Monday, November 14, 2016

Light Shining out of Darkness ~ A Review of Brian Niemeier's Souldancer

This is the second book I've read of Mr. Niemeier's and undeniable proof that he is a unique voice in the world of science fiction and fantasy. His stories blend science fiction, horror, and fantasy, in a way that is rarely seen or attempted. There is nothing quite like Souldancer or Nethereal. But originality does not mean quality. Does all this mean Souldancer lives up its predecessor?

The first thing I can say is that I'm glad Nethereal was the first book in the series. The introduction of the way the circles and universe works in that book made it easier to digest much of what occurs here. It was an easier story to digest. There is also a larger cast of characters in Souldancer, many with different beliefs, mentalities, and goals, which are easier aligned when you are familiar with how things work in this insane place. It's much like how Dune works so well because of how Frank Herbert introduces everything to the reader at a steady pace without overwhelming them; Mr. Niemeier does the same here. You are not thrown into the deep end. His characters are the same. Sulaiman, for instance, wouldn't be half as understandable if I hadn't first met him in Nethereal first.

However, Souldancer also stands alone as a complete story. You do not need to read Nethereal to understand what happens Souldancer. So this will also be the last time I bring up the prequel for comparison purposes in this review.

Souldancer is a story about Xander Sykes, a member of the Nesshin who is exiled from his tribe. He soon finds himself wrapped up in a plot that spirals out into something far bigger than he first thought. Along the way he meets a motley crew of characters that all have goals of their own. Oh, and a cobbled together being of pure fire. One that wants to burn everything. To ash. This cast is on a quest to seek peace, and answers. But not everyone is interested in both.

If anyone has ever played a Japanese RPG from the 1990s, then you probably have an idea where this is going. This is a story set up certain fans know well. It soon turns out that there is a god that needs slaying.

But it would be selling this novel short to call it a rehash of those stories. It doesn't go quite how you think it will. Which is a good thing.

Stories like Lunar were a bit dopey, honestly. "We don't need gods anymore!" they cried, after surviving solely on magic, health restoration, and a planet, all provided by the goddess in question. Yes, the evil is slain, but what if another rises in its place? How will they deal with it then when they couldn't even do it alone the first time? These are questions simply not answered or thought through enough.

Souldancer's cosmology is a bit more complex than that. By the end you are wondering if the main characters really have hit the roof after all that has happened. It stacks quite high. And the answer at the end might surprise you.

There's also a space opera element of a giant cast of characters weaving through the tapestry of a much larger story unfolding before them. What started and ended in the previous book comes into full fruition here. This plot idea works better in the context of the Soul Cycle series. There is a bigger plan at work, and this reader is sure interested in seeing where certain characters end up.

But who cares about all that? You want to know the important things, like if stuff blow up.

Well, dude!

There are swords, spaceships, magic blasts, and more body horror than you can shake a stick at. Sick! There's this one part where this dude with a flaming sword takes on a demon in the wreckage of a spaceship while wolfdude corpses litter the sand. Like, come on. What else do you want. Come on.

Okay, maybe a super shotgun fight with a Cyber-Demon, but you can't have it all. I'll settle for incineration by fire sword. It's not like it still isn't epic!

Souldancer is an all around great read. It has a healthy cast of characters, a unique setting that I still have yet to tire of, and an overarching theme that is beginning to come into focus. It also remains its own thing. Think Jack Vance meets The Weathering Continent and you might come close to it, but you'd still be off by quite a few degrees. The Soul Cycle series is its own thing.

Are there negatives? There are some points where events can be a bit fuzzy, and some characters sort of come and go without fanfare (the Earth Souldancer, especially), but it is otherwise remarkably strong.

Oh, there was also a distinct lack of Vaun. I really missed that soulless genocidal shell of a monster.

Tired of the bland mainstream fantasy, science fiction, and horror markets? Then pick up the Soul Cycle books. They are the shot in the arm that's been so desperately needed to the genre since the 80s. Fresh blood, fresh execution, and fresh results, make Souldancer an even more rewarding read than the original. Pick this up! You won't regret it.

Now to wait for book 3.


  1. Thank you for the thorough and insightful review, JD :)

    1. You are welcome. Good books deserve good reviews!