantastic read and one I would highly recommend! Thank you to Harper Voyager UK for sending me a copy!